Normally my communion with the people of the past is of a sedentary, close your eyes sort of character but on this occasion it was a little more surreal. I had a little bit of an idea of what it might have been to be like Blake or Bunyan. The man I saw was obviously from a past age and he clearly wanted to show me something. I had no choice but to accompany him. I'm not quite sure how we got there but there was some morning mist and the next thing I knew we were before an ancient campsite and at the entrance to one of the tents the man ahead of me swiftly ducked inside and I followed him. Inside it was quite warm and smoky. It made my eyes smart a little. A small pot hung over an open fire in one corner and something was cooking. In another corner hung what was obviously an animal skin. The skin, he told me, was full of wine. He didn't offer me anything to eat or drink but simply encouraged me to look at the wineskin and to observe how dry and cracked and shrivelled it was and to see that it was covered in soot and smuts. Most of the trouble seemed to be caused by the smoky atmosphere, which suddenly seemed a whole lot worse when I saw what it had done the wineskin.
The man spoke to me briefly and said “Do you see this wineskin?” I nodded. “Don't you feel just like that wineskin sometimes?” Well, I'd never thought of it in those terms, of course, but yes I certainly do feel rather dry and besmirched at times, rather grimy and neglected. “When you get back” he continued “take the Scriptures and look at Psalm 119 and find the bit about the wineskin”. Psalm 119 is a big psalm, the biggest, and I couldn't honestly recall any reference to wineskin. I do remember thinking, however, “I wonder what that's got to do with the Word of God?”.
Anyway, when this rather strange experience was over I got my Bible out and started looking for the verse. Eventually I found it. It's in verse 83. Once I read it I immediately saw the point. There the psalmist says Though I am like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget your decrees. The picture is not a familiar one to us today but having made my trip (or having let my feverish imagination work overtime at least) I could picture what in days gone by must have been quite a familiar sight. It certainly is how I feel at times. The psalmist was determined, even at times like that, however, not to forget God's decrees. We must be determined to do the same. The psalmist was not going to make his troubles an excuse for forsaking God's law and nor must we. Rather, like him, we must be determined to look to the Lord and his word at all times. Actually not published anywhere until now (I think).