It is simply fascinating too, to find what light floods these pages as they are read back in their historical setting, so far as that is possible. For example turn to the third Psalm, fifth verse,
"I laid me down and slept;
I awaked; for the Lord sustaineth me."
I was brought up in an old-fashioned church where that was sung. I knew it by heart. As a boy I supposed it meant that night-time had come, and David was sleepy; he had his devotions, and went to bed, and had a good night's sleep. That was all it had suggested to me.
But on my first swing through of the wide reading, my eye was caught, as doubtless yours has often been, by the inscription at the beginning of the psalm: "A psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son." Quickly I turned back to Second Samuel to find that story. And I got this picture. David, an old white-haired man, hurrying one day, barefooted, out of his palace, and his capital city, with a few faithful friends, fleeing for his life, because Absalom his favourite son was coming with the strength of the national army to take the kingdom, and his own father's life. And that night as the king lay down to try to catch some sleep, it was upon the bare earth, with only heaven's blue dome for a roof. And as he lay he could almost hear the steady tramp, tramp of the army, over the hills, seeking his throne and his life. Let me ask you, honestly now; do you think you would have slept much that night? I fear I would have been tempted sorely to lie awake thinking: "here I am, an old man, driven from my kingdom, and my home, by my own boy, that I have loved better than my own life." Do you think you would have slept much? Tell me.
But David speaking of that night afterwards wrote this down:—"I laid me down, and slept; I awaked; (the thought is, I awaked refreshed) for the Lord sustaineth me." And I thought, as first that came to me, "I never will have insomnia again: I'll trust." And so you see a lesson of trust in God came, in my wide reading, out of the historical setting, that greatly refreshed and strengthened, and that I have never forgotten. What a God, to give sleep under such circumstances!
A fine illustration of this same thing is found in the New Testament in Paul's letter to the Philippians. At one end of that epistle is this scene: Paul, lying in the inner damp cell of a prison, its small creeping denizens familiarly examining this newcomer, in the darkness of midnight, his back bleeding from the stripes, his bones aching, and his feet fast in the stocks. That is one half of the historical setting of this book. And here is the other half: Paul, a prisoner in Rome. If he tries to ease his body by changing his position, swinging one limb over the other, a chain dangling at his ankle reminds him of the soldier by his side. As he picks up a quill to put a last loving word out of his tender heart for these old friends, a chain pulls at his wrist. That is Philippians, the prison epistle, resounding with clanking chain.
What is the keyword of the book, occurring oftener than any other? Patience? Surely that would be appropriate. Long-suffering? Still more fitting would that seem. But, no, the keyword stands in sharpest contrast to these surroundings. Paul used clouds to make the sun's shining more beautiful. Joy, rejoice, rejoicing, is the music singing all the way through these four chapters. What a wondrous Master, this Jesus, so to inspire His friend doing His will!
Every incident and occurrence of these pages becomes a mirror held up to God's face that we may see how wondrous He is.