Psalm 119 'pe'

We’re considering the seventeenth stanza of Psalm 119 - from verses 129 to 136 prefixed with the letter pe.

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

129. Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them.

  • The Psalmist recognises the beneficial character and purpose of God’s word. The word translated as ‘wonderful’ reflects the miraculous and marvellous.
  • The use of the word ‘soul’ is interesting. It is the Hebrew nephesh (H5315) and literally refers to a breathing creature, but can be read as a man, a person, the self or soul. The CSB avoids any confusion by rendering the clause as ’therefore I obey them’. Neat.
  • The Amplified amplifies (!) the keeping of God’s law as ‘hearing, receiving, loving, and obeying’. It is a package deal and a process.

130. The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.

  • This verse touches on something rarely discussed - progressive revelation. It encompasses the idea that the more deeply and more frequently we read and study and meditate on God’s word, the greater the revelation we receive. We see a sense of this when we read a Bible verse we’ve read many times in the past and suddenly see new meaning or application.
  • And the purpose of this revelation (divinely inspired understanding) is quite simply light (see verse 105).
  • This divine guidance and instruction provides understanding, and it is accessible to the simple - those who approach God and His word with humility and openness.

131. I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments.

  • Some slightly disturbing imagery today! The word translated as ‘pant’ is the Hebrew shaaph (H760) and literally means to inhale eagerly. Figuratively it is to covet or desire.
  • All of the major translations I consult (ESV, NASB, NKJV, CSB, Amplified and CSB) all use the word pant.
  • And the Psalmists desire is for the commandments of God. Matthew Henry suggests it would be like holding our breath and then the desire (and need) to inhale quickly.

132. Turn to me and be gracious to me, as is your way with those who love your name.

  • Arguably one of those few verses in this Psalm that contain no specific reference to God’s law. The ESV does use the word ‘way’, but that is more accurately rendered as ‘manner’ per the NASB.
  • The Psalmist is asking the Lord to, firstly, turn to him - to give attention to him. Secondly, to ‘be gracious’. In my mind I generally associate grace with the phrase ‘grace and mercy’ and indeed the Hebrew word here chanan (H2603) translated as ‘gracious’ means to stoop down and, by implication, show favour or be merciful.
  • The basis for this prayer or request is the Lord’s character or nature demonstrated to those who love the Lord’s name. Clearly the Psalmist is placing himself in this category and seeks the Lord’s favour.
  • Whilst this may sound like the initiative is ours, Romans 5:8 is clear that it is God who took the initiative and we have opportunity (called ’life’) to respond to this grace and mercy.

133. Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me.

  • A prayer to stand firm and remain that way.
  • The New Testament contain numerous references to standing firm or remaining firm (1 Corinthians 16:13, Ephesians 6:10-11, 1 Peter 5:12). This is not in our own strength or willpower, but by the Spirit of God to stand firm in the truth of God.
  • The New Testament also speaks warning about letting sin have dominion over us (Romans 6:14, 2 Corinthians 10:4, Ephesians 4:27, 1 Peter 5:8). We need to be aware of temptation and sin and flee from it - giving evil no foothold from which it can become a stronghold.

134. Redeem me from man’s oppression, that I may keep your precepts.

  • This is another of David’s many prayers for relief from pursuit. He is seeking to be redeemed from man’s oppression and, like previously, we don’t know if the threat was to his physical being or reputation or legacy - maybe all three.
  • The word ’that’ sticks out to me. Why is David’s capacity or ability to keep the Lord’s precepts conditional upon the Lord redeeming him from human oppression? What aspect of faith and obedience is being thwarted? Perhaps being able to worship in the temple? Perhaps David had missed some feast days in Jerusalem?
  • It raises similar questions for us in our current Covid-19 ‘pandemic’ and lockdowns. What expressions of our faith are being thwarted or ignored? Corporate worship? Corporate prayer? Communion? These are not insurmountable but may need to be scaled back.

135. Make your face shine upon your servant, and teach me your statutes.

  • The first clause echoes the Psalmist’s sentiments from verse 132 - that he seeks the favour of the Lord.
  • New Testament believers (‘Christians’) already have the favour of the Lord, but clearly we may want to experience or savour the favour (!) during times of stress or spiritual darkness or oppression.
  • There doesn’t need to be a direct link between the clauses in this verse, but one link would be that knowing and understanding the statutes of the Lord is a form of the Lord’s favour.

136. My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law.

  • A one-verse lament.
  • The ‘people’ would be the Hebrew nation as they were the ones tasked with keeping God’s law at this stage.
  • It is a lament expressing deep sorrow and regret at the general lack of awareness of and adherence to God’s word. As always knowledge is one thing, but obedience is another.
  • We could well lament the lack of biblical knowledge and obedience amongst those who call themselves Christians today.

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