A Song of Sadness

Psalm 116 is the lament of a man surrounded by grief and sorrow, most likely because death has touched his life. Let's take a few moments to probe a little deeper into a song of sadness.

The first line of the psalmist's song is surprising. He writes, "I love the LORD, because . . . " (116:1). In the nineteenth century, a young English girl, Elizabeth Barrett, suffered a spinal injury at age fifteen that left her a semi-invalid for many years. Although she regained strength prior to her marriage to Robert Browning in 1846, she was hesitant to burden him with the responsibilities of caring for a disabled wife. Her love for him was beautifully expressed in her work, Sonnets from the Portuguese, as she wrote the immortal words: "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways." She then held nothing back as she described the "depth and breadth and height" of her love. In the same way the psalmist expresses his deepest affection for his Lord. He then counts the ways.

Because He Hears Me

I love the LORD, because He hears
My voice and my supplications.
Because He has inclined His ear to me,
Therefore I shall call upon Him as long as I live. (116:1–2)

  1. He hears my voice.
  2. He inclines His ear to me.

These are two distinct responses, not one and the same. The first, "He hears," simply means that when the psalmist speaks, God listens; God pays attention to what he has to say. The second, "He inclines," is from the Hebrew natah, meaning "to bend, turn aside." It implies interest, as when someone turns to face you, stops doing something to give you undivided attention, or leans closer to hear what you have to say.

For example, Solomon uses it in Proverbs 7:21–22 to describe the response of a man who is seduced by a harlot and "follows her." It appears in 1 Kings 11:4 to describe how Solomon's wives "turned away" his heart after other gods. The psalmist says that he loves the Lord because God "bends down," as it were, and "turns aside" from His infinite work . . . as He pays close attention to him in his sorrow and grief. God never turns His back on those who cry out to Him through tears. When God seems farthest away, He actually "bends closer."

Because He Delivers/Rescues Me

Take a few moments now to read Psalm 116:3–6, 8–11 carefully.

Some tragic circumstance had surrounded the writer. Some terrible, painful experience caused him to say that he was near death. I know from personal experience that grief and sorrow can become so intense, death feels imminent. The psalmist cries out to God like a man in free fall; he even confesses to doubting the Lord and falling into sin.

I believe Spurgeon best captures the pathos of the psalmist's situation as he writes:

As hunters surround a stag with dogs and men, so that no way of escape is left, so was David enclosed in a ring of deadly griefs. The bands of sorrow, weakness, and terror with which death is accustomed to bind men ere he drags them away to their long captivity were all around him . . . . Horrors such as those which torment the lost seized me, grasped me, found me out, searched me through and through, and held me a prisoner . . . . these were so closely upon him that they fixed their teeth in him as hounds seize their prey. 1

The marvelous part of it, however, is that the Lord delivered him; He rescued him. Though reduced in strength, slandered in character, depressed in spirit, sick in body, and grief-stricken, the psalmist testifies that the Lord stuck by his side! He always will. God doesn't ditch us; He doesn't leave the sinking ship; He doesn't retreat when the enemy increases strength. Our Lord is a specialist when it comes to deliverance, and you can claim that fact this moment!

We are not surprised to see that the psalmist says he will therefore "walk before the LORD" (116:9) because of His deliverance. It is a natural reaction or desire to spend time with someone who stayed with us during some painful experience we endured.

God never turns His back on those who cry out to Him through tears. In fact, He actually "bends closer."

Charles R. Swindoll Tweet This
  1. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 5 (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1882), 281–282.
Adapted from Charles R. Swindoll, Living the Psalms: Encouragement for the Daily Grind (Brentwood, Tenn.: Worthy Publishing, a division of Worthy Media, Inc., 2012). Copyright © 2012 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights are reserved. Used by permission.
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