Updated: Mar 24, 2021
Martin Luther once called the psalter a little Bible because contained within these 150 prayers, praises, and songs runs every theological theme and doctrine. If the psalter as a whole is a little Bible, then psalm 119 is a little psalter.
The stanza before us is interesting and thought provoking for a couple of reasons. If you look closely, you’ll realize that all eight synonyms (word, word/promise, testimonies, commandments, law/instruction, judgements/ordinances, precepts, statutes) for Scripture are used in this stanza. Very few stanzas within this psalm use all eight synonyms.
Secondly, the skill and divine inspiration of the particular word choice are clearly evident. If it were up to me to write an acrostic psalm about the Word of God in the child of God, I would take full advantage of the synonyms. What I mean is that of these eight different words that all point back to Scripture, seven of them begin with different letters (מִצְוָה (commandments) and מִשְׁפָּט (judgments/ordinances) each begin with מ). So, in our present case, in the ח stanza, why not create an entire stanza about the statutes (חק) of God? The psalmist is not interested in 22 stanzas that say the same thing with different words. The psalmist continues to examine the diamond with 22 facets.
The big picture of the Word of God in the child of God remains, but here we have an extension of the argument, not a regurgitation of it. The psalmist’s point is put forward in the opening verse.
“The Lord is my portion; I have promised to keep Your words.”
That term portion is a dense term dripping with theological significance. It designates one’s allotment that is due to them and is usually used in the context of dividing the spoils of war (Gen. 14:24). But in the context of the relationship of God and His people, this term is used interchangeably with the word inheritance.
In this light we should immediately think of the Levites who had no portion in the Promised Land, no boundaries in which they could call home. Why? Because Yhwh was their portion and their inheritance (Num. 18:20). The psalmist is claiming that Yhwh Himself is his allotment and his share of the spoils. He is dedicated to serving Yhwh. He is completely dependent upon and rests in Yhwh. He wants nothing more than a deep and intimate relationship with Yhwh. All that he possesses, desires, and needs is Yhwh.
It’s one thing to claim that, but words are cheap. How can we know that this is true?
I have promised to keep Your words
This might be splitting hairs, but it may be best to translate this phrase as an active state (I promise to keep…) rather than a singular historic even (I have promised). This is what the psalmist does, not simply something that he has once done. He gives his word (promises) to adhere to and obey all that God has said (note the plural there). He is fully committed to Yhwh. Everything that follows fleshes out what this looks like.
This whole stanza is something of a diagnostic test. We diagnose problems in our lives in order to get to the root. Whether we are trying to figure out our health concerns or problems with the car, we want to know what the problem is. The very word diagnosis means through (dia - δια) knowledge (gnosis – γνῶσις). In order to answer the question, “what is the problem?” sometimes we need to ask additional and clarifying questions. In searching for a correct diagnosis, or search for knowledge, regarding our spiritual commitment to our great and gracious God, there are three questions that the psalmist answers.
What does total commitment look like? (vv. 58-60)
“I sought Your favor with all my heart; be gracious to me according to Your word.
I considered my ways and turned my feet to Your testimonies.
I hastened and did not delay to keep Your commandments.”
Commitment is Personal and Sincere (v. 58) – It is difficult to fully translate the phrase “I sought Your favor.” The sense is plain enough, but there is a very intimate picture here. A very wooden translation would be something like “I caress your face.” The psalmist desires to make God happy. He is not content to simply not anger God but strives whole heartedly to make God smile. There is personal and intimate commitment here.
This description is the basis for the prayer that follows - be gracious to me according to Your word. Have you ever stopped to wonder why we possess such audacity to come before God’s throne with our requests? Why on earth do we think we can approach Him? Why does the psalmist inscripturate such an audacious request? Because God has already revealed in His Word that He desires His children to approach Him. He has already promised to answer these prayers.
The term word here is אִמְרָה (imrah), the term that we have consistently translated as promise. It comes from the very same root as I have promised in v. 57 (אָמַ֗רְתִּי). The psalmist is not audacious at all. He is simply requesting that God show him the grace that He has already promised. Be gracious to be just like you have already promised. Total commitment is first a personal and sincere affair.
Commitment is Objective and Obedient (v. 59) – Verse 59 begins with an objective review of his own life – Ι considered my ways. This reveals more than a passive review. The Hebrew here is used of a careful study or even a computation that is leading toward a result. He’s adding up all the things that he does, the totality of his life in order to determine his next move. What is that next move?
And turned my feet to Your testimonies
This is a picture of the positive side of repentance. The word turned is even taken from the same root (שוב - shoove). The psalmist does not include that he is necessarily turning away from sin but the end result of turning toward God’s testimonies (HIS firsthand account of all things as revealed in Scripture). He objectively examines his life and then takes the necessary steps to fully bring his life into conformity with God’s Word; and thus God’s character.
Commitment is both Immediate and comes with Purpose (v. 60) – Both sides of the same coin are put forward in v. 60 - I hastened and did not delay to keep Your commandments. What does it mean to hasten? What does it mean to not delay? Are they not the same idea coming from different directions? Total commitment is not just conformity but immediate conformity.
We would never describe someone as being committed who just shows up. A family member, church member, or a team member who just shows up is lacking in commitment. The same is true of the Christian who eventually comes around but lacks a sense of urgency in his obedience.
Before we can even begin diagnosing our own commitment to our Lord, we need to understand what commitment actually looks like. Commitment is personal, objective, and urgent.
Is my commitment consistent? (vv. 61-62)
“The cords of the wicked have encircled me but I have not forgotten Your law.
At midnight I shall rise to give thanks to You because of Your righteous ordinances.”
These verses connect thematically back to the previous stanza where the twin themes of remembrance and faithfulness in the face of enemies took center stage. Both of these themes are repeated in v. 61.
Does Commitment Wane during Trials? (v. 61) – The picture being painted here is that of our psalmist bound by the wicked ready to be handed over like a pig ready to be placed on the spit. Most translations read cords which is a poetic synonym for ropes. The verb encircled can mean encircled or even embraced. If ropes embrace you, that means that you’re wrapped up like poor Nell being placed on the railroad tracks.
Yet in the midst of being bound hand and foot, what does our psalmist say? I have not forgotten Your law. There is always an implied action with remembering and not forgetting. To remember/not forget means to obey! Adverse conditions are never an excuse for inconsistent commitment.
Does Commitment Wax during times of Rest? (v. 62) – Our commitment to our good and holy God, if not waning in adversity, must wax in prosperity. The term midnight is not necessarily a technical term for 12:00 am, but simply indicates the middle of the night. Unless you have small children or a small bladder, most people are in bed asleep in the middle of the night; but not our psalmist.
At midnight I shall rise to give thanks to You
He rises out of his bed for one singular purpose, to praise and give thanks to God. The Hebrew root for give thanks is the same root at the base of the proper name Judah, which means praise. Often, we get up out of bed because we are troubled by difficulties. We have all had sleepless nights that turn our attention to the throne of our King. But have we ever risen just to praise Him? The condition of the wicked is not the chief concern here. He simply praises God because of Your righteous ordinances. Simple reflection upon the perfect and righteous decrees of God draws him from his bed and places him on his knees in humble adoration. That is consistent commitment.
Is our commitment observable and insatiable? (vv. 63-64)
“I am a companion of all those who fear You and of those who keep Your precepts.
The earth is full of Your lovingkindness O Lord teach me Your statutes.”
Do we Love what He Loves? (v. 63) – The word companion here is more than an associate, someone you share a workspace or pew with. It indicates someone who is bound to you by common ground. The psalmist declares that he is bound to all people who share a particular common ground with him; namely those who fear God and obey Him.
Immediately John 13:35 comes to mind – “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Why is this so important? So often we pray for Christ to transform us into His image, to make us like Him. If we are like Christ, we will love what He loves, treasure what He treasures, and hate what He hates. Christ loves His bride, therefore so must we.
Do we love the individual members of Christ’s bride, or do we simply put up with them for a single hour once a week? Are these fellow saints, companions, comrades who are bound to us by the blood of Jesus Christ or are they simply associates that help us hold the pews down? If we love them, it should be observable and objective. After all, this love is to be a testimony to a watching world.
Do we Want what He Wants? (v. 64) – The psalmist has declared his desire to be fully committed to his God but has also demonstrated that this commitment is already a reality. Talk is cheap. What I find so amazing is the fact that he is not willing to remain where he is, but earnestly desires to grow.
The earth is full of Your lovingkindness
Remember that our psalmist has already made plain his plight. He is trussed up and ready to be handed over to his enemies. He is one who has much to complain about. And yet he has the audacity to state that the whole earth is full of God’s loyal love, His covenant love, His hesed (חסד). The glory of the Yhwh as displayed in His creation and confirmed in His word has not escaped our psalmist’s notice. In fact, that is the very basis for the final request in this stanza. He wants to know Yhwh more.
O Lord teach me Your statutes
That is the same prayer stated in vv. 12&26. He is never satisfied with what he knows. He is not content to worship his God with only the bear essence of understanding. He wants to know His God more and more. Is this our desire? Is this our prayer? Is this the way that we approach our God? Are we satisfied to just remain as we are? Are we truly committed to the One who has redeemed us and fashioned us into the body of His bride? I pray that this is not so. I pray that we in turn echo this psalmist’s prayer.
Actions speak louder than words. We cannot be content to be hearers (or speakers) of the Word only, but doers of the Word. So the question is; are we actually committed to our great God? These verses help us get to the bottom of that question. Soli Deo Gloria!