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Thou Dost Hold My Right hand
I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to the book of the Psalms, to Psalm 73, and to follow along as I read verses 21-26. Hear what the Spirit says to us.
21 When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart,
22 I was stupid and ignorant; I was like a brute beast toward thee.
23 Nevertheless I am continually with thee; Thou dost hold my right hand.
24 Thou dost guide me with thy counsel, and afterward thou will receive me with honor.
25 Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides thee.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
Depressed and Down
Samson was one of the great heroes of the book of Judges, and in Judges 14:14, Samson proposes a riddle, saying, “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.” The astonishing thing about Samson’s riddle is how can a thing produce its opposite.
And we have a similar situation before us in the psalm today. The psalmist tells us in v21 “my soul was embittered.” He adds, “I was pricked in heart.” He was down, he was discouraged, he was in despair. He looked with envy upon others who seem to have it so much better than he does. And so he frets and grumbles and his life is filled with turmoil and discontent.
But the psalmist is a believer. He may be having a bad moment, but he believes and after going through this down period of depression and despair for awhile, he takes hold of himself, so to speak, and gives himself a good shaking and says, in v22, “I was stupid and ignorant; I was like a brute beast toward thee.” He admits that the cause of his despair is his own folly. He is his own worst tormentor.
Basically he says, “What a fool I am to make myself uneasy without cause?” He admits that it is stupidity to wallow in despair. “I was ignorant, he says, I could have known better and should have known better. I was like a brute beast that thinks only of the day and never looks ahead at what is to come.
I was jealous of others on account of their prosperity. It is almost as if the psalmist has been caught up in a sort of daydream in which he envies the condition of the rich and famous. And he wakes up and realizes that all that is nonsense. And he turns back to what is important. He turns back to God, knowing that God is always with him and that God holds him by the right hand. For most people, the right hand is the best hand, so that is a figurative way of saying that God holds us in the best way possible. God cares for us, and God loves us, in the best way possible.
Seeing God in Everything
The psalmist was depressed and could see God in neither time nor event, but as he returns to his true nature, he sees God in everything.
The wind carries millions of visible and invisible particles across continents and even across oceans. Even so, the winds of time and event carries the seeds of spiritual life that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of people. Most of these unnumbered seeds are lost because people are not prepared to receive them. People are too busy being depressed or envious or whatever. They build prisons for themselves. These are prisons of the mind. A mind that is the prisoner of its own pleasure and a will, that is captive of its own desire, cannot accept the seeds of a higher pleasure and divine desire.
How can we receive the seeds of God’s love if we are in love with slavery, and how can we cherish the desire of God, if we are filled with an opposite desire? God does not plant his liberty in us because we are prisoners and we do not even desire to be free. We love our captivity and we imprison ourselves in the desire for the things of the self and we harden our hearts against divine love.
But if we are looking for God, every event and every moment will show us God. Everything will show us God.
It is God’s love that warms me in the sun and God’s love that feeds me by the bread I eat and God’s love that soothes me by the singing of the birds and the ordinary noises of the day. It is the love of God that sends cold winter days and the love of God that sends the hot summer afternoons. It is God who breathes on us with light winds on the lake God’s love spreads the shade of the oak tree over my head and gives me a long cold drink of water. It is God’s love that speaks to me in the trees and streams, but also in the clamor of the city and the rumble of automobiles.
God is always with us to give us his love wherever we are, and if we allow his love to take root in our hearts, then his will for us will grow up in our lives, and we will become the love that God is, and the harvest of our life will be his glory and our joy. The first and best known question of the Westminster shorter Catechism is “What is the chief end of man?” The answer is “Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” The question could be asked in several ways: What is the meaning of life? Why am I here? What is the purpose to things? Question one is the answer to all those questions “to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” To glorify God is to worship and exalt God, to adore God and to praise God. In other words, all that we do and all that we are should center on God, and our greatest happiness, and our only real joy lies in God.
Most of our problems come about because we forget that. Often in our lives we think only of the material aspect. We note whether it is hot or cold, whether we are hungry or thirsty, whether we are sick or well. We are concerned about the success or failure of our works. We desperately want our will to be done, and dwelling on these things, we find only emptiness and despair. We should remember that our real food is to do the will of the one who made us and who made all things and who gives himself to us through all things.
My chief care is not to find pleasure or success or health or money or rest or even things like virtue and wisdom. My life does not consist in those things. Still less am I to seek pain or failure or sickness or death. But in all that happens, my one desire and my one joy is to know that I am doing God’s will for me. Or put it another way, the purpose of life is to find God’s love for me and to live in such a way as to give back of something of that love to God.
By receiving God’s will with joy and doing God’s will with gladness, I have God’s love in my heart. When my will is the same as God’s love, then I am on the way to becoming what God is, for God is love. By accepting all things from God I receive his joy into my soul, not because things are what they are, but because God is who he is, and God’s love has willed my joy in all things.
Sometimes when we think of the great Christians, the giants of the faith, we have the idea that they were always praying and thinking about God, and hence they never much noticed any of the things of the world. We may think that they had no appreciation of nature and no time to consider created things. But a love of God is not compatible with a hatred of things that reflect God and speak God to us.
I know that we are supposed to be absorbed in God and to have no eyes for anything but God, but that does not mean that we should not hear the voices of people speaking to us and not understand the joys and sorrows of those around us, not does it mean that we should fail to appreciate the wonders of nature. Rather, it is because we are absorbed in God that we are truly capable of seeing and appreciating created things, and because we love God, we are capable of loving others.
This does not mean that we are referring always to God. Nothing strikes me as more false than someone who has to keep dragging God into every conversation saying, “If God wills it I will do this and this, and if God provides I will do that” I do not think we need to blame God for our own follies. We can talk about the world naturally without any explicit reference to God and yet we can do this in such a way as to give glory to God, and we can do it in a way that expresses our love for God.
Some folks think to be religious you have to always be bringing up religion, but a true love for God and for God’s creation often does not need mere words. Our love for God can shine through all that we say and do even if we do not specifically mention either love or God.
We know that God made the world and hence the world is good. Some Christians seem to think that the devil made the world. They regard the world as unholy and suspect. But God made the world and God made it beautiful. When we see the world with the eye of a believer, we see that all the beauty of the world is holy, and we are led to consecrate everything we touch to the glory of God.
When we are united to God’s love, we own all things in God and offer them all to God in Christ his Son. Actually, God is the owner. All of creation belongs to God, but when we believe on Jesus Christ, we are in Christ, and Christ is God, so in a sense we become owners of creation. That is an exalted station, but we must be careful not to become arrogant. We rest in the glory of God. We depend entirely upon God. At different times in our lives, we may have pleasure or pain, joy or sorrow, good or evil, but we are called in all things to love God rather than things themselves. Indeed all things point us toward God, and if we stop to love things, we miss the nature of things.
The only true joy on earth is to escape from the prison of our own selfishness so that we can spend our freedom in the worship of God. Understand that it is not the human body that is the problem. Some Christians have taught that the body is an evil thing. Not so. The body is the creation of God and is good. The body is the holy temple of God. The problem is not the body, the problem is me—my egotism, my selfishness, my self-centeredness. All of this blinds me to God and to the purpose of the universe. God calls us to turn away from our focus on self and to turn to him. God calls us into union with him. In God’s love, we possess all things and we realize that the purpose of all things is to show us God. Thus, as we go about the world, everything we meet and everything we see and hear and touch does not defile us or cause us to sin. Nothing outside ourselves causes us to sin. Rather everything we meet and see and hear and touch purifies us and plants in us something divine.
But if we look upon nature without belief, without faith, then we find not joy but pain. Until we love God, everything in the world seems to be against us, and we shall be like the psalmist in his ugly depressed mood. Until we love God, God’s world is full of contradiction. The things God has created attract us to God and yet in our unbelief we reject that attraction. Our nature moves us to find God in the world around us, and yet we turn away from our own nature.
Bring them to a mountaintop or to the ocean’s edge, and even the most dedicated atheist can still feel something of the awe of God in nature, but the atheist has so twisted her feelings that she finds no joy in this. She rejects it as an infantile notion.
Perhaps it is an infantile notion. That is to say, that in every human being, in every infant, there is an inborn desire for God. We are born to see God everywhere to realize that all that is is from God and belongs to God and reflects God.
This is what our inmost heart tells us. Anguish and bitterness arise when we disregard our heart and dwell upon ourselves. We are always trying to worship ourselves by means of God’s creation, but to worship ourselves is to worship nothing, and the worship of nothing is hell.
In the bitterness of his spirit, the psalmist was worshipping nothing, was living is a self-made hell, but he turns from that emptiness back to God and realizes that all the time God has been with him to hold him by his right hand. And so the psalmist says in v24: “Thou dost guide me with thy counsel, and afterward thou will receive me with honor.”
This is why it is foolishness for God’s people to envy the worldly prosperity of others. If we are guided and preserved by God, what is there to envy? We have the best counselor in the universe. We have divine honors. What does anyone else have that we could possibly want?
All those who are guided and led by the counsel of God in this world are received to his glory in another world. So we can say that if our purpose is to glorify God, then we have found the only real happiness, and we should never feel any need for jealousy; rather, we should count ourselves blessed, and cleave the more closely to God. The psalmist says: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
This is the attitude of a sanctified soul towards God. In v25, the psalmist shouts in wonder: “Whom have I in heaven but thee?” He knows that God alone is the source of all his happiness. Nothing else satisfies. Nothing in this world can ultimately make us happy; rather all the things of this world point us to God.
This then is the lesson: If God is our happiness, then we must have God. We must choose God. It does not help us to know that God is the happiness of souls if God is not the happiness of my soul, It does not help me if I do not reach out in faith to make God my God and to join in God’s everlasting covenant.
Our desire must be towards God and our delight must be in God. Thus, our prayers should be: “Lord, give us thyself.” God is our first choice. The verse asks: “Whom have I in heaven but thee?” It is a rhetorical question. The answer is obvious. There is no other choice but God. Again, the psalmist says, “There is nothing upon earth that I desire besides thee.” Neither in heaven, nor on earth is there any desire except God.
Most people are focused on the things of earth, yet nothing of earth is ultimately our desire. I have nothing on earth, no persons, no things, no possessions, no delights, that I desire more than God or that I can even compare with God. My heart and my flesh will fail. The body will fail by sickness, age, and death; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. I rest upon God as upon a rock and this rock endures forever.
And so we return to Samson’s riddle. How can a bad situation produce something good? If it causes me to turn back to the foundation of my being, to remember that God “dost hold my right hand,” then that bad situation is good, and I am better off for it. Amen.
Matthew Henry’s Commentary
Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton (1949, Dell Publishing Co, Inc., New York) see Introduction and chapter 1.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 12/06.04