Week of December 18, 2016
The Point: Because of God’s Word, I can stand in a world that opposes me.
Comfort and Counsel in Distress: Psalm 119: 17-24.
 Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word.  Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.  I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not your commandments from me!  My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times.  You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones, who wander from your commandments.  Take away from me scorn and contempt, for I have kept your testimonies.  Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes.  Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors. [ESV]
“Comfort and Counsel in Distress [17-24]. Summary. The psalmist prays for God to show him wonderful things from His word, things that bring him delight and give him direction, because powerful, wicked people conspire against him and pour contempt upon him.
I. The psalmist calls for God to enable him to discover even more wonderful things in His word so that he might be delivered and live as God intended [17-18]
II. The psalmist attests that in his earthly sojourn he desperately needs God to reveal His will and way to him [19-20].
III. Knowing that God destroys the arrogant, the psalmist prays for God to remove the reproach of the wicked from him, affirming in the meantime his delight in and direction from God’s word [21-24].
- He knows that God brings to an end those who arrogantly refuse His word .
- He prays for God to remove their reproach of him now .
- He affirms that even though he must endure their evil conspiracy against him, he finds delight and counsel in God’s word [23-24].
I. God’s faithful servants pray for the provision of life and the ability to understand the riches of divine revelation [17-18]. In these eight verses we see a new motif, the difficulty of living in a world that is not only opposed to the faith but conspires against it. The passage shows us that in response to this the faithful will affirm that the word of God, properly understood and consistently obeyed, brings comfort and guidance in the difficulties and distresses of life. The first two verses are prayers; they each have an imperative followed by a purpose clause. The first is Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word. In this line, and in verse 23, the psalmist refers to himself as God’s servant; such a designation signifies a close, spiritual relationship with the Lord. The appeal for divine bounty at first seems rather general; but the word is used in the Psalter with the connotation of deliverance [see 13:6; 116:7; 142:7]. The word would then be a figure of speech (a metonymy of cause), implying the kind of bounty intended. Given the tension that this stanza addresses, the psalmist would be desiring God to deal bountifully with him by ending the reproach he suffers at the hand of the arrogant. If God does this, then he will live, meaning live a full life in the land as God intended. The psalmist thinks the only true life is knowing and obeying God’s laws. In addition to this prospect, the psalmist adds, then I will keep you word. He will diligently obey God’s word as he lives out his life. The second verse in the section is a prayer for divine illumination – he needs to understand more fully what God’s will and ways are, especially in the present tensions. The prayer is for God to open his eyes so that he might behold (perceive). The intent of the prayer is for divine help in understanding and regarding the intended meaning of the text – not everyone who reads God’s word has the spiritual understanding to appropriate it correctly [see Matt. 6:22-23; 7:3-5; John 9:39-41]. What the psalmist wants to behold is wondrous things out of your law. Wondrous things are the profound and amazing things of God revealed in the word. This refers to everything supernatural and mysterious which is incomprehensible to the ordinary understanding and is left to the perception of faith. In this context it would probably include revelation concerning the arrogant who are accursed and awaiting the judgment as well as God’s marvelous plans for the righteous. While there are scores of wondrous things in God’s word, some of them are more relevant to the tension of living in a fallen world; but the psalmist needs divine illumination to see it all and be reassured in his faith.
II. God’s faithful servants know this world is a temporary home and therefore need to know more of God’s will [19-20]. In the next two verses of the stanza the psalmist focuses on himself. He first expresses his need for guidance because this world is not his true home – it is an alien land. His initial statement, I am a sojourner on the earth, asserts that his time on earth is temporary – it is a strange land to him. The word sojourn, although somewhat archaic, means to dwell in a land without many of the rights of citizenship; the sojourner is an alien. This fact, joined with his description of himself as a servant of the Lord, shows that his allegiance is above the earth. What this means for the psalmist, and to the countless numbers of believers throughout history, is that this alien land is often hostile to God’s will and ways. This statement of fact lays the foundation for his prayer, a prayer that reveals a desperate need: hide not your commandments from me. The prayer is for the continued revelation and illumination of God’s word – instructions to guide him in his dangerous journey in the world. What he feels is stated more clearly in verse 20: My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times. The verb consumed means ‘to crush in pieces’. His longing is for God’s word, but here specifically the decisions or judgments in it. The emphasis is on the need for guidance and hope in this world – what does God want him to do, and what is God going to do?
III. God’s faithful servants pray for relief from the persecution of the arrogant while they find comfort and counsel in God’s word [21-24].
A. They know that God will judge those who reject His word . What the psalmist is looking for is God’s intervention in his current distress. And so in the final verses he will lay out the problem, beginning with the principle of God’s dealings with the disobedient. You rebuke refers to a verbal activity that causes an effective end to the activities. By His rebuke, His powerful word, God easily stops the activities of the arrogant. By using the word insolent or arrogant, the psalmist is referring to those who despise God and treat His cause with contempt. They are described in the bible as oppressors, liars, and destroyers, people who have no regard for God’s laws. Hence, they are accursed. If God’s blessing is on the obedient, His curse is on those who are disobedient (curse meaning removed from the place of blessing), who wander away from God’s commandments.
B. They pray for God to remove the reproach of their persecution . The people of God, like the psalmist, pray for the painful persecution to stop. Verse 22 says, Take away from me scorn and contempt. The use of this verb indicates that the taunts and contempt of the arrogant are like a covering to be removed. The use of this word draws verses 18 and 22 together: the psalmist needs understanding to deal with this, and so when he affirms what God’s plan is for the wicked , he prays for the difficulty to be removed. The reason for the appeal is that he has guarded God’s testimonies. In other words, he has been obedient, and the reproach is therefore because of the faith. It is the insolent, accursed ones  who are bringing scorn and contempt to the psalmist.
C. They affirm their delight in and dependence on God’s word in the face of persecution [23-24]. The last two verses bring the two themes together: powerful people were conspiring against the psalmist, but he finds comfort and counsel in the word. This is what the righteous of all ages do. These last two verses were intended to be looked at together. The description of the arrogant is further explained here – they are princes (a word that can be used for civil authorities, officers, or leaders of tribes). They naturally have power, but they are a problem because they are arrogant; the psalmist, on the other hand, is a servant of the Lord (here and in verse 17). The power of the arrogant is turned against the psalmist, for they conspire against him. The verb translated plotting simply means they deliberate or talk with each other; but it forms a powerful contrast to the word of the Lord (your statues). The psalmist trusts the Lord’s word, for it reveals the truth, sustains believers, and counsels in the way of life; but the words of unbelieving leaders are troublesome and destructive. Even if they conspire against him he will meditate on God’s statutes – this is what the faithful always do. Therefore he finds delight and counsel in God’s statutes, which he calls his counselors (they are my counselors).
Message and Application. This stanza stresses the importance of God’s word in the difficulty and distress of this world. It describes the experience of the psalmist, but what is described is universal; so the psalmist speaks on behalf of us all. The tension he unveils here is that arrogant powerful leaders are conspiring against him, bringing reproach and distress on him. His recourse is the word of the Lord, in which he delights and to which he looks for counsel. He desires that God will enable him to understand it more as he awaits God’s will in resolving the difficulty of this world. The tension was real; it still is. And the only way to find comfort and guidance in dealing with it is to discover more profound and amazing things in God’s word concerning His provisions and His promises. When faced with reproach and contempt from unbelievers, the faithful find comfort and counsel as they learn to live by His word. Believers then should be instructed by this to meditate in God’s word, seeking greater understanding of it and looking deeper in it for God’s provisions. In the New Testament Paul reminds us that in our spiritual conflicts with the world we need to learn how to use the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God [Eph. 6:17].” [Ross, pp. 481-488].
“God’s Word Consoles the Soul.  In this third stanza, the psalmist purposes with unwavering resolution, I will keep your word. This obedience arises from a grateful heart, motivated by the good care and blessing of God. Under great persecution, he is near death. But if God will spare his life, he vows to keep His Word.  He asks that God open my eyes so he can see by divine illumination [1 Cor. 2:12-13] the deep, profound truths of Scripture. God Himself must grant divine understanding of the Word, or it will evade him. [19-21] Once the Scripture is grasped, it must be kept through personal obedience. Such a life reality comes at a high price. Persecution for righteousness’s sake awaits the person who commits to keeping it [2 Tim. 3:12]. Because of this opposition, the psalmist is a stranger in this world, never fully accepted here. To the contrary, his familiar abode is in Scripture. God will rebuke the arrogant who violate the Word and who seek his harm. [22-23] The persecution he suffers for God’s Word is personal scorn and contempt from unbelievers. This spiritual opposition includes slander from rulers, who follow worldly wisdom. In spite of this conflict, he will continually meditate on God’s decrees.  Regardless of this personal attack he suffers, the psalmist finds soul-comforting delight in God’s statutes. Rather than listening to his foe, God’s testimonies are his counselors. The more he is attacked, the sweeter the Word is to his soul.
Conclusion: God’s Word is so powerful in the hearts of His people that in spite of the many temptations and afflictions they face, it is able to preserve them with divine purity and peace. The supernatural ability of the Bible is amazing. A saint armed with God’s Word is adequately equipped to withstand the greatest assaults brought against his soul. As the believer meditates upon and follows the Scripture, this inspired book delivers him out of his every temptation and trial, all for the glory of God’s name.” [Lawson, pp. 242-245].
Questions for Discussion:
- What does the psalmist pray for [17,18,19,22]? Why does he pray for these things (note use of that and for)?
- What does the psalmist say about himself [19,20,22,23,24]? What problem is the psalmist dealing with? What does he ask God to do about this problem? What does the psalmist pledge to do in response to God’s help?
- What do we learn about God and His word in these verses? What instruction and comfort can you draw from these verses?
- Ross writes: “This stanza stresses the importance of God’s word in the difficulty and distress of this world.” Are you taking full advantage of the gift of God’s word in dealing with the difficulties of living a faithful life in the midst of an evil world? Are you following the psalmist’s example to keep God’s word, behold wondrous things in His word, long for God’s word, meditate on God’s word, and find your delight in His word?
An Exposition of Psalm 119, Charles Bridges, ebook.
Psalms 76-150, Steven Lawson, Holman Reference.
A Commentary on the Psalms, vol. 3, Allen Ross, Kregel.