I spent some time meditating on Psalm 28 before our prayer meeting last week, and was particularly struck by verses 7-9, where David twice identifies the Lord with his strength: “The Lord is my strength and my shield” (:7) and “The Lord is the strength of his people.” (:8) This is one of those Bible phrases that I am familiar with and tend to hurry past all too quickly, so I intentionally stopped to slowly consider the beauty and power of this image of God as our strength.
The significance of the confession might best be considered first by way of contrast. What might we normally consider to be our “strength”? David here is a king, an ancient, near-eastern autocrat with a scepter and a sword. We might expect any other man in such a position to boast in his own strength – his military expertise, his chariots and weapons of warfare, the vast armies he commands, the impenetrable walls of his citadel. Think of Goliath mocking the people of Israel, the Assyrian Rabshakeh taunting Hezekiah, or Nebuchadnezzar puffed up over the grandeur of his kingdom in Babylon. But we find a very different picture here: we find a king on his knees. He is crying out in complete dependence at the beginning of the psalm, “To you, O Lord, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit.” (28:1) He then moves to cry out for the Lord to establish his justice, and to deal with the enemies who pursue his life (28:3-5). Finally, he rests in the God who has heard his prayer and says, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped . . . The Lord is the strength of his people, he is the saving refuge of his anointed.” (28:7)
And so we find a striking image of a king confessing his own weakness, and finding his strength in the Lord. And the more we think about it, this is a theme that runs straight through Scripture. The people of God are weak, but the Lord is their strength.
Consider the words of Israel’s praise song on the other side of the Red Sea. After they have stood helplessly by while the Lord conquered their Egyptian enemies, this company of trembling, escaped slaves sing out, “The Lord is my strength, and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God and I will praise him, my father’s God and I will exalt him.” Exodus 15:2 Later, in Psalm 84:5, we read, “Blessed are those whose strength is in you.” It is when the people of God find their strength in the Lord that they are called blessed.
We find the same truth in the New Testament. The church at Corinth loves to boast in human strength and human wisdom. But the apostle Paul tells them that this attitude is completely contrary to the Gospel. While the world celebrates the strong and the wise, God’s has deliberately chosen the weakest of people to comprise his church: “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 God’s people are weak so that his strength may be displayed, and so that none may boast in his presence.
But perhaps this truth is most powerfully pressed home in Paul’s second letter to the arrogant church at Corinth. After alluding to a glorious experience of Heaven he received, Paul describes a “thorn in the flesh” that was assigned to him. Whatever this mysterious burden may have been, we know that it marked Paul out as a man of weakness. Three times the great man of God cried out for the Lord to remove the thorn from him. This is a reasonable request; what weak man does not want his strength to be restored to its fullness? But this is the reply he received: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'” And so Paul teaches us, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
It should not surprise us, then, when God’s people do not look very strong, or feel very strong. It should not surprise us when we regularly feel that we have completely exhausted our own resources, and are left feeling weak and helpless. Could it not be that God then has us exactly where he wants us to be, that we might see that “the Lord is the strength of his people”? Could it not be that it is precisely then that the Lord demonstrates to us and to the watching world that his grace is sufficient for us, for his power is made perfect in our weakness?
I think this is an important truth of which we should remind our hurting people, whose health is breaking, whose family members are rejecting the Gospel, whose jobs are constantly in jeopardy. I think this is an important reminder before a prayer meeting, when a weak people come before a strong Father and cast their burdens upon him. And I think that it is an important reminder for this pastor, who so often feels perplexity and discouragement in the work of Gospel ministry. I do not often feel very strong, and Scripture tells me there is a reason for that.
But the Lord is the strength of his people.
Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might. Ephesians 6:10