God's Word Delights

| Psalms 119:1-8

Week of December 4, 2016

The Point:  We experience joy as we follow God’s Word.

Delight in God’s Decrees:  Psalm 119:1-8.

[1]  Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD! [2]  Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, [3]  who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways! [4]  You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently. [5]  Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! [6]  Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments. [7]  I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules. [8]  I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me!  [ESV]

Introduction.  “The longest psalm in the Psalter, Psalm 119, is well known for its teaching of God’s law. Yet the beauty of this psalm lies not only in the recitation of devotion to the law but also in the psalmist’s absolute devotion to the Lord. Most likely writing in the postexilic era, the psalmist knows firsthand the oppression of evil. He has been surrounded by wickedness, pursued by the arrogant and proud, and humbled by sorrow and disgrace; yet his refuge is in God. He constantly cries out to God, retreats into His shadow, and finds solace in His strength. This is a psalm not only of law but also of love, not only of statute but also of spiritual strength, not only of devotion to precept but also of loyalty to the way of the Lord. The beauty in this psalm resounds from the relationship of the psalmist and his God. The genre of the psalm corresponds most closely to that of the wisdom psalms: the blessing formula [1-3], proverbial style, and concern with the law of God. Yet the psalm also reflects elements of other genres: lament [25,51,94,137,143,149,153-160]; thanksgiving [7]; innocence [30,61,97-106]; praise [33,44,57]; and confidence [20,105]. All of these motifs have been blended into a most beautiful mosaic celebrating the God who revealed Himself to humankind in His Word.”  [VanGemeren, p. 858].

“Psalm 119 is an acrostic psalm, the most elaborate in the Psalter. It is divided into twenty-two stanzas, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and each verse of each stanza begins with one of these letters in sequence. Thus each of the first eight verses begins with the letter aleph, each of the next eight verses begins with the letter beth, and so on. The closest parallel to this pattern is chapter 3 of Lamentations. It is divided into twenty-two sections also, like Psalm 119, but each of its sections only has three verses. The most striking feature of Psalm 119 is that each verse of the psalm refers to the Word of God, the Bible, with only a small handful of exceptions. At least 171 of the Psalm’s 176 verses refer to the precepts, word, laws, commandments, or decrees of God explicitly. There are at least eight synonyms for Scripture that dominate this psalm: law (torah), which occurs twenty-five times; word (dabar), twenty-four times; rulings or ordinances (mispatim) twenty-three times; testimonies (hedot), twenty-three times; commandments (miswoth), twenty-two times; decrees or statutes (huqqim), twenty-one times; precepts or charges (piqqudim), twenty-one times; and sayings, promise or word (‘imra), nineteen times. However, there are other terms that are close to being synonyms, such as way (derek) three times, and path (natiyb) three times.” [Boice, pp. 970-971].

“The Blessing of Protective Care [1-8].  Summary.  Having declared the truth that God’s blessing is with those who live in obedience to the law, the psalmist commits himself to keeping the commandments, anticipating that he will praise the Lord for His protective care.

I.  Those who are obedient to God’s word are blessed [1-3]. The first stanza begins with a twofold declaration of the blessing of God on people whose lives are characterized by integrity. The word blessed begins both verses 1 and 2. The expression signifies the spiritual and heavenly bliss of those who are right with God. But it is not limited to an inner, spiritual joy; there is often external, physical evidence of God’s blessing on such a proper relationship, blessing that may take the form of provisions and protective care. Their conduct is first described as blameless, that is, those who in their lives are forgiven for sin and free from sin. The idiom of way is then expanded in the second part of verse 1 with the participle who walk in the law of the Lord, that is, who live out their lives in obedience to God’s instructions. The second declaration of blessing offers further explanation of their obedience [2]. First, they keep his testimonies, which describes them as people who carefully observe God’s word. Here the term used for the law is testimonies, a word that emphasizes the legal stipulations of the covenant. Second, they seek the Lord with their whole heart. The imperfect tense (seek) is parallel to keep and so stresses that this is an ongoing pursuit. To seek the Lord with a whole heart means that they are completely occupied with the discernment of the Lord’s will revealed in His word. It is the people who keep God’s laws and diligently seek Him who are blessed by Him. The effect of their determined obedience is expressed clearly in verse 3: who also do no wrong. The perfect tenses in this verse (do, walk) continue to describe their consistent activities. They do not practice wrong-doing, a word that focuses on wronging someone else, in general, crimes or injustices. The second half forms a contrast: but walk in his ways, repeating the idea of verse 1: who walk in the law of the Lord.

II.  Those who determine to live more faithfully will be safe and secure in the Lord [4-6]. The emphasis shifts slightly in the next three verses to the psalmist’s determination to keep the commandments God has made. Verses 1-3 described the integrity of those people blessed by God; but verse 4 begins with a new subject: You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently. The verb commanded is related to the word for the commandments used in verse 6. The point being stressed here is that all of God’s laws are divine orders. The word for the law in this verse is precepts; this noun only occurs in the Psalms and refers to the appointed laws of God in general. It is connected to the idea of an overseer who is responsible to appoint and carry out the destiny of the people; it points therefore to God’s instructions that give attention to details in the care and development of His covenant people. These precepts were commanded for the people of God to keep or observe diligently. And so in verse 5 the psalmist expresses his desire to be faithful in keeping God’s commandments. His wish is that his ways would be steadfast. The infinitive of the last verse is now repeated, but is used to explain the first part of verse 5: in keeping your statutes. The word for statutes here and in verse 8 emphasizes the binding nature of God’s laws. By keeping these statutes one’s conduct will be steadfast. The expected result of this steadfast obedience is deliverance. The psalmist words it as an understatement: I shall not be put to shame. The expression anticipates verse 8 that suggests the psalmist is in some kind of difficulty, but does not expect to be left there if he is faithful to God’s word. Eventually the blessing will be realized in that he will not be put to shame. The rest of verse 6 is a temporal clause, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments. The verb fixed or ‘look, gaze intently’ has the nuance of regarding or paying attention to something. And the focus of this attention is expressed by the prepositional phrase: on all your commandments. When believers stay focused on the commands of the Lord, they will be confident that they will find deliverance.

III.  Believers who experience God’s righteous decisions and obey his statutes can expect to praise the Lord for his protective care [7-8].  In the last two verses we find an emphasis on the psalmist’s anticipation of praising the Lord. The reason for the praise has been hinted at in verse 6 with I shall not be put to shame, and now more specifically expressed in the closing prayer, do not utterly forsake me. It appears that the psalmist was in some danger or difficulty (which will unfold gradually throughout the psalm); but knowing that the Lord blesses the righteous, he was determined to live obediently to the law and thereby anticipate praising the Lord for His protective care, i.e., the blessed life. I will praise with an upright heart expresses his anticipation of enjoying God’s blessing [7]. The phrase with an upright heart indicates that he will have lived obediently to the law – in other words, the praise will come from an obedient believer. But the anticipation of praise is qualified by the temporal clause, when I learn your righteous rules (or ‘decisions’, ‘decrees’). God’s rules refers to decisions or decrees that concern right and wrong and that put into execution the righteousness of God. Such divine decisions would ultimately bring deliverance to the righteous who are in danger or difficulty. In this sense the word righteous might be figurative or deliverance. Therefore, when the believer learns of these decisions, meaning experiencing the acts that come from God’s decisions, he will praise Him. In verse 8 the psalmist reiterates his commitment to keep the law: I will keep your statutes. But then he prays do not utterly forsake me. This urgent petition indicates that the psalmist was in some kind of difficulty and wanted God to set him free. The petition is an understatement; he says do not utterly forsake me but means the opposite, that God intervene to take care of him.

Message and Application.  This first stanza of the series of meditations that make up Psalm 119 sets the pattern and tone for the entire collection: in the midst of some serious difficulty or dilemma, the psalmist knows that the blessing of God is with the faithful, and so he determines to keep the commandments of God, anticipating that he will have reason to praise the Lord for His protective care. We may word this in the form of an expository idea: Because of the revelation that God’s blessing is with those who are devout, the faithful will commit themselves to obey His word, anticipating that they will praise Him when He blesses them with His protective care. The themes in this first stanza will appear frequently throughout the entire psalm; but they are timeless truths. James instructs us with these words: the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing [James 1:25].”  [Ross, pp. 466-474].

“Life Application.  Every Christian is greatly dependent on the ministry of God’s Word to lead them into the fullness of God’s will. How should the Scripture be approached? How should it be read and applied? The following steps should guide every believer’s life.

  1. Read the Bible. The Scripture should be read thoroughly, line upon line, precept upon precept. Careful attention should be given to its every nuance and detail. Every Christian should have a systematic plan for reading the Bible.
  2. Study the Bible. As you read, have a pen and paper in hand. Underline key words and truths. Circle important terms and phrases. Indicate, perhaps with arrows, cause and effect. Consider obtaining a study Bible with explanatory notes at the bottom of the page.
  3. Interpret the Bible. Always seek to determine what the passage means by what it says. Avoid superficial interpretations that spiritualize the passage. Instead, always understand the text in its normal, literal, historical, grammatical sense.
  4. Apply the Bible. The Scripture must now be practically applied to your own life. Live the Scripture, and it will transform your life.” [Lawson, page 238].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What does it mean to be Blessed by God? What six things does the psalmist say about those who are Blessed in verses 1-3? Apply these six descriptions to your life. How does your life measure up to these six descriptions?
  1. The psalmist affirms a particular action of God in verse 4. What does he say that God does? Why is this an essential activity of God? This affirmation causes the psalmist to pray. What does he ask of God [5]? What will be the result of his prayer being answered by God [6]? Should not this be our daily prayer?
  1. To what three actions does the psalmist commit himself in verses 7-8? What is the relationship between praising, learning, and keeping in the Christian life? Then the psalmist closes this stanza with a prayer. Why does he make this request of God? Note: There is probably a twofold reason that the psalmist asks for God’s presence with him. He may be dealing with some adversity in his life. But he also recognizes that the only way he can accomplish his desire to be obedient to God’s word is by God’s enabling presence in his life. Meditate on how this is equally true in your life.

References:

Psalms, vol. 3, James Boice, Baker.

Psalms 76-150, Steven Lawson, Holman Reference.

A Commentary on the Psalms, vol. 3, Allen Ross, Kregel.

Psalms, Willem VanGemeren, EBC, Zondervan.