Listen to the words of this song:
‘You have taken my companions and loved ones from me: the darkness is my closest friend’.
Man, that’s a heavy lyric! Who wrote that? Was it Eric Clapton, or BB King? Or maybe Robert Johnston?
You might be surprised to discover these words come from the Bible, they are the last verse of Ps88. They were written by ‘one of the band’ almost 1000 years BC. King David, himself a musician and songwriter, had appointed a number of people with musical talent to lead the orchestra and choir in praise in the sanctuary of the Lord in Jerusalem.
‘Heman’ was one of the worship leaders and was obviously having a severe case of the blues when he penned these words. He has lost his dearest companions and feels the darkness is now his ‘closest friend’.
Ps 88 is still in our hymnbook but it’s rarely used. Perhaps we’re afraid to admit in public that we sometimes feel this bad!
I find it’s comforting that God in inspiring His Word is honest enough to include laments – ‘blues’ - like this. What is important to note is that the writer doesn’t abandon his faith when suffering, he exercises it, crying out his anguish to the Lord and trusting Him for help.
Another worship leader appointed by King David was called Asaph. A number of the Psalms are attributed to him. While Asaph sounds a little more ‘upbeat’ then his colleague Heman, both fulfilled their duties in God’s House, reminding us that whatever our circumstances happy or sad, it’s always a good idea to acknowledge and worship God. Here in Ps 81, Asaph reminds us of why we might come to church and what we might do when we’re here. Let’s note four things from this ancient song.
The first thing is rejoicing:
‘Sing for joy to God our strength …’
We celebrate God. We acknowledge and praise His greatness.
Asaph refers here to particular times and festivals for God’s Old Testament people to gather together for worship in Jerusalem. For Christians all over the world, Sunday is our appointed time, the day Jesus rose from the dead. So we come together regularly and we sing praise to God.
And we have something to sing about! Our Lord is almighty in power, victorious even over death. As we rejoice in Him we are encouraged to believe we will find the strength we need to overcome whatever challenges we may be facing.
There is rejoicing in worship but notice also secondly in this Psalm 81 there is remembering with thanks God’s saving help in the past.
Asaph remembers Israel’s history, how their ancestors were rescued from slavery in Egypt and given to live in and cultivate this beautiful ‘Promised Land’. Christians look back in history to that momentous day when the Son of God offered His life on a cross. Jesus did so in order that our guilty failures in the past could be forgiven and that the enslaving power of sin would hold us in its grip no longer. Instead, we’ve been given to live in a ‘place of grace’, realising the promises of our generous Heavenly Father.
We remember His grace and so we sing with thanksgiving.
But here’s a third thing in Ps 81. Three times in these few verses Asaph mentions ‘listening’ or ‘not listening’ to God. When His people pay heed, God promises blessing, when they ignore Him, He warns of trouble!
So our worship must include listening humbly and obediently for God to speak. It’s not just to be us making music and doing all the talking. At times we must ‘be still’ and pay attention to the Word of the Lord!
We rejoice with gladness, we remember with thanksgiving, we ‘begin the music and strike the tambourine’ with great enthusiasm, but we must also learn to be quiet. To stop proudly imagining that we human beings know everything and are better judges than our Maker. We must listen to the Scripture and humbly submit to God’s will for our lives.
Because then we can get to our fourth thing revealed here – enjoying the sweetness of the love God promises.
If His people will not just sing with joy and remember with thanks, but listen obediently, follow His ways, trust the Saviour He has given us, God promises to satisfy us with the ‘bread of life’, ‘honey from the rock’ no less.
Back in Moses’ time the people in the wilderness had been given water from the rock. Now an even greater sweetness is being promised.
Some of us music fans understand how often from experiences of deep sorrow and loss and anguish can come great art, not least the sweet music that we call ‘the blues’.
Here’s the thing.
From the darkest day ever and the suffering of Jesus Christ ‘the Rock’ on our behalf has come the joy of salvation and the sweetness of knowing the love of God as our Father in heaven forever.
About a century ago an American called Frederick Graves penned a Gospel song that goes like this:
‘O my brother do you know the Saviour
Who is wondrous, kind and true?
He’s the Rock of your salvation
There’s honey in the Rock for you’.
‘Have you tasted that the Lord is gracious?
Do you walk in the way that’s new?
Have you drunk from the living fountain?
There’s honey in the Rock for you.’
Honey in the Rock that is Jesus.
Would you like to try some?