This passage contains, for me, one of the most descriptive phrases, related to the effects of affliction, that I have ever read in the entire Bible. The psalmist, for all his committment to God, was not immune to the effect that affliction and difficulty had on his life, and his health. This is often a challenge to people who go through trying times. They feel that if they are a good Christian they will be whistling the entire time as if nothing is wrong. That false assumption has led many to question the faithfulness of God. Notice the following verse:
Isaiah 43:2 When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.
I want you to notice something about that promise. It doesn’t say you won’t get wet; just that God will be with you and you won’t go under. It says that the fire won’t consume you, or burn you, but it doesn’t say you won’t smell like smoke, or feel the heat.
Now, let’s look at what the psalmist says.
Section 11 (CAPH)
Psalms 119:81-88 My soul fainteth for thy salvation: but I hope in thy word.
Mine eyes fail for thy word, saying, When wilt thou comfort me?
For I am become like a bottle in the smoke; yet do I not forget thy statutes.
How many are the days of thy servant? when wilt thou execute judgment on them that persecute me?
The proud have digged pits for me, which are not after thy law.
All thy commandments are faithful: they persecute me wrongfully; help thou me.
They had almost consumed me upon earth; but I forsook not thy precepts.
Quicken me after thy lovingkindness; so shall I keep the testimony of thy mouth.
The psalmist finds himself in a most difficult condition at the opening of this passage. He says that his soul is fainting and his eyes are failing. Fainting and failing for what? He has continually expressed to God that he is waiting for His salvation. He has faithfully declared God’s Word and has, with expectant hope, watched for it.
Now, he is growing weary. His strength is almost gone. He is almost overwhelmed. His soul is wearied with the stand he has been taking. His eyes are heavy, as with someone who has stayed up all night watching for the relief that they have been promised. Now, as it is a long time coming, they cannot help but ask, “Oh Lord, how long?”
Then in verse 83 we find that most descriptive of statements:
“I am become like a bottle in the smoke…”
A bottle in the smoke? What can that mean?
The phrase is lost on most of us in this culture, but the reference is to a water or wine skin that would hang on the inside of the tent wall during the night. When the bags were new, the skins would be soft and pliable. However, after many nights having the smoke from the fires swirling around them, they would absorb the smoke, and become dry, brittle, and smoke-stained.
The psalmist was saying that he was outwardly affected by these afflictions. Where once he had been strong, he was now starting to feel the weight of his trial. You could see the effects on him.
There are many people today, and Christians are not immune, who are visibly carrying the effects of the great trial they have been going through. You may see someone going through something, and they seem to be unscathed, while you feel that you are barely holding up. Do not fret. Each of us face our own trials, and we ought not compare ourselves. Even the great psalmist was feeling the effects of a long wait for the deliverance of God.
I do find something wonderful about the analogy of the bottle in the smoke. Only the skins are affected, not the contents. Notice that the psalmist says that while his soul faints, and his eyes grow weary he still has his hope and confidence in God. Though he longs for God to give him comfort, he has not forgotten God’s Word. The believer may be tired. We may be weary. Let us never lose our hope or remembrance of God’s Word and His promises.
The psalmist next lays out his case for why God should help him. He points out that what they are doing to him is not according to God’s Word. They are doing wrong, while he is doing right. He has been waiting, but if God does not help him soon, he will be dead. He asks, “How many days am I going to live? When are you going to help me?”
He says in verse 86 that God’s commandments are faithful, and he has kept them. The wicked that are afflicting him are persecuting him wrongfully, therefore he has a claim on God’s help. It is a difficult thing for a Christian to experience injustice, when they know they are in the right. When you have done everything you can to obey God, and the bad guys seem to be winning, we can begin to grow weary and ask God how long this will last.
The psalmist sums up by saying that they had almost consumed him from the face of the earth. Almost. Still, he had kept God’s Word. Faithful unto the end. Even in God does not deliver you from this trial in the way you would like, deliverance will come, and there is a reward for faithfulness to God in the face of opposition. We need only ask for that which the psalmist asks for:
Verse 86: Quicken me after thy lovingkindness…
He is asking for strength. He is asking for life to replace the weariness that has overcome him.
2 Corinthians 4:16-17 For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;
The Apostle Paul, in the verse above, had been describing the great affliction that he was experiencing for the cause of Christ. What he calls “light affliction” is only light in comparison with the glory that awaits him. It is hard to remember that, but the trials we may endure are no different. In light of the glory that will be revealed one day, we will look back on this as a light affliction, though now we are barely able to hold up under it.
The Apostle acknowledges that the outward man suffers, but the inward man, indwelt by the Spirit of God, is renewed day by day.
This is what the psalmist asks for. Renewal. His tank is just about on empty.
Dear reader, there are days when we just don’t even feel that we have the strength for one more day. We have been praying, watching, and believing that God would help us. We have smiled and told others how God would come through. Now the trial goes on, and we are feeling the load. The smiles don’t come as easily, and we begin to grow weary. When is God going to help?
We do not know the answer, but let me encourage you to do two things.
The first is to remain committed to His Word, no matter the difficulty.
The second is to express your questions to God and ask for a renewal of strength.
It may not yet be His will to deliver you at this time. That does not mean that you are alone. He is with you. You may get wet, but you won’t drown. You may smell like smoke, but you won’t get consumed by the fire.
Heavenly Father, it is so hard for us to understand why You sometimes allow us to go through such long trials. This is especially true when they involve unjust, or wicked behavior on the part of others towards us. We want you to come in immediately and fight our battles. When you don’t, we grow weary. Our eyes grow tired and heavy from watching for Your deliverance such a long time. We wonder when You will come. Help us, Lord. Yet, we remain committed to your Word. We will not forget Your law. We ask only that if it is not Your will to deliver us at this time, that You will quicken us. Renew our strength. Renew our spirit. Help us to stand. In Jesus name, amen