A Complete Perspective on Worship - Psalm 119:129-136 (פ)
Updated: May 23
129 Your testimonies are wonderful; Therefore my soul observes them. 130 The unfolding of Your words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple. 131 I opened my mouth wide and panted, For I longed for Your commandments. 132 Turn to me and be gracious to me, After Your manner with those who love Your name. 133 Establish my footsteps in Your word, And do not let any iniquity have dominion over me. 134 Redeem me from the oppression of man, That I may keep Your precepts. 135 Make Your face shine upon Your servant, And teach me Your statutes. 136 My eyes shed streams of water, Because they do not keep Your law.
In the previous stanza (ע – vv. 121-128) we saw a well-balanced view of obedience; fierce devotion to God and His Word tempered with complete dependence upon the God of the Word. This stanza carries the torch yet one step further as our psalmist continues to develop a full-orbed understanding of the Word of God in the child of God through his worship.
Scripture reveals God. Through the pages of the Bible a believer comes face to face with Almighty God. To come face to face with God demands that we worship Him. This stanza reveals our psalmist’s perspectives of worship.
A Perspective of Affirmation (vv. 129-131)
129 Your testimonies are wonderful; Therefore, my soul observes them. 130 The unfolding of Your words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple. 131 I opened my mouth wide and panted, For I longed for Your commandments.
The Description of God’s Word (v. 129) – When our psalmist says that God’s Word – or His testimonies (God’s first-hand accounts of His deeds, decrees, and desires) – is wonderful, he means so much more than that it’s really cool or neat. We’ve seen this same root wonderful (פלא) before in vv. 18&27. The word indicates something that defies explanation; something strange, unusual, or miraculous. This is how God described His miracles over Egypt, as His wonders. The psalmist here declares that the Word of God defies explanation, and it is because of that he pledges his life to obedience.
We’ve seen this Hebrew term soul (נפש) or life several times already (vv. 20, 25, 28, 81, &109). It indicates more than only the immaterial portion of man but indicates the totality of an individual. Then the Lord God formed man of dust form the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (or soul) – Gen. 2:7. It is best to think of humans as being souls rather than possessing souls. The point is simple: in light of the fact that God’s Word is miraculous and defies human reasoning, our psalmist pledges the whole of his being to obeying it.
The Design of God’s Word (v. 130) – The next verse is remarkably similar to Psalm 19:7-8. In these verses, the psalmist David gives a quality of God’s Word and then describes what the Word does. This verse is similar in that it describes what the Word is designed to do and then goes on to declare what the Word actually accomplishes.
The unfolding literally means to open. This phrase almost assumes the written form of God’s Word. When it is unfolded (like the unrolling of a scroll or the opening of a book) it gives off light. Once again our psalmist declares the illuminating nature of Scripture. But what good is light for the sake of light? The light of God’s Word actually accomplishes what it was designed to accomplish – It gives understanding to the simple.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that this giving is something that can be rejected and discarded. A clearer understanding of this understanding is that it is caused – It causes the simple to understand or it makes the simple understand. The simple here could be used derogatorily; the ignorant, stupid, simple-minded. In a sense this remains true because all of humanity is born in gross ignorance and stupidity to the things of God. Yet our psalmist is not mocking those coming to a deeper knowledge and understanding of their God. This term indicates the polar opposite of the proud and arrogant who have plagued his steps throughout this psalm. These simple-minded are the humble who come to God’s Word knowing that it gives light to illuminate and know that they are in desperate need of it. It is these who will be made to understand.
The Desire for God’s Word (v. 131) – The psalmist paints an unmistakable picture of longing and desire here. Have you ever seen an animal with its mouth hanging wide open as it pants? Why do they do that? Probably because they are hot, tired, and in need of water and rest. That is the attitude of our psalmist, but instead of water and rest his insatiable desire is for God’s own commandments. His mouth is open wide, and his tongue is lolling from his lips because he longs for God’s commandments.
Before the worshiper can actually engage in worship, he must affirm the nature and purpose of Scripture. This book reveals God, the God who is mysterious, unsearchable, and wonderful. This book illuminates darkness and gives holy understanding to the simple-minded who are humble enough to understand their own ignorance. It is this book that a worshiper longs for and desires so strongly. Not because it is a book of knowledge, but because it is a book that reveals the source of all knowledge; God Himself.
A Perspective of Dependence (vv. 132-135)
132 Turn to me and be gracious to me, After Your manner with those who love Your name.
133 Establish my footsteps in Your word, And do not let any iniquity have dominion over me. 134 Redeem me from the oppression of man, That I may keep Your precepts. 135 Make Your face shine upon Your servant, And teach me Your statutes.
The flow of this stanza is quickly interrupted with a list of requests. This first request, or plea, is pivotal and acts like a hinge which swings the stanza in a new direction.
A Plea for God’s Unchanging Consistency (v. 132) – The plea to turn to me is really a request for God to notice our psalmist, to pay attention to him. No one escapes the notice of God and He will most certainly visit the just as well as the unjust. It is of little wonder that our psalmist quickly adds and be gracious to me. The attention that he is seeking is God’s grace.
Grace (חנן) or favor indicates God’s pleasing response. To be gracious is to give what is so desperately needed without taking into account if that something is deserved or if it has been earned. In fact, it assumes that it is not deserved and has not been earned. To give what has been earned is just and fair, but it falls far short of grace. Notice that this plea for God to notice and be gracious is contingent upon the second line.
The phrase after Your manner is literally “according to judgment.” We have stated many times over that the judgments of God describe His final word on any matter. The gavel has fallen. Sentence has been pronounced. The matter is settled. This grace that our psalmist seeks is that grace which is in full accordance with God’s decision. But again, this is not an open-ended statement. This decision or judgment to be gracious is not extended to all of humanity, but is limited to those who love Your name.
A person’s name is a marker for his entire being. A person’s name is good, bad, fair, kind, and having integrity because the person wearing that name is good, bad, fair, kind, and possesses integrity. Likewise, the name of God is shorthand for the entirety of His being. To love His name is to love Him in all that He is. This request for attention and grace is a specific plea to be treated in like manner as those who love God with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength. He has never left nor forsaken them, nor will He. Our psalmist pleads for this same unchanging consistency as God deals with him.
This dependency upon God’s grace is in light of the affirmations of the previous verses and at the same time paves the way for the remaining requests which follow close behind.
A Plea for God’s Sustaining Protection (v. 133) – We have become familiar with the metaphors of walking, steps, feet and their correspondence with living. To establish his footsteps is the same as asking for God to secure his life or to provide a solid foundation upon which he can walk/carry out his life. But this foundation is upon God’s promise. The Hebrew אִמְרָה (imrah – word/promise) is used here rather than דבר (devar - word/matter/thing). The solid foundation upon which our psalmist asks God to stand him is definitively identified as God’s own promise. This plea is also two-fold. The second line contains the antithesis of a life established upon God’s promise; namely, a life that is dominated by iniquity.
One can be firmly established and grounded upon the promise of God – that He saves, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies – or one can be dominated by sin, but both cannot be true. To sin is to doubt God’s promise rather than stand upon it. Did Christ not say, “It is finished!”? Has God not said, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ”? Then how could a disciple continue to be a slave of sin? Sin dominates only those who doubt, reject, or do not possess the promise of God. This dependent plea understands that and begs God to make his feet to be firmly planted on that promise.
A Plea for Enabling Redemption (v. 134) – This verse is plain and straightforward. We are well aware of the oppression our psalmist has been under from his enemies, the wicked, and the arrogant. He humbly asks God to be redeemed, purchased, or pulled out of that situation. It is perfectly natural to desire not to be under oppression. But what sets this psalmist apart is the reason he makes such a request. It is not out of concern for his comfort or his safety. He desires to be free of oppression so that he can focus on obeying His God in an environment free of distraction.
This is not a back-alley deal. Our psalmist is not making his obedience contingent upon God’s action to free him from oppression. It’s a result clause that plainly communicates his intentions: he just wants to be free to obey his God!
A Plea for God’s Personal Benediction (v. 135) – This verse is lifted from Numbers 6, where God instructed Moses to bless Aaron and his sons: The Lord bless you, and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace – Num. 6:24-26. This is a naked request to come into personal contact with the holy God, for Him to turn His face toward (to turn His attention toward) the psalmist, and reveal Himself to him! There are a myriad of ways in which God may choose to bless someone, but those blessings all begin the same way: with God revealing Himself to the one who is receiving the blessing.
It should take us by no surprise what we read the next line – and teach me Your statutes. We must never forget what is meant when we refer to the Bible as divine revelation. This book does not reveal certain things about the divine. This book reveals the divine itself. To put it more plainly, the Bible reveals God. There is a direct connection between learning God’s statutes and His face shining upon us. They are one and the same! It is utterly moronic to ask for God’s blessing and attention while at the same time closing His revelation. The light only shines when we uncover it.
The psalmist has unveiled two perspectives of worship. He begins with a perspective of affirmation where he binds himself to an accurate description of God’s Word, uses God’s Word in the manner for which it is designed, and declares his insatiable desire for God’s Word. The next perspective focuses upon his complete dependency upon the God of the Word. He depends upon God’s unchanging consistency, God’s sustaining protection, God’s enabling redemption, and God’s personal benediction. But there is a third and final perspective we must understand if we are to worship God aright.
A Perspective of Understanding (v. 136)
136 My eyes shed streams of water, Because they do not keep Your law.
The first line is a lengthy and poetic way of describing one who is weeping buckets of tears. This is not a sniffle or a state of temporary teary-eyedness. The NASB translates the Hebrew very clearly here; our psalmist’s eyes are flowing with tears. But why?
Because they do not keep Your law.
The “they” refers to the arrogant, wicked, enemies, evil-doers, and oppressors. Those who know the Word of God yet stray from it. Those who know who Yhwh is yet vacillate between two opinions. Stephen, the church’s first martyr, encountered such men: “Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; you who have received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.” – Acts 7:52-53. Our psalmist is dealing with very similar men and is moved to tears. His worship of God understands their circumstance is far worse than his own. He has hope while they have none. He has assurance of life while they have certainty of death. He has grace, forgiveness, and blessing while they have wrath, justice, and a curse. He weeps for them because they have soundly rejected the Word of God, and in so doing have rejected the God of the Word.
But the closest option for they is the psalmist’s own eyes. It is his eyes that pour streams of water because they do not keep God’s Torah. While this option is certainly a minority position, it fits the context and the form of this stanza very well. The affirmation of God’s Word is concluded with a reaction from the psalmist, he longs for God’s commandments. The dependent requests he makes of God is likewise concluded with a reaction; he weeps because he does not obey.
I am convinced that the vast majority of Christians have absolutely no idea what it means to worship. Many consider worship to be an emotional experience divorced from thinking or doing. Some associate worship with work divorced from the motive of love. Still others pursue worship intellectually and sever it from heart and hands. Worship is never limited to a single aspect of life but permeates the totality of our being.
Worship must begin as intellectual exercise as we affirm truth. Truth is objective and is defined by God Himself and revealed in His Word. This truth must then be internalized and firmly believed so that it may be demonstrated in acts. The head, heart, and hands are always involved in worship together. We understand who God is, what He has said, and what He has done and will do (head). We must believe, trust, and desire these things (heart). And that must motivate us to act in accordance with them (hands). Anything less is less than worship.
But if we understand who God is, what He has said, and what He has done and will do, then we also understand and believe the implications of rejecting Him. Are we burdened for the lost? Do we weep for those who know and reject? Why not? Is it because we lack understanding of their fate (insufficient knowledge)? Do we simply not believe that God will pour His holy wrath upon them (insufficient faith)? Or are we just prideful and rebellious (insufficient submission)? Which is it? In any case, this indifference falls drastically short of worship.
Likewise, we are also painfully aware of our own shortcomings, that we do not love and obey our good and glorious God as we ought. Our worship contains adoration and thanksgiving for who God is and what He has done, but it also contains confession.
I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:1-2
Soli Deo Gloria!