Some Psalms
Lesson 12

Lesson Twelve

The Reality of "Ups and Downs"

Text: Psalm 31

This Psalm, as is often the case in the Psalms, is subject to numerous interpretations.  What is the setting?  Why are there mood swings?  How should a word or phrase be translated?  Is it the combining of more than one Psalm?

Remember several things.  A psalm is Hebrew poetry, not Hebrew prose.  The majority of us are dealing with the translation of a writing about 3000 years old—words and phrases change meaning as time passes.  If the Psalm made sense to those who originally sang the Psalm, that does not mean the Psalm will automatically and obviously make sense to us.  Often the Psalms dealt with life’s rawness in a time when people did not have the insights we are provided through Jesus Christ.  Those people dealt with life’s uncertainties differently than do Christians.


One of the raw edges of life we all endure is the “ups and downs” produced by physical hardships.  It often is easy to believe in and trust God when things are going the way you want.  It is challenging to believe in and trust God when a period of struggle is followed by another period of struggle.


We should be able to relate to this challenge.  One war ends, another begins.  The Twin Towers disintegrate, vigilance heightens, and still someone attempts to blow up Times Square.  A huge, destructive hurricane is followed by huge, destructive earthquakes which are followed by a massive, destructive oil spill.  Human greed and evil never end!  Many are the expressions of human hate!  One group grabs for power as it ignores other groups’ suffering!  Problems go on and on, ignoring human dilemmas produced by the problems!  How does one maintain trust in God in the face of all that occurs?


The Psalm began with an affirmation of trust in God.  Note the focus was on God.  It focused on what God did for the psalmist.  Perhaps it was a declaration of what the psalmist knew to be true because of God’s responses in the past.  He took refuge in God.  He asked that God assist him in not being ashamed of God.  God was his rescue, his strength, and his salvation.  For the sake of God’s name (for the sake of God’s reputation), he asked for God to lead and guide him, to deliver him from the entangling net, and to continue to be his ransom.


Even with all his threats and troubles, he hated idolatry.  He trusted in God and God’s mercy.  God knew what he went through.  God was aware of his troubles!  Yet, God did not desert him!  (Even though he endured a very difficult time, he did not feel abandoned by God.)


Seemingly then the psalmist went through a second hard time that was even worse than the first.  He could feel his confidence and strength slipping! Out of his distress He called for God’s consideration. He cried so much that his whole body was wasting away.  His life went from sorrow to sorrow.  His acquaintances ridiculed him.  His neighbors wanted nothing to do with him.  He was like a dead man, a broken (useless) vessel, as many slandered him and terrorized him.  People plotted to kill him!


Even though his circumstances were disastrous, he was not ashamed to trust God.  He just asked for deliverance from his enemies.  He asked for God’s face to shine on him as God used His mercy to save him.  Instead of him being shamed, may the wicked be ashamed.  Instead of him dying, may the wicked be silenced by death.  May the lying lips be stopped!


As God again delivered, the psalmist again sang God’s praises.  God’s goodness was great for those who endured difficult times.  God blessed those who endured hard times through trusting Him.  God provided care that the wicked could not see.  Though troubles put a “siege” on his life, God’s mercy rescued him.    Though he was alarmed and in horrible circumstances, God heard him when he cried out.


His exhortation was simple: Love the faithful God!  God preserved those who belonged to Him!  If you belong to God, be strong in Him and find your courage in Him.  Let nothing prevent God from being your hope!


This is not a psalm that said, “If you trust in God, nothing bad will ever happen to you!”  It said, “If bad things repeatedly happen to you, endure the bad circumstances by patiently keeping your hope in God!  Never let God cease to be your strength and courage!”


The American Christian often lives in a “health and wealth” environment.  Often he/she expects to receive “health and wealth” in exchange for faith in Jesus Christ.  Some have lost their faith in God because life did not work out as anticipated.  More often than not, faith in God provides the righteous with the strength and courage to endure while refusing to abandon righteous living.  Good times that are favorable to a righteous life are not essential to righteous living.  Righteous is what you are because you believe.  Your life—good or bad—is but the canvass on which you paint righteousness because you believe. The blessing of deliverance is wonderful, but the blessing of endurance often has the loudest and most recognized voice.



For Thought and Discussion


1. This Psalm is subject to what?

2. The majority are dealing with what?  How does time affect translation?

3. What is one of the “raw edges of life” we all deal with?

4. Discuss why we should be able to relate to the challenge of this “raw edge of life.”

5. Discuss how the psalmist looked at God in the first difficult time.

6. The second hard time was what in comparison to the first hard time?

7. Even though his circumstances were disastrous, he was not ashamed to do what?

8. What was his attitude toward the wicked?

9. When God delivered him, what was the psalmist’s simple exhortation?

10. What did the Psalm not say?  It said what?

11. What environment does the American Christian often live in?

12. What is not essential to righteous living?  Righteousness is what?

13. What is wonderful?  What often has the loudest and most recognized voice?

Link to Teacher's Guide Lesson 12

Copyright © 2010
David Chadwell & West-Ark Church of Christ

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