Sermon preached in Rye Lane Chapel, Sunday morning, July 17th, 1955
"Save me from the lion's mouth: as Thou hast answered me from the horn of the wild oxen." Psalm 22:21.
THIS is a psalm of David and one of those that indicate that it was indited when the depths of his being were moved. It was a time of great testing out of which he proved God and he came to know things concerning God that otherwise never could have been known. but by the hearing of the ear. An experience of the depths challenging the depths of our own being and looked at from, the standpoint of faith must assuredly bring with it an unveiling of God and the treasures of darkness such as otherwise never could be known. David may have been mystified at the time but we who have them and can read these Psalms when we will, may thank God that they are here to be read. Their deep truths can be and are a continual inspiration.
It was a psalm well known to our Lord. Its depths of experience were suitable to His condition as He was stretched out on the Cross: "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" Those first words He made His own in the midst of His cruel sufferings and it may well be that He repeated the entire psalm, finding in its victorious assurance great comfort. Even perhaps more wonderful is the fact that while David is describing what had some relevance to his own experience he seems to have foreshadowed many circumstances of the Crucifixion. "All they that see Me laugh Me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the Lord that He would deliver Him, seeing He delighteth in Him" (verses 7 and 8). "I may tell all My bones: they look and stare upon Me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon My vesture" (verses 17 and 18). These verses have a: prophetic note and we may well ponder the fact that all those centuries before, David should have so clearly anticipated some of the circumstances of the day of Crucifixion.
What the lion's mouth meant to David we do not know. Some think that he refers to the powers of darkness and the devil in particular. He cried out for deliverance, based upon what he had already proved of God's power in his experience with the wild oxen. If so, he realises that before him in some way not indicated, there is a major challenge to his faith and for it he would be forearmed. If it have a reference to our Lord it would seem to be a cry that He may be victorious when He enters Sheol even as God is giving Him the victory and has answered Him an the Cross, but we cannot be sure that this is so. What is clear is that David faces what he feels to be the biggest crisis of his life and he faces it with the assurance that God has already answered him from the horns of the wild oxen.
The picture the psalmist presents is as vivid as it is alarming. A herd of buffalo have been disturbed, they have caught sight of the psalmist. Relentlessly they pursue him, until unable any longer to escape them he is tossed into the air, and as he falls to the ground the angry bull commences to gore him. Pinned down in utter helplessness the psalmist cries out to God and God comes between the prostrate man on the ground and the tusks of the angry brute: "Thou hast answered me from the horns of the wild oxen." If David had really had such an experience it was not likely to be forgotten, and a prayer heard and answered in such circumstance would be a red-letter occasion in his experience. And if he is settling down some spiritual principle in operation and not merely an extraordinary escape of his own then his words may have a red-letter assurance for all of us.
1) HOW DO WE FIND OURSELVES THERE?
David does not tell us the details of his own experience, and without any data to help us it would be of little use to speculate. Of course, it may be due to the wild oxen themselves. Once these herds are aroused or angered any one of the bulls may attack. David writes in verse 12: "Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round." Bashan was a fertile country and the herds that grazed there were virile and well nourished. These bulls were strong and terrible. Perhaps they were aroused by some cause other than David and turned upon him. He was an innocent victim, just as Job was when Satan used his liberty from God, to bring a series of disasters upon him. The onslaughts of the enemy upon the child of God are many and serious.
Or it may have been due to his own sin. Sin unconfessed, unforgiven, unpardoned, uncleansed works insidiously within affecting our wills, our spiritual outlook, our moral caution. Before we know where we are the wild bull is hurling us to the ground. One of the most dangerous neglects of life is sin that we have not really asked God to deal with!
Or it may be due to our obstinacy, folly and foolhardiness. We wanted nobody's advice on what we should do in life and now we find ourselves pinned down. People think we are successful but do not know how bitter and frustrated is life. We rushed into marriage ignoring the voice of God and now find ourselves pinned down in a bondage from which there seems to be no escape. We have been indifferent to the rights of others, and having taken a selfish line that promised us rich rewards we find ourselves pinned down. People who are pinned down like that say very little about it, indeed you have not much time to discuss such situations of acute and penetrating agony, but it saddens you as you see young people bent upon pressing forward in the same folly. Each one is absolutely sure that in his or her particular case everything will be well, but wild bulls are no respecter of persons!
Or it may be due to the inescapable and inexorable ways of life. Men and women pinned down in loneliness, sorrow, tragedy, physical weakness and perpetual illness, or the worries of business. All these can find a word of help from this verse of the psalm. David declares God answered him.
But I am led to think that the figure used suggests that David had been confronted with a challenge altogether unexpected, and no matter how long the causes had been working in his life, the event itself fell upon him instantaneously as a crisis. It was totally unexpected! What was perhaps intended to be a walk out took him on an unfrequented path where he disturbed the herd. Before he knew where he was, the bulls were at him, they flung him to the ground, their horns were about to pierce him through and then God saved him! That may have been an hour of tragedy, such as the sudden swooping down of an illness, a financial disaster, a moral collapse in the family. But whatever it was, it was a crisis never to be forgotten, and the hot breath of those bulls was about him as he found himself with nothing between those pointed sharp cruel horns and his quivering frame, nothing, nothing-except God!
2) WHAT DO WE DO WHEN WE ARE THERE?
It is not always easy to say what we do first in such circumstances. The man of the world usually cries out to God if he can. He feels the situation is so desperate, it is useless to call up any government department, his friends cannot save him even with money, and there are not many of them anyway.. His politics cannot do anything, so that there is really nothing to be done unless God is a possibility, and therefore he may pray. But while that may be to some extent true of the unbeliever it will not be the whole truth. No child of God could ever believe that any crisis could ever arise from which God would or could be absent. That first verse of the psalm is crucial: "Why hast Thou forsaken me?" and the answer is, as we see it on the cross, that God has not forsaken him but is making the experience a focal point of new revelation. Men and women who are taught of God discover that in such experiences faith immediately comes into action. The child of God never loses faith in a crisis; he may discover he never had much that was substantial but he never loses what he had! Crises in the hand of God do not swoop down upon us to crush us but to make our participation in Divine life a greater reality. To cry out to God in sheer desperation because all the familiar aids to contentment are no longer available, is to reveal a greater crisis within than even the horns of the wild oxen without. But for the believer rescued, saved, sanctified and living by faith in the Son of God, the crisis brings faith into action as surely as to dial 999 bring the fire engine to our doors!
It is then the operation of faith that comes into action at such a moment, and in that simple faith we cry out to God. There is no situation within the possibility of human experience wherein God is not the final and absolute Master. The psalmist with nothing between the horns of the infuriated bill, and his own quivering body, found that in such an acute situation God answered him. Therefore let us ever meet the inevitable crises of life as they come and come they will. As situations in which faith in our Living Lord arises afresh within and a prayer not of desperation, but of confidence escapes our lips so that we expect God to work and are sure He will not fail to do so.
3) WHAT IS THE ANSWER WE GET THERE?
I think we may say that in general the answer is an answer of grace. The crisis searches us out. It maybe that in an instant the Holy Spirit unerringly shows us the relation between our sin and this new experience. Hitherto the sin has been almost an attraction. We have looked at it from the "flesh" end, but now we see it at the "death" end, and it will be better if we so see it in a crisis of time and renounce it, than pass over into eternity with the sin unsettled before God. We shall know then that there must be a calling out to God of confession, repentance and of a plea for mercy. God will assuredly answer us!
It may be that we did not really see that sin on matters of obstinacy, foolishness, and decisions made by a child of God on a temporal level, were all really sins. We pressed on our way at the time, thinking we had the right to decide and we did not really take counsel of God. And here you may be pinned down this morning. What shall you do? It usually happens to people when they are so absolutely sure how wisely they have conducted their affairs. The husband is astounded to find his wife does not think of him as he supposed she should or the wife may be amazed that things are as they are with the husband. And to think this should happen in our family when we have given such academic advice to others as to how children should be brought up! Well, the wild oxen have got us down, let us go down a little lower before God, for that is where He gives the answer.
Or it may be the experience is one because we are within the will of God. Crises come for perhaps one of two reasons. They are permitted because we are out of the way and eternity being so important, something drastic must be done. They may also be due, however, to the fact that we are in the will of God and then God has His own purpose. It was so with our Lord. In the will of the Father was the Cross, with its intercession for those who hated Him. Out of Calvary there came a victory over the lion and resurrection life in power. If you are pinned down like that, and a crisis is upon you, if life can never again be the same, and you are exclaiming: "MY God, Why?" Then be assured that in the arising of faith and in the call on God, there is an answer. This finds its expression in life out of the dead and victory, not only for time, but for all eternity, a victory that brings blessing not only to ourselves but liberates through us the blessing of God to others
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