From the time I was young I loved sitting around a campfire. We would cook hot dogs or marshmallows. Make s’mores. Laugh and talk, or sometimes sit and watch the flames dance. The one thing I didn’t like was the smoke. No matter where I sat that smoke seemed to sense me and drift in my direction. Pretty soon, breathing would become difficult, and I would start coughing and have to change locations at the fire.
There were always jokes my uncles would make when I was a child about smoke following beauty, but I never believed them. That smoke burned my throat and made me long for a breath of clean air. I never felt pretty.
A couple of weeks ago, in my daily Bible reading, I came across Psalm 119:83: “For I have become like a wineskin in smoke, Yet I do not forget Your statutes.” That phrase ‘like a wineskin in smoke’ grabbed my attention. What did the psalmist mean? What happens to a wineskin in smoke? How does this apply to my life? I had to take the time to research this phrase, and the meaning, to satisfy my curiosity.
There were several schools of thought, but I found out two very interesting concepts. First, sometimes wineskins were hung in the smoke to give the wine a more mellow tone. Many of the early homes in Bible days were heated with a fire in the house and the wineskins would come in contact with the smoke as they hung on the walls. The warmth and the smoke would change the flavor of the wine, adding an enjoyable flavor.
Second, if a wineskin hung in too much smoke, the leather would dry and crack. The intense heat would ruin the skin through a lack of fresh air and moisture. Then the skin and the contents could be ruined.
I have pondered these ideas and the scripture. I keep thinking that the smoke and its intensity can represent trials in my life. Some are hard but not severe. They help to mold me and encourage growth as I become more dependent on God. I am learning to be long-suffering and to persevere despite the difficulties I face.
The more severe trials are like the thicker smoke and higher heat. They steal the fresh air and burn my lungs. If I am not careful, I will become dry and cracked, useless in my misery. Both inside and out can be ruined if I don’t take note of the second part of that verse – ‘yet I do not forget Your statutes.’
Remembering God’s promises and His word stave off the harmful effects of the smoke. Genesis 2:7 says, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” The fresh air I need comes from God. He’s given me the very breath I breathe. He made the perfect blend of oxygen and hydrogen I require to live. My most basic need is supplied by him, and I must remember that.
To keep from becoming dry and cracked, I must have moisture. Even the worst smoke can be chased away by water. In John 4:15, Jesus tells the woman at the well, “but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” That is a promise that can moisturize the driest soul. Something to remember in the midst of a fiery trial. When I’m feeling dry and cracked, Jesus will refresh me, giving me the help I need.
I hope the next time I am standing before the fire of difficulty with smoke pouring over me, I can recall these promises. Then my soul will be refreshed. I can relax and enjoy the promises God has planted within me. Maybe I’ll even have a s’more.