“Blessed Obedience” – Psalm 119:1-8
1 How blessed are those whose way is blameless, Who walk in the law of the Lord. 2 How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, Who seek Him with all their heart. 3 They also do no unrighteousness; They walk in His ways. 4 You have ordained Your precepts, That we should keep them diligently. 5 Oh that my ways may be established To keep Your statutes! 6 Then I shall not be ashamed When I look upon all Your commandments. 7 I shall give thanks to You with uprightness of heart, When I learn Your righteous judgments. 8 I shall keep Your statutes; Do not forsake me utterly!
This first stanza begins the psalmist’s journey into the depths and riches of God’s Word. With no superscription given and no author identified, the psalmist lets his content provide the introduction to his psalm.
Psalm 119 extols and reflects upon the relationship between the Word of God and the people of God for the glory of God. This stanza serves as part of the introduction, but notice how it does it. This first stanza begins by examining the relationship between the people of God and the Word of God from three different angles.
1) Objective Observation (vv. 1-3)
“How blessed are those whose way is blameless, Who walk in the law of the Lord. How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, Who seek Him with all their heart. They also do no unrighteousness; They walk in His ways. You have ordained Your precepts, That we should keep them diligently.”
The introduction is strikingly similar to Psalm 1 observation about the blessed man. “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law f the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.”
Many commentators struggle with clearly articulating what this word blessed (אַשְׁרֵי) means. This word not only brings our minds to Psalm 1, but also to Matthew 5 where Jesus states “Blessed are the poor in spirit…those who mourn…the gentle…those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, etc.” Clearly, to be blessed is a good thing. But what does it mean?
Some English translations do us a great disservice by translating the term as happy. In my humble opinion, that understanding is heading 180 degrees in the wrong direction. To be happy is a subjective response to a situation or experience that may or may not take the situation into account. You can be emotionally happy regardless of what is going on around you. It’s a purely subjective response.
To be blessed, on the other hand, is an objective reality. This term is used throughout Scripture to identify those who are objective recipients of God’s blessing. David in Psalm 1, Jesus in Matthew 5, and the psalmist here are not pronouncing wishes for happiness upon people. A subjective emotional response is nowhere in view. All three passages make objective observations about certain people who are the objects of divine blessing.
If God objectively blesses these folks, then we should be able to see it. That’s the psalmist’s point. These are people whose way is blameless. The term used here is not meant to be negative (without blame/without sin, etc.) but positive. It means complete/perfect/whole. If something is complete, it is not missing anything. Those who are blessed by God are those whose way is complete.
The term way (דֶּרֶךְ) literally indicates a road, path, or some avenue of travel. But just like we use it today, the term can indicate a way of living, or a way of doing business. The idea is the manner in which they live. Their lives are perfect, complete, and whole. The rest of the line completes the idea.
Who walk in the law of the Lord
The psalmist keeps the metaphor of walking/living together by explaining that those who are blessed are those who walk in, or live their lives in conformity to, the law of the Lord. Law here reflects the Hebrew תּוֹרָה (Torah) and is better understood as instruction. The instruction of Yhwh is the body of information that He has taught. To refer to Scripture as instruction is to refer to God as the instructor. Those who are objectively blessed by God are those who live in conformity to His instruction.
Sidebar: This must not be understood in the terms of a dictator. Yes, God is sovereign over all things, but His blessing is not a gold star given to those who shape up to His teaching. He is the creator of all things and He made all things very good (Gen. 1:31). When people live in the way He designed them to live, the objective reality is that things go well.
When a husband and wife arrange their marriage to reflect God’s design for marriage, it is a good marriage and they are objectively blessed because of it. When employees and employers approach their responsibilities in the way that God has instructed, there will be objective blessing for both. The second verse continues this train of thought.
How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, Who seek Him with all their heart
Again there is a statement that observes the objective reality of God’s blessing and once again that blessing is tied securely to God’s Word. This time the term is testimonies. This word (עֵדוּת) is a legal term describing the statement given by a witness. God’s testimony is His first hand account. Those who are blessed are those who observe these testimonies. The idea is not to look at what God has said and then move on, but to guard, observe, keep, and obey the statements given to them by Almighty God.
The second line in v. 2 is so important and I am so thankful that it is here. We are not called to pursue Scripture as the end goal. It is not the objective of the believer to be filled with knowledge of cold facts alone. The psalmist seamlessly connects the search for God with the careful study of Scripture. The two can never be divorced from each other.
Up to this point all of the verbs have been given as habitual character traits. Those who are objectively blessed by God are those who are known by their walk in Yhwh’s instruction. They regularly observe His testimonies and the characteristically search for Him with all their hearts. The third verse speaks in black and white terms.
They also do no unrighteousness; They walk in His ways.
The verbs here are not character traits, but view these people from the perspective of completion. They do not do unrighteousness. They walk according to Yhwh’s way. It is little wonder that their way as called perfect/complete in v. 1. Their manner of living is in reality Yhwh’s manner of living.
From the outside looking in, the objective effect of God’s Word upon His people is that it brings untold blessing to those who obey it.
2) Divine Design (v. 4)
“You have ordained Your precepts, That we should keep them diligently.”
The perspective has shifted from observing those who are blessed to the One who blesses. That seemingly insignificant “You” is emphatic as it is thrown forward for emphasis. All the attention is now given to God.
The word precepts (פִּקּוּדִים) refers to God’s step-by-step instructions. My favorite illustration of this concept is to think of Lego instructions or (if you’re super lame) assembling furniture from Ikea. God has given us step-by-step instructions how to please Him and live in conformity to His design. But that means that we have to follow those instructions.
The last line in the verse is a purpose statement. He ordained/commanded His step-by-step instructions for a reason, So that we would follow them. It is not up to us to redesign the creation. If you have pieces left over, you must reexamine the instructions. The final word on the subject (diligently) indicates a forceful completeness. It’s the same word used in Gen. 1:31 to qualify the creation (…and it was very good).
Scripture is not a primer to be discarded for a more thorough edition nor is it only contain guidelines to be followed in a general sense. God is precise in His language and gives precise instructions. The whole point of giving these instructions is so that people would obey them to the letter.
3) Individual Inclination (vv. 5-8)
“Oh that my ways may be established to keep Your statutes! Then I shall not be ashamed when I look upon all Your commandments. I shall give thanks to You with uprightness of heart, When I learn Your righteous judgments. I shall keep Your statutes; Do not forsake me utterly!”
The perspective has changed once again to the psalmist’s point of view. He understands the connection between the way of the blessed and Yhwh’s way and exclaims a deep-seated desire that his own way would be one and the same. But how can this be accomplished?
The verb here established is passive, not active. The psalmist knows that he is not able to establish/make firm his own life. This exclamation is a plea for God to establish his life for a single purpose.
To keep Your statutes
If his own manner of living is established by God, then God will establish him to fulfill the purpose for which He made him: to obey. The term statutes (חֹק) refers to rules and regulations that have already been appointed and written in stone (pun totally intended). The desire of the psalmist is to have God sovereignly change his ways so that he is able to follow God’s regulations. This desire is born out of a view toward the blessing mentioned in vv. 1-2, a blessing of being free from sin and shame.
Then I shall not be ashamed when I look upon all Your commandments.
If he has been enabled to obey, then there will never come shame. The word shame means disgrace or dishonor. This would be a fate worse than death to the ancient Hebrew. This shame refers to failure to do, or not to do something that is required. This line does not mean that the psalmist will never fail, but will never fail so long as his attention and focus are appropriately directed. The second line informs the first.
When I look upon all Your commandments
This line does not indicate a momentary glance of Yhwh’s commandments, but a deep and lasting study of them. Commandments (מִצְוָה) are imperatives, orders, or commands to be immediately and continually obeyed. With Yhwh’s commandments before him, the psalmist will never feel the shame of failure.
Sidebar: When we sin as Christians, it is only because we are not gazing steadily upon the commands of God. Our Lord and King did not whisper His instructions, but had them written and bound so that we might carefully and diligently study them. When we fail, we have only ourselves to blame.
I shall give thanks to You with uprightness of heart, When I learn Your righteous judgments.
This verse reflects the joy of the redeemed when they look fully on the face of Almighty God as revealed in His Word. It is one thing to hear that He is good and righteous and holy. It is quite another to discover it for yourself. This joy and thanksgiving is predicated upon the psalmist learning God’s righteous judgments. He submits himself as a humble pupil. But what is he learning?
Your righteous judgments
The term judgments (מִשְׁפָּט) is another legal term, but this reflects the decision of the judge rather than the account of the witness. The judge has the final say in the case. His judgment contains the verdict, pronouncement of sentence, everything. God’s Word has the final say on all matters and this judgment is righteous. There is no fault to be found in it. There is no impartiality or injustice but only perfect and correct righteousness. As one sits as a student to be taught by Scripture, there is profound joy and thanksgiving that come from understanding the depths and heights of God’s righteous judgments.
I shall keep Your statutes; Do not forsake me utterly!
This stanza concludes with an oath and a prayer. The Hebrew word order places emphasis upon Your statutes. The regulations that God has predetermined are hereby sworn to be kept and obeyed. This oath is tightly connected to the prayer that follows. But do not mistake this final line as evidence that the psalmist’s faith in God is shaking.
He has already made the connection between those who are objectively blessed by God and their relationship to His Word. Those who are blessed are those who seek Him with all their heart by obeying His instruction. This final verse does not make out the psalmist to be making deals with God so much as it reveals the psalmist’s faith in God’s Word and character. God will most certainly not desert him now, nor ever, if he binds himself to God with the cords of Scripture.
This psalm is written from the perspective of the ancient Hebrew, but contains vital significance for the New Covenant Christian. This first stanza serves as introduction to the psalm and its message is simple: God’s blessing is directly tied to obedience to His Word.
Blessing certainly includes this physical world in which we live. To conform our lives, our families, and our churches to God’s Word alone will naturally result in blessing that was divinely built into creation. But this blessing has eternal significance as well. Those who are truly blessed are those who have been redeemed from sin and death, transformed into new creatures, and transferred into the Kingdom of Christ. But that transformation is not possible outside of God’s Word.
We cannot know God, and thus be saved by Him and live in obedience to Him, apart from His Word. The Word of God, the Bible, is the vehicle to God Himself. We cannot worship, please, obey, adore, honor, or serve Him without His Word. If this is true, then why do we neglect His Word in our pulpits and in our homes? To neglect the Word of God is to neglect the God of the Word.