Counsel in the Night In Depth

I will bless the Lord who has counseled me;
Indeed, my mind instructs me in the night.

In Psalm 16, it appears that David is in the grip of death, as is so often the case in the Psalms. In Psalm 16:7, he refers to his trouble as “the night.” Darkness and danger surround David, and in the midst of this, he blesses the Lord, who provided David with wisdom in his inner man.

The Lord does not teach David audibly, but in David’s heart, where he has stored up the Word of God. David is the blessed man of Psalm 1, and as such, he has meditated on the Law of the Lord day and night. David had a treasure store of biblical texts to draw from as the need arose. In the life-and-death scenario portrayed in Psalm 16, the Lord took the word stored in David’s heart and counseled him in the midst of his trial.

This passage is particularly meaningful to me. I came to Cairn in 1993 and had the opportunity to teach through the Bible each year for about 10 years. My particular interests were in the wisdom literature. As it turned out, I needed this wisdom to counsel and instruct me through various trials.

In 1995, my kidneys failed somewhat unexpectedly. I was fortunate to receive a kidney from a living donor, but this transplanted kidney lasted only seven years. In 2003, I was in need of another transplant. Miraculously, I received a cadaver kidney that was a perfect match. This kidney is still working beautifully.

My teaching over the years provided me ample opportunity to reflect on the wisdom books, and the Lord used these texts to provide “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,” as the University hymn goes. The Psalms teach us to give thanks and praise to the Lord, even as He may lead through the valley of the shadow of death. The book of Job teaches that the Lord’s governance of the world is always wise and good, even when He brings calamity upon His servants. And the book of Ecclesiastes teaches us that times of life are appointed by God (Eccl. 3:1–8), and you just never know whether they are going to be good or evil; both are before us, and so we are instructed to fear God (Eccl 9:1; 12:13–14).

This rich treasure store of biblical texts has been used by the Lord many, many times. I am blessed to have had the chance to read, study, and teach these things.

The Lord continues to counsel me in the night. Last year, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. It was detected early because of a routine blood test on my kidney function. You could say that my kidney failure saved me from cancer. Over the past year, I underwent chemotherapy and had a bone marrow transplant this past summer.

The transplant was going very well until I had a number of complications. My faith was tested unexpectedly.

In Job 38–39, the Lord draws from various aspects of the created order to show Job that he has darkened counsel by words without knowledge. One of my favorite passages in this section is Job 39:13–18:

The ostriches’ wings flap joyously
With the pinion and plumage of love,
For she abandons her eggs to the earth
And warms them in the dust,
And she forgets that a foot may crush them,
Or that a wild beast may trample them.
She treats her young cruelly, as if they were not hers;
Though her labor be in vain, she is unconcerned;
Because God has made her forget wisdom,
And has not given her a share of understanding.
When she lifts herself on high,
She laughs at the horse and his rider.

The remarkable thing about this passage is that the Lord Himself is speaking to Job about His own “failure” to provide wisdom and understanding to the ostrich. Rhetorically, the Lord is taking up Job’s critical perspective to show Job that even when the creation looks evil and cruel, it is simply Job’s limited understanding leading him to draw wrong conclusions about the Lord’s wise governance of the world.

As I had opportunity to reflect on this passage, it became clearer to me that the Lord’s governance of the world is both awesome and awful. Besides the ostrich’s awful treatment of her young, the Lord speaks in Job 38–39 of hail, floods, times of distress, war, the wicked, and death. In addition to the wonder and awe we find in creation, there are horrible events in the lives of His servants that are equally under the Lord’s wise sovereignty.

The book of Job is straightforward about this. In Job 42:11, it says that Job’s family came to “comfort him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him.”  Job’s trials were awful. This was a great comfort to me as I had to endure a number of awful things with my transplant.

Through it all, my faith was strengthened. The Lord had truly counseled me in the night.

Dr. Brian Toews has worked at Cairn University since 1993. He has spent 16 years as a faculty member in the School of Divinity and six years as provost. He earned his BA in Linguistics from UCLA, ThM and MDiv from Talbot School of Theology (Biola University), and PhD in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures from UCLA. His academic specialties are biblical languages, wisdom literature, and Old Testament theology. He can be reached by emailing provost@cairn.edu.