God is the Lord of our hearts, and He is the Lord over the world. He acts within us, and He acts outside of us, on our behalf. He does things for us, and He does things to us. He does things in the world to shape us, and He does things in us in order to shape the world. Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward, as Job says, but—despite appearances—it is never mindless trouble. To say that the world is “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” is the observation of an unbelieving man sliding down into damnation.
“Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands: Sing forth the honour of his name: Make his praise glorious. Say unto God, How terrible art thou in thy works! Through the greatness of thy power shall thine enemies submit themselves unto thee . . .” (Psalm 66:1-20).
Summary of the Text
This psalm begins with an introduction, inviting all nations to praise the Lord (vv. 1-4), suggesting what a suitable song of praise would consist of. In the second section (vv. 5-7), the people are invited to come and see the terrible works of God, with the crossing of the Red Sea listed (and a possible reference to the crossing of the Jordan). The people alive at the time of the psalm were perhaps in similar straits, and they are invited to see the outcome of their trial by faith (vv. 8-12). And the last section finds the psalmist confessing his personal responsibilities, and concluding with a burst of praise (vv. 13-20).
All nations should make a joyful noise (v. 1). His name should be honored, His praise glorious (v. 2). The people are invited to acknowledge directly to God how terrible He is (v. 3). The whole earth will worship Him (v. 4). Come and see how awe-inspiring the God of Scripture is (v. 5). He turned the sea into dry land—Israel entered the wilderness dry-shod through a body of water, and they left the wilderness the same way (v. 6). God rules in His power (v. 7). Make sure your praise of this God is loud enough to be heard (v. 8). He holds our soul in life, and He keeps our feet from moving (v. 9). God tests us, as silver is tried (v. 10). That testing includes the net (v. 11), and the oppression of others (v. 12), but God brought them through. The psalmist will certainly pay his vows, those he spoke when in trouble (v. 13-14). He will offer up the best he has (v. 15). He now says come and hear where before he said come and see (v. 16, 5). This is his personal testimony to answered prayer. He had prayed to God, and praised Him (v. 17). Heart integrity is essential to answered prayer (v. 18). God heard him, which proves the prayer honest (v. 19). May the name of God be blessed, the God who answers prayer (v. 20).
Fire and Water
The trials that Israel went through (for their blessing) were trials that were like what happened to the spoils of war—purification by fire and water. “Every thing that may abide the fire, ye shall make it go through the fire, and it shall be clean: nevertheless it shall be purified with the water of separation: and all that abideth not the fire ye shall make go through the water” (Num. 31:23). We who have been brought to Christ are spoils of His warfare, and we cannot be just taken into the camp of the saints. We have to be purified, tested, cleansed, put right. We have gunk on us.
Refined Like Silver
The process of refining silver can teach us a lot about our afflictions. We tend to think of it in a very general way—heat is applied to silver ore in such a way as to remove the dross. But we can learn more than just this general truth.
First, the one who is doing the refining hovers over the process. It requires personal and undivided attention (Mal. 3:3). Second, the furnace for doing this is an intricately designed thing. Third, the heat is very carefully regulated—it cannot be too hot or too cold. And fourth, the process is repeated. In order to speak of the purity of Scripture, we are told that it is like refined silver that has been refined seven times (Ps. 12:6).
Now we should know—even with our limited knowledge—that murmuring or complaining under affliction is like throwing dross back into the silver while the operation is going on. That just ensures that the process is going to go on longer than it needed to. Grumbling under affliction is just perpetuating it.
But remember four other things. Know that God is watching your affliction constantly and without blinking. He is attending to it. Second, God made the furnace you are in, and it was not a haphazard affair. Third, know that God wants the temperature to be perfect. And fourth, these realities do not disappear simply because you went through the process once. So you are not forgotten, your affliction was designed properly, it is being run at the right temperature, and it may well have to happen again. The very best thing you can do for yourself is (with gladness and joy) to get under (Jas. 1:2).
Iniquity in the Heart
At the beginning of this psalm, it says that God’s enemies submit themselves unto Him. But the Hebrew here is literally lie unto thee. God’s enemies—note incidentally that He has them— acknowledge His power, but they lie to Him. One of the characteristics of unbelief is that it does believe that its interior thoughts and intentions are closed to God, invisible to Him. Unbelief feels that God can be gamed. But the psalmist excludes that possibility when he is talking about his own great deliverance. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (v. 18). As Spurgeon put it once, if you are listening to the devil, don’t expect God to listen to you.
As we come to apply this message, make sure that your acceptance of trial and affliction is one that comes from an honest heart. Count it all joy when you meet your trials. Count it all joy when you are alone with God talking about them. This should not be taken as some kind of superficial happy, happy, joy, joy thing, like you have been drinking circus water, but rather as a transaction with God that begins with bone-crunching honesty and ends with joy unspeakable and full of glory.