Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Psalm 61 - The Rock that is Higher

The LORD continued, "Look, stand near me on this rock.
Exodus 33:21
1O God, listen to my cry!
Hear my prayer!
2From the ends of the earth,
I cry to You for help
when my heart is overwhelmed.
Lead me to the towering rock of safety,
3for You are my safe refuge,
a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me.
4Let me live forever in Your sanctuary,
safe beneath the shelter of Your wings!
5For You have heard my vows, O God.
You have given me an inheritance reserved for those who fear Your name.
6Add many years to the life of the king!
May his years span the generations!
7May he reign under God’s protection forever.
May your unfailing love and faithfulness watch over him.
8Then I will sing praises to Your name forever as I fulfill my vows each day.

Psalm 61 is ascribed to David. It is not known when he wrote it.  Statements suggest that David is exiled from Jerusalem and the tabernacle: "From the ends of the earth, I cry to You for helpLead me to the towering rock of safety for You are my safe refuge, a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me."

Commentators assume David wrote this psalm when he fled from Absalom, his son. It has also been considered a song David wrote as he returned home from exile. The point of the psalm is not found in the historical circumstances David faced. It is found in the spiritual condition David experienced. 

Whatever his geography, David was at a place where God seemed far away. He wanted more than a return to Jerusalem or another opportunity to worship in the tabernacle. He longed for a greater sense of God’s loving presence, protective care, and strengthening grace. So he prayed that distance would be transformed into intimacy. In so doing, David shows me what to do when God seems far away. In a word, pray. I can ever be so far away that God cannot hear me when I call to Him. “Wherever we are,” wrote Matthew Henry “we have liberty to draw near to God, and may find a way open to the throne of grace.”

The psalm begins with words of lamentation. “Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer.” These opening words teach me an important lesson about the nature of true prayer. David cried to God. The word “cry” refers to a loud, piercing scream. The word was most often used to describe a cry of joy. But here it is expresses agony, not elation. It is an urgent, desperate cry – a SOS distress signal. Why did David cry to God in prayer? Two words: “hear” and “listen.”

David is not going through an empty ritual of “saying his prayers.” Venting does not satisfy. Getting it off his chest does not help. He needs God to hear his cry. He needs God to listen to his prayer. He needed God to pay attention and take heed to what he heard. This is what prayer is about. It is not about saying the right words. It is about getting to the right ear. 

David says, “From the ends of the earth I call to you.” What is “the ends of the earth”? Some think it is a poetic statement of the fact that David was exiled from Jerusalem. Others think it refers to Sheol, the grave, or the place of the dead. It would thus be a way a saying that David was near death. But I would suggest that the reference is spiritual, not physical. David felt distanced from God. And he describes this spiritual reality in geographic terms. He says it is as if he has found himself at the most remote part of planet earth. 

“I call to you when my heart is faint.” The KJV translates this phrase, “when my heart is overwhelmed.” Indeed, there are times when my heart becomes overwhelmed by the circumstances of life. But this is about more than an emotional response to difficult circumstances. It is total exhaustion. It is when one’s whole being runs out of energy. It is to be without hope, courage, or strength. When the heart is faint, you become tired physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It is bad enough to be at the ends of the earth. But it is not so bad when your heart is filled with hope, strength, and courage that tell you, “Hold on, we’re coming out of this.” But when the heart is faint, it makes being at the ends of the earth even worse. Yet David says, “from the ends of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint.” 

“Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” This prayer request both confesses human inadequacy and affirms divine sufficiency. David needed a rock because he was weak. He is as a shipwrecked sailor in a tumultuous sea. He cannot swim to safety. There is no help in sight. His only hope is to get to a rock to which he can hold on. David also needs the rock to be high because he is small. A water level rock provides no safety. The crashing waves will overwhelm him and wash him back out to sea. He needs a high that is higher than he is. David further needs to be led to this high rock because he is blind. He cannot see through the storm. He needs an invisible hand to turn the storm, order the waves, and lead him to a high rock. 

God Himself is our rock. Twenty-two times in the Psalms, God is called a rock. David gives two reasons why he asks God to lead him to a high rock. The first reason is because God had already proven himself to be his refuge. A refuge is a place a safety from danger. It was an ancient “panic room,” a safe house where one fled to escape advancing enemies. This is our God. Psalm 46:1 says: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1 is a testimony of corporate deliverance. But this is a testimony of personal deliverance. David says, “For You have been my refuge.” When there was nowhere else to turn, David found a hiding place in God. And when he fled to God, he discovered that no one but God can keep you when you cannot keep yourself. God is a refuge. 

David gives a second reason why he asked God to lead him to a high rock. God had been “a strong tower against the enemy.” A strong tower serves the same purpose as refuge. But there is a difference. A refuge is where you turn for safety when the enemy chases you away from the city. But a strong tower is where you turn for safety when the enemy attacks the city. A strong tower was a place of defense built onto the wall of the city. The watchman would stand guard in the strong tower. And when the enemy attacked, the strong tower was a strategic battle station, where you could reach the enemy without the enemy reaching you. A refuge was a safe place to hide. A strong tower was a safe place to fight. This is our God.