Despite the joys that life can bring, life is also full of tears. We’re sometimes embarrassed by our tears. Maybe we feel it shows weakness or vulnerability. But all of us cry from time to time. It’s a very abnormal thing for a person to never be moved to tears. They are a universal language and they have been since the creation of mankind. Crying is an expression of sadness, hurt, or anger—and yes, sometimes of great happiness. Tears can also provide relief and release from the emotions that are pent up inside of us. Some are easily moved to tears; others are stoic and able to hold back the urge to cry. But nearly every person cries from time to time.
There is a wonderful statement in the Psalms I want to talk to you about today. It should comfort Christians when we find ourselves in times of anxiety, sorrow, and grief. There is much of that in our world today. You may be going through very difficult times in your life right now. You may be feeling a great sense of anxiety over the circumstances of our world or individual circumstances in your life. Listen to what David wrote thousands of years ago.
Psalm 56:8 “Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?”
Why did David write this and what did he mean? What should we learn from David’s plea of long ago? David experienced many joys and triumphs in his life, but he also spent many a day and night in the valley of the shadow. This great man of God had many reasons throughout his life to weep. The Bible tells us of the many times he shed hot and bitter tears. Despite his great faith, despite his victories in battle, there were times when David was afraid and anxious. There were days when he felt betrayed by friends and family. He suffered the crushing blow of losing children to the hand of death. Remorse over his own sins nearly destroyed him emotionally and physically. Many of the Psalms were born out of these dark times in David’s life. They reflect a broken and grief-stricken man and father who was reaching out to God in his distress and seeking comfort from above.
David’s sorrows began when he was a young man as a young shepherd. It was then that he went through one of the darkest periods of his life. When he stepped out and volunteered to battle the taunting Philistine giant, Goliath, and with the shepherd’s sling and a handful of stones toppled the giant foe, he became Israel’s rising star. When he was presented to King Saul, the Bible says this:
1 Samuel 18:5 “And David went out whithersoever Saul sent him, and behaved himself wisely: and Saul set him over the men of war, and he was accepted in the sight of all the people, and also in the sight of Saul’s servants.”
So, from town to town, David’s fame quickly spread until the people were singing in the streets, Saul may have slain his thousands, but David his tens of thousands! But Saul was not so carried away with David’s newfound popularity. He was a very proud and egotistical man and he burned with jealousy and insecurity. From that day forward, the Bible says that Saul set his eye on David and tried to kill him. This introduced a terrible period in David’s life. For some time, he became a fugitive, fleeing to the wilderness where he was relentlessly pursued by Saul. Those were dark times for David as he hid in mountains and caves, living like a hunted animal.
At one point, David fled to the king of Gath in the enemy territory of the Philistines and was apparently held there until he finally escaped and went to Adullam. Those were stressful and fearful times for this young man. As I said earlier, some of the Psalms were born out of this period in his life. Our text is one of them. The heading or superscription of this psalm claims that this is a psalm of David when the Philistines took him in Gath. These superscriptions were not written by inspiration like the psalms themselves, but they do go back hundreds of years before Christ and they do predate the Greek Septuagint. It’s certainly not difficult to imagine this psalm relating to the time that the superscription describes for David’s pitiful plea depicts him as being under the attack of fierce enemies and being surrounded by armies. He never had an army any more fierce or unrelenting than Saul was.
Psalm 56:1-6 “Be merciful unto me, O God: for man would swallow me up; he fighting daily oppresseth me. Mine enemies would daily swallow me up: for they be many that fight against me, O thou most High. What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee. In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me. Every day they wrest my words: all their thoughts are against me for evil. They gather themselves together, they hide themselves, they mark my steps, when they wait for my soul.”
See how this psalm could’ve been born out of this traumatic time in David’s life as he was being pursued by the armies of Saul. As he fled for his life, he was feeling the emotions of fear, depression, abandonment, betrayal, and uncertainty. How many tears he wiped from his eyes during this dark time, we do not know—but God knew, for David took comfort in these words:
Psalm 56:8 “Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?”
In other words, God was watching when David fled from place to place, hill to hill, and cave to cave. What a powerful plea this is. It’s a statement brimming with consolation and peace in the midst of a terrible storm. He asks God to put his tears into a bottle. To treasure them up, as people do precious and costly ointments and perfumes. David found solace in the fact that God saw his tears and made a note of every one that fell from his eyes.
The Bible indeed does teach that God sees the tears and hears the cries of His faithful people. You may recall the story of the good king, Hezekiah, who became gravely ill. The prophet Isaiah came to see him and told him that God said he needed to set his house in order because he would soon die. But Hezekiah had unfinished business.
2 Kings 20:1-6 “In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live. Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto the LORD, saying, I beseech thee, O LORD, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore.
And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the LORD came to him, saying, Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the LORD. And I will add unto thy days fifteen years; and I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake.”
It’s a wonderful thought that the Christian has a heavenly Father who sees, hears, knows, and understands our sorrows. In a world that’s filled with such loneliness and isolation, the Christian is never alone or unattended. The Christian never goes without One who cares about him and sympathizes with the plight that he suffers in this life.
Psalm 103:13 “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.”
A good parent feels the hurt of his children. Even when we cannot take the pain or disappointment away, their tears break our hearts, too. Thus, the Bible says it is with God, our heavenly Father.
Sometimes it’s easy to think of God as a faraway being with little interest in the day to day events of our lives. Oh, perhaps we can see Him concerning Himself with world-changing affairs, with His eye upon the kings and princes, presidents and governors of this world; perhaps keeping His sovereign hand on the will of human affairs as a whole. But isn’t it harder imagining Him looking into our room at night and hearing us silently weep or seeing the tear that escapes our eye when sadness sweeps over us? But the Bible shows us that He does see those tears and He does care.
To my knowledge, the Bible never tells us that God Himself cries or weeps, but it does show that God feels. He has many of the same emotions that we do. God is in complete control of His emotions; He is never overwhelmed or directed by His emotions, but He reveals Himself in His word as a being who expresses various emotions. For example, He has sorrow when we rebel against Him.
Genesis 6:6 “And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.”
God hates wickedness according to Proverbs 6:16. He becomes jealous when His people turn from Him to idols and worldliness (Joshua 24:19). He can be provoked to anger (Isaiah 63:3). But on the other hand, the Bible also teaches that God is made happy and rejoices over His children.
Zephaniah 3:17 “The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.”
In the same way, the Bible also reminds us that God has great compassion for His people.
Psalm 103:8 “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.”
Joel 2:13 “And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.”
The Bible shows beyond a shadow of doubt that God is intimately aware of the most minute details moment by moment within our lives. God is outside of linear time. He is able to see the beginning and the end, from eternity to eternity at one time. He is not a human being like we are.
Job 31:4 “Doth not he see my ways, and count all my steps?”
Matthew 10:29-31 “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.”
You see, if God marks the flight and fall of a tiny sparrow, you can be assured He knows about the storms that rage in your heart and the sorrows and losses you experience from day to day.
God in heaven is not subject to the same things we are here on earth. He may not identify with all of our sufferings from His throne in heaven, but He does identify with them through His Son. God became a man in the form of His Son, Christ Jesus, who consequently experienced all of the things we experience in life except for committing sin. The Bible says that He knew (or did) no sin though He did come into a world under the curse of sin. As the Son of Man, He was subjected to sorrow, He grappled with grief, He keenly felt the sting of death. He knew what it was to be betrayed by friends and be pursued by enemies. He knew what it was to be cursed, talked about, railed against, and falsely accused. He knew what it was to suffer physical pain. No pain was ever felt by any human more than the cross that Jesus endured.
Hebrews 4:15 “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”
Yes, He felt the full spectrum of human emotions that we feel. One translation puts it, We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses. To empathize means to put oneself in another person’s position; to feel what they are feeling. We sometimes use the word sympathize, meaning that we come alongside someone else and offer emotional support and grieve with them. We support them.
That’s one of the greatest comforts that we receive in life from others. It’s wonderful when tragedy befalls our lives or we’re going through difficult times to have people offer their assistance in whatever way they can help. It’s a wonderful comfort to know that people are standing by to do whatever they can and to express their sorrow and condolences on our behalf. But isn’t there something more powerful when a friend can identify with our suffering? People mean well when they express their condolences and offer to help, but there’s a special bond that comes from someone who has walked the same path we are walking. When someone can put their arms around you and say, I know what it’s like to lose a child or I know what it’s like to have cancer or I know the loss of seeing your house destroyed by a fire.
God is able to identify with every feeling of loss, sorrow, betrayal, pain, and deprivation in the person and earthly experiences of His Son, Christ Jesus. Consequently, the gospels record a number of occasions when Jesus Himself shed tears. When His good friend, Lazarus, got sick and died, Jesus went to be with the family at their home in Bethany. When He beheld their grief and bewilderment, the Bible says in that famously short but so profound verse, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Those were tears of sympathy. He wasn’t weeping because Lazarus had died because Jesus had come to that place to raise him up from the dead. Perhaps He pitied the family with their limited understanding about death at that point, but I rather think that Jesus was Himself moved, touched by their grief and He grieved along with them. He cared about the pain and the heartache they were feeling and He wept with them.
Then at the close of His ministry as He made His descent into Jerusalem for the final week, He stopped on the Mount of Olives and looked down at the golden, glistening city of David with its majestic temple and cobblestone streets, congested with lost and blinded souls quickly traveling on their way to judgment and a Christless eternity.
Luke 19:41 “And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it,”
The original language there means that He was so overcome with grief that He wept with convulsive sobs. The night before He went to the cross, He wept alone in the Garden of Gethsemane, dreading the pain and suffering that was awaiting Him with the rising of the sun.
Hebrews 5:7 “Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared;”
God in heaven doesn’t need to weep as we do because He sees the beginning and end of every situation and unlike us, He meets every difficulty and problem with an infinite understanding, power, and wisdom. But Jesus did say that He came to show us or reveal to us (in a way that we could somehow understand) the Father (whom we cannot comprehend). As the Son of Man and the Son of God, Jesus made that connection between the human and the divine, exemplifying the feelings and concern that God yet has for us. He DOES understand our problems. He DOES understand the grief of His children. He DOES see when His children cry, and He cares about our troubles and our woes. He is deeply moved by our heartache.
Maybe you, like David, feel frightened by some stressful and uncertain circumstance that you’re in. God sees your tears. Maybe you, like David, feel like the world is closing in around you and you’re trapped in a place that you don’t know how to escape from. God sees your tears. Maybe, like Hezekiah, you’re afraid for your health. You’re waiting this week for that dreaded call from the doctor, that test result. Or you’re facing a battery of treatments that you don’t know how it will all turn out. God sees your tears. Maybe, like Jesus, you weep over someone lost in sin—a child, spouse, or friend. It hurts to see them throw their soul away. Jesus knows all about that. He wept, too. God saw His tears and He sees yours. Maybe, like our Lord, you weep over a newly made grave. You’ve lost the dearest person on earth to you, and even though you know there’ll be a resurrection, it still hurts to let them go for a while. Jesus weeps with you, just as He did His loved ones in Bethany so long ago.
God in heaven knows and sees your tears. David wanted to imagine that God saves those tears and puts them in His bottle. That He makes note of them and records them. Why would He do that? Because the tears of His children mean something to Him. He makes note of everything that brings a tear of sorrow to the eye of one of His saved children, and one day, He has promised to turn those tears to pearls of rejoicing. Oh, we may live in a world of suffering that’s cursed by sin today, but there’s coming a world where those things will not be. When John the revelator saw that panoramic picture of the great after awhile and he saw the redeemed strolling the golden street of the new Jerusalem, he said this:
Revelation 21:4 “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”
Yes, beyond this vale of tears, there is a happier tomorrow for the Christian. Beyond the suffering of this life, there is the eternal crown of rejoicing for the faithful Christian. But for the one who does not know Christ, this sorrowful and sinful life will end in judgment and eternal regret, an everlasting home in the caverns of the doomed where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 25:30 “And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
In Christ, there is comfort, peace, and hope. I hope that you’ll come to Him today for the comfort only He can give.
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