Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Asaph wrote in Psalm 74:9,
We are given no miraculous signs;
No prophets are left,
And none of us knows how long this will be.
We often talk about the awesome praise in the Psalms (and indeed there is a lot of praise), but what really makes the Psalms so authentic is that they are not just all happy. The Psalms span the whole range of human emotions, including disappointment.
What do we do when we feel disappointed, let down, or just plain stuck? I know that it is a little obvious, but turn to the Word of God. Now, some might right away say, “Yeah! Check out James 1:2-4!” For your reference, it reads:
Considering pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Having noted this, when you’re feeling down I do not recommend turning to James first. But check out the Word, because it is filled with people who know exactly how it feels. Asaph goes on at length in Psalm 77:1-9 about his misery;
I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
At night I stretched out untiring hands
And my soul refused to be comforted.
I remembered you, O God, and I groaned;
I mused, and my spirit grew faint. (Selah)
You kept my eyes from closing;
I was too troubled to speak.
I thought about the former days,
The years of long ago;
I remembered my songs in the night.
My heart mused and my spirit inquired:
“Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?” (Selah)
Asaph asks the same kind of questions we do when we’re down: “Has God forgotten me? What can I do?”
Job felt the same way, he felt led down and hopeless (and rightfully so) so he decided to straight up ask god what the deal was,
Why is light given to those in misery,
And life to the bitter of soul,
To those who long for death that does not come,
Who search for it more than for hidden treasure,
Who are filled with gladness
And rejoice when they reach the grave?(Job 3:20-22)
Just a few verses later, Job explains his heart,
For sighing comes to me instead of food;
My groans pour out like water.
What I feared has come upon me;
What I dreaded has happened to me.
I have no peace, no quietness;
I have no rest, but only turmoil (Job 3:24-26).
Is this kind of talk in front of God a sin? Paul says in Romans 9:20-21 that we have no reason to complain,
But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?
In Romans 9:15-16, Paul explains that it doesn’t really matter how you feel, God chooses as God chooses:
For he says to Moses,
“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
And I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.
The Lord actually claims woe to one who questions him in Isaiah 45:9,
Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker,
To him who is but a potsherd among potsherds on the ground.
Does the clay say to the potter,
“What are you making?”
Does your work say,
“He has no hands?”
Even Job’s friends understand this idea and they try to dissuade Job from confronting the Lord in Job 11:7-10,
Can you fathom the mysteries of God?
Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?
They are higher than the heavens- what can you do?
They are deeper than the depths of the grave- what can you know?
Their measure is longer than the earth
And wider than the sea.
If he comes along and confines you in prison
And convenes a court, who can oppose him?
Clearly, the Lord is not one to be messed with. We as mere humans cannot hold a candle to the perfect Creator of the universe.
But here’s the problem you and I face; Job says it very clearly: “I know my redeemer lives” (Job 19:25). Who can I turn to but the Lord? Peter says this very thing to Jesus in John 6:68-69, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Then what do I do with verses like 1 Corinthians 10:10 (“And do not grumble, as some of them did- and were killed by the destroying angel.”)? Well, understand that the Israelites (“them” in the quote) often called God’s holiness into question. I cannot deny the Lord as holy, but I have to talk to someone when things are tough. 1 Peter 5:7 (“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”) and Psalm 55:22 (“Cast your cares on the lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.”) say the same thing: give it to God. So, that brings us back to Asaph in Psalm 74- everything feels not so good, I don’t see any miracles, and I don’t know when it’s gonna change.
First, we need to take our problems to God. David knows that by praying he can let God know how he feels, and that even when he’s down, he knows God will eventually help. He says this in Psalm 70:4-5,
But may all who seek you
Rejoice and be glad in you;
May those who love your salvation always say,
“Let God be exalted!”
Yet I am poor and needy;
Come quickly to me, O God.
You are my help and my deliverer;
O Lord, do not delay.
Notice that David doesn’t say, “Hey God, I’m doing great, but if you could there’s this one thing I’d like you to fix.” No, he lays it all out there for the Lord (and why not, God knows it all anyway).
Second, lean on God. Psalm 71 verses 1-3 and 5-6 remind us (and God) that we are totally reliant on him;
In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge;
Let me never be put to shame.
Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness;
Turn your ear to me and save me.
Be my rock of refuge,
To which I can always go;
Give the command to save me,
For you are my rock and my fortress (Psalms 71:1-3)
For you have been my hope, O Sovereign Lord,
My confidence since my youth.
From birth I have relied on you;
You brought me forth from my mother’s womb. (Psalms 71:5-6)
Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30 to rest in him, for with Jesus life is easier than without him;
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.
Proverbs 30:26 (“Coneys are creatures of little power, yet they make their home in the crags.”) reminds us that like the Coney, though we are powerless, we are protected by our all powerful God.
Third, remember what God has already done in your life and in the lives of others. Asaph decides to do this, he writes,
Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
The years of the right hand of the Most High.”
I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
Yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
I will meditate on all your works
And consider all your mighty deeds (Psalms 77:10-12).
Take comfort in the Lord’s holiness. There are plenty of examples in his Word, so hold on to your Bible for dear life.
Fourth, anticipate the outcome. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Have you been called? Well, you’re here, aren’t you? In Psalm 126:5-6 we are reminded that even if we are down now, it won’t always be like this,
Those who sow in tears
Will reap with songs of joy.
He who goes out weeping,
Carrying seed to sow,
Will return with songs of joy,
Carrying sheaves with him.
Our sorrow today is our joy tomorrow. “Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).
Don’t ever worrying about upsetting our God with your troubles. He knows your heart and will not feel bad if a faithful person lays out their heart to Him. “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him” (Nahum 1:7). There are many other verses all over the Bible I could quote to you, but I will close with this one:
He gives strength to the weary
And increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
And young men stumble and fall;
But those who hope in the Lord
Will renew their strength
They will soar on wings like eagles;
They will run and not grow weary,
They will walk and not be faint (Isaiah 40:28-31)