Psalm 119 'shin'

Second last stanza. In this post we’re considering the twenty-first stanza - verses 161 to 168 prefixed in the Hebrew with the letter shin.

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

161. Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of your words.

  • Persecution comes to all believers in some form or another. In the Psalmist’s case his pursuers wanted to kill him and destroy his reputation and legacy. Some of that was because he was a Hebrew, a Jew. Other reasons were that he was King of Israel. Another reason was because of his dysfunctional and divided family.
  • There is a difference between ‘cause’ and ‘reason’. Above lists three ‘reasons’ why he was persecuted, but that doesn’t mean he had given his pursuers ‘cause’. To me cause is to give someone else reason, without cause means they arrive at their reasons themselves.
  • Despite the reasons (with or without cause) we, too, need to be able to echo the Psalmist’s words–that our hearts stand in awe of God’s words.

162. I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil.

  • In these days2 many kingdoms were founded on a large city and smaller satellite towns. The riches of the kingdom would be concealed in a treasury and only discovered once the city had been successfully captured. One exception here was Hezekiah who showed off his treasury to Babylonian envoys–only to have them invade not long after (see 2 Kings 20:12-19 or Isaiah 39).
  • I cam imagine delight at coming across a much larger treasury than one had envisaged. I’m sure there would have been plenty of times where the treasury was much smaller than expected.
  • But the simile is in rejoicing to find much more value and benefit in the word of the Lord than one had envisaged.

163. I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law.

  • The Psalmist describes the passionate feelings and thoughts he has towards falsehood–hatred and abhorrence. The word ‘abhor’ doesn’t get much use these days, but it’s worth dusting off.
  • The word ‘abhor’ is from the Hebrew taab (H8581) and is to loathe or morally detest, to find something abominable.
  • In contrast, the Psalmist loves the Lord’s word. There is no falsehood or deceit in God’s word. It is utterly trustworthy and the Psalmist has found that to be the case by experience.

164. Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules.

  • Why seven? Is that suggestive of fullness, of completion; or were there seven times of set prayer per day in Jewish religious practice? Matthew Henry suggests that it is frequently–not only daily but many times daily.
  • The Psalmist doesn’t view God’s laws as restrictive or harsh, but live-giving and life-enabling. They are righteous borne of righteousness.
  • I, too, should frequently praise God for His word.

165. Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.

  • A verse that has the capacity to impart great comfort.
  • When David wrote this, he was referring to the first five books of the Old Testament whereas his words have now become part of God’s word for us. Not strictly part of God’s ’law’, but an integral part of God’s word.
  • Not just ‘peace’, but ‘great peace’. And part of that peace is because of the surety of the foundation God’s word provides. As Matthew Henry writes, ‘No event of providence shall be either an invincible temptation or an intolerable affliction to them, but their love to the word of God shall enable them both to hold fast their integrity and to preserve their tranquility.’

166. I hope for your salvation, O LORD, and I do your commandments.

  • This verse bundles together the great Biblical themes of hope, salvation and obedience.
  • In this case hope comes first holding out the possibility of salvation through belief in the word of God. Salvation is not so much an event as a process (see Romans 8:29-30) which culminates with standing righteous before God not because of our obedience but because of our belief in Jesus. Of the three the last is obedience to the word.
  • In the words of Matthew Henry, ‘The more lively the hope is the more lively the obedience will be.’

167. My soul keeps your testimonies; I love them exceedingly.

  • Is there a difference between saying ‘my soul keeps Your testimonies’ and ‘I keep Your testimonies’? There can be. I think the Psalmist’s reference to his soul is speaking of his mind, his will, his emotions. He thinks about obedience. He is intent on obedience. He feels connected to God such that he wants to obey and when he is living obediently.
  • And as a result of that desire (emotions), that intent (the mind), that bending of the will towards the things of God, he loves the Lord’s testimonies.
  • But he doesn’t just love God’s word. He loves it ’exceedingly’. How many people can honestly say that?

168. I keep your precepts and testimonies, for all my ways are before you.

  • An interesting observation about God’s omniscience3–‘all my ways are before you’. The Lord knows all of our ways (thoughts, behaviours, motivations, deeds).
  • Because all of our ways are known to the Lord, the Psalmist declares that he keeps all of the Lord’s precepts and testimonies. This is not some proud boast or wishful thinking because the Lord knows if it is not true. It is instead a declaration that the Psalmist wilfully keeps the Lord’s commands as far as he understands them.
  • I can recall Derek Prince once saying that as far as he is aware, he does not wilfully sin. It wasn’t coming from a place of pride or ignorance, but from obedience and humility to his understanding of the revealed will of God.

There are a couple of standout verses in this stanza–verses 164 and 165. They describe aspects of God’s word or characteristics that should be evident in believers: praise and peace.

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

  2. Around 1,000 BC ↩︎

  3. That God is all-knowing. It is related to God’s omnipotence (all-powerful) and omnipresence (present at all times and in all places concurrently) ↩︎