Psalm 119 – 161-168

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but my heart trembles at your word.

Even those who would control our lives have no ground – they envy the power of the Word.  I tremble with bodily emotion – with a spiritual sense – of the power of God’s word.  What a thing to say, if you could say ‘There’s only one thing that scares me – God’s Word!’

I rejoice in your promise

like one who finds great spoil.

Yes!  In Jesus we have such cause to be glad.  Here is the treasure in the field, the pearl of great price, the only-real wealth – the true utterance of God, changing us to be more like his Son.

I hate and abhor falsehood

but I love your law.

This is the great spoil!  This is the characteristic of the changed worshipper, finding themselves in love with the law of God.

Seven times a day I praise you

for your righteous laws.

A perfect and complete pattern of life is to worship him for the perfection and goodness of what he has decreed.

Great peace have they that love your law

and nothing can make them stumble.

Our feet can stand strong and steady, our hearts can be certain that this way is the good way.

I wait for your salvation, O Lord,

and I follow your commands.

Now in faith and not impatience – and this waiting accompanies obedience.  This is sanctification – that we should have a heart to change and the willingness to wait or go and let him change us at his own timing.

I obey your statues,

for I love them greatly.

It has become very simple: we now obey out of love.

I obey your precepts and your statues

for all my ways are known to you.

This is all of my life – I’m only obeying your Word, not looking for a path of my own.  I walk along paths that God himself knows and is fond of.  Jesus likes this way, himself.  Amen!

Verses 65-72

Do good to your servant

According to your word, O Lord.

He will only do good, since for God to do is to do good.  We can have no other expectation: he only does good and he only does it well.  Scripture is our witness to this, that he has done good since the very beginning and will continue to do good endlessly.  Scripture is to be trusted since scripture tells us of our Saviour – which no-one else and nothing else does.  So we should seek those books and points of view that reinforce our understanding and show us God being good.  And when we make ourselves his servant, this inevitable good is promised to us and his breathed Spirit confirms it.

Teach me knowledge and good judgement

for  believe in your commands. 

Faith is the key here: believing God’s word to be good makes us teachable.  Without an attitude of wonder and gratitude, we won’t ever gain understanding. Here knowledge and good judgement are inescapably paired – for without one another, each is senseless.  We are called not simply to know what is right but to exercise judgement and to use our knowledge to live differently, and so prove our faith, as James encourages.  This is God’s teaching style: first he gives us faith to believe him, then he gives us better and truer information and the opportunity to embed it by using it.  The more we follow this pattern, the more drastic the change in our life.

Before I was afflicted I went astray

But now I obey your word.

Yes indeed – conviction, shame and reshaping are God’s tools.  He does not want us astray – better afflicted with grief or suffering and on the correct path than ignorant and in bliss- stupid bliss.  Better the daily challenge to our self!  Lord, how I thank you for this time – this rest. Remain in me, O Lord, so that I may continue to find rest.

You are good and what you do is good;

Teach me your decrees.

Here is the proof!  We know God is good and free from imperfection, because we see his goodness in the things he does.  His actions are essential to him – unsurprising (once you know him well) – suited – fitting – proper – and he must act to be true to himself.  He is, after all, the Living God.  And he wants us to mirror this integrity. O God, that my deeds befitted what you have made me!  Teach me!

Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies

I keep your precepts with all my heart.

Lies are sticky, but only touch the outside.  Lying is an act of arrogance – to believe that you are bigger than the truth.  But a whole heart will survive that – and a whole heart is needed to follow God’s law, since it is not an outwardly thing but an inwardly, spiritual law of the heart.

Their hearts are callous and unfeeling

But I delight in your law.  

A heart of flesh loves instruction from God – loves being changed, being directed, being contradicted, because  it means relationship with one who is good and does only good.  A fleshly heart is keen for its own changed life, for the effects on the people around.  It is not only callous, unfeeling and insensitive to reject God’s purpose in sanctifying and changing us – it is stupid and selfish!  Stupid because we cannot pretend that faith has any other purpose, selfish because it prevents others from receiving God’s truth.  Every believer must whole-heartedly give themselves to God’s process of change.

It was good for me to be afflicted

So that I might learn your decrees.

Amen – even at a considerable price, to say this brings us determination and helps us to value what is valuable.  Because even if I knew many things previously, then I had not learnt from them because I had done little  It was good, Lord, that I should suffer and be prompted into action.  Recalled to life!

The law from your mouth is more precious to me

Than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.

Now I can say this for real.  Our true riches are the words of God spoken to us in Scripture, made living and real by his spirit.  With them comes such wisdom that we can solve problems in the world, we can change our relationships for more beautiful and worthwhile ways.  With these words come challenges to our selfishness, our egocentricity, our remaining sins.  May it ever be so, Lord God!  Not dead words recalling a past, as some think, but your living law that teaches me and explains everything I observe in the world around – your law that brings me now to an attitude of worship – shows your great love for me, Father, as so good! So good!  Amen.

Psalm 119 – Verses 1-8

Blessed are they whose ways are blameless,

Our ways are important to God – it’s our ways that make us stand out in the world.  And what are these blameless ways?  I think of James’ letter – Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.  (1:27)  There’s an inner and an outer dimension to this walk – and being in a way that is merciful, faithful, generous, free is to be blameless.  The Lord blesses them – and these, in this psalm, are his words of blessing.  Those who receive the blessing are those justified by faith, believing and carrying no sin.

 who walk according to the way of the Lord.

This means our walk is defined by the God’s word: his law is the definitive guide to every step and the entire trek – our stumbling, childlike toddle and our youthful racing.  The beginning of our responsibility to crawl forward like a baby, and begin to rise to our feet!

 Blessed are they who keep his statutes

and seek him with all of their heart.

To keep his law and to follow his law is to seek him.  To be obedient is to prove that you are willing to be visited by the Spirit.  The greatest treat or happiness we can have is to be in the place of seeking God.

They do nothing wrong:

they walk in his ways.

Because they don’t fear stepping out of God’s will, they know the height and width and breadth of his love for them, so his ways are explorable, free, open – what we might call free-grazing!

You have laid down precepts

that are to be fully obeyed.

Yes, commands and instructions that are only valuable when we carry them out to the end – when we complete the task and finish the race.  And to fulfil things like this – when we have no strength?  God promises to be our strength – they shall run and not grow weary – and so we don’t fulfil these instructions by the letter but by the Spirit – by God’s grace.  These precepts are foundational for us – their weight is indicated when the psalmist says ‘You have laid down…’ as if they were flagstones or paving on the road.  And this is a prophetic address to Jesus, too.  He has laid down instructions that, fully obeyed, become a firm and plain pathway to walk, to run, through life, almost fulfilling themselves in us rather than requiring us to fulfil them.

Oh that my ways were steadfast

in obeying your decrees!

After receiving revelation of the great value of God’s word, what else can we do but cry out in sorrow for our failure and in desire for their good!  This is our new heart’s cry – the Spirit of life within us cries this out to God – as did Jesus, who loved to obey his father and longed to follow his decrees, even unto death.

Then I would not be put to shame

when I consider all your commands.

Because our conscience will shame us if we think honestly – for all the commands convict us, sooner or later.  If one does, then the whole law does.  But a right sense of shame only exalts God higher, in thankfulness for Jesus and in adoration of God’s holiness.  And when we realise that it is God’s single purpose to bring about his kingdom by changing us so that we do indeed become steadfast and obedient, then we will worship even more, knowing that we can be free of shame.

I will praise you with an upright heart

as I learn your righteous laws.

The process of being shamed and of continuing is the process of learning the law of love – and our redeemed heart will continue to praise God all through the process of sanctification – all through the increasing revelation of God’s plan – even while we read this psalm.  Not a thing can happen but, taken rightly, it will lead us to praise God.

I will obey your decrees;

do not utterly forsake me.

Yes, it will happen.  My obedience to your word, O God, will happen, not because of me but because of what you have promised, again and again.  It will happen because you, yourself, are training me in righteousness.  To leave me without shame and with no conviction would be worse than to suffer correction, so do not forsake me.  What we have now from you is good for us.