Sermon

The Afflictions of the Righteous

Michael Beck Michael Beck

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While there are afflictions that come upon the wicked (i.e., the guilty) because of their iniquities, there are also afflictions that come upon the righteous (i.e., the innocent.)

Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivereth him out of them all. (Psalm 34:19)

The prophets and Job are the clearest examples in the Old Testament of the righteous “suffering affliction.”

Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. (James 5:10,11)

Jesus is our chief example that the righteous can be afflicted.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7)

1. The PURPOSE of AFFLICTION

God uses affliction to OPEN the EARS of men.

Through affliction, the Lord opens the ears of the wicked to correction and calls them to repentance.

He openeth also their ear to discipline, and commandeth that they return from iniquity. (Job 36:10)

Through affliction, the Lord opens the ear of righteous to instruction and perfection in character.

He delivereth the poor in his affliction, and openeth their ears in oppression. (Job 36:15)

Affliction brings the wicked to their knees” to “acknowledge their offence.”

I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early. (Hosea 5:15)

Affliction brings the righteous to their knees to seek God’s strength and deliverance.

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 (Hebrews 5:7)

The Father used the afflictions that Jesus suffered to open His ears to instruction.

The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting. (Isaiah 50:5,6)

By obeying what He heard, Christ demonstrated the “perfect” character that reflected His Father.

Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him (Hebrews 5:8,9)

2. The PAIN of AFFLICTION

In suffering affliction, one’s soul experiences pain.

Look upon mine affliction and my pain … (Psalm 25:18)

Because He was afflicted, Jesus “suffered” in the flesh.

For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted. (Hebrews 2:18)

It is natural to “cry out” in a state of pain. The righteous “cry out” to God when they are afflicted.

A Prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and poureth out his complaint before the LORD. Hear my prayer, O LORD, and let my cry come unto thee. (Psalm 102:1)

The pain of affliction is both in the addition of evil (i.e., “my bones are burned”) and the subtraction of good (i.e., “my days are consumed.”)

For my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned as an hearth. (Psalm 102:3)

In affliction, our heart takes a “beating.”

My heart is smitten, and withered like grass; so that I forget to eat my bread. By reason of the voice of my groaning my bones cleave to my skin. (Psalm 102:4,5)

smitten > Hebrew – nakah > to receive a blow, to be wounded, to be beaten

3. The POVERTY of AFFLICTION

The Hebrew word afflicted (aniy) is translated afflicted 15 times and poor 58 times.

Affliction “pours out” or empties our soul.

And now my soul is poured out upon me; the days of affliction have taken hold upon me. (Job 30:16)

The affliction of the righteous includes the loss of human companionship (i.e., desolation) and the loss of natural beauty (i.e., wrinkles) and strength (i.e., leanness).

But now he hath made me weary: thou hast made desolate all my company. And thou hast filled me with wrinkles, which is a witness against me: and my leanness rising up in me beareth witness to my face. (Job 16:7,8)

Our soul is impoverished when others fail to give us the love we desire or the respect we deserve.

I am like a pelican of the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert. I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the house top. Mine enemies reproach me all the day; and they that are mad against me are sworn against me. For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping (Psalm 102:6-9)

Job not only endured financial poverty, but a poverty of the soul. When the days of his affliction ended, both of these were restored.

And the LORD turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before. Then came there unto him all his brethren, and all his sisters, and all they that had been of his acquaintance before, and did eat bread with him in his house: and they bemoaned him, and comforted him over all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him: every man also gave him a piece of money, and every one an earring of gold. So the LORD blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning: for he had fourteen thousand sheep, and six thousand camels, and a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand she asses. He had also seven sons and three daughters. (Job 42:10-13)

While God uses affliction to show the wicked their sin, He uses affliction to show the righteous the limits of men (themselves and others.)

He weakened my strength in the way; he shortened my days. (Psalm 102:23)

God uses affliction to keep us from pride (i.e., making an idol out of ourselves.)

And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. (2 Corinthians 12:7)

Afflictions humble us and keep us “poor in spirit” and weak in ourselves.

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)

God uses affliction to wean us from man and keep our eye trained on what He alone can perfectly give us.

At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge. Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me … (2 Timothy 4:16,17)

… Ye are all physicians of no value. (Job 13:4)

… Miserable comforters are ye all. (Job 16:2)

God uses affliction to break our dependency on all “flesh” (ourselves and others) and create a greater dependency (i.e., trust) on Him.

Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD. For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited. Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit. (Jeremiah 17:5-8)

Because of his continued dependency on God during the day of his affliction, Job had confidence he would “come forth” as gold.

But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. My foot hath held his steps, his way have I kept, and not declined. Neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips; I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food. (Job 23:10-12)

Likewise, if we stay steadfast in the afflictions God allows us to face in this world at the hands of Satan and evil men, we also will also come forth with the “golden” character of Christ.

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:
Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. (1 Peter 5:8-10)

4. The PRAYER of the AFFLICTED

It is natural to pray for a speedy out when we are in a “day of trouble.”

Prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and poureth out his complaint before the LORD. Hear my prayer, O LORD, and let my cry come unto thee. Hide not thy face from me in the day when I am in trouble; incline thine ear unto me: in the day when I call answer me speedily. (Psalm 102:1,2)

Our eye can become faint as we cry “day and night” for some time of affliction to end.

O LORD God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before thee … Mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction: LORD, I have called daily upon thee, I have stretched out my hands unto thee. (Psalm 88:1,9)

mourn > Hebrew – da’ab > to become faint, languish

God’s speed at answering our cries is often not as fast as we would like.

When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was. (John 11:6)

The cry of the afflicted is: “How long, O Lord?”

How long, LORD? wilt thou hide thyself for ever? shall thy wrath burn like fire? Remember how short my time is: wherefore hast thou made all men in vain? (Psalm 89:46,47)

When an answer seems slow in coming, the afflicted can begin to wonder if God is truly “on it” or if He has “hidden His face” from their situation.

How long wilt thou forget me, O LORD? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me? (Psalm 13:1,2)

Delayed answers can cause us to question why God would “hide” His face from us.

LORD, why castest thou off my soul? why hidest thou thy face from me? I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up … (Psalm 88:14,15)

While God promises to turn to and rescue the afflicted who are keeping His ways, He promises to twist away from those who have twisted away from Him (until they repent.)

For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God … With the pure thou wilt shew thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt shew thyself froward. For thou wilt save the afflicted people; but wilt bring down high looks. (Psalm 18:21,26,27)

froward > Hebrew – pawthal > twist from

There are indeed times when God hides His face from men and will not hear their cry.

Then shall they cry unto the LORD, but he will not hear them: he will even hide his face from them at that time, as they have behaved themselves ill in their doings. (Micah 3:4)

Behold, the LORD’S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear. (Isaiah 59:1,2)

When Israel received no answers from God because of their iniquities, they stopped calling upon Him.

And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities. (Isaiah 64:7)

In times of delay, the righteous can foolishly and falsely believe that God is hiding His face from them.

Our heart is not turned back, neither have our steps declined from thy way … Awake, why sleepest thou, O Lord? arise, cast us not off for ever. Wherefore hidest thou thy face, and forgettest our affliction and our oppression? (Psalm 44:18,23,24)

Scripture assures us that God does not hide His face or close His ears to the affliction of the righteous.

For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard. (Psalm 22:24)

The Lord is not oblivious to the pain felt by the afflicted. His eyes and ears are open to their situation.

And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows (Exodus 3:7)

The Lord has great sympathy for the afflicted.

In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old. (Isaiah 63:9)

The afflicted are encouraged to pray because it is easy to stop praying when we believe God is not listening.

Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms. (James 5:13)

God encourages those who are seeking Him and His righteousness to continue waiting on Him for the good things He has in store.

For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him. Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways … (Isaiah 64:4,5)

God gives the afflicted a threefold exhortation.

Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer (Romans 12:12)

Because the righteous are promised an eventual deliverance from their affliction, they are exhorted to not faint in prayer.

For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper. (Psalm 72:12)

And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:1-8)

5. The PATIENCE of the AFFLICTED

Tears “check in” to our life during a night of affliction and “check out” when the night is over.

… Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)

endure > Hebrew – liyn > lodge, pass the night, abide

It is natural to pray for the Lord to “hurry up” and bring affliction to an end.

Make haste to help me, O Lord my salvation. (Psalm 38:22)

We become weary praying for a tearful night to end.

I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears. (Psalm 6:6)

We can grow weary waiting for God to change our circumstances from painful to pleasant.

I am weary of my crying: my throat is dried: mine eyes fail while I wait for my God. (Psalm 69:3)

God Himself is not above becoming weary.

… Thou hast wearied me with thine iniquities. (Isaiah 43:24)

Ye have wearied the LORD with your words. Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him? When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgment? (Malachi 2:17)

Thou hast forsaken me, saith the LORD, thou art gone backward: therefore will I stretch out my hand against thee, and destroy thee; I am weary with repenting. (Jeremiah 15:6)

In the days of Isaiah, God grew weary bearing with Israel’s behavior.

Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. (Isaiah 1:14)

God declared that He had “had it” with Israel’s outward religious observances.

When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. (Isaiah 1:12,13)

While God is patient, His patience is not infinite. He does have a “breaking point” where He will “no longer bear” with man’s evil. In Jeremiah’s day, God reached a “breaking point” and declared that He had “had enough.”

The incense that ye burned in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem, ye, and your fathers, your kings, and your princes, and the people of the land, did not the LORD remember them, and came it not into his mind? So that the LORD could no longer bear, because of the evil of your doings, and because of the abominations which ye have committed; therefore is your land a desolation, and an astonishment, and a curse, without an inhabitant, as at this day. (Jeremiah 44:21,22)

It is not because the pain becomes too much for Him to take that God will no longer bear a situation. God calculates His every action to perfectly reveal His character to man.

What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction (Romans 9:22)

God alone is right in all His ways and not to be confused with His creation in everything He does.

The LORD is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works. (Psalm 145:17)

Men refuse patience because they cannot tolerate the grief or pain which a situation is bringing them.

And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear. (Genesis 4:13)

God demonstrated through Jesus Christ that He can and will bear any grief or pain that comes in the path of His own purpose and will being fulfilled.

The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed. (Isaiah 50:5-7)

The instinct for self-preservation causes men to turn back from a path of suffering. Rather than retreat from the prospect of pain, in obedience to His Father, Jesus willingly “took up” His cross.

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. (Matthew 16:24,25)

There are times when we don’t like a situation but we have to endure it.

And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross. (Matthew 27:32)

Like it or not, Jeremiah came to realize he would have to bear grief.

For thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will sling out the inhabitants of the land at this once, and will distress them, that they may find it so. Woe is me for my hurt! my wound is grievous: but I said, Truly this is a grief, and I must bear it. (Jeremiah 10:18,19)

Having to go through something does not mean having patience in it. The prophets not only suffered affliction but also demonstrated patience.

Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. (James 5:10)

We can resort to various coping mechanisms and strategies (i.e., fleshly “ways of escape”) that help us “get through” a painful situation but do not help us grow.

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

All fruit in our life must be connected to our abiding in Christ.

Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God. (Phil. 1:11)

I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. (John 15:5)

It takes time and opportunity to grow. Patience is essential for fruit bearing. God uses the repetition of trials to incorporate the fruit of Christ’s Spirit into our life.

But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience. (Luke 8:15)

God calls us to bear any season of trial for only one reason: to grow more like Jesus through them.

But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. (1 Peter 5:10)

Only when we are more committed to God’s “end” purpose for our life than to our own happiness will we will have a godly attitude toward trials and “let patience have her perfect work.”

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. (James 1:2-4)

Without knowing the purpose for godly patience we will not want it.

And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope (Romans 5:3,4)

tribulation > Greek – thlipsis > also translated affliction (17 times)

experience > Greek – dokime > approved, tried character

Before he understood God’s purpose for trials, Paul automatically asked the Lord to end his affliction.

For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. (2 Corinthians 12:8)

God taught Paul to see a better “breaking point” in trial.

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9a)

In order to have the power and witness of Christ perfected in Him, Paul eventually learned to glory and take pleasure in all manner of trials.

Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9b,10)

The apostles advocated the need for an attitude of rejoicing in trials, along with an awareness of what they would produce when patiently borne.

Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6,7)

The end God wants for us through our trial is different from the end we want to our trials. When the shining manifestation of Christ in us is our greatest desire and hope, the perfect end to a night of affliction is the appearance of Christ in our life.

Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer (Romans 12:12)


Michael Beck is a pastor in New York City and the main author on Signpost. Receive a daily devotional he publishes every morning via email.