Rev. Miersma is pastor of Immanuel Protestant Reformed Church in Lacombe, Alberta, Canada.
Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord. There be many that say, Who will shew us any good? Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us. Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased.
In but a little while, on the fourth Thursday of November, the citizens of the United States will celebrate Thanksgiving Day. Most will not experience the true joy of gratitude, because this is reserved only for those who belong to their faithful Savior Jesus Christ. David in this text shows us that even in the midst of tribulation there is joy, comfort, and gratitude. Charles Spurgeon said of this psalm that here we have “another choice flower from the garden of affliction. Happy is it for us that David was tried, or probably we should never have heard these sweet sonnets of faith.”
The occasion for the writing of this psalm was that David was in exile after having been driven from his throne by Absalom. The men who were with David came to him and asked him, saying, “Who will show us any good?” They did not understand the nature or purpose of this persecution and banishment. To them, good consisted only in their returning to Jerusalem, driving out the revolutionaries, and restoring David, their leader, to his rightful position of king. Once David was firmly reestablished on the throne, they would be assured of regaining the lucrative positions that they had once held in the kingdom. Before the exile there was a time when “their corn and wine increased,” meaning that they enjoyed the riches and bounties of this life. But now those luxuries were no more. Now they had to scrape for subsistence. In addition, they lived in constant fear of being attacked by Absalom and losing their life. To them, nothing appeared to be good. Therefore the question, “Who will show us any good?” What they meant was, “Who will lead us back so we can enjoy the things we had before?” Their basic problem was that they were materialists, as are many professing Christians today, who see good only in enjoyment of things of this world and in that which pleases the flesh. If these things are taken away, then the joy is gone and there is no reason for gratitude.
However, this was not the case with David. He expresses profound joy in the God of his salvation, even though all things apparently testified that God had forsaken him. Even though “corn and wine” and riches of life are gone, yet he is confident. For him there is a joy that no circumstances in life, however averse, can take away. It is a joy that cannot be compared to the pleasure found in the things of this life. David has the joy and gladness of heart that fills the whole being, for from the heart are the issues of life. David possesses an entirely different world and life view than his men, for he possesses a joy that is not bound up in the pleasures of the earth. What makes David unspeakably happy is the assurance that “the countenance of the Lord his God is upon him.” If the face of the Lord were not upon him, he would be miserable, even if his coffers overflowed with corn and wine. However, with coffers empty, with persecution, war, starvation, and death staring him in the face, he has gladness in his heart in the knowledge that God’s face is upon him. Likewise, only then can we have true gratitude.
The countenance or face of the Lord! What does that mean? Negatively, it is not the same thing as saying that God sees, for, of course, God sees all things. All things are naked and open unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. God also sees the ungodly and their wicked deeds and reveals to them His righteous and holy wrath. He sends His judgments upon them, and this does not create gladness in their hearts.
Positively, the face or countenance of the Lord is a figurative expression that means “the self-revelation of God.” That is also true of us. By our faces are we identified, and on them can be read the experiences of the soul, whether we are happy, sad, anxious, victorious, etc. What is true of us is much more true of God. Thus, when the text speaks of the “light” of God’s countenance it denotes the revelation of God in His grace. In contrast, darkness would mean wrath. An example of this in the Bible is the account of the Israelites leaving Egypt. God placed between the Israelites and the Egyptians a cloud that was fiery bright to His people, but dark to the Egyptians. David is asking that the Lord look upon him in the brightness of His grace. With respect to God’s face, there are only two possibilities, either it is against one or it is upon one. There is no half turning of the face with God. It is not true that His face is all the way upon His people and just a little bit upon the ungodly. With the wicked, God is angry all the day. His face is against them, His curse is in their house, and He shows them no fellowship or favor. He turns against them to destroy them in His own appointed time.
Now we can begin to understand the prayer of David a little better. It means that David, conscious of his own sin, which had brought about his present miserable circumstances, pleads with God for a covering. That covering is the face of God, which is the self-revelation of God Himself in grace, the face of God revealed in Jesus Christ, the Savior. David experiences the need of a Mediator and Redeemer to make reconciliation between himself and God. This covering, this Mediator, is Christ. Christ is the propitiation for our sins. He reveals to us the fullness of the love, mercy, grace, compassion, and goodness of God. With that light upon us, all is well and we have joy and peace and gladness in our hearts, even “though the earth is removed, and the mountains are carried into the midst of the sea.” Under that covering “God is our eternal refuge and strength.” That affords the joy of true gratitude.
This joy is transcendent. The extent of our gratitude must never be determined by seeing how large is the list of nice things we enjoy in life. It is not a question of how much “corn and wine” we possess. If this were true, then we but imitate the world when we base our joy on these things. Even if you make a long list of things to be grateful for, to be honest you would have to make a list twice as long of things to be ungrateful for. The result would be that we would be more ungrateful than grateful.
The Christian’s joy transcends the things of this world. He gives thanks “in all things.” There is nothing for which he is ungrateful. The reason for this apparently impossible attitude is that the Christian experiences the light of God’s face, so that nothing is really harmful or detrimental to him. All things, under the sovereign counsel of God, work for his good.
The believer has Christ, and in Christ possesses all things. Thus the Word of God: “Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours” (I Cor. 3:22). Plus we have the word of Christ in the beatitudes, “the meek shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). Therefore, all things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth—principalities, dominions, powers, man and beast, angels and devils, sin and grace—all things serve the glory of the body of Christ, the church, you and me, loved and chosen and redeemed by God.
Will you seek a temporary, relative, and insignificant joy in a few earthly treasures? Or do you rejoice in the knowledge that God has prepared for you an eternal glory and that He uses all things of this present time to prepare you for that place of glory? There are wars, economic hardships, moral and spiritual decline, sickness, pain, suffering, and death. Do these interrupt your giving of thanks? It did not for David. In the midst of calamities he says, “Trust in the Lord.” He is thankful, realizing that gratitude is not based on man’s accomplishments but on the recreative and redemptive work of the Lord.
That was David’s joy. He was not concerned about getting his throne back and filling his coffers with “corn and wine.” Those were selfish interests. What about God’s interests? “Is God pleased with me? Is God on my side? Has God forgiven me my iniquity and cleansed me from my sin? Has God received me in His love and given me His salvation? In the confidence of these blessings, David was also sure that all things would be well with him. The joy in his heart was far richer than his earthly kingdom, for he knew that God cared for him. This joy he inspiresin the men that follow him by enjoining them to “offer unto God the sacrifices of righteousness.”
That is necessary for us to show gratitude. Our sacrifice must be a righteous one. It means that we do not put ourselves first. That is the perversion of all right and basically the corruption of our present world. Man is first. His desires and wants must be satisfied. The result is unrighteousness. A righteous sacrifice means that God, who alone is Righteous, is first in all things. All things are done according to His standard. The result is a broken and contrite heart in which God has delight. That is the sacrifice of righteousness in which true gratitude is expressed. It is not a sacrifice brought to make us righteous, but one in which the righteousness that God has given us is expressed in the form of gratitude and praise. At that point we can say with the psalmist: “I will both lay me down in peace and sleep; for thou Lord, only makest me dwell in safety.”
Now we can be happy. Outward circumstances cannot alter this. In the midst of a world of unrest, trouble, fear, and ever mounting tensions, we rest in the God of our salvation. Casting our care upon Him, we know He cares for us. Thanks then be to God. Thanks for His unspeakable gift, for His love and mercy, for His truth, and for all things, for He is good and there is none besides Him. In that gratitude alone do we find joy that can never be taken away. And when the cup of salvation’s joy runs over, the praises of true gratitude resound unto the everlasting glory of our God.