Psalm 119 'tsade'

We’re up to the eighteenth stanza of Psalm 119–looking at verses 137 to 144 where each line in the Hebrew begins with the letter tsade.

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

137. Righteous are you, O LORD, and right are your rules.

  • Here we see the necessary connection or relationship between a righteous God and His laws. If the Lord is wholly righteous, then His decrees (and acts) will also be right.
  • If any of God’s laws were flawed or not right then God’s character can also be seen as flawed. Unlike humanity which can act altruistically one moment and from selfishness the next, or perform noble acts one moment and evil acts the next, this is not the same case with the Lord.
  • The holiness and therefore rightness of God can be a sticking point for some because if God is holy and righteous and makes the rules then we, as created beings have no choice but to live within this framework or risk the wrath of the rule-maker.
  • And that brings us to the whole point of Jesus. Because we can’t keep the rules, and don’t want to, then the wrath of God can be averted by faith in Jesus because He willingly accepted that wrath so we can live in God’s presence.

138. You have appointed your testimonies in righteousness and in all faithfulness.

  • This verse continues a theme introduced in the previous verse, and extends it further.
  • The word ‘appointed’ in the Hebrew is tsavah (H6680) and has the meaning to convey or enjoin or charge. So the Lord’s testimonies have been charged to carry and promote God’s righteousness. They are to promote His righteous character and purposes.
  • And in addition to righteousness, they also carry the Lord’s faithfulness. The Hebrew here is emunah (H0530) and refers to moral fidelity and stability.
  • So the word of the Lord is divinely charged to uphold truth and moral stability.

139. My zeal consumes me, because my foes forget your words.

  • The Psalmist makes (to me) an unusual connection between the practice of his faith and the behaviour and obedience of his enemies.
  • The first clause ‘my zeal consumes me’ indicates he is zealous and eager to uphold God’s law. The second clause informs us that this zealousness is, in part, fuelled or prompted by the lack of faith and lack of obedience of those who are pursuing him.
  • Matthew Henry suggests, ‘Zeal against sin should constrain us to do what we can against it in our places, at least to do so much the more in religion ourselves. The worse others are the better we should be.’

140. Your promise is well tried, and your servant loves it.

  • This verse speaks of the reliability and trustworthiness of God’s word. This extends what we saw in verse 138 concerning righteousness and faithfulness.
  • God’s character, being holy, must also be evident in His pronouncements. His words written and verbal must reflect that same holiness and moral truth.
  • The idea of God’s promise being well tried means it has stood the test of time. It has been trusted and relied upon for something like a millennium (at the time of David’s writing) and it has not failed through a thousand years if use by millions and millions of Hebrews.
  • The same applies to the New Testament. The truths or promises contained in it have stood similar tests. Like David, we should love it, too.

141. I am small and despised, yet I do not forget your precepts.

  • The Psalmist’s description of himself as ‘small and despised’ goes against much modern-day pop psychology where healthy self esteem is god. But in whose eyes is he of small stature and worthy only of scorn? Matthew Henry suggests David was king at this stage and had been described as ‘a man after God’s own heart’ so it was not the Lord’s view of him, but the view of David himself or some surrounding him.
  • Matthew Henry also points out that the Lord often chooses the weak and foolish to achieve His purposes (1 Corinthians 1:27) and ‘it has been the common lot of his people to be a despised people.’
  • Whatever the Psalmist’s view of himself, or the view of those around him, he declares he does not forget the Lord’s precepts. Perhaps that is the real lesson here–regardless of our ‘station’ we not forget the Lord’s promises to us and purposes for us.

142. Your righteousness is righteous forever, and your law is true.

  • The Psalmist speaks of the Lord’s righteousness–continuing one of the themes in this stanza (verses 137 and 138).
  • Here the Lord’s righteousness is referred to as eternal or ‘forever’. Not only is the Lord righteous, but He has been from the beginning and will continue to be for all eternity.
  • Again we see a connection being made between the Lord’s righteousness and the truth of His words. They must go hand-in-hand. If the Lord is truly righteous then it for eternity, and His words must be true.

143. Trouble and anguish have found me out, but your commandments are my delight.

  • The first clause contains an interesting turn of phrase. He doesn’t say trouble and anguish have ‘found me’ but that they have ‘found me out’. It’s not just that trouble and anguish are his current experience, but that his resilience an internal resources have been found lacking.
  • The one resource he has found, which is external to him are the commandments of God. And in these he has found delight.
  • There can be no doubt that the Psalmist’s use of the word of God as a source of reading, study, meditation and obedience are more than a simple distraction from his problems, but provide resilience and build faith in and through the trouble and anguish.

144. Your testimonies are righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live.

  • Further mention of righteousness. Once again we cannot legitimately separate the righteousness of the Lord from the righteousness of His pronouncements.
  • In this case the Psalmist declares the Lord’s testimonies to be righteous forever–such a long time.
  • And the Psalmist is seeking wisdom and revelation into these testimonies such that he will live. He seeks to live in accordance with the Lord’s decrees and in the light of the Lord’s promises both on earth and for eternity.

I have enjoyed this stanza more than some of the previous ones because there has been a theme or thread running through many of the verses–righteousness–of both the Lord and His word.

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