I have done what is righteous and just;
do not leave me to my oppressors.
How can I, a man, claim to have acted righteously? By God’s indwelling: he cannot leave me because he binds himself by his promise, like a husband to a wife, and we have a thousand proofs of his faithfulness. I am now founded on him and his character. So I can ask God not to leave me to my once-while, erstwhile oppressors – the temptations and habits of an unrighteous past.
Ensure your servant’s well-being;
let not the arrogant oppress me.
Well-being relates to our identity as servants of a good master. It may not be a very English thing to pray, but God wills our well-being – that we should say ‘It is well, it is well with my soul’. We are free of the oppression of the arrogance because the arrogant admit no higher authority – and they cannot assume authority over us as we now live in a much more direct, essential chain of command.
My eyes fail, looking for your salvation,
looking for your righteous promise.
It’s a full-time job. I see your kingdom on Earth, Lord, your salvation for the people, until day fails and night falls. Hence Simeon’s release when he could say ‘My eyes have seen your salvation’.
Deal with your servant according to your love
and teach me your decrees.
This may be a prayer but really it is only an echo of God’s promise: that he WILL deal with us in love, not wrath, and that he intends to teach us his way, his style and his intentions, that we would be made holy in him. ‘May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ 1 Thessalonians 5:23. To do all the things of this Psalm we must embrace first the Father’s – the Master’s – love for us and let him change us. Then what a relief to be taught, not a struggle or a duty, since we know we are loved! Much of the struggle in learning comes from not realising that the one teaching us cares for us – parent, teacher or God.
I am your servant; give me discernment
that I may understand your statutes.
The servant should resemble the master: God is wise and he wants us to be wise. ‘No longer do I call you servants,’ John 15:15, because God by his spirit has given us the keys to his wealth, including this discernment or understanding. We no longer have to obey in ignorance but can be changed to understand the principles of God with our heart. I’ve read about ‘the role of a servant but the position of a son’, which seems like the fine sort of legal distinction Jesus laughed at, but maybe that’s how to reconcile these scriptures for now.
It is time for you to act, O Lord;
your law is being broken.
A bold plea – from the servant to the master – asking him to intervene wherever his law is broken – primarily within myself. Whenever I note that God’s law of love is broken, in myself or otherwise, my first response should not be to fix it myself by to cry to the master ‘It is time for you to act’. And that cry can be made with confidence because of the proof that he does and will act to save.
Because I love your commands more than gold,
more than pure gold,
This is what it means to be secure against sin and unrighteousness – to cultivate a deep love – a passion – for God’s word. A desire so strong that the desire for gold looks like a passing fancy.
and because I consider all your precepts right,
I hate every wrong path.
Preference for one path, this path, however difficult, is based on considering God’s instruction preferable to every other possible choice. Everything God has done has brought about life and freedom and all the good we see, so any path diverting me from considering or following this way is an evil distraction.