A Final Prayer for Faithfulness – Psalm 119:169-176 (ת)
169 Let my cry come before You, O Lord; Give me understanding according to Your word. 170 Let my supplication come before You; Deliver me according to Your word. 171 Let my lips utter praise, For You teach me Your statutes. 172 Let my tongue sing of Your word, For all Your commandments are righteousness. 173 Let Your hand be ready to help me, For I have chosen Your precepts. 174 I long for Your salvation, O Lord, And Your law is my delight. 175 Let my soul live that it may praise You, And let Your ordinances help me. 176 I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, For I do not forget Your commandments.
It is always with an air of bitter-sweet contentment when I reach the conclusion of a study. There is always a sense of satisfaction having finished the course but there is also a sadness when coming to the end. When you spend much time in a portion of God’s Word you begin to love it. And when you start to put the commentaries back on the shelf you notice that you miss it already. Such is my frame of mind as I prepare to preach this final stanza of Psalm 119.
It is necessary that we live in light of all that we have learned. Rather than knowing the Word of God only we must press on to become doers of the Word (James 1:22). The goal in this life is not perfection, but faithfulness. God will indeed perfect us when He calls us home or returns for us. But He has called each and every one whom He has saved to be faithful. This is the final concern of our psalmist. In this final stanza, the psalmist summarizes the necessity of the Word of God in the Child of God in three thoughts expressing his desire to remain faithful to his God.
The Foundation of Prayer (vv. 169-170)
169 Let my cry come before You, O Lord; Give me understanding according to Your word. 170 Let my supplication come before You; Deliver me according to Your word.
We should note that this stanza is full of expressions of desire. The NASB translates most of these verbs as soft requests (let my cry come… let my supplication come…let my lips utter… etc.). These requests reveal the heart’s desire of our psalmist. These desires begin with the psalmist’s petitions before God.
Thinking like God (v. 169) – Don’t jump past the fact that this is a prayer. The entire stanza is a conversation between the psalmist and his God. That in of itself could be a preaching point. At the end of the day our psalmist, who lives/breaths/eats/sleeps the Word of God, comes before Yhwh in prayer. A disciple is not only marked by the attention he gives to the Word of God, but also the amount of attention he gives to the God of the Word through time in prayer.
The desire for his cry to come before Yhwh (note the all caps in the NASB) is literally a desire for his cry to be near before Yhwh. What does this mean but that he expresses desire for his prayer to be right in front of God as He sits upon His throne of grace. The content of that cry is articulated in the next line – Give me understanding.
We’ve seen this request before on several occasions (vv. 27, 34, 73, 125, 144) and it continues to be a plea for God to not just give but to enable or even make him understand. This is a cry for divine discernment. It articulates not just the ability to choose between right and wrong but between better and best. Yet our psalmist modifies this request by attaching the nuance of according to Your Word. He doesn’t simply want the ability to discern between a good job and a great job or a good financial decision and a better one. He wants God to grant him the ability to discern in perfect harmony with God’s revelation. To put it more simply: he wants to think and discern like God.
Believing God (v. 170) – This verse mirrors almost perfectly the previous verse. Again, his desire is for his prayer, this time called his supplication – his plea/petition/urgent request – to approach or enter before the presence of God. It is still of great concern to him that his prayer is given its day in Yhwh’s court. The content of this supplication follows just as before.
This time his plea is for deliverance or we might say rescue. His first request centered on his focus, the ability to think and discern like God. This request is aimed at his circumstance but is again nuanced with a holy modifier: according to Your Word.
“Word” here translates אִמְרָה (imrah – promise) while the same English word in v. 169 translates the Hebrew דבר (divar – word/matter/thing). He began by invoking the totality of God’s revelation and moves to the specific promise from God to be faithful to those whom He has called. He doesn’t simply desire for God to save him in order to lead a pleasure-seeking life. He is asking for deliverance in accordance with God’s promise. He not only believes what God has said, he’s asking God to carry out exactly what God has said.
This is the beginning foundation of the disciple. He comes before his God and desires to be heard. But his petitions are not self-serving. Quite the opposite, they’re self-enslaving. His desire is for God to hear and grant his petition to think and live in perfect harmony with God’s revealed will and word. If only we would all begin each morning with such a prayer.
The Motivation of Praise (vv. 172-173)
171 Let my lips utter praise, For You teach me Your statutes. 172 Let my tongue sing of Your word, For all Your commandments are righteousness. 173 Let Your hand be ready to help me, For I have chosen Your precepts.
The pattern of vv. 169-170 has changed from desire expressed to desire’s content revealed to the pattern that emerges in these verses. Each verse still begins with the psalmist expressing his desire, but that desire is followed up by the reason or motivation behind the desire. Why does he desire to do the things that he does?
Because of the Teacher (v. 171) – The psalmist desires for praise to pour forth from his lips. The NASB simply says “utter” but the Hebrew is better translated as gush or pouring forth. This is the same word David used when he composed Ps. 19 – The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge (vv. 1-2). The idea in both places is the same: spontaneous gushing of praise. Our psalmist wishes for and desires that his lips would spontaneously pour forth praise. But why? Because of his teacher.
Each of these three verses conclude with a causal conjunction that explains why the psalmist desires the things that he does. His desire for spontaneous praise is a direct result of the One who will teach him. The imperfect verb to teach is either used in a firm futuristic sense – Because You will teach me – or in a continuous sense – Because You will continue to teach me. Either way, the psalmist wished to praise on account of his faithful teacher.
Because of the Content (v. 172) – This verse is similar, yet our psalmist moves from a spontaneous reaction of praise to a premeditated determination to praise. He wishes for his tongue to be utilized in singing God’s promise (אִמְרָה /imrah again). Again, he tells us why: because of the propositional integrity of God’s promise.
To call the promise of God righteous is to say that His promise is accurate, correct, and wholly appropriate. There is nothing amiss nor overdone in what He has promised. It is because of this divine quality of the divine promise that our psalmist desires to sing them and make them known.
Because of his Position (v. 173) – There is a slight shift from the psalmist’s desire of himself to his desire of God. He now expresses his desire for God to act, or at least be ready to act. The Bible often uses the imagery of the hand or the arm as an indication of power, might, and ability. This desire is for God’s hand (His ability and might) to be poised in position for the expressed purpose of helping our psalmist. For a third time he tells us why, because our psalmist has chosen to obey and follow the step-by-step instructions of the Almighty.
We must be careful here. Scripture is clear that no man seeks after God (Ps. 14:2-3) and all of humanity has already turned aside like lost sheep (Is. 53:6). Moses spoke to an unredeemed people with confidence that they would never keep the law of God because they had not yet been given a heart to believe (Deut. 29:4). Joshua spoke for himself as one who was called by God for salvation from before the foundations of the earth when he said, “as for me and my house, we will serve Yhwh” (Josh. 24:15). Our psalmist does not desire God’s help on the basis of his personal superiority but on the basis of the fact that he already belongs to God.
Our psalmist, the child of God, prays to God for understanding and deliverance that is perfectly in line with God’s own character, word, and will. His motivation is purely driven by person of God, the nature of His Word, and his own position as God’s possession. Next we see his desire to put into practice these prayers and motivations.
The Summation of Practice (vv. 174-176)
174 I long for Your salvation, O Lord, And Your law is my delight. 175 Let my soul live that it may praise You, And let Your ordinances help me. 176 I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, For I do not forget Your commandments.
Delight in Obedience (v. 174) – This is the first verse within this final stanza that does not begin with an expression of desire. He is making a simple and poignant statement: I long for Your salvation. Once again, we should be wary of pigeon-holing the concept of salvation into either a purely physical or exclusively spiritual reality. Spiritual salvation from sin and eternal death comes with physical implications. Those whom Christ redeems will enjoy the future reign of King Jesus upon the physical earth completely devoid of the cures and its many effects. Don’t we all who claim Christ long and yearn for the fulfillment and consummation of our salvation? Even as he speaks in the realm of his temporal and physical affliction, the eternal implications are not obscured from the picture. But how does this longing affect his practice? He delights in God’s law.
As always, the English law reflects the Hebrew תּוֹרָה – Torah/instruction; the most common reference to God’s revelation. To delight in something assumes joy, value, adherence, appreciation, and commitment. How foolish it would be to long for the return of the King with an attitude of indifference to His instruction. Yet this is how the vast majority of people who claim to be His subjects regard His Word. But not our psalmist. His motivation easily moves into action.
Desire to Praise (v. 175) – By way of reminder, it is better to view the human soul as the totality of a person rather than an appendage. Human beings are souls rather than simply possessing souls. This is an expressed desire for the whole of his being to live (and not be killed by his oppressors) for an expressed purpose: to praise his God.
I am so thankful for the NASB’s translation of this verse. The action of praise is the reason for which he desires to live (Let me live so that I might praise You), not simply an added-on desire (Let me live and praise You). His desire to live is once again void of selfish motivation. His thirst for life is tied to his desire to praise. Though he knows that he is in need of help in this quest, so he again expresses desire for God’s decisions, decrees, and judgments to help him. I desire to live for the purpose of praising You and I desire for Your decisions to assist me in this endeavor.
Dependence to Persevere (v. 176) – The ancients had a way of simple punctuation and if we take the manuscripts seriously, the first line would read something like: I stray, seek Your servant like a perishing sheep.
This final verse is somewhat puzzling for a number of reasons. Even in the Hebrew it is the longest verse in the entire psalm and it does not seem to fit the rhythm of its immediate context. Not only this, but his confession seems to be a contradiction to what he has already claimed about himself. He has already stated that he has most certainly not wandered (v. 110). Is this a confession of at least the temptation to apostatize? Is this connected somehow to Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep (Matt. 18)? Short answer: no and no.
The parable of the lost sheep explains how Jesus left the 99 who thought they were secure in of themselves (the scribes and Pharisees) to search out a lost sinner cut off from the fold. The sheep in that parable is not a wandering Christian, but a lost reprobate who wasn’t even looking for Jesus. Yet Jesus found him and brought him back all by His onesies.
Sidebar: Don’t force the Old Testament through the grid of the New Testament. Take each text in its own context less you say really foolish things.
The psalmist’s statement is so very simple and easy to understand if we just slow our roll and read. The point is that even though he is a man who longs for God’s word, love’s God’s word, obeys God’s word, and despises any and all who contradict God’s word he remains vulnerable. This is a confession of his constant and continued need for God to guide and protect him!
He confesses that if left to his own devices he wanders, strays, and will get lost to the point where (like a sheep) he will put himself in unnecessarily dangerous positions. So, he cries to God to seek after and pursue him. Notice how he refers to himself, “Your servant.” This is no confession of apostasy. This is a confession that he remains flesh and blood and is desperate for divine guidance. The last line hammers this point home: Seek me because I do not forget Your commandments. I am Yours. Save me!
There will never be a time, in this life or the next, when we will know enough, believe enough, or love enough to be autonomous from God. The more we know and understand His Word reveals a deeper need for Him to rule over our hearts and minds. Our psalmist concludes his magnum opus with this very thought. If anyone has studied, understood, and clung to God’s Word long and hard enough to earn independence it would have been this guy. Yet he finishes with a cry of dependence. May we never cease to cling, rest, lean, and depend on Him alone. Soli Deo Gloria!