A wineskin repeatedly exposed to smoke would shrivel and harden until it lost its flexibility and became useless. What a fitting picture for the way chronic cares shrivel the spirit!
As noted in my previous Psalm 119 post, this section also contains an anomaly. If you’ve been paying attention to each verse of this Psalm 119 marathon, you should spot it immediately.
The psalmist begins the Kaph section by expressing a longing frequently found in the psalms.
My soul longs for your salvation;
I hope in your word (81, ESV).
As the author longs for God to save him, he continues to hope in God’s word. He desires to see physical evidence and to feel emotional comfort from God’s fulfilled promises.
My eyes long for your promise;
I ask, “When will you comfort me?” (82, ESV).
He confesses that in spite of feeling his spirit and hope shrivel like a wineskin exposed to smoke, he has not forgotten God’s statutes.
For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke,
yet I have not forgotten your statutes (83, ESV).
In verse 84, the psalmist asks these questions:
How long must your servant endure?
When will you judge those who persecute me?
How does that verse differ from all the previous 83 verses we’ve examined and nearly every one of the remaining 92 verses?
You may notice that this verse does not include a word for God’s law. Nearly every other verse in this 176-verse psalm includes a word such as law, statutes, precepts, testimonies, promise, commandments, or rules. The continued repetition of these words sharpens the psalm’s focus on God’s law.
The chronic character of the psalmist’s struggle leads him to question the timing of God’s response. He wonders how long he must endure and when God will judge his persecutors. His intense pain causes him to depart from his standard practice of focusing on God’s law.
Following this departure, the psalmist returns to mentioning God’s law by contrasting the lifestyle of his persecutors.
The insolent have dug pitfalls for me;
they do not live according to your law (85, ESV).
Those who attempt to entrap the righteous are not only insolent; they are also disobedient. They are not living according to God’s law.
As lies swirl around the psalmist, he feels life ebb away and begs God for help.
All your commandments are sure;
they persecute me with falsehood; help me!
They have almost made an end of me on earth,
but I have not forsaken your precepts (86-87, ESV).
As he feels life fade, he desperately clings to God’s promises. He seeks life, not for his own glory, but for God’s.
In your steadfast love give me life,
that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth (88, ESV).
The psalmist does not seek financial success or earthly power. He does not even desire continued fellowship with believers or leadership in the church. His singular goal is obedience.
All measures of earthly success are bereft of meaning without obedience to God’s word. It is better to dig ditches or wash dishes while trying to obey God in every area of life than to rule people or expound scripture while failing to keep God’s law in private life.