WHAT WILL THE NEIGHBORS SAY?
Please read Psalm 31 and consider the following reflections:
Most people make good neighbors, but some neighbors are difficult to live with. King David had neighbors who were the difficult kind. They treated David more like an enemy than friend. In Psalm 31 he wrote: “I have become a reproach, especially to my neighbors, and an object of dread to my acquaintances” (verse 11). His neighbors pointed out David’s sins and spread the word around the neighborhood that David was being punished by God for his sinful behavior. It’s not that the ancient king disagreed with them about the reason he was having to endure sickness –– “my strength fails because of my iniquity” (verse 10). However, David’s neighbors were just down-right mean. When they met him on the street they crossed over to the other side ––“those who see me in the street flee from me” (verse 11). They treated him like a “broken vessel,” once used to hold wine or water, now useless (verse 12). Their intentions were to ruin his reputation, assassinate his character. Whispering about him behind his back, they schemed for a way to put him to death ––”I hear the whispering of many ––they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life” (verse 13). He did not live by the naive philosophy that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.” He felt the pain of untruthful hostile neighbors. David was truly a victim of the “strife of tongues,” and he was hurting (verse 20).
Who is your difficult “neighbor”? It may be a bully at school, a fellow-worker, an ex-spouse, the person next door, even a member of your own family.
When life is miserable and the future is not bright, what does a godly person do? David called upon God to rescue him. “In your righteousness deliver me…rescue me speedily…be a rock of refuge for me…take me out of the net they have hidden for me!” (verse 1-4). He committed himself to God for safekeeping. Our Lord Jesus in His darkest hour, suffering on the cross for us, enduring the pains of nails and the loud verbal insults of those who passed by, recalled David’s desperate cry and repeated it: “Into your hand I commit my spirit” (verse 5 and Luke 23:46).
Psalm 31 ends with an encouragement to “wait for the Lord” (verse 24). Whatever the illness, virus or disease, whatever unjust things are said about us, whatever physical and emotional perils we go through, whatever loss of employment and financial income, we need to “wait for the Lord.” On one occasion (1 Samuel 23:11-13), a whole city turned against king David and in near panic he thought he had been “cut off” from God (verse 21-22)! But he waited for the Lord. Notice what he did as he “waited”:
• He prayed earnestly about the situation (verse 2)
• He rested his cause on God’s grace, not his own innocence (verse 3)
• He re-committed his life to the Lord (verse 5)
• He was thankful that God understood what he was going through, even if others didn’t (verse 7)
• He confessed his sins to God (verse 10)
• He remembered that his “times” were in “God’s hands” –– that the loving and eternal and almighty God was ultimately in charge of his life (verse 15)
• He asked the Lord to make His face shine on him (verse 16 and Numbers 6:24-26)
• he prayed for the defeat of wrongful and hurtful things that had been committed against him (verses 17-18). NOTE: “To pray for the overthrow or the just punishment of the wicked is not wicked. It is generally a vigorous desire that the iniquity of evil men might be brought to an end. Old Testament saints would have far preferred to see the conversion of these their enemies (cf. the close of Psalm 2); but since in most cases this was out of the question they prayed earnestly that God would put an end to their ungodly career and so to the harm that they sought to bring upon the godly.” (H.C. Leopold, Exposition on the Psalms).
• He praised God for all the good things He already “stored up” for him personally — both physically and spiritually (verse 19). David knew the Lord, and only the Lord, would bring him through national crisis and his own rough days.
How, then, does this psalm encourage us as we go about our daily living in an imperfect world filled with imperfect neighbors some of whom say and do imperfect things? “Love the Lord, … be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!” (verse 23-24). Be assured that “Those who wait upon the Lord will never be put to shame” (Isaiah 49:23).