Commitment Can Be Seen – Psalm 119:113-120 (ס)
113 I hate those who are double-minded, But I love Your law. 114 You are my hiding place and my shield; I wait for Your word. 115 Depart from me, evildoers, That I may observe the commandments of my God. 116 Sustain me according to Your word, that I may live; And do not let me be ashamed of my hope. 117 Uphold me that I may be safe, That I may have regard for Your statutes continually. 118 You have rejected all those who wander from Your statutes, For their deceitfulness is useless. 119 You have removed all the wicked of the earth like dross; Therefore I love Your testimonies. 120 My flesh trembles for fear of You, And I am afraid of Your judgments.
This stanza, like the stanza before it, finds its headwaters in the ל (vv. 89-96) and מ (vv. 97-104) stanzas; those stanzas that proclaim supreme confidence and commitment to Yhwh and to His word. One commentator described the נ (vv. 105-112) stanza as a grappling hook that is securely anchored on the rock of those two preceding verses. Keeping that analogy alive, this stanza would then be the cable attached to the grappling hook. If the stanza before this provided steps to take in order to put precepts into practice, then this stanza demonstrates what life looks like when anchored with confidence and commitment to God’s Word. This stanza reveals three marks of just such a life.
The Right Actions (vv. 113-114)
113 I hate those who are double-minded, But I love Your law. 114 You are my hiding place and my shield; I wait for Your word.
We need to rightly understand what is being said in these first two verses because they set the tone for the rest of the stanza. With the use of hate and love we are reminded of our psalmist’s commitment as expressed in vv. 97 (O how I love Your law!) & 104 (Therefore I hate every false way). Those two thoughts formed a contrast in that beautiful מ stanza, and they do the same thing here. Yet the contrast is even more striking because they appear so close together!
Many Christians might balk at this first line if they give it much thought. Do Christians really hate? Doesn’t that go against everything that the Bible teaches? Obviously, that is not the case because this verse is found within the Bible (therefore the Bible does not teach that hatred is inherently wrong or sinful), but neither does this concept appear in a vacuum.
God has said that He hates sin (Prov. 6:16-19; Jer. 44:4; Zech. 8:17), false or insincere worship (Amos 5:21), and those who rebel against His revealed will and word (Jer. 12:8; Hos. 9:15; Amos 6:8). Likewise, the child of God expresses the same hatred of sin (Ps. 101:3; Prov. 8:13), false worship (Ps. 119:104), and rebels (Ps. 26:5; Ps. 31:6; Ps. 139:22).
We must not allow our sensitivities to tempt us to slacken the weight of this term. In fact, it is the same verb used by wicked king Ahab to describe his loathing annoyance of the righteous Micaiah (1 Kings. 22:8; 2 Chr. 18:7). To hate means to hate: to distain, to detest, to despise, and to oppose. Let us rather gain insight by understanding the object of our psalmist’s hatred.
Point of Distinction – This is the second of four times that this verb hate (שנא) is found in this psalm (vv. 104, 113, 128, 163). But unlike the other three occurrences, which describe the hatred of sinful actions, this verse clearly indicates the hatred of sinful persons. The term double-minded, as the NASB translates it, comes from the adjective סֵעֲפִ֥ים and is found only here in the entire OT. The core root of this word means tree branches or crutches. At first this is not very helpful in understanding what on earth our psalmist means. But we see the related noun סְּעִפִּים֒ used by the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 18:21 – And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people did not answer him a word. The prophet was condemning the people of Israel of syncretism, going back and forth between Yhwh and Baal like a man using crutches. His point, as is the psalmist’s, is that each individual must choose one or the other.
It is best to understand this statement as referring to a group rather than to specific individuals. It is different to say, “I hate those who vacillate between obedience and rebellion, between the God of the universe and the god of this age” than to say, “I hate Johnny who cannot make up his mind.” It is, to be sure, a fine line. Yet it is an important line to maintain. Now notice the contrast.
But I love Your law. To love God’s instruction, His Torah, is to love all that it commands, instructs, illumines, and reveals. In other words, to love God’s Word is to love God. To love Him is to be fully and totally committed to Him. But that requires separation from all that is not God. To love God requires us to love what He loves and to hate what He hates. Those who are double-minded are not those arrogant pagans that spit in the face of God. They are much worse. They are those who pretend to know God yet cling to this world. They are a one-legged man leaning on two crutches at once. Did not our own Lord say that His disciples must love Him above all else, take up their cross and follow Him exclusively (Matt. 16:24-25)?
Place of Security – The very next verse provides the reason that our psalmist has such devotion to his God. He calls God his hiding place and his shield. The two ideas are related but work together to provide a picture of security. The term hiding place refers to a secret place or a place of concealment. A shield is exactly what it sounds like, a plate-like device used in warfare to protect a warrior from the enemy’s attack. To put this in modern military terms, our psalmist is talking about cover and concealment.
There is a world of difference between cover and concealment. To put it simply, concealment stops the line of sight while cover stops bullets. Hiding in the tall grass may protect you from the enemy’s prying eyes (concealment) but it will offer zero protection against enemy fire. On the other hand, a concrete bunker will offer fantastic protection against enemy fire (cover) but also works like a flag to announce your presence.
Yet our psalmist finds both concealment and cover in God. Because he is secure, held tightly in God’s hands, he finds the ability to simply wait for God’s Word.
The child of God who is confident in God’s Word and truly committed to it is marked by these actions. Actions that know where the line of distinction is and actions that take security in God alone, knowing that his life and wellbeing is completely in God’s hands.
The Right Attitude (vv. 115-117)
115 Depart from me, evildoers, That I may observe the commandments of my God. 116 Sustain me according to Your word, that I may live; And do not let me be ashamed of my hope. 117 Uphold me that I may be safe, That I may have regard for Your statutes continually.
These three verses all being with imperatives or commands. Commands reveal desires. Regardless of who is speaking the imperatives, they communicate the desire of the speaker to be performed by the receiver. The first imperative is issued to the evil doers.
A Bold Desire to be Separate – This is the first time that our psalmist has spoken directly to someone other than God. His desire is plain enough. To say, “depart from me” is equivalent to saying, “leave me alone!” He wants nothing to do with their company or their deeds, because they are evil and thus not compatible with the God whom he loves. But do not overlook the result that our psalmist longs for. He does not say get away from me so that I can be at peace or so my life can return to normal. Far from it. He desires those who do evil to stop messing with him so that he can obey the rules and regulations (statutes) of his God.
There are a few things worth noting here. First, he refers to God in very personal terms. He desires to obey the statues of my God. He has already committed himself to God and here desires to remain steadfastly devoted to Him. Second, his commitment to obey his God would certainly be made easier if left well enough alone, but it is not predicated on that. He would remain faithful to his God regardless, though it would make obedience easier to be sure. This understanding becomes clearer in the next few verses.
A Humble Desire to Submit – The Hebrew imperative takes on a slightly different nuance when an inferior is addressing a superior. Rather than barking commands, the psalmist is making requests. In vv. 116&117 we see similar requests. First, we see a request to be sustained.
The NASB does well here. Sustenance describes the essentials for survival. The body is sustained with food to eat, water to drink, and shelter to protect. The result of these sustaining sources is survival. The psalmist turns to His God, who’s able to provide more than the ability to survive, but the ability to thrive. His request to be sustained comes with the result of life – so that I might live. But this request is not an impertinence. He beseeches his God in full conformity with what God has already promised. “Word” here reflects the Hebrew אִמְרָה (word/promise) rather than דבר (word/matter/thing). Please be the source of sustaining power, just like You have already promised, so that I might live!
The next line may be puzzling – and do not let me be ashamed of my hope – but not if we think it through. To hope is to have a confident expectation in something or someone. Our psalmist has already stated that his request is in perfect conformity with what God has already revealed. But what if this request goes unanswered? If that were to come about, his hope would have been in vain. Rather than a reason to rejoice, his object of expectation would turn to an object of shame. My request is not from my own desire alone, O Lord, but from what You have already promised. Please do not let my faith in Your Word become shame to me, but confirm it!
The second request is similar with a similar result. To support or uphold someone would certainly include providing them with the sustenance necessary for survival but would include provision of things necessary for success. The result of this support is nothing short of salvation. While it is more accurate to translate this line – Support me that I might be saved! – it would also be accurate to understand that our psalmist is not here speaking of eternal salvation (for he is already a child of God) but near and circumstantial salvation. Looking back over the last several stanzas, this is a request for God to continue to sustain and support him in the midst of his affliction. In other words, even if the evil doers do not leave him alone, he continues to humbly submit to his God and asks God to sustain and support him. The result again points to God and to His Word – That I may have regard for Your statutes continually. The child of God who comes and tastes that the Lord is good will be quick to return to the table and continue the feast.
The Right Anticipation (vv. 118-120)
118 You have rejected all those who wander from Your statutes, For their deceitfulness is useless. 119 You have removed all the wicked of the earth like dross; Therefore I love Your testimonies. 120 My flesh trembles for fear of You, And I am afraid of Your judgments.
The Standard of Judgment – The first line of v. 118 is plain and straightforward. All who do not conform, follow, obey, and adhere to His rules and regulations are rejected. There is a very simple standard by which God judges all humanity: obedience. Our psalmist anticipates and expects God to be true to His Word, that He will throw out all who rebel against Him.
Sidebar: Please note how the psalmist describes this standard. He does not say those who spit in the face of God or those who shake their fist at God but simply – those who wander from Your statutes. That sounds so innocent, so benign. Yet to wander, stray, move away from God’s rules and regulations is nothing short of rebellion.
We have come to attain such a tolerance of sin in our culture that I believe these words must be given time to sink in. There is no mention of the magnitude of this wandering but only that it has occurred. Our psalmist is referencing those who sway between two opinions, those who claim God with their lips yet with their deeds rebel against Him. The standard is clear, and our psalmist correctly anticipates that God will reject, discard, and throw them away.
The Response to the Judged – The English translations miss the cadence of this verse. The very first word in v. 119 is dross. The force would be rendered something like: Dross, You have removed all the wicked from the earth. There is no preposition of comparison (like/as dross), just the word placed at the beginning of the sentence and uttered in a tone of contempt. Those who will be rejected and removed are just dross.
Dross of course refers to the slag and impurities found in metal ore that float to the top when the ore is heated to the point of melting and then skimmed off. Dross is worthless and literally good for nothing; therefore, it is discarded. What is our psalmist’s reply to this?
Therefore I love Your testimonies.
Knowing that the wicked are nothing more than dross to be skimmed off and thrown away, our psalmist reaffirms his devotion and commitment to his God. It is good that God judges the wicked. It is appropriate that God discards them. It is righteous that He does so. Our psalmist anticipates this coming judgment and he loves God all the more because of it.
The Reaction to the Judge – This stanza began with the contrast between love and hate. Here it closes with a marriage between love and fear. The phrase – My flesh trembles – is accurate and vivid. The scene is that of one scared stiff, with hair standing on end, or someone shaking in their boots. What causes this reaction? The dread of Yhwh.
Dear reader, you would do well to understand what it means to fear Yhwh. To fear Yhwh means you know who He is. When Yhwh appears to Abraham (Gen. 15:1) and then to Isaac (Gen. 26:24), the first words out of His mouth are do not fear. To know God is to fear Him. To fear Yhwh means you believe what He says. There were some Egyptians who feared the word of Yhwh and thus took appropriate action to protect their livestock (Ex. 9:20). They feared because they believed His word would come to pass. But true fear of Yhwh is best exhibited in the fruit born from knowledge and belief: obedience (Lev. 19:3, 14, 30, 32; 25:17).
Our psalmist anticipates judgment which brings a response of holy fear. Notice that there is no distinction between fear of Yhwh and fear of His Word. The second simply reveals the first. To know one is to know the other. To believe one is to believe the other. To obey one is to obey the other. To fear one is to fear the other.
This stanza cuts through all of the talk and sanctimonious lip service like a hot knife through butter. What do you love? What do you hate? What do you fear? That is really at the heart of this stanza. You love what you are committed to, what you spend time on, what you connect yourself to. You hate what you avoid, what you separate from, what you turn your back to. You fear what you know and believe about your best interest. In that light you will offer your obedience. A child of God loves what God loves, hates what God hates, and fears Him and His Word alone. It’s that simple. Obedience is always simple. Seldom easy, but always simple. Soli Deo Gloria!