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Author:Rev. Mark Chen
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Congregation:First Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore
 Singapore
 ferc.org.sg
 
Title:God Counts All Our Tears
Text:Psalms 56:1-13 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Comfort in a World of Pain
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-10-17
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Trinity Hymnal Revised 1990, The Psalter 1912

Psalter 251 - Joyful Worship
Psalter 152 - Fear and Faith
TH 669 - Commit Now All Your Griefs

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mark Chen, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Psalm 56:1-13, 1 Samuel 21:8-22:2

Being a Christian doesn’t mean we have no grief or fears. Christians have life events that cause them great grief. Job lost everything in a span of a day - he wept bitterly. Some Christians may be more susceptible because of their temperament or organic make up to depression. William Cowper went through great bouts of sadness and melancholy - which is the term they used for depression in his day. This was also the case with Charles Spurgeon - he battled controversy and emotions. Sadness is part of the human condition. It’s not sinful - Jesus was called a man of sorrows. At Lazarus’ tomb, he wept - both because his friend died and because the people disbelieved him. He was a man of sorrows because he saw the sins of the people, knowing he’d have to bear them upon his body. This kind of sadness can also be seen in God’s people - like Jeremiah expressed sadness at the sin of the people. But sadness can be sinful - sadness and persistent sad thoughts can be wrong; Ahab was sad when he couldn’t get what he lusted for; Judas felt sad but not unto repentance. And even for righteous Job, God said enough is enough. But when we’re sad, as God’s people, the assurance is that God sees our sadness.

What can we learn from this Psalm when we go through our times of grief and trial? What are the precious lessons for us? There are 2 lessons for us from this Psalm. Firstly, our distress in the midst of the deep trials is temporary. Secondly, the assurance of comfort and deliverance leads to praise. 

Firstly, our distress in the midst of deep trials is temporary. Verses 1-2 say, “Be merciful unto me, O God: for man would swallow me up; he fighting daily oppresseth me. Mine enemies would daily swallow me up: for they be many that fight against me, O thou most High.” David was the author of this psalm. We learn he felt trapped by evil - overwhelmed - he felt his enemies would swallow him up. The word “swallow” means to snap - like a wild animal. Other versions translate this as trample or stomp. It refers to a swift and violent act to close in and capture. And so relentless was it that he felt oppressed. Now, why did he feel oppressed? The title gives a clue - “To the chief Musician upon Jonathelemrechokim, Michtam of David, when the Philistines took him in Gath.” So this Psalm was written on the occasion when David was captured by the Philistines at Gath. 1 Samuel 21 and 22 give us the historical background. We’ve read some, but not all. David was the brave shepherd who killed Goliath, who was from Gath. He was a great warrior - greater than Saul. The women had a jingle - Saul killed his thousands, David his ten thousands. So this led to jealousy on Saul’s part. And David had to run for his life. In 1 Samuel 19, Jonathan told David to run away because Saul was planning to kill him. Saul had already thrown a spear at David, and now, he sent men after him. So this was the context - Saul wanted to snap, trap, and trample David. And verses 5-6 describes that intensity. Every day David’s enemies would twist his words to injure his reputation. They had evil thoughts against him. And verse 6 says how they lay in wait to snap him. 

We may not have exactly the same experience as David. But we’ve all felt trapped and oppressed. It may be enemies - like David - coming against us. The work place can a minefield. It’s cutthroat. There’s such a thing as church politics. Or it could be friends; like Job’s friends - at each turn, they waited to pounce on our words, to tell us we’re wrong. It may also be life events - things happen to us, one after another - we can’t adapt to one before another happens. We feel trapped. And this was the case with David. As the story goes, David fled to Nob, where the High Priest took care of him and fed him. David asked him for a weapon to protect himself. And the High Priest said - “I only have Goliath’s sword. Remember? You killed him? Why don’t you take it?” And he did. The Philistines had more advanced technology working with bronze, instead of iron like the Israelites. So David took it - he was on the run - he needed all the help he could get! It was a valuable, sharp, and strong sword. He’s saved! Or was he?

We read, he came to Gath. While he was there, he was seized by the Philistines and brought before King Achish. Gath was the hometown of Goliath. But as he was brought before the king, what did he have with him? Goliath’s sword. If Goliath was over 9 feet tall, his sword was very long too - no hiding it. And the Philistines even recognized him - isn’t this David king of the land? He’s reputed in song to be more powerful than Saul! Just imagine you were David. You’re running from Saul - there’s danger there. Now you have a powerful weapon. But it’s no help! In fact it’s a liability. What you thought was good is bad. And they recognized him. Because who can forget him? The biblical accounts seem to imply he was a good looking ginger. But what's interesting, is that they called him “king of the land.” Saul denied this and it was dangerous for David. The Philistines affirmed this, and it was dangerous for David. It’s a case of do and you’re damned, don't and you’re also damned. He was trapped either way. And this was bad news because here he was alone with Goliath’s sword in Goliath’s hometown. By his triumph, he hurt the Philistines - but now he was alone. Kill the king. Beat Israel! He was trapped. So David responded by acting crazily. 1 Samuel 21:12-15 says when he heard these words and laid them to heart - meaning he processed them and realized the implications - he was afraid. And he changed his behavior and pretended to be insane. He was no longer the dignified king but the jester. Because of his insane behavior, they released him - he scratched the door and made himself drool. He was desperate - like how we feel. 

When they let him free, he escaped to the cave of Adullam. David - not the man who slew ten thousands - but the madman who scratched up the doors. David - not the one who stood up to Goliath, but the one who stood down. Not the daring man, but the deranged man. And now, this king of the land was not in the palace, but in a cave. It was called Adullam - meaning, a hiding place. He was no longer a hero but a zero - a nobody. In that place, he felt humiliated and alone, having hit rock bottom. It was there that he wrote both Psalms 34 and 56. And in our Psalm, in the ascription, it describes how he felt. He felt alone, desperately alone. Jonathelemrechokim in the title - can refer to the Psalm tune or to the mood that the Psalm should be sung. But it literally means - “the silent dove among strangers.” This could refer to how he felt in the presence of Achish. He was a silent dove among enemies. And even now, in 1 Samuel 22:2, he didn’t feel too heroic. Who joined him? All those in distress, those who had debt, unhappy people - they came to him and made him their captain. He had company - but what kind of company was this? King of freaks. 400 of them. Maybe he felt alone among them. His joyful self in the past, was now but gone - the threat of destruction was there. This is how we can also feel. Trapped, oppressed, alone.

But in the midst of this distress, what did he say? Verse 7 - “Shall they escape by iniquity? in thine anger cast down the people, O God.” He looked to God and saw his justice. He knew that God, in his anger, would bring them down. This is a Christian response of confidence in God. We pursue justice and right. But more than just his angst - it showed his hope and belief that God in his anger will right the wrongs. He knew that trials will end one day. Dearly beloved, we all go through deep trials. Some of you are facing that today. Feeling trapped and oppressed by either people or circumstances, and it’s relentless. You feel alone - no one around you can really help. But let you assurance be this - your trials won't last forever. God will rise up and right all wrongs. So with that thought, what can our reaction be? What was David's reaction?

That’s the second lesson we learn - the assurance of comfort and deliverance leads to praise. We know that God not only will right wrongs, but he will do so because he takes notice. He knows everything that’s going on. He’s a trustworthy God. Verse 3-4 say that whenever he was afraid, he’d trust in God. Why? Because he knew God’s promises. And that’s why he’d praise him. He would not fear. Dearly beloved, we must let our theology control our feelings. Far too many of us are controlled by our feelings. And if I might be bold enough to say - our feelings show that we don’t trust God. 

But far from being a judgment - this is me too! This is all of us! This was David. So we see an example of David using his theology to overcome his circumstances. They were not bigger than God. His biblical thought would overcome his sinful affections. Sorrow is not wrong. Sadness is not wrong. But they can become wrong, when we refuse to respond to the attributes of God. When I am afraid, I will trust in you. I will praise your word. I will not fear. The trustworthiness of God evokes action. One does not continue to wallow. One rests in God. There will be faith - fighting to believe in times of fear and distress. There will be praise - fighting to worship God for his promise. There will be confidence - fighting not to fear what flesh can do unto me. And it’s true that we’re sometimes battle weary - but we don’t give up. 

And as we go through our trials, what also brings comfort is knowing that God knows our trials. In fact, he sees more than we do. We think that God doesn’t see - but he does. Verse 8 says - “Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?” Here are some rarely used words, but they’re written in such a way to help a Hebrew speaker to remember that God has an intimate knowledge of our trials. “Thou tellest my wanderings” - the word “wanderings” (nodi in Hebrew) can be translated as misery, tossing, or homelessness. David felt restless. It comes from a root word which is used for a reed tossing in the wind. It gives the idea of despair - his mind and thoughts were all wandering. So emotional tossing is the best way to undersand this word “nodi.” Perhaps David lay awake in fear at night. It is used twice in Job to describe despair - in Job 2:11 and 42:11 - describing how Job mourned and moaned. So David was moaning, and tossing around in despair. But what does God do?  He takes notice of David’s tossing - he counts and records them. The word is “sepher” - it speaks of a careful counting. When we measure rice for the rice cooker, we roughly measure it. And even when measuring water, there’s guesstimation. Some people use the finger method. But the word for counting means to count carefully. Like in baking, there's not agaration - you are careful, leveling the measurement at the meniscus; even weighing the liquid in grams. This is what God does. He knows down to the minutest detail. He knows the number of hairs on his head - it’s not an estimation, but it’s an accurate count.

In the second phrase, “put thou my tears into thy bottle,” you have the word bottle, or “no’d” in Hebrew. The bottle was a leather skin to hold wine, milk, or water in the dry desert. The word sounds nearly the same as “tossing” or “nod’i.” What’s the point? David’s emotional response of extreme fear and danger has not been ignored by God, in fact, the sleepless nights and tears have been carefully recording in God’s records. Not a single tear has gone uncollected. God treats David’s tears like precious water or valuable wine or milk. God is pictured collecting and preserving David’s tears. He cares for us in our suffering. He records every tear and sleepless night. He remembers. In fact, he records them in a book. The word “book” or “scroll” is the Hebrew word “sephred” - sounds similar to count or “sepher”. The book is a scroll on which someone might take notes so they don’t forget things - like when King Ahasuerus could not sleep, he asked the book of records to be read to him. 

So it’s a beautiful phrase in Hebrew for the Hebrew reader - Nodi sepharka…nodeka siphreka - my tossings counted, my tears bottled, all recorded. The Psalms were sung - so these lyrics would’ve been burned into the minds of the people who sang them. And God wants to burn these words into our minds. Not to have our minds tossed to and fro with all our restless thoughts - but to be anchored in this phrase over and over and over again. We may not know the Hebrew, but we know God counts our tears. And why does he count them? The reason for our tears being counted is so that God will not allow those who cause our tears to escape judgment. 

What is the result of good theology and faith in what God has said he does? Praise! God sees and he’ll act. In verse 9 we see that the enemies of David will be forced to retreat because of the tears of David. “When I cry unto thee, then shall mine enemies turn back.” And verse 9 concludes with these powerful words - “This I know: God is for me.” Which is why verse 12 says with confidence - “Thy vows are upon me, O God: I will render praises unto thee.” This was very different from how David started the psalm. He ends the psalm not having changed in his circumstances, but in his feelings because of his theology.

Dearly beloved, this Psalm does not only belong to David, but to David’s greater son. He was trapped - his enemies all around. With much grief and sorrows he prayed and cried to God. And what comfort did he have? David had 400 misfits in the cave. Christ was all alone in the Garden of Gethsemane - and having no one to stand with him. The same at his trial and at the cross. Hebrews 5:7 says, “Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared.” Forgive them for they know not what they do. And God heard his cries and saved that centurion who said - surely this was the Son of God. And God heard his cries, and 50 days later, poured out his Spirit and saved Christ’s enemies.

As Christ’s church, even at this difficult our, where we grapple with what’s before us - God sees and knows. And just as he delivered Christ, he will deliver us in due time.

Sermon Outline:

  1. Our Distress in the Midst of Deep Trials Is Temporary
    1. He felt trapped by evil (1-2, 5-6)
    2. He felt alone (ascription)
    3. Trials will end one day (7)
  2. The Assurance of Comfort and Deliverance Leads to Praise
    1. The trustworthiness of God 
    2. His knowledge of our trials 
    3. Praise is experienced now



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mark Chen, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Rev. Mark Chen

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