Our message today on the Reformed Witness Hour is taken from God’s Word in Psalm 39:9-11. We read, “I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it. Remove thy stroke away from me: I am consumed by the blow of thine hand. When thou with rebukes doest correct man for iniquity, thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth: surely every man is vanity.”
The precise occasion in which David wrote this psalm is unknown. He tells us from the psalm itself that it was a time when a severe and devastating blow had fallen upon him from the hand of God. David knew many such moments. Could it be the time when his newborn son of Bathsheba had died? Could it be when Absalom, his son, sought to kill him? Or was it some other catastrophe that came to David which the Bible does not record? We do not know. It is not important that we know. In Psalm 39 David relates to us that he is experiencing a devastating evil that has been brought into his life by God.
And David’s experience is not unique. The Scriptures make plain that all of God’s children shall be subject to this. We read in Psalm 34, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivereth him out of them all.”
What is important is that we learn from David’s response to this severe blow. He says, “I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it.” David responded in a silence which signaled submission; which represented an understanding that God had a purpose in the blow that he had received. David saw the necessity in his life of receiving such severe blows from God in order that he might learn to hope in God even unto the end.
He believed that God was sovereign, that is, that God ruled over all that came to him-even this severe and devastating stroke and blow. That knowledge did not make David callous and bitter. It did not rob his soul of hope in life. But the truth of God’s sovereignty, even over the great evil that had come into his life, brought the wonderful blessing to David of comfort. He was not consumed. He possessed a comfort which saved him in all his distress.
I want to talk to you a little while about the mute Christian.
What catches our eye in the response of David is that David was mute. “I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it.” That was a deliberate resolve David made out of the faith of God in him-a faith which was being severely tried because a grievous evil had befallen him. He was resolved to close his mouth. He was determined not to speak. In verses 1 and 2 of the psalm David writes: “I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me. I was dumb with silence, I held my peace, even from good; and my sorrow was stirred.”
David’s silence, then, was not a silence of shock. That can happen to us when our tongue is frozen and we cannot speak. David’s silence was not a silence of politeness, what sometimes is called a moment of silence out of respect. Nor was his silence a silence of the nerves of steel-he would not show that he was hurt, he had a “stiff upper lip.”
No, David’s silence was a resolve that he made out of faith. Deliberately, as a policy toward what had happened to him, he would hold back his tongue, he would not speak.
His silence was not total. He did speak. In verses 3 and 4 of the psalm he tells us that that blow that came to him from God’s hand was so heavy that in the midst of it his sorrow was stirred and the fires were burned and he spake. But he spake to God. Verses 4 through 8 in the psalm have David pouring it all out to God in prayer. His silence before his great sorrow did not prevent him from praying. His silence was not the silence that he did not speak to God from his heart. His silence was the grace of submission. But submission does not prohibit prayer. It is rebellion to God’s ways which makes us prayerless.
But as he stood before men, and as he stood especially before wicked men, he said nothing. His silence arose out of fear; out of the fear that because of this great evil that had come to him, if he would speak before men and women and open his mouth, he would sin. Therefore, he was determined to be silent.
“I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me.”
Times of very great suffering and adversities are also times for a Christian of great temptation to sin against God; to despair of God’s faithfulness; to speak back and to charge God foolishly, and to curse God. David felt that temptation and, for that reason at least in part, he was determined to say nothing, because he did not want to sin by speaking. Examine yourself. David believed that there was something worse than this great blow of adversity-a great blow which is unimaginable for us. He said that there is something worse. That thing that was worse was sin. Uppermost in his heart was not, first of all, the sorrow that he was experiencing, but the fear that he would sin against God. He was concerned, above all things, at this moment of heartbreaking sorrow, that he might sin against his God. Is that true for you?
Especially, he says, when the wicked are before me. He knew that the wicked were watching him at this moment of grief and secretly saying, “Well, now we will see the proof of his religion and confession. Let’s see. Will he despair? Will he curse? Will he give in in his religion? Will God make any difference to him now?” And if wicked men are not before us, Satan is always before us who wants nothing more than to hear our voice of complaint in bitterness against God. So David said, “I was dumb, I opened not my mouth. Heaven heard the agony of my grief. I went to God in prayer. But before gawking men and smirking Satan, I was dumb.”
A very severe blow had come to David. It was so severe that at first he could not even speak good (v. 2), “I held my peace, even from good.” He determined not to say anything good about the evil that had befallen him.
That is not completely commendable. But it is understandable. So severe was the blow and so intense was the struggle within him that he fears that should he even begin to speak of good, should he even begin to interpret what has happened to him in terms of good and the Lord working it for his good, he might fall into rebellion. God would soon lead him to open his mouth to speak good, and to speak of submission, and to say, “Have Thine own way, Lord.” But at first he could not speak good. He sees only evil. He cannot see any good in it. And he knows that his sorrow and perplexity are so great that if he opens his mouth he knows not where it is going to lead him. So he will muzzle his mouth and he will be dumb.
There are times when the truth of Romans 8:28 is something that we know but we cannot speak with conviction. That is not commendable. But that is reality. We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to His purpose. We know that. Yet, in the weakness of our flesh, when under a deep misery, when our faith totters and we reel under the blow and we seem to claw for something to hang on to, then sometimes we can only be silent. Our real grief, at times so severe, causes us to be afraid even to speak lest we would speak in rebellion.
We have a place to bring our grief. That is to God. We may bring it, then, to God in prayer. The world’s wisdom would be this: at such a moment of great grief, give expression to everything in your soul. Scream, if you need to, even curse God. Let it all out. God says, in His Word, Muzzle your mouth. Oh, yes, you may cry to God. But even at that tender moment resist the real temptation of ranting against your God. Not everything that is in your soul ought to come out. Be careful.
Sometimes the only defense is silence.
David says that this was a blow from the hand of God-a stroke, a great calamity. So great was this calamity that David no longer had interest in life. Lost were all joy and enthusiasm. He cannot imagine ever being the same person again. Forever on earth things will be different. His life he now viewed as a burden to be borne. He says in verse 11 that his beauty is consumed away like a moth. As a moth eats up a garment, so this stroke has eaten all the delight out of his life. He sees nothing desirable anymore that can happen.
There is the announcement of the doctor that it is a terminal illness. There is the sudden announcement of an accident and your loved one is dead. There is the news of the unfaithfulness of a dear friend. There is the sudden collapse of your business. Or there is something very secret. We do not always see the severe blows as they fall upon another person. Some blows are hidden and are known only to you and it is consuming you right now. David says, “I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it.”
David knew that God had sent this. It was a blow from God’s hand. David confessed that God was absolutely sovereign and ruled over all things in perfect wisdom for His children, using both good and evil for their eternal glory and salvation.
As children of God, we have many questions in our sufferings. We ask, Why does God bring this? Has God forgotten to be kind? Am I going to be able to bear this? Will I ever be happy again? So often we do not have answers for those questions. But there is one question which never comes up. There is one question that we have an answer to. The question is not whether or not God has done it. And to the question, Why? we have an answer: for our good. God is sovereign over all things. And to question whether or not God has done this is to question the very existence of God, the very being of God, the very might of God. David says, This much I know: God has done it. Nothing comes to me except by the will of my heavenly Father. This was a blow, a severe blow. But it came from God’s hand.
The instruments that God uses to bring these blows are many. Medicine may point me to natural causes and speak to me of the laws of probability that I may have cancer. Accident-men may say that your loved one was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Wicked men may have done it. Others will say, Satan did it. It may be lightning, it may be storm. We may wring our hands and say, Oh, if only I had done this.
Beloved, God did it. The instrument only carried out His plan. His hand placed the stroke upon David’s back. And that is why he was silent. I may not complain, because I shall complain then against God. I may not despair of God nor doubt His goodness and faithfulness. God had a purpose.
We say, sometimes, that we do not know why God has done this. That is very humble and very wise. We mean to say that we do not presume to know the precise purpose of God in the life of His child in sending every blow and evil. Yet we do know, at least in general, some of the important reasons. David states them in verse 11. “When thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity, thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth: surely every man is vanity.” David saw this as a correction for his iniquity. David did not look at it as a punishment for his sin. God does not send us blows in this life to make us pay for our sins. Those blows were given to the back of Jesus Christ. That can never be. God will never punish us with His wrath for our sins. That is forever finished. There is no wrath, there is no punishment, there is no vengeance of God against our sins as we are in Christ Jesus.
But out of His love there is divine correction and chastening. We are God’s little children. Whether we are old or young, we are God’s little children. And because of our sins we are foolish and need to be corrected in the love of our Father. God sent to David ( Ps. 39) chastisement. Not necessarily for any specific sin that David had committed. But a general chastisement for the sinfulness of his nature even when he was walking in the ways of God. From that point of view we must all experience chastisement. That is why sometimes the chastisements are so severe-because our depravity and our sin is an immense thing and strong measures are required. God does not trifle. When He will chasten us out of His love and deliver us from a way of death, it is not a game to Him. But God applies His rod with vigor. For He is dealing with an awful iniquity in each one of us.
David said that he needed this chastening. Surely every man at his best estate is altogether vanity. That is what we must learn. We must learn through the chastisements that God sends us how frail and insecure we are, in order that we may put all of our trust and hope in God. How insubstantial are all our efforts. How empty are earthly things of themselves. They are only a shadow. We must learn that the only substantial thing is the eternal life that has been given to us by the Holy Spirit. That shall never be snuffed out. We are rich in Christ. Let us learn that. Let us learn the vanity of men who depart from God. Let us learn the vanity of all things without Him. Let us learn that nothing can endure apart from Him. We must always be learning this lesson. And sometimes we need a severe blow to remind us of it. We have need of severe strokes from the hand of God because we are inclined to make everything out of this life and so little out of the eternal life that is ours in Jesus Christ. We become so wrapped up in this life that we would never let it go.
And we are so little inclined to be pilgrim strangers. We need the chastisements that God sends.
When you see your brother and sister under the heavy blows of the chastisement of God, do not go to them with foolishness and say to them, God had nothing to do with this. He could not control it. It just somehow happened. Please do not do that. Do not go to them and simply say, Well, God is there somehow and He is sorry that it happened too; but He had no hand in it. Do not bring that kind of foolishness.
But speak of God’s sure love. Point to the cross where God spared not His own Son. Speak of the reality of the eternal love of God, of the vanity of this earthly life, and of the value of the eternal life that we have. And assure them that God sends all things in order that the inner man in Christ might hope unto the end, for those things which shall never pass away, which are sure in Christ Jesus. And that God does this to pry my heart loose from the earthly things so that it may hold on to the eternal things.
Then you will be an instrument of God’s peace.
David was submissive to God. He knew that God did it. If one is not submissive to God and denies the sovereignty of God in all things, then invariably he will complain under the strokes of life. He will become bitter and doubtful and despair of protection. And he will have no answer or find no comfort. And at last he shall have no peace.
But those who know the living God who holds all things in His hand, who has given His Son to die in their place, who has sworn over the grave of His own Son that He shall work all things for our eternal glory and that nothing shall take us away from His love-they have comfort and peace of heart no matter the severe blow that comes. We hope then in God. “I will hope in Thee,” says David. “I will find my expectation in God. He is able, if He wills, to remove this stroke from me. And if not, He is able to sustain me under it. I shall hope in God that He shall work my obedience and my holiness through this stroke. And I will hope even unto the coming of Jesus Christ. For now I am a pilgrim. But there is coming the day when I will be brought to the place where there are no disappointments, no sorrows, no adversities, no troubles, no burdens. And I will have joy and peace unending.”
God swears that, in the death of Jesus Christ and in His resurrection. All things are in His hand. And by all things, both good and evil, He will cause us to hope in Him. And none of those who hope in God shall ever be put to shame.
Believest thou these things?
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, we have heard Thy word. Work in us the only posture that we may ever have before Thee: submission and hope. Amen.