What an affecting picture of misery! Not only were his patience and hope—but his very body, "dried up" by long-continued affliction. This is he, who in the prime of youth was "ruddy and of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to,"—now shriveled up like a bottle of skin, hung up in the smoke! Such is the mark that the rod of "chastening" leaves on the body of humiliation. The soul is strengthened—the body withers—under the stroke.
What might naturally have been expected to have been the result of this lengthened exercise? Saul, under protracted trial, resorted to the devil for relief. An infidel nation took occasion from thence to throw off the yoke. Even a good man, under a few hours' trial, murmurs against God—no, even defends his murmuring. How did this man of God behave? When his soul was fainting, his hope in the word kept him from sinking. Under the further continuance of the trial, the same recollection gives him support—yet do I not forget Your statutes.
Now—Christian—do not expect a new way to heaven to be made for you. Prepare for the cross. It may be—as with David—a heavy, long-continued burden, and, should it come—look on it as your appointed trial of faith, and your training discipline for more enduring conflicts. And remember that your determined resolution rather to pine away in affliction, than "make a way of escape" by sin—is the proof of the reality of His own grace in you, and of His faithful love towards you. Think how honorably He manifests your relation to Christ, by causing "His sufferings to abound in you," and making you "bear in your body the marks of the Lord Jesus." And do you not thus realize, as you could not otherwise do, the sympathy of our High Priest, who was Himself "a root out of a dry ground, having no form nor loveliness, and no beauty that He should be desired—despised and rejected of men" to the end? Oh, what a supporting cordial to His afflicted people is the sympathy of this suffering, tempted Savior!
But to look at David, under his long-continued trials, preserving his recollection of the Lord's statutes—what a striking evidence of the presence of his God, and the sustaining power of his word! If we then—blessed with much larger Scriptures than he—fail in deriving from them the same support, it can only be, that we do not search them in a dependent, prayerful, and humble spirit—that we do not simply look for the revelation of Christ; to mark His glory, and to increase in the knowledge of Him. In this spirit we should have more to say of the comfort of remembering the Lord's statutes; and of their upholding influence, when all other stays were found as "the trust in the shadow of Egypt—shame and confusion."
Job's history strikingly illustrates both the trial and its sanctified results. When "scraping himself with a potsherd, and sitting down among the ashes,"—the temporary victim of Satanic power—he might well have taken up the complaint, I am become like a bottle in the smoke. But when in this hour of temptation he was enabled to resist the tempter in the person of his own wife, and commit himself with implicit resignation into the hands of his faithful God, "What! shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?"—was not this the confidence—Yet do I not forget Your statutes?
This confidence is indeed an encouraging seal of the Lord's love to our souls. For we never should have remembered His statutes, had He not written His covenant promises upon our hearts. And how much more honorable to our God is it than the desponding complaint, "The Lord has forsaken me, and my God has forgotten me!" Let us watch then against a proud sullenness under every little trial—such as the coldness of friends, the unkindness of enemies, or our Father's providential dispensations. How sinful to allow hard thoughts of Him, whose name and character, "without variableness or shadow of turning," is "Love!" A steady trust in the long and wearisome seasons of tribulation, is indeed "to glorify God in the fires." Nothing honors Him so much as this enduring, overcoming faith, persevering in despite of opposition, in destitution of all outward prospects of relief. It is when "against hope we believe in hope, not staggering at the promise of God through unbelief," that we are "strong in faith, giving glory to God."
"For I am become like a bottle in the smoke." The skins used for containing wine, when emptied, were hung up in the tent, and when the place reeked with smoke the skins grew black and sooty, and in the heat they became wrinkled and worn. The Psalmist's face through sorrow had become dark and dismal, furrowed and lined; indeed, his whole body had so sympathized with his sorrowing mind as to have lost its natural moisture, and to have become like a skin dried and tanned. His character had been smoked with slander, and his mind parched with persecution; he was half afraid that he would become useless and incapable through so much mental suffering, and that men would look upon him as an old worn-out skin bottle, which could hold nothing, and answer no purpose. What a metaphor for a man to use who was certainly a poet, a divine, and a master in Israel, if not a king, and a man after God's own heart! It is little wonder if we, commoner folk, are made to think very little of ourselves, and are filled with distress of mind. Some of us know the inner meaning of this simile, for we, too, have felt dingy, mean, and worthless, only fit to be cast away. Very black and hot has been the smoke which has enveloped us; it seemed to come not alone from the Egyptian furnace, but from the bottomless pit; and it had a clinging power which made the soot of it fasten upon us and blacken us with miserable thoughts.
"Yet do I not forget your statutes." Here is the patience of the saints and the victory of faith. Blackened the man of God might be by falsehood, but the truth was in him, and he never gave it up. He was faithful to his King when he seemed deserted and left to the vilest uses. The promises came to his mind, and, what was still better evidence of his loyalty, the statutes were there too: he stuck to his duties as well as to his comforts. The worst circumstances cannot destroy the true believer's hold upon his God. Grace is a living power which survives that which would suffocate all other forms of existence. Fire cannot consume it, and smoke cannot smother it. A man may be reduced to skin and bone, and all his comfort may be dried out of him, and yet he may hold fast his integrity and glorify his God. It is, however, no marvel that in such a case the eyes which are tormented with the smoke cry out for the Lord's delivering hand, and the heart, heated and faint, longs for the divine salvation.