Psalm 119 'mem'

We’re looking at the thirteenth of twenty-two stanzas of Psalm 119 - verses 97 to 104 prefixed with the letter mem.

These verses, from the ESVĀ®1, interspersed with my comments are:

97. Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.

  • This is one of the better known and most frequently quoted verses from this Psalm.
  • David’s love for and appreciation of the word of God was so great that he declares that it is the object of his meditation continually.
  • I wouldn’t read this that David was meditating on Scripture all the time; but that he did meditate frequently and deeply on God’s word. And this frequency and depth of meditation was such that his thoughts and reflections on Scripture permeated his waking thoughts.

98. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me.

  • David refers to the word of the Lord in the singular - ‘commandment’ and ‘it’. He sees his knowledge and experience of the entire law of God as a single entity.
  • I can see the logic of that because it is rare for us to know how, when and where we gained a particular nugget of wisdom. Sometimes we can recall a specific time or situation when we learned something, but generally we just seem to acquire it (or not).
  • In the verse David is saying that his knowledge and understanding of the word of God (mainly acquired through meditation and obedience) gives him wisdom that his attackers and detractors don’t have. And it is an enduring advantage.

99. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.

  • The middle of three verses where the Psalmist compares his understanding or wisdom with his enemies (v. 98), his teachers (this verse) and the aged (v. 100).
  • David takes no pride in his implicit knowledge or understanding, but only from what he understands from his meditation upon the Lord’s testimonies.

100. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts.

  • David continues to compare his understanding with others. In this case he declares he understands more than the aged because he has kept the Lord’s precepts.
  • It’s an interesting comparison. In our society age is often equated with wisdom (until the possible onset of dementia where the equation is no longer made).
  • But here David equates understanding with obedience to God’s word - and that can be demonstrated at any age.
  • Across these three verses we have seen a progression of how to approach God’s word - David has studied God’s word or law; he has meditated upon it; and he has sought to obey it as he understood it.

101. I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word.

  • Describes how intention and will can play a part in obedience to God’s word.
  • In order to keep the Lord’s word, the Psalmist indicates that he holds back his feet. He doesn’t willing go out of his way to join in with evil activities.
  • Suggests to me that part of him wants to join with the evil activity - that his feet want to take him there, but his will overrides that desire.

102. I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me.

  • The first clause is a declaration of David’s obedience - that he does not wilfully turn away from the Lord’s ordinances. He had in the past - and had suffered some very painful discipline with significant and enduring consequences.
  • The second clause can be read in a couple of ways. Different translations put this as ‘for You Yourself have taught me’ and others ‘for You have taught me well’. The Amplified, NASB and NKJV have the first reading whereas the NLT has the latter. I’d opt for the former.
  • David no longer wilfully sins because he has been taught and experienced the word and discipline of the Lord.

103. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

  • Another well-known verse from Psalm 119 (though I suspect many who know the verse aren’t sure where it comes from).
  • David describes the Lord’s words as ‘sweet’, with the metaphor that it is sweeter than honey. That may be an attractive comparison for those who like honey, but less engaging for those wo don’t. The idea of sweetness and honey is from the Hebrew for smooth, pleasant syrupiness or viscosity.
  • David views the Lord’s commands and testimonies as smooth, pleasant and palatable.
  • I’m not sure that I view all of the Lord’s word as pleasant and smooth all of the time.

104. Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.

  • The Psalmist declares his experience - that he gets understanding from the Lord’s precepts. The word translated as ‘understanding’ is the Hebrew biyn (H0995) and means to mentally separate or distinguish.
  • The Psalmist then declares that, in light of this, he hates every false way.
  • In the verse the psalmist is demonstrating exactly the type of understanding he speaks of - he is separating God’s way from false ways. He is distinguishing between his experience of knowledge and falsehood.
  • As we read and meditate on the verse, we, too, can gain understanding of the importance of truth and holiness and Godly wisdom, and a glimpse of how they operate together.

  1. Scripture quotations taken from the ESV. Copyright by Crossway. ↩︎