“For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, yet I have not forgotten your statutes.” – Psalm 119:83
“If the gloves don’t fit, you must acquit!” So railed Defense Attorney Johnnie Cochran in OJ Simpson’s famous murder trial. Leather gloves soaked in blood were found near the murder scene, but now the blood had dried, leaving the gloves shriveled and shrunk. Of course they wouldn’t fit. The jury missed the obvious point. Cochran prevailed and OJ was acquitted. This is the same process of wineskins in smoke. Subjected to heat and the smoke of a cooking/warming fire in a tent, leather wineskins will dry, shrivel, wrinkle and blacken with soot. This is how King David described himself, advanced in years, shriveled, wrinkled, and weakened by the impact of age.
In such an aged or very sick state many do not concern themselves with much else than their aches and pains and the self-observation of their body, decrepit with the effects of having lived many, many years or else ravaged by disease. These states sap what strength remains and removes much hope of anything other than future death and the grave. But this is not David’s testimony! Despite his old-age and feeling like a wineskin in smoke, he will not allow a painful, weakened body to cause him to forget the Lord’s statutes; he still longed for His Word, for this is exactly where his hope dwelt. The promises of the Lord would not be forgotten, even in the midst of advanced age, or the debilitating effects of sickness or depression. Above all else David would cling to the Word of the Lord; his attention would not be diverted.
I cannot see anything else able to capture one’s attention in such physical conditions. Money becomes fairly useless if it cannot purchase relief or undying health. Hope of advancement in career and goals fall by the wayside as the body enters old age. Anticipating a vacation or trip holds no more pleasure. Company may help, but not completely. I remember my wife dying from cancer, experiencing its awful pain, during the long nights of sleeplessness when comforters were themselves asleep, quietly exclaiming to herself, in my sister’s hearing, what a ravaging, terrible disease cancer is. Pain has its all-consuming diverting influence from much else of any consequence. It can take over all concentration of thought. All focus and immediate hope is placed on relief from pain and weakness. The loss of hope as well has its “wineskins in smoke” impact on the soul.
But the Word of God, which lasts forever, despite all conditions and diversions having any power to overcome its promises, is the hope to sustain the soul in the midst of tribulation or “wineskins in smoke” impact on the body. God’s Word simply will never pass away. The longest chapter of the Bible, Psalm 119, extols this hope, comfort, and truth of the eternal Word of God. It was for David an ever-present anchor for his soul, an indefatigable hope through the storm of life, a welcoming shore on the far side of the river or sea, a place of certain rest when the body craved nothing else.
Developing a dependence on God’s Word cannot be put off till after the effects of old age or sickness capture the full attention of mind and grabs any remaining strength. If there is no appetite for His Word prior to this weakening of body and mind by age and/or sickness, it is unlikely it will ever be acquired. The mind and heart must hunger for the Word today to capture the same habit in the Word which was David’s habit before and through the “wineskins in smoke” period of life. It sustained him in tribulation. His hope did not waver, his comfort never faded, his love for the Lord continually increased.
How will the growing infirmities of old age impact your soul? In what state will the onset of disease find you? We all grow old, many become sick with pernicious diseases, and all of us decrease in strength as youth or health flees. The wineskin in smoke” analogy becomes more real in our bodies. If we are not yet there, we are certainly on our way; old age for sure and possibly sickness before.
There are many ways that those who consider the future prepare for those years. Save for retirement and buffet the body with exercise and healthy eating, but age (time) like an ever rolling stream bears all its sons away, as the hymn expresses. It is an inexorable march to an end in death and dying which cannot be paused or diverted. The very best preparation for it, as is the best preparation for any period of life, is the steady habit of reading, meditation, and study of the statutes of the Lord. His Word is food for any age, but it is sustaining food for old age when appetite for physical food wanes. You can never eat too much of the Word of God. Develop the habit while there is still time, youth, and health, before the “wineskin in the smoke” overtakes you and it is too late.
“I should have perished in my woe had not I loved thy law divine; that law I never can forget; O save me, Lord, for I am thine.”
(3rd verse of The Psalter, Psalm 119:89-97, 1912)
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