“Faithfulness Assumes Confidence” – Psalm 119:89-96 (ל)
Updated: Apr 21, 2021
Anybody who has been through basic training will have a gas chamber story. The sensational feeling of burning eyes combined with the inability to breath and snot streams that reach down to your boot laces is an experience that is difficult to forget. But there is a very intentional reason that every recruit is put through the gas chamber. It has nothing to do with hazing or providing a right of passage (well, at least not primarily so) but is designed to build a soldier’s confidence in his equipment.
A soldier enters the chamber with his protective mask (Pro-mask) already on with a good seal. The room is already filled with CS gas, yet the soldier is able to breath and function, noticing only a slight irritation where his skin is exposed. It is only when he is ordered to remove his mask that he fully appreciates and understands the value of his equipment. That soldier leaves the chamber thankful for his Pro-mask and has confidence in its ability.
In a similar fashion, this text exclaims confidence in the Word of God, but that confidence is not theoretical. Our psalmist explains in the clearest and most logical of terms why he has confidence in God’s Word and parses out the implications of that confidence. In other words, his confidence in Scripture allows him to apply and use Scripture in a most effectual way. What follows are three answers to questions about confidence in the Word of God.
Why should we have confidence in the Scriptures? (vv. 89-91)
I do not wish to insult the intelligence of the reader. These verses, really the whole stanza, are very straight forward. In short, the psalmist is declaring the steadfastness and surety of God’s Word as it stands in heaven and on earth. But let’s read closely and carefully so that we fully understand and can therefore appreciate these ancient words.
Because Scripture is Eternal and Authoritative (v. 89) – “Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven”
The Hebrew term that the NASB translates as settled (נצב) means to position/to stand/to place. More than just a verb to designate between a standing position and sitting, in the present form it conveys an idea of authority. This is the same term Moses used in Ex. 17:9 in his battle plan against Amalek. When Joshua took the men out to fight, Moses would stand/position himself on the hill with his arms raised up. Again, the same form is used to describe the Angel of Yhwh as He stood in the path of Balaam and his donkey (Num. 22:31). It is used again in 1 Kings 22:47 to describe a deputy who was acting as king in Edom, it speaks to the position of Yhwh as he stands to judge (Isaiah 3:13) and describes the duty of a watchman (Isaiah 21:8).
When the psalmist says that the word of Yhwh is settled, we need to understand that Yhwh’s word stands as an authority in heaven. The common phrase “forever” begins this whole verse to make sure that the reader knows that the word (דבר – all that God has said and willed) of Yhwh stands as an eternal and unending authority in heaven. Our psalmist is just warming up, but it should make us wonder. If God’s Word stands as an authority in heaven, what does that mean for we who are on earth? As you can see, the psalmist answers this question before we can even finish forming it.
Because Scripture is Unchanging (v. 90) – “Your faithfulness continues throughout all generations; You established the earth, and it stands.”
God’s faithfulness, His trustworthiness we might say, is not limited to a single people in a special time in a specific place but flows from generation to generation. I cannot help but think of Mary’s words in her Magnificat – “For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. And His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him.” – Luke 1:49-50.
God can be trusted yesterday, today, and forever…but why? The psalmist proclaims that Yhwh established the earth. Can anybody tell me how He established the earth? Through His Word. He spoke the world into existence, and it continues to stand. This term “stands” (עמד) is altogether different than “settled” in v. 89. It too can be translated as stands, but the emphasis is upon its stability more than its authority. In v. 89 it is the Word of Yhwh that is fixed in a position of authority, but it is the earth that stands unmovable and secure in v. 90. Just as in Deuteronomy 30:19 both heaven and earth are called in to bear testimony to the authority and stability of God’s Word. The next verse summarizes this point.
Because Scripture is Effectual and Sustaining (v. 91) – “They stand this day according to Your ordinances, For all things are Your servants.”
It is they, the heavens and the earth, that stand unmovable (same verb used here as in v. 90) to this very day in accordance with Yhwh’s judgments. He has decreed that they are, and they continue to be. The psalmist begins this stanza by providing evidence of the power, authority, and stability of God’s Word.
Sidebar: The reader must understand that whatever we say about God we are also saying about His Word. For example: If God cannot lie, then His Word is always truthful. But the opposite is also true, that whatever we say about God’s Word we are also saying about God Himself. In other words, when we doubt the sufficiency of Scripture what we are actually doubting is the ability of God.
To phrase it more plainly: When we say that Scripture is not enough to accomplish something (encourage the saints, rebuke those in error, call sinners to repentance, train up children in the way that they should go, etc.) and seek to supplement Scripture with programs, entertainment, side shows and freak shows, what we are actually saying is that God is not able to accomplish these things and is in desperate need of our own innovations.
The psalmist begins with an observation that God spoke the physical universe into existence and therefore there is sufficient power in His Word. His Word stands in authority in the heavens and thus must stand as an authority over the earth. Both of these two witnesses stand to this day to testify to the sufficiency and ability of God’s Holy Word. Let the reader have confidence in this knowledge.
How can we apply this confidence in Scripture? (vv. 92-94)
These verses draw out the obvious implications that come from confidence in God’s Word. The doctrine of sufficiency drips from every line.
Having Joy in Affliction (v. 92) – “If Your law had not been my delight, Then I would have perished in my affliction.”
First, we see that scripture is sufficient in times of personal trial. The psalmist uses a conditional clause (an “if/then” statement) in v. 92 to prove his point. If we were to take this statement and phrase it positively it may read: Because Your instruction (Torah/law) is my delight, I did not perish during my affliction.
So much of the previous stanzas have highlighted the psalmist and his affliction. He has been struggling for many verses now to respond to affliction in a way that honors God and demonstrates faith to the watching world. What got him through it all was not a 12-step program or therapeutic counseling sessions but focusing his joy and delight upon God’s instruction. This statement is followed by an emphatic declaration of loyalty – lit. “Forever I will never forget Your precepts!”
Obedience because of Redemption (v. 93) – “I will never forget Your precepts, For by them You have revived me”
This second declaration of scripture’s sufficiency emphasizes the ability of God to save by His Word. He uses the same word here to describe his undying loyalty (forever - לעולם) as he did to describe the unending authority of God’s Word in the heavens. He’s saying – As long as Your Word lasts, so will I remain faithful to You.
But this is no show of bravado. He provides the reason in the next line. For by them [God’s precepts] You have revived me. God is alone the author of salvation, but He always uses the means of His Word to save and sanctify His people. The word “revive” needs to be understood in the terms of eternal salvation. We could just as easily translate this: “You made me to live!” Our psalmist is not worshiping the Word of God in an unhealthy way, but clings to it knowing that it alone is the fountain of life that flows from the holy source of God Himself. To suggest that man can be saved apart from God’s Word is to state that man can be saved apart from God. Our psalmist knows better. But not only is Scripture sufficient to save, it is also sufficient to sanctify.
Dependence because we are His Possession (v. 94) – “I am Yours, save me; For I have sought Your precepts.”
The third declaration of sufficiency begins with a desperate plea to be saved. But understand that this is not they cry of a reprobate seeking salvation from damnation, but a cry from a child seeking his Father. The line begins with an affirmation that he is God’s own possession. I belong to You! I have been bought and payed for by You! So please, save me!
To emphasize his claim of citizenship, he provides proof of fruits – For I have sought Your precepts. This is not a reference to a one-time action in the past, but a statement regarding who he is. He is one who makes a habit of searching out and carefully investigating Yhwh’s step-by-step instructions. Only one who is truly a child of God seeks out the God of the Word.
Focus free of Distraction (v. 95) – “The wicked wait for me to destroy me; I shall diligently consider Your testimonies.”
The fourth evidence of Scripture’s sufficiency circles back around to the element of trials. In v. 95 our psalmist returns to these wicked individuals who just will not leave him alone. Notice how he describes them. They are known by their fruits: wickedness. They are known by their actions; they wait with patience. And they are known by their intentions: the desire to destroy our psalmist. There is no magic button to make these evil men disappear, but Scripture is more than sufficient to equip our psalmist.
Once again, this is not a contrast in the sense that the psalmist is responding directly to the wicked. The contrast lays in the fact that his attention is completely unaltered in spite of the wicked. Even though they are crouched at the door ready to tear him asunder, he is completely devoted to His God from the confidence that he has in God’s testimonies.
What are Confidence Expectations? (v. 96)
96 I have seen a limit to all perfection; Your commandment is exceedingly broad.
This verse reads like the end of Ecclesiastes and carries a very similar meaning. The psalmist claims that he has witnessed all good things, even great things, perfect and complete things come to an end. Beauty fades with age. The sun’s heat is lost with the moon’s rise. The joy of life succumbs to the grief of the grave. Steel rusts. Bronze tarnishes. Clothes become moth-eaten. All is vanity.
Yet not all is vanity. There is one thing that endures, one thing that stands forever, one thing that remains unchanged and is all encompassing. Your commandment is exceedingly broad! I cannot help but hear the words of Christ ringing in my ears, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away” (Matt. 24:35).
Confidence to rely on one’s equipment comes from first-hand knowledge of the quality of said equipment. Our psalmist knows that the words he reads are from the same One, and therefore carry the same power, as the One who spoke the world into being. When faced with trials on every side, where else would he turn?
If I may be so bold, the church of Jesus Christ does not need more programs, music specials, theatrics, or afterschool specials. Christ’s bride does not need special “analytical tools” to help guide her and train her in righteousness. There is absolutely zero power in these things. Why do we put our confidence in man-made devices to “get people in the door”? Vanity. Rubbish. They have an end.
What the church of Jesus Christ desperately needs is pulpits filled with men who open up the powerful and sufficient Word of God who have the confidence to proclaim, “Thus the Lord has said!”
What the church of Jesus Christ is lacking are sheep who gather (yes, gather) to sit under this holy proclamation.
What the church of Jesus Christ is lacking is fathers and husbands who gather (there’s that word again) their wives and children throughout the week and read the eternal truth of God’s Word to them.
Everything outside of the steady teaching of God’s Word is at best supplemental and at worst a distraction. By definition, none of it is essential. Only God’s Word is sufficient and able to save and sanctify. It is high time we placed our confidence in God’s Word because as we do so we are in reality placing our confidence in the God of the Word. – Soli Deo Gloria!