Psalms for Troubled Times – Psalm 119:1-24

Practical Lessons for the Blessed Man

As we come to the psalm itself, I want to follow the division given by A.G.Clarke, and consider the psalm over three days.  He notes that “the twenty-two sections seem to fall into three groups of seven, followed by the last section as a kind of appendix”. 

  1. Aleph – Zayim (v1-56) – The Selfward Aspect
  2. Cheth – Nun (v57-112) – The Manward Aspect
  3. Samech – Shin (v113-168) – The Godward Aspect

As we consider these different aspects of life, and the impact the Word of God will have on them, we will be learning many practical lessons.  Indeed, this psalm could be considered as a discipleship manual, and it was likely written in its alphabetic form with the express purpose of aiding its memorisation by the young.  There is much that could be said about this psalm, but I just want to look at it in this very practical way.

If you want to dive deep in this way, you may want to look at C.Bridges’ Exposition of Psalm CXIX: As Illustrative of the Character and Exercises of Christian Experience

Group 1 – The Selfward Aspect, The Inner Man

Aleph – The Blessed Man

‘Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD.’ (v1)

This is the third psalm that begins with the word ‘blessed’ (asher), and this psalm could be seen as an exposition of living out Psalm 1, having known the blessing of Psalm 32. We are not told from whom this exposition comes – Spurgeon favoured David, while Clarke leans toward Ezra, it matters not. Whoever it was, we know they were inspired by the Holy Spirit, and we thank God for the depth and detail it contains.

Casting our minds back to Psalm 1, we remember it is a psalm of two ways.  The way of the godly is blessed, and we are called to walk in this way. It involves separation from the world and a reliance upon the word of God that leads to spiritual freshness and fruitfulness.  The problem is that in our sin, we have no desire to walk this way. However, having experienced the blessing of ‘transgressions … forgiven’ (Psa 32:1), we have new desires: ‘O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes!’ (v5).

While we know we are saved eternally, practically we are conscious and ashamed of our sin on a daily basis.  We know that to be ‘undefiled in the way, and to walk in the law of the LORD’ is the path of blessing, but we struggle to do this.  What’s the answer? ‘Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?’ (v9).

Beth – The Holy Man

‘Be taking heed according to Thy Word (v9) … Thy Word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee’ (v11)

 The answer is found in our active engagement with the Word of God, and two actions are required. To maintain a holy life, ‘undefiled in the way’, we must:

1) take heed (or conform our lives) according to Thy Word (dabar – “denoting generally the expressed mind and will of God” J.Flanigan).

This is exactly what Paul exhorts is to do when he says: ‘be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.’ (Roms 12:2)

It’s very easy for us to be conformed to the world, for the world is all around us. Therefore, it is essential that we actively counteract the influence of the world by ‘renewing our minds’ to live in accordance with the revealed will and purpose of God. But how do we do this?

2) hide the Word (imrah – sayings) of God in our hearts.

To do this takes time spent in the Bible. It will not happen from a cursory reading of a few verses in the morning just so we can feel better that we’ve read the Bible. We must take the time, and make the effort to hide those few verses in our hearts.

Think of the man who found treasure and hid it in the field (Matt 13:44). To do this required him to place a shovel into the soil again and again, digging a hole and filling it again. Do you think that after the time spent doing this he would forget where his treasure was? Not at all.

This is the same with hiding God’s Word in our hearts. Recitation and repetition are helpful, but our meditation upon the words is vital. ‘I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways.’ (v15) By turning them over and over in our minds, those words will become hidden treasure to us – ‘riches’ (v14) – effective in keeping us from the temptations to sin.

Gimel – The Strengthened Man

‘Deal bountifully with thy servant, that I may live, and keep thy word (v17) … Thy testimonies also are my delight and my counsellors’ (v24).

 The first word in the section ‘gemol‘, translated ‘deal bountifully’, can also mean ‘to wean’ (1 Sam 1:23). This shows us the desire of the psalmist is to grow spiritually. He wants the Lord’s help to live a life in obedience and conformity to His Word. And so, to this end he prays:

‘Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law. I am a stranger in the earth: hide not thy commandments from me.’ (v18,19)

All of us will come across passages of Scripture that seem hard to understand. In these cases, let us take up this prayer of the psalmist, and ask our Heavenly Father to enlighten us to the ‘wondrous things‘ found in the Word.

We have the added benefit of the indwelling Holy Spirit to teach us and guide us. ‘Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.’ (John 16:13,14)

As we grow, weaned on the Word, we will become strengthened to face and withstand the social opposition, the ‘reproach and contempt’ (v22), and the political pressure: ‘Princes also did sit and speak against me’ (v23).

It may be we have to stand alone, but if we have been strengthened by God’s Word in all it’s various hue (six of the eight synonyms we looked at yesterday are used in this section) then we will never be alone. Rather we are surrounded by our wise men of counsel – ‘thy testimonies’

‘Thy testimonies also are my delight and my counsellors.’ (v24)

We are told that Martin Luther, who knew what it was to stood alone against the gathered political and religious might of the Western world, did so upon the solid counsel of God’s Word.

“If, then, I am not convinced by proof from Holy Scripture … I neither can nor will retract anything … Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; God help me! Amen.”

 

 

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