Smoke is generally a good thing when used to cook tasty, well-seasoned meat or even cure those meats as is still done in homes and countries around the world. However we all know that most times oft, where there is smoke, there is fire….and some fires destroy.
In ancient days, most fires burned inside of tents – whether large or medium or in the courtyards of a collection of homes, where families resided together. And so it was, during bible times. In those days, as well, the means of transporting water (or wine) were in wineskins. These were pouches made of leather which held the beverage in, perfectly, for as long as they were maintained in good condition. That is, until smoke got a hold of these wineskins.
Think of all the bible-based movies you have seen on television or the movie screen, or even the free billion copy giveaway classic – “The Jesus Film” – and you will see the kind of tent or courtyard of which we speak. It was also a habit of the holders of these wineskins, usually mostly men, to hang their wineskins on poles to the entrance of their tents. Over time, this habit actually led to the smoke from inside of the tent or even the middle of the small family courtyards finding its way into the very fabric of the wineskin. The result over a fairly short period of time is the breakdown of the leather, which forms the “skin”. It becomes brittle and eventually cracks. Here to forth, the wineskin is destroyed.
81 My soul languishes for Your salvation; I wait for Your word.
82 My eyes fail with longing for Your word, while I say, “When will You comfort me?”
83 Though I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget Your statutes.
84 How many are the days of Your servant? When will You execute judgment on those who persecute me?
85 The arrogant have dug pits for me, men who are not in accord with Your law.
86 All Your commandments are faithful; they have persecuted me with a lie; help me!
87 They almost destroyed me on earth, but as for me, I did not forsake Your precepts.
88 Revive me according to Your lovingkindness, so that I may keep the testimony of Your mouth.
In Psalm 119:83 we read of our true and faithful servant of the Lord beginning to feel like that wineskin which seemingly absorbs all this smoke – day after day, night after night. Like any real wineskin, this can only go on for so long before there is a crack up. This is precisely what appears to have happened to “Christian” as he (or she) journeys through life.
It brings to mind Paul’s famous quote in 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 "we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body." Like Paul, Psalm 119:81-88 shows us a fellow believer in God who similarly, realizes where his lies – IN GOD!
This is the encouragement of us modern day Christians – men, women, teenagers, millennials and anyone without hope. Life in the 21st century is not easy for those of single-minded faith in the one True God of the Bible, the Maker of heaven and earth. Regardless of how easy, thoughtful and scientific our faith is, the forces arrayed against the person in this psalm, whom I call “Christian” (a la Pilgrim’s Progress), were the same forces aligned Jesus Christ during His trial and crucifixion.
Like Paul, we can also feel under attack by the steady, pungent and often dense smoke of unwanted trials, tribulation and persecution. Like Paul, we can rest assured that our hope is in the Lord (verse 81). Sometimes our eyes are made dim by the smoke of unrighteousness and we strain to see the promised better day (verse 82), but it does not mean, that day of redemption is not coming,
Even while we wonder “oh how long shall the wicked reign and the people of God suffer loss” (verses 84 and 85), we know that the Justice and Goodness of Almighty God lie in His Word, His Statues, His Precepts and all of His commands. While we may not see immediate justice from above, we know that certain terrible day IS coming. What is more achievable and desirable, is to ask for the Lord’s Mighty Hand of protection (verse 86).
Just like our Christian brethren in several difficult parts of the world, most authentic believers will never abandon the Lord and His Word. It is not because we have been deceived or promised some mysterious “pie in the sky”. The bottom line is women and men of the Cross (or the Book, as some call us) know with every fiber of our being that all of this is absolutely true! We possess something (or Someone) which the world cannot see, take or deny and this is the Holy Spirit of God.
He is the same Holy Spirit to whom we can pray for the Lord to spare our lives, from those who hate us (verse 88), so that we may continue to serve Him. Most time oft, He does. However, if perchance, God has another plan, in His unfailing love He allows us to come on home, our broken and smoke damaged wineskin, will be filled with new and more divine supernatural "wine" which only the redeemed can taste. Amen.