This is my fifth post reflecting on stanzas from Psalm 119. This covers verses 33 to 40 under the letter he (also spelt hei).
33. Teach me, O LORD, the way of Your statutes, And I shall observe it to the end.
- This verse contains a prayer or request and a declaration.
- The first clause prayer is answered in many ways and times, but seen explicitly in Scripture in John 14:26 (which I mention in relation to Psalm 119 verse 26) where Jesus speaks about the role of the Spirit.
- In something of an aside, I like the description of Christian faith being called ‘the way’. This term is used a number of times in the book of Acts.2
- David concludes the verse/clause by declaring a desire to finish well ‘I shall observe it to the end’.
- It’s one thing to state a desire to finish well. It is another thing to actually finish well. But I suspect it is difficult to finish well without declaring (at least to oneself) a desire and intent to finish well.
34. Give me understanding, that I may observe Your law And keep it with all my heart.
- A combination of prayer and declaration of intent.
- The first clause ‘give me understanding’ is part of the acknowledgement that we need revelation from the Holy Spirit in order to fully understand and take to heart the words of Scripture.
- Whilst anyone can read the words of Scripture, they only come alive when the Holy Spirit illumines them to us. As Matthew Henry comments on this verse, ‘it is as good to have no understanding at all as not to have it sanctified. Nor will the spirit of revelation in the word answer the end unless we have the spirit of wisdom in the heart’.
- The second part of the verse explains the reason or hoped-for outcome of the first - to keep God’s law fully and intentionally.
35. Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, For I delight in it.
- Another interesting pairing of ideas in this verse: On the one hand the Psalmist asks God to help or allow him to walk in line with the Lord’s commandments. On the other hand David states he delights in walking this path.
- If David delights in walking this path then why does he need to ask the Lord to help him or ‘make him’ walk it? I think it bears out the reality that Paul speaks about in Romans 7:15, ‘For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate’. Many, if not all, can all identify with and understand this view - that we don’t always do what we want to or know we should, and we sometimes do exactly what we don’t want to do or know is bad for us.
- And so this verse is a reflection and acknowledgement of a reality that David wants to walk with God but knows he doesn’t always do it well.
- In Romans 8:2 Paul describes this conflict as the battle between the law of the Spirit of life and the law of sin and death. It is only faith in Jesus that allows us to walk in and live by this Spirit of life.
36. Incline my heart to Your testimonies And not to dishonest gain.
- Today’s verse presents an alternative. These are not necessarily mutually exclusive, nor are they the only alternatives.
- The Psalmist prays that the Lord would incline his heart to the Lord’s testimonies. This word ‘incline’ is from the Hebrew natah (H5186) and means to stretch or spread out, so it is not just talking about the orientation of our hearts, but their capacity and elasticity to hear and receive the Lord’s commands and testimonies.
- This idea of inclination and stretching echoes the words from verse 32 where David speaks of the Lord enlarging David’s heart.
- The alternative presented to having our hearts included or stretched towards the Lord’s testimonies is that they be stretched towards dishonest gain.
- In a sense this is echoed by Jesus' words recorded in Matthew 6:24, ‘No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’
- We have choices and we make choices about what we dwell on - what we focus on, think about and dream about.
37. Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, And revive me in Your ways.
- Like verse 36, verse 37 presents an alternative - look at vanity, or be revived in the Lord’s ways.
- The phrase ‘looking at vanity’ is challenging because not too many people would wittingly look at and embrace vanity. We may (and indeed do) behold vain things through idols and idolatry.
- The word translated as ‘vanity’ is the Hebrew shav (H7723) and speaks of desolating. It expresses ideas such as evil, ruin, uselessness and things that are false.
- This idea of desolating is then contrasted with revival in the ways of God.
- The phrase ‘we become what we behold’ has been at the back of my mind as I’ve considered this verse. If we behold the Lord’s words and ways then we become more like the author. If we behold vanity then we become vain and worship idols.
38. Establish Your word to Your servant, As that which produces reverence for You.
- In this verse David is seeking or praying for a specific outcome or effect from God’s word. It demonstrates the idea that the word of the Lord can produce a God-approved outcome in the life of the believer.
- The idea of ‘establishing’ is the Hebrew qum (H6965) and reflects the ideas of rising up or raising - of confirming, continuing, making good, strengthening, upholding. So David wants the Lord’s word to be confirmed and of increasing significance and influence in David’s life.
- David refers to himself as Your servant (bondman). Many New Testament writers refer to themselves as servants or bond-servants of the Lord (Paul in many of his letters, James, Peter and Jude).
- He prays that God’s word may be established to/in him so that it produces reverence for God. The word translated as ‘reverence’ is the Hebrew yirah (H3374) and can be translated as either fear or reverence. So the idea of ‘reverence for You’ is synonymous with ‘fear of the Lord’.
- I think that we fear people or things we hate but revere people or things we love. I think one distinction is how we relate to the person/thing feared/revered and what we expect or anticipate from the relationship in the future. That may be a fine but artificial distinction.
39. Turn away my reproach which I dread, For Your ordinances are good.
- The plea is similar to that contained in verse 22 (‘Take away reproach and contempt from me’).
- A similar verse in another Psalm (39:8) reads, ‘Deliver me from all my transgressions; Make me not the reproach of the foolish.'
- The connection between David’s plea in the first clause and his statement or declaration in the second is that observation of the Lord’s ordinances should be enough to deflect unjust accusations of wrongdoing against David. He is not seeking relief from true slander, but only false slander.
- It reminds me of something David Pawson once wrote when he was falsely accused of something and the Lord said to David “It’s not as bad as the truth”.
40. Behold, I long for Your precepts; Revive me through Your righteousness.
- ‘Behold’ is a funny word. I don’t mind it, but it has all but disappeared from English usage apart from in the Bible! The Amplified, ESV and NKJV all also use the word in this verse. Alternatives would be ‘lo’, ‘see’, or a more modern ‘hey!’.
- The second clause is interesting. We’ve considered before what revival means back in verse 25 (hint: at its core it is to preserve life). But what about this idea of revive me through Your righteousness?
- By what means could David reasonably expect to be revived or given life through God’s righteousness? By God’s measure human behaviour is inherently sinful and not righteous (see Romans 3:10 quoting Psalm 14:3 or 53:3). In the Old Testament righteous was credited to Abraham through believing God (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:21-22). In the New Testament righteousness is credited through belief and faith in Jesus Christ and what He accomplished on the cross.
- Both the NKJV and ESV speak of being revived or given life in God’s righteousness rather than through it. I’m not sure if that is a helpful distinction, or only a distraction.
- What I see is that we can only receive or be given righteousness on God’s terms and through God’s means. For us, today, that is belief and faith in Jesus.
The thing that has struck me most over the past eight days of reading/reflecting on Psalm 119 has been from verse 38 and this idea of God’s word being established in someone - for the word to have increasing influence and increasing significance.
I am really enjoying this foray into Psalm 119. At 178 verses it has generally come across to me as being too big to get my head around; but taking a verse a day is much more bite-sized and accessible. Even a stanza a day would be fine, but one would need to skip over verses and ideas because of the somewhat disjointed nature of the writing.