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A Psalmist Speaks Of Failure

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People all too often worry about or seek to keep from failing. This is especially true of students facing an exam or finishing a course in good fashion, or politicians seeking success, or events in the sports world. Interestingly one of the great coaches of all time, John Wooden, said, “Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be.”

It is not surprising, then, that the scriptures often contain texts that speak of failing in some fashion, whether in word or event. Our study centers on the psalmists who use some form of the word “fail”. The earliest of these is found in the sixth Psalm, which is the first of several penitential psalms in the early church.1 Here the psalmist David cries out in his deep despair:

I am worn out from groaning
all night long I flood my bed with weeping
and drench my couch with tears.

My eyes grow weak with sorrow;
they fail because of all my foes. (Ps. 6:6-7)2

Nevertheless he could also say:

Away from me, all you who do evil
for the LORD has heard my weeping. (v.8)

As Van Gemeren remarks, “The transition from lament to a note of victory is not unknown in the Psalter … and is an example of the prophetic element in the Psalms of individual lament.”3 David’s experience is a good example for all of us to follow. When all seems to yield despair or we are in a test condition, we should remember that the Lord knows our situation and is available to help. As a hymn writer expresses it,

Help me then in every tribulation
So to trust your promises O Lord,
That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation
Offered me within your holy Word.
Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,
E’er to take as from a Father’s hand,
One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,
Till I reach the promised land.4

In another psalm, attributed to David, the psalmist laments the fact that he is in many deep troubles from his enemies and therefore cries out:

I am worn out calling for help;
my throat is parched.

My eyes fail,
looking for my God. (Ps. 69:3)

He seeks God’s forgiveness, while assuring the Lord that he himself is dependent upon God’s love, mercy and compassion, whatever the situation (cf. vv. 6, 13-16).

In another psalm (attributed to Asaph), the psalmist points out that despite some former problems, he is aware that he is always in the Lord’s care (Ps. 73:23). Therefore, he can rest in full dependence on the Lord’s guidance (vv. 24-25). So it is that he can gladly depend on God as his guide and sustainer and so that with assurance he can declare that whatever may occur in his life, ultimately God is in control:

My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever (v. 26)

The longest psalm (Psalm 119) contains two verses that speak of failure. In the first the psalmist longs for God’s help and deliverance. So great is his difficulty that he says, “My eyes fail looking for your promise” (cf. vv. 81-82). Yet he counts on God’s intervention and so pleads for God’s sustenance and vows that he himself “will obey the statutes of your mouth” (v. 8). In a second verse he declares his fidelity to God’s righteous standards. Nevertheless, he feels somewhat abandoned. Therefore, he makes a plea to the Lord (vv. 121-122) and laments his situation by saying, “My eyes fail, looking for your salvation, looking for your righteous promise” (v. 123). All of us at times feel burdened by what is happening in our life. When this happens we must remind ourselves that God is in control and whatever happens will not only be in keeping with his purposes, but is in our best interest.

In a psalm attributed to Asaph, the psalmist records God’s faithful promise:

I will also appoint him my firstborn,
the most exalted of the kings of the earth.

I will maintain my love to him forever,
and my covenant with him will never fail (Ps. 89:27-28).5

Indeed, the Davidic covenant has far reaching promises that become encased not only for just David’s descendants. For in Christ believers have found an abundant and wonderful new life.6

As John W. Peterson expresses it:

New life in Christ, abundant and free!
What glories shine, what joys are mine,
What wondrous blessings I see!7

© Copyright 2018.

1 For details see Williem A. Van Gemeren, “Psalms” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, eds. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 5, 123.

2 All scripture references are from the NIV.

3 Van Gemeren, Psalms, 127.

4 Lina Sandellberg, Day By Day.

5 Psalm 89:27-28 stands in vivid contrast to verses. 30-32, which worn against failing to keep God’s decrees and standards.  Even so, this psalm goes on to point out that God’s love never fails, even when people fail to obey him.

6 See also Psalm 92:12-15, that ends “on a high note of praise to God, which also points to the secret of successful living into old age.  This comes though living in the conscious presence of the One who is the God of love, faithfulness, and integrity and who provides a rock solid foundation for righteous living.  When this is done, dedicated older believers can look back on their lives of commitment and service to the Lord, while continuing  to enjoy a useful life in God’s presence.”  (Richard D. Patterson, “Psalm 92: 12-15: The Flourishing of the Righteous” in Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol. 166, 2009, #663, 288.)

7 John W. Peterson, “New Life!”

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