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The Scriptorium

Stressed but Steady

How do we react under pressure? Psalm 119.83

Psalm 119.81-88 (2)

Pray Psalm 119.83.
For I have become like a wineskin in smoke,
Yet I do not forget Your statutes.

Psalm 119.81-83
(Ripley: Hallelujah! Praise Jehovah, O My Soul)
My soul faints for Your salvation – but my hope is in Your Word!
I have searched Your Word with patience seeking comfort from You, Lord.
Like a wineskin, Lord, You test me; I am withered with despair!
Let Your statutes my sweet rest be as I call on You in prayer.

Read Psalm 119.81-88; meditate on verse 83.

1. To what did the psalmist compare himself?

2. What did he not forget?

Commentators are all over the board in explaining this beautiful image: “I have become like a wineskin in smoke”. Skins were used to hold wine in the psalmist’s day. Some say this refers to a discarded skin, burned up and withered in the refuse fire. Others say this is how a wineskin is prepared for use. Smoking it helps to firm it up and fill gaps in the skin. Yet another commentator suggested that this was a way of refining the wine in the skin. By holding it over smoke the skin was stressed, but the wine inside was enriched.

I vote for the last one. I think it most closely addresses the thrust of this verse. Outwardly, the psalmist was being stressed; inwardly he was holding steady with the Lord and His statutes. When trials, disappointments, dangers, or distresses assail us, we can hold firm by turning to the Word of God, hidden in our heart (Ps. 119.9-11), pervading our mind (Ps. 119.27), and settled in our conscience (Ps. 119.72). Drink deeply from its sweet, enlivening truths. Thus you can endure outward trials by drawing on unseen strengths within.

Or as Paul might have said it, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4.13).

The trials and difficulties of life are real. They can stress us out; but they can also stretch and grow us if we look not on the outward and passing things of this life, but on the inward and unseen truths of the Word of God, looking to Jesus and clinging to His Word (2 Cor. 4.18; Col. 3.1-3; Ps. 119.31, 32).

Treasures Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162
A wineskin in smoke, for whatever reason the psalmist saw fit to use that example, bespeaks a shriveled, tenuous mess. It is not a flattering picture. Aren’t there about a thousand commercials a night on TV promoting some cream or lotion that promises to relieve that look?

But whatever look the psalmist was going for, he wasn’t really feeling on the upside of his life at that particular moment in time.

However, there is good news for us. Regardless of why we are feeling like a wineskin in smoke there are things that we can think about that will help to carry us to another thought level. And these positive truths are found in the Word of God, in His statutes and in His Law. (Ps. 119.83) And we must never forget to think about them.

So, here is the antidote for a shriveled, smoked, withered wineskin spirit:
“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19.25-27)
“Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6.19, 20).
“But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor.” Maybe even smoked wineskins. “Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from [iniquity], he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Tim. 2.20, 21).

God wants us to be “strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man…” (Eph. 3.16).

And then the real plumping power, that fills all the dried out, smoked out places in our heart… “that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3.17-19). Revived!

“Looking to Jesus and clinging to His Word.”

For reflection
1. When you feel “smoked” and “withered,” where do you turn? What Scriptures do you find especially helpful?

2. What can you do to make sure those inner resources of Word and Spirit will be there when you need them?

3. Whom will you encourage today to draw on those inner resources in their time of trial?

The obvious design of the Psalmist is to teach us, that, although he had been proved by severe trials, and wounded to the quick, he yet had not been withdrawn from the fear of God. John Calvin (1509-1564), Commentary on Psalm 119.83

Pray Psalm 119.87, 88.
The enemy of our souls will try to distract, disappoint, and defeat you today. Prepare to fight the good fight against him in prayer, seeking the Lord’s reviving kindness and restoring love. What’s before you today for which you will especially need mercy and grace from the Lord?

Psalm 119.87, 88
(Ripley: Hallelujah! Praise Jehovah, O My Soul)
For my foes would make an end to my existence on the earth.
Yet Your precepts I befriend to know the greatness of their worth.
In Your kindness, Lord revive me! In Your love, restore my soul!
Let Your Word in me alive be; I will keep it well and whole.

T. M. and Susie Moore

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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. For sources of all quotations, see the weekly PDF of this study. All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (Williston: Waxed Tablet Publications, 2006), available by clicking here.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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