Week of January 8, 2017
The Point: I can fully rely on what the Bible teaches.
Obedience while Waiting: Psalm 119:153-160.
 Look on my affliction and deliver me, for I do not forget your law.  Plead my cause and redeem me; give me life according to your promise!  Salvation is far from the wicked, for they do not seek your statutes.  Great is your mercy, O LORD; give me life according to your rules.  Many are my persecutors and my adversaries, but I do not swerve from your testimonies.  I look at the faithless with disgust, because they do not keep your commands.  Consider how I love your precepts! Give me life according to your steadfast love.  The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever. [ESV]
“There is a link between the previous stanza [145-152] and the next two stanzas. The enemies of the psalmist are still present, and he is still praying for deliverance. There may even be a mounting urgency in the psalmist’s repeated pleas for salvation. At the same time there is also a significant change. The previous stanza [145-152] was almost entirely a prayer. In these next two stanzas the petitions tend to drop away and in their place comes a quiet, obedient waiting for God. Obedience is the new element. It is introduced in a negative way in verse 158: the faithless … do not keep your commands. The writer knows that obedience is not optional. He knows that it is essential to genuine discipleship and is the only basis on which he can have any claim on God for God’s swift intervention and deliverance.
Profession without Practice. How little obedience there is, even in strong Christian circles! I suppose that is why Jesus spoke about obedience so directly toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus had been followed by many people who made a verbal profession of discipleship. They called Him “Lord,” which meant that they were calling Him their master and themselves His servants. But they were also disregarding His teaching. Jesus showed the contradiction by asking pointedly, Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and not do what I tell you [Luke 6:46]. He was teaching that He is not our Lord if we do not obey Him; and if He is not our Lord, then we do not even belong to Him. Disobedience – profession without practice – has been a problem throughout history,. It was true of Israel. On the day before Ezekiel learned of the fall of the city of Jerusalem to the Babylonians the Lord appeared to him to explain why this was happening [Ezek. 33:30-32]. Jerusalem was destroyed because the people were wanting only to be entertained by God’s words and not obey the instructions. Isaiah said the same thing in words Jesus later referred to when He was teaching His disciples [Isa. 29:13]. Jesus also used this text to reprove teachers of the law who made a profession of adhering to God’s words when actually they were obeying only man-made regulations. He called them hypocrites and blind guides [Matt. 15:1-14]. Apparently, the problem of profession without practice was also present in the early Christian community, as indicated in the Epistle of James [1:22-25]. Faith without obedience is worthless, even contemptible, yet it is common.
What the Psalmist Knew. The psalmist knew that if he was serious about his discipleship, he would have to immerse himself in the Bible; and he knew that if he did immerse himself in the Bible, he would have to obey it. We sometimes think of obedience as something we just have to grit our teeth and do, but the psalmist thought of it as a joyous, natural response to what he learned about God when he studied His Word.
Obedience and the Word of God. If trusting God involves obeying God’s Word, as it certainly does, then there can be no real discipleship apart from Bible study. Indeed, study of the Bible cannot even be an occasional, minor, or “vacation time” pursuit. It must be the consuming passion of a believer’s life. This is because it is only by the study of the Word of God that we learn what it is to obey God and follow Jesus. If you want to know God as He speaks to you through the Bible, you should do the following:
- Study the Bible daily. We can study the Bible more than once each day, of course. The psalmist has already spoken of rising early for his devotional time and meditating on God’s Word through the watches of the night. In the next stanza (161-168] the psalmist speaks of praising God seven times a day , presumably in the context of serious Bible study. The psalmist probably means only that he worshiped God continuously. What is important is that we discipline our lives to include regular periods of Bible study, just as we discipline ourselves to have regular periods for sleep, eating our meals, and so on. These things are necessary if the body is to be healthy and if good work is to be done. On occasion we may miss a meal, but normally we should not. In the same way, we must feed regularly on God’s Word if we are to become and remain spiritually strong. What happens if we neglect regular Bible reading? We grow indifferent to God and lax in spiritual things. We throw ourselves open to temptation and the sin that easily follows.
- Study the Bible systematically. Some people read the Bible at random, dipping here or there. This may be characteristic of the way they do most things in life, but it is a mistake in Bible study. It leads to a lack of proportion and depth that is often characteristic of American Christians. A far better system is a regular, disciplined study of certain books of the Bible as a whole. The psalmist did this. The proof is the great variety of terms he uses for the Scriptures. As he saw it, the Bible embraces the law, statutes, ways, precepts, decrees, commands, words, and promises of God. He did not want to neglect even one of them.
- Study the Bible comprehensively. Alongside study of one book or section of the Bible, there should be an attempt to become acquainted with the bible as a whole. This means reading it comprehensively. True, many parts of the Bible will not appeal to us at first, but if we never make an attempt to become acquainted with them, we limit our growth and may even warp our understanding. Paul told Timothy, All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness [2 Tim. 3:16].
- Study the Bible devotionally. Nothing is clearer in this psalm than the close, indissoluble link between knowledge of God and study of the Word of God, between loving God and loving the Bible. There is a danger when we speak of daily, systematic, and comprehensive Bible study of implying that such study is mechanical and can be pursued in much the same manner as one would study a secular text in a university. That is not the case. In other books, we study to become informed. In reading the bible, we study to know God, hear His voice, and be changed by Him as we grow in holiness. Furthermore, if we really want the Bible to become a part of us so that by this means the mind of Christ, which is expressed in the Bible, becomes our mind at least in part, then we must memorize important sections of Scripture. As Christians we need to allow the Word of God to become a part of us. To have that happen we must memorize it.
- Study the Bible prayerfully. It is impossible to study the Bible devotionally without praying, since we are coming to God in Scripture and must communicate with Him verbally if we do. But although prayer is part of a devotional study of Scripture, prayer is worth stressing for its own sake, if only because we so often neglect it. The best way to study the Bible is to encompass the study in prayer. Before we begin to read we should say, “Lord God, I am turning to your Word. I cannot understand it as I should. I need your Holy Spirit to instruct me and draw a proper response from me. What I understand I want to obey. Help me to do that for Jesus’ sake.” Then we must study the passage, and when we find something that pertains to our lives, we must stop and acknowledge it prayerfully. Without regular, personal Bible study and prayer, we are not really walking with Christ as His followers, and we are certainly not obeying Him in specific areas.” [Boice, pp. 1053-1059].
“The psalmist calls for God to vindicate and deliver him from oppression because he loves and keeps the law but his treacherous adversaries are far from salvation.
I. The righteous who are afflicted pray for God to plead their cause and set them free [153-154]. In this stanza the lament element of the psalm is intensified with more urgent prayers for deliverance from the debilitating oppression of the wicked. Three times the psalmist will make his appeal to God for life, indicating that the oppression is not a small concern. In the first two verses he uses five imperatives. The first is Look on (see) my affliction; and the effect of that attention is expressed in the second, deliver me. Parallel to these requests verse 154 uses plead my cause, followed by the desired effects, and redeem me, and give me life (revive me). The appeal for God to look is a request for God to respond to his affliction, no doubt all his troubles caused by malicious enemies. The basis for his appeal is his continued obedience to the law. In the second verse the appeal to God to plead his cause is a call for vindication; the language used is that of a lawsuit, for God will champion his cause. The effect of God’s pleading his case is that he will be redeemed from bondage. This word for redeem is well-known for its use in kinsman-redeemer passages; but it essentially refers to setting someone free from bondage and adversity, here caused by the wicked. This request to be redeemed is joined with the request for God to revive him. The verb is the causative stem of “to live”; it could be translated “preserve my life” or “restore my life,” both of which fit the passage. In either case he wants deliverance from the oppression of the wicked so that he can live his life fully in the service of the Lord. This appeal is not based on his faithfulness to the Law, but on the Lord’s fulfilling the promises in His oracles. The law declared that the Lord would protect and defend His covenant people if they lived faithfully – and since he is a faithful covenant member, his prayer appeals to the promises of God to be carried out.
II. The righteous know that God will not save those who refuse His word . The motivation for God to act is made more explicitly in verse 155. His confidence that God will deliver him from the wicked indicates that the wicked are far from God’s deliverance. Since the wicked do not seek God’s statutes, that is, they are far from the law , then salvation is far from them. This victory comes from God; it will not come to those who reject God’s authority, but to those who trust in Him and seek to live in harmony with His will.
III. The righteous may pray for reviving because of God’s tender mercies . Having discarded the hope of the wicked for victory, the psalmist reiterates his appeal to God to revive his life, which he bases on God’s compassion. This word translated mercy refers to that tender care and protection God has for those who are helpless and dependent – like a mother for her child. The psalmist knows God has compassion on the weak and oppressed, especially those who are believers; and so he appeals to God to act on this tender mercy and revive him according to his decisions . Using rules to refer to the law, he is carrying forward his appeal for God to plead his cause – in this case the rules of God will bring deliverance.
IV. The righteous who are faithful to God’s word will be opposed by faithless adversaries [157-158]. To bolster his appeal the psalmist next affirms his loyalty to God in the midst of adversity. He is assailed by many persecutors and adversaries, people responsible for his affliction, but he remains loyal to God – he does not turn from His testimonies. Nothing these people can say or do will make him abandon the path of righteousness laid down in God’s word. The psalmist not only follows this way, but also he is grieved to see those who do not. He sees the faithless, people who are treacherous – who cannot be trusted to keep their word, and he is grieved. The verb translated disgust has the sense of loathing [see Pss. 139:21 and 95:10]; people who do not obey God’s oracles disturb him tremendously. No doubt he was grieved over it, but it also angered him and he felt a disgust and loathing for it – the word of God is being ignored and violated every day!
V. The righteous who affirm their love for the truth of God’s eternal word may appeal to God’s faithful love to revive them in their faith [159-160]. In the last two verses of the stanza, he returns to his appeal for God to consider or look on. Whereas in verse 153 he wanted God to see (recognize and approve) his faithfulness, which is not due to a forced obedience, but to his love for God’s precepts: how I love your precepts. Using this terminology is an expression of faithfulness to the covenant, for love is the foundation and motivation of obedience to the word of the Lord [Deut. 6:5]. For the believer obeying the law of God was not an unpleasant, burdensome task; it was the natural life style of those who loved the Lord and His word. The psalmist’s appeal for God to revive him (the third use of the imperative) is based on God’s faithful, covenant love. At the heart of the covenant is love, the love of the believer for the Lord, and the Lord’s faithful love to the beloved. Every believer in any difficulty may appeal to God to act on His faithful, covenant love for His people to vindicate them by delivering them from affliction and restoring their lives. He concludes the stanza with a summary statement: The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever. The word translated sum is literally “head”; here it means the chief characteristic of God’s word is truth. Everything God has said is reliable, because He Himself is the truth. This is not simply a reality for the writer’s current predicament – the word of God is eternal, and therefore eternally true.
Message and Application. This stanza captures the main features of many lament psalms: a cry to God for vindication and restoration, a lament over the affliction of the oppressors, confidence in God’s mercy and love, and a petition based on God’s covenant love. The issue is clarified here by the fact that the wicked reject the word of God and are therefore without any hope of victory from God, but the righteous love the word of God and remain loyal to it. The stanza is essentially an appeal for God to redeem His own faithful people. We may say: When the faithful find themselves weakened by the affliction of adversaries who reject God’s word, they may confidently pray for God to vindicate and revive them. This division between the righteous and the wicked is continued throughout the New Testament. The righteous, that is devout believers, keep the word of God [1 John 2:5; Rev. 3:8]. They do this in part because of their love for Christ, who said, If you love me, you will keep my commandments [John 14:15; 15:12; 1 John 3:23]. Believers know the law of love leads them to fulfill the commands [Rom. 13:10]. Love remains the operative word for the New Covenant: to be loved by the Lord means to be redeemed; and to love the Lord is to believe in Him, adore Him, and be faithful to Him. God’s word is powerful, because it brings life and understanding [Heb. 4:12]. Because we are redeemed by the word, live by the word, and trust in the promises of the word, we may expect the Lord to vindicate us when the world opposes and oppresses. We therefore pray that it will happen immediately, but know it will happen ultimately since not even death can sever us from the love of God [Rom. 8:37-39].” [Ross, pp. 579-584].
Questions for Discussion:
- Boice writes: “study of the Bible … must be the consuming passion of a believer’s life.” Why does Boice say this? What is the relationship he sees between Bible study and obedience? Review the five things Boice writes concerning Bible study. How can you incorporate these five things in your Bible study this year?
- How does the Psalmist handle affliction and suffering from those who oppose him? Note the five imperatives he uses in verses 153-154. What does he ask God to do? What do we learn from the Psalmist concerning how we should handle opposition in life?
- We conclude our brief six week study of Psalm 119. In many ways verse 160 summarizes the entire psalm. Meditate on the meaning of this verse. What does it mean to you that God’s word is the eternal truth; that it is completely true and trustworthy?
Psalms, vol. 3, James Boice, Baker.
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.