The Sacrifice of Atonement

Sacrifice of Atonement “And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him”. (Leviticus 1:4)

The word Atonement means to wipe clean; to pay a ransom; to cover. Atonement means to reconcile by wiping clean, paying a ransom and covering the differences (sins) that lienate and separate a person from God, arousing His justice. The atonement propitiates or satisfies God’s wrath; it appeases, placates, cancels, annuls God’s anger against sin. Atonement means to ransom or deliver by the means of a substitute. The substitute takes the place of the sinner and bears the punishment due the sinner. Through the atonement, a person is set free from sin and its punishment. A person is ransomed from sin and the punishment of death, ransomed to live eternally with God. In one very simple statement, the atonement means reconciliation: the atonement reconciles a person to God and makes a person acceptable to God.

Two important facts need to be noted about the great subject of atonement.

1.  The atonement secured by animals was only a type, only a symbol and picture of the atoning sacrifice of Christ. Jesus Christ died as the perfect sacrifice to ransom us from sin, death, and hell (separation from God). This fact must always be remembered: justice demands that a person pay for the crime he has committed. A person cannot get off in court just by apologizing and saying “I’ll try my best not to do it again.” This is not enough, not in a true court of justice. This is especially true when dealing with God. God’s justice demands that a person pay for breaking the law of God. But note: God is perfect; therefore, His justice demands that a perfect payment be made for man’s disobedience or crime against God. But in this fact there is a major problem, for no person is perfect. Consequently, no person can make the perfect payment to satisfy God’s justice. What then can man do? This is where Jesus Christ enters the picture. Jesus Christ—His death upon the cross—is the perfect payment, the perfect atonement, that satisfies God’s justice. He offered Himself up as the perfect sacrifice for our crimes or sins against God. He and He alone is the true atoning sacrifice, the true Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

2.  The atoning (reconciling) death of Jesus Christ was made once-for-all; therefore, His sacrifice is the only sufficient sacrifice ever made. The Burnt Offering finds its fulfillment in the death of Jesus Christ. His death makes animal sacrifice obsolete. We no longer have a need to offer Burnt Offerings for the atonement of our sins. We are reconciled to God by the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. His sacrifice was the perfect ransom demanded by God for the cursing of His name, for the rejection and hostility of our behavior toward Him. Jesus Christ bore the judgment of God’s anger and wrath against sins. This He did to atone for our sins so that we might become reconciled and acceptable to Him. As stated, because of Jesus Christ, we no longer have to offer Burnt Offerings to become acceptable to God. We are acceptable when we approach God through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is His sacrifice that atones for our sins, that reconciles us to God—His sacrifice that makes us acceptable to God once-for-all.

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The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree

Barren Fig TreeScripture Reading: Luke 13:6 – 9

Introduction
The great prophet Isaiah told the people of Israel a parable about a vineyard (Isaiah. 5:1 – 7). The owner of the vineyard did everything he could to make the vineyard productive. He built a fence around it to protect it from marauding enemies. He removed the stones from the soil so that they could not interfere with the growth of the vines, and he planted only the finest vines. He built a tower in the midst of the vineyard and also constructed a wine press. He had every right to expect an abundance of delicious grapes, but instead the vineyard produced grapes that were bitter and repulsive.

In Isaiah’s parable Israel is the vineyard. Instead of producing a harvest for the glory of God, the people had drifted into spiritual degeneracy and moral bankruptcy. Because of Israel’s refusal to bring forth fruit, God spoke through Isaiah concerning the removal of the hedge that protected them. He an-nounced that he would command the clouds to rain no more upon it (Isaiah. 5:5). This sentence was pronounced because, instead of justice, the people had produced oppression, and instead of righteous-ness, they lived crooked, selfish, sinful lives.

In the parable of the barren fig tree, Jesus spoke a similar message to the Israel of his day. He spoke of the owner of a vineyard who had for three years sought fruit on a certain fig tree during harvesttime only to find it barren. He decided that the fig tree should be destroyed because it was nonproductive. He asked the man who was in charge of caring for the vineyard a question that has an application for us today. After issuing an order to cut the tree down, he asked, “why cumbereth it the ground” (Luke 13:7). The vinedresser still had hopes for figs and suggested that it be given one more year of opportunity in which to be productive.

This parable has both a national and a personal application. Through this parable Jesus was saying that the nation of Israel had one more opportunity to bear fruit for the glory of God.

I. This parable speaks of God’s absolute ownership.

A. Individuals forget that only God is absolute owner. The Bible tells us that God created the heavens and the earth. He placed humans on the earth to subdue and develop it, but he did not give the earth to them. The world still belongs to God. The psalmist said, “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein” (Ps. 24:1).
B. Governments and economic systems forget or ignore that God is owner. In the world of today, two economic systems are contending for supremacy. The capitalistic system emphasizes that the in-dividual has a right to own, utilize, and control property. In the socialistic economic system, individual property rights are denied and ownership is vested in the state. Both of these systems are in error, for neither the individual nor the state has the right of sole ownership: ownership belongs to God.

II. This parable speaks of God’s right to expect fruit.

A. After the fig tree had been planted a sufficient length of time to bear fruit, the owner came expecting to find fruit in three successive years only to be disappointed repeatedly. Not only was he dis-appointed, but he decided that the tree had no right to continue to survive if it was going to be nonproductive.
B. God has a right to expect fruit from his vineyard. He is the vine and his disciples are the branches. “He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). Our heavenly Father is glorified as we bring forth much fruit (v. 8). “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain” (v. 16).

III. This parable speaks of the patience of God.

A. In three different years, he came to the vineyard expecting fruit from the fig tree before deciding to have it cut down.
B. Because of the intercession of the vinedresser, the owner consented to give the fig tree one more year of opportunity.
C. Jesus was saying that God is patient both with the nation and with the individual, and that he would give them another chance.

IV. This parable speaks of the firmness of God.

A. He who bears no fruit is a parasite. God is patient, but there is a limit to that patience. The fig tree was given another chance.
B. The owner of the vineyard said, “Cut it down.” God’s judgments are rooted in righteousness.

Conclusion
The unsaved about us are a total loss to God. They bear no fruit to his glory. They are in peril of ex-periencing his judgment. Because the mercy of God is still available to them and because of our concern for them, we should seek to guide them by God’s word in order that the Holy Spirit may draw them to experience the joy of bearing fruit.

Overcoming Paralyzing Fear and Trouble, Psalm 27

Peace and saftyOf all the oppressive emotions we experience as humans, fear is usually one of the most powerful. Fear is an enemy that rises up against us throughout our lives. When we are small children, it attacks our immature minds about silly things like monsters in the closet or under the bed, impossible catastrophes, and vivid images from dreams or movies. Although these things are nothing more than imaginations, they are very real to young children. As we mature, so do our fears. Made-up monsters are replaced by horrors that actually exist in our sin-cursed world. While fear is something we definitely feel, we must realize that it is more than an emotion: it is a spiritual enemy. Scripture informs us that the spirit of fear does not come from God (2 Timothy 1:7).

David encountered the spirit of fear, leading him to pen Psalm 27. We do not know what provoked his terror, but he indicated that it was a time when enemies sought to destroy him (v. 6), family forsook him (v. 10), and his foes were spreading cruel lies about him (v. 12). David was a man of war, and this psalm could apply to many occasions in his life.

1. Profess your faith in the Lord.

David did not begin this psalm by stating his fears but by declaring his faith. In so doing, he identified the only solution to the problem of fear: trusting the Lord. In the same personal way that David referred to the Lord as his shepherd (Psalm. 23:1), he now testifies that God was his light, salvation, and strength. Because of his personal relationship with the Lord, he would not be afraid of anyone or anything.

a) He is your light (v. 1).

David’s first declaration about God takes on special significance if the setting for this psalm was his encounter with Ishbibenob, the gigantic Philistine (2 Samuel. 21:16). After Abishai helped David slay this monster, David’s faithful men counselled him to lay down his sword because he was “the light of Israel” (2 Samuel. 21:17). In response, David announced that he was brightened by a greater light: the Lord Himself. Whatever light he was to God’s chosen nation was merely the reflection of the light of the Lord in his life.

Throughout Scripture, God is called the light of our lives. In what ways is this true?

⇒God is the source of our lives. Scripture sometimes describes our lives as lamps or candles, especially in the poetic books (Job—Song of Solomon). The Lord supplies the light that causes us to burn or live; He gives us life.

⇒God lights our path: as we travel through life God guides us by His presence and His Word.

⇒God shines into the darkness of our souls (minds) and enlightens us to see His truth.

⇒God brightens our lives, giving us a spirit of gladness and a reason to rejoice.

⇒God is the source of every good thing in our lives.

b) He is your salvation (deliverer) (v. 1).

Salvation means deliverance, liberty, or rescue. In this psalm, David was referring to being delivered from his enemies. The Lord had made a covenant with David; therefore, he was unafraid. He knew that the Lord would be faithful to His covenant. The Lord would save David from his enemies because of His promise and His purpose.

c) He is your strength (protector) (v. 1).

When David declared that the Lord was the strength of his life, he was not saying that God was his source of might or vitality. Strength refers to a place of shelter, safety, and protection. It can be translated as fortress, stronghold, or refuge. David was convinced that God would protect him from his enemies. As long as he trusted in the Lord, he was safe within the impenetrable walls of God’s mighty care.

d) He is your confidence (vv. 2-3).

The Lord’s protection in the past inspired David to be fearless in his present trouble (v. 2). Some newer Bible versions interpret this verse in the future tense, but the past tense (as in the KJV) is accurate. God had given David victory over foes that were larger and more powerful than he. The length of David’s list of conquests depends on exactly when in his life this psalm was penned. If he wrote it early in life, when Saul was pursuing him, he had already slain a lion, a bear, and the giant Goliath. These had desired to literally eat or devour his flesh (1 Samuel. 17:34-37, 44).

David believed that the Lord who had strengthened him in the past against such formidable enemies as these would now deliver him from any host or army that might attack him (v. 3). He had always fought in the power of God, not in his own strength. The God who gave him power over the lion, the bear, and Goliath was mightier than any army that dared to war against him. Armed with confidence in the Lord, David could fearlessly face any foe.

Observation: Notice the order in this psalm: David professed his faith before he prayed about his fear. Why is this important? By encouraging himself through the Lord’s power and faithfulness, David was able to pray in faith rather than in doubt. When he asked for God’s help, he was certain that God would hear and answer him (vv. 7-13). This is how the Lord commands us to pray. In fact, when we pray with wavering faith, we cannot expect answers to our prayers (James. 1:6-7). It is the prayer of faith that is effective (James. 5:15-16).

2. (27:4-13) Seek the Lord and pray.

After encouraging himself with the truth of God’s power and faithfulness, David sought the Lord and asked for His help. Notice again the order of this psalm. Before petitioning the Lord to come to his aid, David revealed the highest priority in his life: to dwell in God’s presence daily.

a) This one thing above all else: God’s presence (vv. 4-6).

David was very clear about what mattered most to him: above all else, he desired the Lord’s presence in his life. At that time in Israel’s history, God’s house was the inner sanctuary of the tabernacle. This was where His actual presence  was manifested and where David longed to be (v. 4a). Just like the priests, who alone were permitted to enter into the sanctuary, David wanted to live in uninterrupted enjoyment of the Lord’s presence throughout life.

David yearned to live in God’s presence in order to behold or gaze upon the beauty of the Lord (v. 4b). What is the beauty of the Lord? Scripture reveals that God’s beauty is in His holiness (1 Chronicles. 16:29; 2 Chronicles. 20:21; Psalm. 96:9). Every object in the tabernacle testified to the Lord‘s holiness. This is true worship: to bask in the presence of God, adoring His perfect holiness.

Additionally, David wanted to live in the Lord’s presence to enquire or seek Him (v. 4c). The Hebrew word used here literally means to plow into. David passionately desired to observe the Lord in His dwelling place, to meditate upon Him, to investigate Him. Simply put, David’s foremost priority was to know God. This is the desire of the true worshipper: not to receive something from God but to know God.

David recognized a vital fact: by living in God’s presence, he would receive God’s protection (v. 5). Many people turn to God only in times of trouble, but not David. He was not one to seek the Lord only when he needed something from Him. He understood that his relationship with God was the most important thing he could pursue. If he lived in the pavilion or dwelling of the Lord, he would be safely sheltered when trouble struck. The secret of his tabernacle (literally, secret spot or place) was the Holy of Holies, where the mercy seat was located—the actual place where God met with His people. By living in God’s presence, David would be set upon a high rock—a place that could not be penetrated, that sat high above his enemies’ reach (Psalm. 18:2; 31:2-3).

In addition to the protection of God’s presence, David would also experience the power of God on his behalf. God would fight for him, granting him victory and exalting him over his enemies (v. 6). When the battle was over, David vowed to joyfully offer sacrifices of thanksgiving to the Lord. Filled with faith in God’s deliverance, he looked forward to triumphantly singing God’s praises in His sanctuary.

b) Beg God to be merciful and to answer your prayer (vv. 7-9).

Seemingly, in an instant, David’s demeanour changed from confidence to concern. The fear that can so suddenly seize us reared its menacing head in David’s spirit. Perhaps he could hear the thundering of his enemies’ horses in the distance, or perhaps they came into view. Shaken by the ever-approaching battle, David called on the Lord (v. 7). Notice that he prayed aloud, not silently in his spirit. He asked God to have mercy on him—to stoop to help him in his time of desperate need. With little time to spare, he urgently prayed that God would answer him, that He would give His full, immediate attention and grant His help.

David reminded God that he often sought His face. He was not a person who prayed only in times of trouble, who sought only His helping hand but not His face (v. 8). Many people pray only when they desperately need something from God. David’s voice was a familiar one to God: he regularly prayed and sought God’s countenance. David prayed because he desired face-to-face fellowship with the Lord. He loved to be in the Lord’s presence; therefore he obeyed God’s command to seek Him (Deuteronomy. 4:29; Psalm. 24:6).

Now, in his hour of fear and trouble, David desperately needed to know that God was there. Gripped by fear, he pleaded with God to reveal Himself (v. 9). In Scripture, when God’s face is turned toward us, it is a symbol of His favour and blessing. When He hides His face from us, it means that we are out of fellowship with Him and have forfeited His protection (Deuteronomy. 31:17-18; Isaiah. 59:2; Micah. 3:4). David sought assurance that God was not angry with him because of some sin in his life. Never had he fought in his own strength but only with the help of the Lord. His only hope of salvation (deliverance from his enemies) was God (Elohim), the mighty, powerful one. He was David’s helper; He was David’s Saviour.

c) Acknowledge God’s faithfulness: He will never forsake you (even if parents do) (v. 10).

In his hour of fear, David once again spoke in faith, declaring God’s faithfulness. He encouraged himself in the Lord by remembering God’s promise to be always with us (Deuteronomy. 20:1; Joshua. 1:9). David used the most extreme example to convey the unfailing presence of God in his life: his parents loved him dearly, and, like most parents, they would likely have given their lives for their son. But even if they should abandon him, the Lord would gather him to Himself and take care of him.

d) Ask God for guidance (v. 11).

With his enemies waiting to destroy him, David sought direction from the Lord. He humbly asked God to teach or point out the way he should go. Although death at the hands of his enemies seemed inescapable, David was convinced that God would make a way—a path or road—through his crisis. He unwaveringly asserted that God would remove every obstacle that stood between him and safety. This is what he meant when he referred to a plain or straight path. He called out for God to reveal the clear way to him and to lead him along it.

e) Ask God for victory over your enemies (v. 12).

David refused to accept the possibility that God would allow him to be destroyed by his foes. Their will was not God’s will. God had revealed His plan for David’s life, and David boldly cried out to the Lord to stop his foes from preventing God’s purpose from coming to pass. They were false witnesses, men who had slandered David for the purpose of turning others against him. Because of his integrity and righteous walk, they found it necessary to create lies about David in order to justify their cruel or violent intentions toward him.

f) Express confidence in the Lord: That you will experience the goodness of God throughout life (v. 13).

Even as David’s bloodthirsty enemies drew closer, he declared his unwavering faith in the Lord. Notice that I had fainted is in italics, meaning that it is not in the original text but was added by the translators to clarify the verse. David’s confidence in God sustained him against the fear of his rapidly-approaching enemies. He was able to stand against the army that sought his life because the Lord was present with him.

The land of the living is used in the Old Testament in contrast to sheol (hell), the realm of the dead. David was sure of surviving this attack because of God’s promises to him. The Lord had made a covenant with him, and David believed that God was true to His word. When David referred to the Lord’s goodness, he was not speaking of God’s benevolence or kindness toward him. Rather, he was pointing to God’s attribute of goodness, a facet of His holy character. God is good as opposed to evil: He cannot lie; He cannot fail to keep His covenant. God’s faithfulness to His holy character was David’s sustaining assurance of deliverance from his enemies.

3. (27:14) Wait patiently for the Lord to meet your needs: Be strong and courageous while waiting.

David concludes this encouraging psalm with a word of advice: wait on the Lord. To wait on the Lord certainly involves patience; that is, enduring until God chooses to act on our behalf, according to His perfect timing. But it also includes expectation: fully anticipating God to do everything that He has promised. This is also what the word hope usually means in the Bible. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament describes it beautifully and clearly:

Waiting with steadfast endurance is a great expression of faith. It means enduring patiently in confident hope that God will decisively act for the salvation of his people (Genesis 49:18). Waiting involves the very essence of a person’s being, his soul. Those who wait in true faith are renewed in strength so that they can continue to serve the Lord while looking for his saving work (Isaiah 40:31). There will come a time when all that God has promised will be realized and fulfilled (Isaiah 49:23; Psalm 37:9). In the meantime the believer survives by means of his integrity and uprightness as he trusts in God’s grace and power (Psalm 25:21). His faith is strengthened through his testing’s, and his character is further developed (Psalm 27:14).

This expectation has the power to overcome fear in our lives, strengthening us in troubling times. We can face every foe—be it a wicked person or a frightening circumstance—with courageous hearts when we believe that God will faithfully do all that He has promised.

Conclusion: God can be trusted. We are His dear children, sons and daughters, for whom He paid the supreme price, the life of His own Son, Jesus Christ. We should be especially encouraged when we remember that nothing is more powerful than the love of God, who gave His Son for us.

We must also remember that God acts according to His schedule, not ours. He is never late; rather, He is always on time to accomplish His perfect purpose. Sometimes He allows us to suffer trouble and trials, as He did when Lazarus was sick. Jesus delayed visiting the sisters of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, because He had a greater purpose than healing Lazarus (John. 11). God has a purpose for everything that happens in our lives, so we must be patient until God’s perfect work through our trials is completed (James. 1:2-4). The waiting is the difficult part, but it is in God’s waiting room that He does so much important work in our lives.

In the meantime, we need not be afraid of anything that invades our lives. We can be strong rather than weak, courageous rather than fearful, and encouraged rather than discouraged when trouble comes. God is with us and for us, and He will deliver us when His purpose has been fulfilled. Until He does, we can endure with strength, courage, and hope.

The Fulness of Time

the birth of ChristIn his epistle to the Galatians chapter 4 and verse 4 the Apostle Paul tells us that “when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth His Son”. In other words Paul is declaring that the coming of Christ upon the world scene was not by chance. His coming was under the strategic timing providentially set aside by God. His coming was not one day before or behind the appointed time, Christs coming happened at the exact time God had planned way back in eternity before the creation of the world. Paul says earlier in the chapter that a child who is placed under the control of guardians is under their control until “the date fixed by his father” (Galatians 4:2). God and God alone decided the fulness of time for the coming of Christ.

Christ was born of a particular person, at a particular time, in a particular way (incarnation), under a particular system (the law). He shared the frustration and agony of being subjected to the very system from which He came to save men. Over time the world had been wonderfully prepared for His coming.

1.  The law had done its educational work. It had shown through the Jewish nation that men are terrible transgressors, and despite all of God’s favor and blessings, men still failed to worship God in love. The world now had a picture of the depraved heart of man. (Cp. Romans 3:10-18 for a clear description of man’s sinfulness.)

2.  The world was full of people spiritually starved. The worship of self, pleasure, gods, philosophical ethics—all had left many empty and barren. The soul was now ready to have its hunger met.

3.  The world was at peace under Roman rule. The world was an open door for the spread of the gospel—without any restraint.

4.  The world spoke Greek as a basic language, making communication possible with many from all over the world.

5.  The world had a system of roads for mass travel which allowed Christian missionaries to reach the farthest parts of the earth. It also brought commercial travelers to metropolitan centers where Christian believers were concentrated.

So we see that when everything was ready for the world to come of age and to gain an adult knowledge of God, Christ came to release men from the law and to reveal that man was intended to have a father-son relationship with God. In Christ men are no longer to be slaves to the law, they are to be sons of God. In Christ they are to enter into their inheritance.

Note that God sent His Son born under the law. Jesus Christ had to live under the law in order to secure the perfect righteousness of the law for man. He had to obey the law in every single precept and stand before God as the Perfect and Ideal Man—the Ideal Embodiment of Righteousness. As stated, He had to do what no other person had ever done: secure the Ideal Righteousness and Perfection so that the Ideal and Perfect could stand for all men. The birth of Christ is not just about the sentimentality around a child born in a stable, it is far more that that we need to look at the whole picture if we are to really understand the truth.

Approaching God in Times of Unbearable Suffering

Forsaken

Alone, helpless, desperate… at times nearly all of us experience these strong feelings. In fact, life is filled with problems and setbacks. However, there are times when we face crises of such a serious nature that we question whether or not we can survive, times of…

  • excruciating physical pain or handicap
  • mental or emotional anguish from a tragic event in our lives
  • overwhelming financial crisis
  • betrayal by a loved one or a trusted friend
  • loss of employment or the inability to find a good job
  • death of a spouse, parent, or child
  • life-threatening illness or injury of a loved one
  • divorce or desertion by a spouse or guardian

These and many other devastating events—events that result in unbearable suffering of body or soul—can cause us to feel alone, helpless, and desperate.

In many of the psalms, we find the author crying out to God when facing a dangerous or distressing situation, and each time God answers and delivers him. This is exactly how David felt in Psalm 22. But this psalm is different: he cries and cries but no answer comes; nothing changes. He receives no comfort, no strength, no relief, no salvation. He cannot feel God’s presence, nor can he do anything to change his dire circumstances. If God does not intervene, he is going to die.

The New Testament declares that David was a prophet as well as a poet (Acts. 2:29-30). During a time of intense suffering in David’s life, the Holy Spirit spoke prophetically through him as he composed Psalm 22. Scripture provides no insight into the specific occasion that caused such anguish. The two darkest periods of David’s life were when King Saul pursued him and when his son Absalom rebelled against him. It is reasonable to conclude that an episode in one of those periods is the setting for this holy psalm.

In this hour of deep grief, when David felt totally abandoned by God, the Lord gave him an amazing gift, a holy privilege. The Holy Spirit lifted him up above his pain and revealed to him the suffering of one who would come approximately 1,000 years later. In striking, precise detail, David foretold the agony of the Messiah on the cross. He described the Roman method of crucifixion hundreds of years before it was known to the Jews. There was no deliverance from the cross; Jesus endured its punishment until the price for sin was fully paid and He yielded up His spirit to death.

Though David’s pain was severe, neither he nor any other man endured the specific agonies described in this psalm (vv. 14-18). The sufferings in Psalm 22 are Christ’s and Christ’s alone. Hebrews clearly establishes that this is a Messianic psalm and that David was speaking of Christ (note the quotation of Psalm. 22:22 in Hebrews. 2:12):

  • “For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee” (Hebrews. 2:10-12).

Jesus taught the disciples that He came to fulfill that which was written in the psalms (Luke. 24:44). Many scholars believe that Jesus actually quoted this psalm while on the cross. Because it mentions so many details that were fulfilled in the New Testament, some in the early church labeled Psalm 22 as “the fifth gospel.”

The beginning of Psalm 22 includes a unique heading: To the chief Musician upon Aijeleth Shahar, a Psalm of David. Aijeleth Shahar means doe of the dawn or morning. This was likely an existing song, and David instructed the chief musician to sing Psalm 22 to its tune.

Psalm 22 does not end with suffering and death but with triumph and life. It testifies of “the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow” (1 Peter. 1:11). God would hear the cries of the Afflicted One, and He would greatly reward Him for paying the ultimate sacrifice of His life. David prophesied the preaching of the gospel to the ends of the earth and the recognition of Christ as Lord by all. “God brings life out of death; beyond Calvary is Easter and Resurrection.

David began this psalm with a desperate and passionate cry: he felt that God had utterly abandoned him (v. 1). David had known God’s presence throughout his life, but now he felt that God’s fellowship and protection were missing. He wailed out the question of “Why?”

Today, we know the answer to David’s question, an answer he likely did not realize. When we read these opening words, we are immediately thrust forward 1,000 years to Calvary, where Jesus Christ quoted them in his native Aramaic language (Matthew. 27:46. Part of God’s purpose for seemingly deserting David in his great need was to point us to the somber truth that God would one day turn His back on His beloved Son when He bore our sin on the cross. Almost 1,000 years earlier, God had ordered Abraham to offer Isaac upon an altar as a sacrifice to Him. In so doing, Abraham had portrayed the anguish of the Father at Calvary. Here, in this Psalm, David was given the incredible privilege of portraying the anguish of the Son.

Sometimes, we face trials that are so severe, so excruciating, that we feel God has deserted us. As much as we pray, no answers come. It seems that our prayers never reach heaven, that God does not care, that He is ignoring us. Our circumstances do not change. No comfort or relief comes. The psalms teach us what to do during these times: pour out our hearts to God openly and completely. The psalms also offer models to follow in seeking the Lord and pleading for His help. Several lessons can be gleaned in this passage:

(1) Seek God’s reason for your prolonged suffering. Ask Him why He is not responding and what He wants you to learn during this chapter of your life.

(2) Continue to pray and cry out to God. Do not give up on prayer when answers do not come immediately. Be assured that God hears your prayers. Remember that He does not always grant a “yes” answer. Sometimes, in His wisdom and love for us, He denies a request. He does not give us what we ask but what He knows is best for us. At other times, He does not grant our requests because He has a different purpose for us. Indeed, some answers to prayer are delayed because it is not yet the right time for God to grant what we request. Therefore, we should seek to pray according to His will, and we should genuinely desire His will over ours. Prayers offered in agreement with God’s will are guaranteed an answer (1 John. 5:14-15).

(3) Stay strong in your faith. Do not doubt God nor accuse Him unjustly.

(4) Acknowledge God’s holiness and continue to praise Him.

(5) Remember that it is a privilege to suffer for being a Christian—to be persecuted for Him (1 Peter. 4:14-16).

(6) Rest in the promises of Christ: though it may seem God has abandoned you, He promises that He will never forsake you (Matthew. 28:20; Hebrews. 13:5).

God’s Presence Assured in those Difficult Times in Life

sheep in the valley “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” Psalm 23:4

For many people, the word valley calls forth an image of a flat, grassy expanse lying peacefully between mountains, like a dale or a meadow. However, this is not what the word means or what Old Testament valleys were like. A valley was a deep ravine or gorge. It was narrow, dark, and damp and usually encased by steep stone walls, making it virtually inescapable. Valleys were frequently located at the foot of towering cliffs. They were extremely dangerous: snakes, wild beasts, and criminals lurked in their darkness.

Since grass grows in Palestine during a very short season, shepherds struggled to feed their flocks the rest of the year. Often, it became necessary to lead their sheep into valleys where green plants grew in the cool, damp soil at the bottom. Passing through valleys was also necessary at times in order to reach pasture on the other side. Some scholars think the valley of the shadow of death was the name of an actual valley, an extremely dangerous one, through which shepherds and their flocks were forced to cross.

Valleys are symbols of the darkest times of life. The valley of the shadow of death speaks of life’s gravest circumstances, fearful occasions when death is a real possibility, such as…

  • severe illness or disease
  • a sudden attack on your health
  • a serious accident
  • deadly weather conditions
  • a violent, criminal attack
  • war
  • a terrorist attack
  • famine or extreme poverty

David testified that he was not afraid to walk through life’s darkest valleys. Although he was defenseless in himself, he was not alone in the peril: his Shepherd was with him. The Lord would protect him and keep him close to His side. David was comforted—turned from fear and terror—because his Shepherd was skillfully armed with His rod and His staff. The rod was a club the shepherd fashioned and carried to fight off wild animals and thieves. It was a deadly weapon. The staff was the instrument the shepherd used to deal with his sheep. It was not a weapon but a tool. The shepherd leaned on it for support as he journeyed across rough ground and rocky crags. Most staffs had a hooked end that the shepherd used to catch a sheep’s leg or neck to pull it out of a hole or back into the fold. The shepherd would nudge a sheep with his staff when it began to stray or when it was hesitant to move along with the flock.

David was fearless in the valley because he knew his Shepherd would protect him from all deadly threats, including his own waywardness. His Shepherd would keep him close to His side in the darkness and would be with him through every step until he passed safely through to the light on the other side.