Preached by Dr. Gene Scott on August 1, 1976
“This is my infirmity . . . the years of the right hand of the most High.”
PLEASE TURN TO PSALM 77. I want to talk about the Bible’s answer to misery. One thing about the Bible, it reaches you where you are. I have no interest in preaching sermons to preach sermons, nor do I preach to congregations or crowds. My prayer is that God will take His Word and rivet it unto individual lives where they are. Have you ever felt miserable? If you are in misery, listen and see if you are any worse off than this fellow.
This is a psalm of Asaph. “I cried unto God with my voice, even unto God with my voice; and he gave ear unto me. In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord: my sore ran in the night, and ceased not: my soul refused to be comforted.” This applies to whatever circumstance troubles you like a bleeding sore. All the night long, he can’t shut off the source of his misery. “My sore ran in the night, and ceased not: my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered God . . .” But that didn’t help at this point. “I remembered God, and was troubled: I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. Selah.”
“Thou holdest mine eyes waking.” Have you ever felt like toothpicks were holding your eyelids apart? “I am so troubled that I cannot speak.” Words cannot express your misery. “I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times. I call to remembrance my song in the night.” There was a time when you could sing in the night. One of the painful things about a time of misery is that you can contrast it with better times. Now, the sore runs in the night and ceases not, and your eyes are propped open.
I can almost see the “accuser of the brethren,” the devil, camped on the shoulder of this fellow, having him ask himself: Why is this happening to me? What have I done? “I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search.” Where is the Lord? “Will the Lord cast off forever? And will he be favourable no more?” You are beginning to question if God will even look at you anymore. “Is his mercy clean gone forever? Doth his promise fail for evermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious?”
Have you ever felt that way? This preacher has. When I am in a circumstance most miserable and am crying out is when God seems to have His hearing aid turned down the lowest. Do you feel you are the only one He treats that way? “Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? Selah. And I said, “This is my infirmity . . .”
Then notice something in verse 10. Most of you will have in your Bible the next four words in italics, “but I will remember.” In the King James Version, words in italics were added by the translators. They could not really believe what the psalmist said, so they “improved” it. Do you know what he really said? “And I said, This is my infirmity: the years of the right hand of the most High.”
Let me set the stage to show you how this fellow was cured of his misery. In the Old Testament, names always have a symbolic meaning. Jacob was a “heel catcher.” That is what his name means. He became Israel, “a prince who has power with God,” when he submitted to God and came under God’s government that night he wrestled with the angel. (Genesis 32:28) Abram meant “high father.” His name was changed to Abraham, “father of many children,” when God gave him the promise of many children. (Genesis 17:5)
There are also descriptive phrases in the Old Testament that have a symbolic meaning. Throughout the Hebrew frame and throughout this book, the expression “God’s right hand” was used to describe God’s intrusion into the activities of man. The One who intercedes for man now, our Lord Jesus Christ, who returned to God to carry on an intercession and will come again, has sent from Heaven the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, and sat down at the right hand of God. (Hebrews 1:3)
Follow me through God’s book and write in the margin of your Bible the references to God’s right hand. It is not by accident that the right hand of God writes the fiery Law for the people of God. (Deuteronomy 33:2) In Psalm 48:10, you find that from God’s right hand flows righteousness into the activities of men. In Psalm 17:7, you find salvation to man flows from God’s right hand. The Song of Solomon is that beautiful picture-type of God in relationship to the church. In the Song of Solomon 2:6, the right hand becomes the symbol of tender loving expression. In Psalm 118:16, the right hand of God becomes an active intrusion of God into the affairs of men; it is the right hand of action. In Psalm 20:6, it is the right hand of strength. Psalm 16:11 is one that all of you know. “At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”
But what is the Psalmist saying? All this misery, what is it? “This is my infirmity.” What? “The years of the right hand of the most High.” To explain this, I have to walk a careful, delicate path. Theology forever treads on the verge of extremism. Those in the Arminian frame, with their emphasis on man’s freedom in relationship to God’s intrusion into life, move into error when they take that position and explain away everything else. On the other end of the argument come the Calvinists who see God reach into life with a stronger hand in some cases. They take the sovereignty of God, His control and election, and emphasize it to such a point that it becomes error when it explains away human will.
Most of the deep truths in God’s book are paradoxical. They go beyond our ability to put them into words. “We see through a glass, darkly.” (1st Corinthians 13:12) Paul Tillich has said that it is almost as blasphemous to define God as it is to deny Him, because in defining Him we bring God down and put Him in a box of our terminology. God did speak to us through His Word, and in the fullness of time He sent the living Word to become the spoken Word, which became the written Word during an age when the Greek language, one of the most precise languages, controlled the world into which the revelation came.
I believe that God varies His treatment of us depending on our disposition and circumstance. I lost my faith in university. Everybody told me I ought to have faith. I knew that; that wasn’t my problem. How to get it was my problem. The Apostle Paul couldn’t help me during those days. If God shined a light out of Heaven, knocked me down, blinded me, spoke to me out of the sky, sent me to a fellow I had never heard of or seen before who touched my blind eyes and healed them, who then told me all about myself, that would make a believer out of me, too! I needed to find Thomas to talk to during my doubting days. While God heavy-handed Paul to the ground, He let Thomas feel his way until that moment Jesus said, “Behold My side, and behold My hands.” (John 20:27) God stays in control. The amount of control varies, but you can count on it: when you become a saint of God, nothing is going to happen to you that God doesn’t allow.
As G. Campbell Morgan has said of this psalm, one thing takes the man out of misery. He uses the analogy of a focus meter in a camera. The problem is the psalmist has his focus meter turned to the wrong place. He has zeroed in on the wrong things. Not one circumstance is going to change in this psalm. But if you take verse 10 out, it is like reading two different sets of experiences. The first nine verses are completely full of misery. It starts to change in verse 11, and from there to verse 20, it all changes.
You heard the misery sound. Now listen to the good sound. “I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember thy wonders of old. I will mediate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings. Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary: who is so great a God as our God? Thou are the God that doest wonders: thou hast declared thy strength among the people.”
We never preach new truths here. We believe what is needed is a rediscovery of the old truths. We have proclaimed laws in the spiritual world that I insist are as operational as the laws of the natural world. As you line up with those laws, they work. This man is just like you and me. He is in misery compounded into double misery because all he looks at is his misery and all he talks about is his misery. He has his focus meter on himself instead of on God.
Look closely and circle the personal pronouns I and my and mine that show this. You will find about 20 times in those first 10 verses he focuses on himself. Then circle each word that references God and you will find there are 12 references to God in the first 10 verses. His focus is on himself, two-to-one.
Then do the same kind of count for the last 10 verse of the psalm. Now watch the way he gets out of his mess. In verse 11, “I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember thy wonders of old.” Two times he refers to himself, and two times he refers to God. Go to verse 12 and watch him begin to drag himself out of his state of misery: “I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings.” Now he refers to God, Thy, twice, and refers to himself only once. He has now got it in proper focus: two-to-one in God’s favor, and you won’t find another time that he focuses on himself. After those three references he is done with himself, and then he references God – 24 times!
It is a law of the Spirit that we literally imbed our self in the house of God and into the body of Christ and into the Kingdom of God by talking of our hope. This chapter tells me the way out of misery is not a change of circumstance, but a change of focus. We get into problems, and we pray for deliverance. God’s answer is not deliverance from the problem, but a Deliverer who is with us in the midst of the problem.
How many times in your misery have you prayed, “God, get me out of here?” We react like the children of Israel, who hung their harps on a willow tree and said, “We can’t sing the songs of Zion in a strange land.” (Psalm 137:1-4) The implication is that if their circumstance would change, they could sing the songs of Zion. The Bible proves them to be liars. God took them home. When they got home in God’s land, they faced persecution and they couldn’t sing there, either. God had to send Haggai and Zechariah along to put a song in their heart. But in that same land of bondage, by that same river Chebar, one man had a song in his heart. That was Ezekiel: he had his eyes on God and not on his circumstance.
The psalmist suddenly wakes up in verse 10, and he says, “This is my infirmity . . .” Sure it is! What is my infirmity? “The years of the right hand of the most High.” “The right hand of God,” as I said, symbolizes God reaching into human affairs. God’s hand reaches with righteousness, with salvation, with strength, with action and with tender loving care. It symbolizes God’s hand that reaches and provides “pleasures for evermore.” God’s right hand was still on Asaph in his misery.
The biggest problem we have is getting our eyes off of ourselves and our circumstances. It is the trick of the enemy to camp out there with a crying towel and sympathize with you, as you let your sore run in the night and your soul refuses to be comforted. And if he can’t get to you that way, the devil hops to the other shoulder. Then, when you start communing with your heart and your spirit makes diligent search, he will stay there to keep you awake and prop your eyelids open and tell you every little sin you have ever committed in the last 20 years.
You might say, “That was in the Old Testament.” Hear if from the New Testament, from a man who was always having problems, the apostle Peter. He says you are “a peculiar people.” (1st Peter 2:9) Do you know what the Greek word means? You can’t really write it. You have to picture it by making a dot and drawing a circle around it. We are encircled by God, encompassed by God. That means nothing can get through the circle to me lest He allows it. It is the New Testament that says you shall not “be tempted that ye are able . . . There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man.” (1st Corinthians 10:13) It catches you by surprise, but it doesn’t surprise God at all. God has seen it all, and He has encompassed you.
In my miseries, around this globe, I have turned to the certain word of promise in Psalm 139. Though to others I might have to explain my problem, I can look up and claim the promise: “O LORD . . . Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.” I don’t have to labor with communication. “Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways . . . if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and . . .” hear it, “thy right hand shall hold me.” Isn’t that the same thing Asaph is saying in Psalm 77?
Wherever you are, if you are saying, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,” then understand that “even the night shall be light about me . . . the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.” One of God’s names means “God sees,” and He can be seen if you look for Him. But whether you see Him or not, He sees you.
The psalmist had been hitting himself over the head. He was in misery until, at the midpoint of the psalm, it suddenly dawned on him that the enemy was whispering he was out of God’s hand. No, he wasn’t! Our God is the God who is able to keep. (2nd Timothy 1:12) If you really want God’s will, it is harder to get out of it than it is to stay in it. When you give your life to God, He is not a sadist. He did not send His Son to seek and to save that which was lost, only to play “hide and seek” with you for the rest of your days. “The steps of a good man are ordered of the LORD.” (Psalm 37:23) God’s Word says if we acknowledge Him in all our ways, He will direct our paths. (Proverbs 3:6)
We are in God’s right hand and that is why we are going to make it. That is why we are making it. But God will not go past you! Asaph had to change his focus. He had to lift his eyes from himself and put them on God. I challenge you to find anything in his circumstance that changed. Nothing changed but his focus, and when his focus changed, God could take care of his circumstances. “Thus saith God the LORD,” Isaiah said, “He that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth . . . and giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein.” That is broad enough to include whatever your misery is. “I the LORD . . . will hold thine hand.” (Isaiah 42:5-6)
“When thou passest through the waters,” not over them, not avoiding them, “through the waters . . .” What is the promise? “I will be with you.” “Through the rivers, they will not overflow you . . . through the fire, you shall not be burned; neither shall the flames be kindled upon you.” Why? “For I am the LORD thy God . . . thy Saviour . . . Fear not: for I am with thee.” (Isaiah 43:2-5)
God has never promised me I won’t have miserable circumstances. He has promised me a Comforter: Paraclete, “one alongside,” one who will be with me. The reason the book of Hebrews can proclaim “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever,” is because three verses earlier the promise is “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” We can claim that. We can talk about our hope; we can hang our body on God’s promises; we can change the focus of our attention. You say, “How?” If you want a simple formula, God “inhabitest the praises” of His people. (Psalm 22:3)
The next time your eyelids are propped open and the sore bleeds in the night and your soul refuses to be comforted, if you want to see the devil start running, just get up and start praising the Lord! Walk the floor in praise and say, “Thanks be to God!” Three times in the New Testament the word sacrifice is used as an act of worship. One is the sacrifice of praise from the lips. (Hebrews 13:5) If you know God is present when you feel something happening, what is so special about that? But if in misery you will sacrifice praise because He is worth it, then God’s promise is that He inhabits the praises of His people. That is a law of the Spirit.
In Matthew 11:28, Jesus says, “Come unto me.” Who? “All ye that labour and are heavy laden.” “Labour” is an active word in the Greek: it means really getting into your struggle. “Heavy laden” is a passive word in the Greek. Your circumstances are so beating you down, they are burdening you. It doesn’t matter whether you are active in the struggle or beaten to the end of strength: “Come unto me . . . and I will give you rest.” In the midst of your labor and the midst of your being burdened down, “They that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength.” (Isaiah 40:31) Listen to Psalm 77 again: “I said, This is my infirmity: the years of the right hand of the most High.”
I told a story from this pulpit about the time I was in Taipei, Taiwan. I had preached for many weeks in the backcountry of the Philippines and in the rain at a refugee church in Hong Kong. I arrived in Taipei sick and checked into the old Grand Hotel. I had misery. I didn’t think God was very nice to me, so I hunted for a verse to club Him with. He led me to Isaiah 30: “Though the Lord give you the bread of adversity, and the water of affliction . . .” Literally, the “water of oppression” – at God’s hand!
We are a peculiar people, encircled by God, and in His hand. And since we gave our life to Him, He is leading us. Misery will be encompassed as He leads you through it, but you won’t be tempted beyond what you are able. And when He is ready, there is righteousness, salvation, strength, tender loving care, action, and pleasure forevermore. Praise His Name!
Reprinted with permission from Pastor Melissa Scott
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