Gold Revealed by Fire – Psalm 119:161-168 (ש)
161 Princes persecute me without cause, But my heart stands in awe of Your words. 162 I rejoice at Your word, As one who finds great spoil. 163 I hate and despise falsehood, But I love Your law. 164 Seven times a day I praise You, Because of Your righteous ordinances. 165 Those who love Your law have great peace, And nothing causes them to stumble. 166 I hope for Your salvation, O Lord, And do Your commandments. 167 My soul keeps Your testimonies, And I love them exceedingly.
168 I keep Your precepts and Your testimonies, For all my ways are before You.
Once again we see a remarkable shift between stanzas. In the previous stanza we noticed a remarkable number of urgent pleas and requests. We observed several connections between the ק and ר stanzas and their similar themes of faithfulness in a dangerous world. Yet we get to this stanza and we find not one single request or plea. What we read is statement after statement from our psalmist declaring his steadfast faithfulness to his God. It is almost as if he has come out of affliction’s fire refined and more dedicated than ever.
This stanza reveals our psalmist’s three-fold commitment to his God. He pledges his allegiance to Almighty God, explains the security one finds in God, and then affirms his undying hope in his God. We will see that his focus, understanding, and reasoning are flawless and worthy of imitation.
The Right Focus: Pledging Allegiance to Yhwh (vv. 161-164)
161 Princes persecute me without cause, But my heart stands in awe of Your words. 162 I rejoice at Your word, As one who finds great spoil. 163 I hate and despise falsehood, But I love Your law. 164 Seven times a day I praise You, Because of Your righteous ordinances.
Fear God not Man (vv. 161) – Our psalmist again refers to his enemies as princes, men of authority and position. This term has been used to describe military commanders, political leaders, or heads of state. These are individuals who have the position and ability to make stuff happen. Back in v. 23 these princes where joined in conspiracy against our psalmist but here they are actively pursuing him. Their intentions are now being acted out.
They obvious question should be: why? Why are these heads of state targeting our psalmist? Short answer: there is no reason. They pursue him without cause. The idea is likely not that they are acting as a cruel child with a magnifying glass on an ant hill, taking sick pleasure in roasting individuals as they burst into flame. The idea is that our psalmist has done nothing that would require or call for a negative response from their position. All government is established by Almighty God for a very simple reason, to punish evil doers and protect those who do righteousness (Rom. 13:1-7). That is the limit of their divinely given scope. Our psalmist has done nothing that could be remotely understood as evil and therefore has done nothing that warrants the pursuit or persecution of these princes. Yet they come at him all the same. What is his response? In a word: indifference.
The second line of this verse turns its attention away from these wicked leaders of men to the ultimate authority and His Word. The word awe here literally means to tremble. The idea is not only the emotional response of fear but includes the physical manifestation of fear. When one is truly afraid, he trembles, shakes, and shivers. The object of his fear is God’s words. Word here is the term from דבר (divar/dibar) indicating the totality of God’s revelation. His knees knocked and his hands become unsteady. Our psalmist’s heart, the control center of his will and volition, trembles on account of God’s words, all that God has said.
The point is very simple. Rather than be consumed by his innocent persecution, rather than tremble in fear from the very real concern of being targeted by powerful officials, our psalmist trembles at what God has said. His concern is exclusively pointed to pleasing his God. He lacks any fear of man and is consumed by a real and holy fear of the Almighty.
Joy in Treasure (v. 162) – This is a beautiful addition to the response of holy fear. Our disciple does not only shake in his boots, he finds real and tangible joy in God’s Word! This second term word translates the Hebrew אִמְרָה (imrah) or promise. He likens the promise of God to spoil or plunder. Understanding this comparison is important for us. The ancient warrior was rarely compensated for his services as our modern-day armies. Your payment would be contingent upon victory and would come in the form of plunder taken from the enemy. A warrior would rejoice not only in the victory itself, but also in the rewards that come from that victory. Our psalmist recognizes that there are rich rewards in the promise of God that he can benefit from.
There is reason for rejoicing when we plumb the depths of God’s Word and find real answers to real questions in real circumstances. All too often we do not approach the Scripture with joy because we do not value it. We see it as informative, helpful, semi-spiritual, but not particularly valuable. But here and only here – on the pages of Scripture – we receive a correct understanding of who God is, who we are, and how we can live in right relationship with Him. There is hope here. There is peace and contentment here. This is a treasure trove that is to be highly valued and cherished. And the one who recognizes this will find his joy on its pages.
Commitment to Truth (v. 163) – There are several contrasts working within this verse. The first may be obvious to the reader. We first read that our psalmist hates falsehood. This hatred is intensified with the willful decision to despise this same falsehood. That word is a very intense Hebrew term (תעב) that describes someone that is despicable and abominable. This is how God describes the most wicked king ever to rule over Israel, the infamous Ahab (1 Kings. 21:26). The psalmist not only rejects falsehood but finds it despicable and abominable. On the other hand, he loves God’s law (Torah/instruction). There is a contrast in the way he values certain things, but there is also a contrast in the things he values.
If falsehood deserves the polar extreme response to that of God’s instruction, then this falsehood must refer to what directly opposed to God’s instruction. The word falsehood (שֶקֶר) could refer to a simple lie or a deception. But within the context our psalmist pits this lie against the very foundational instruction that God has given to mankind, His Torah. Our psalmist is so committed to God’s Word, which is truth, that he abhors anything and everything that contradicts, undermines, or devalues this righteous instruction. He gives it no hearing. He does not entertain its ideas. He turns his back to it and runs screaming in the opposite direction clutching God’s truth.
Ceaseless Thanksgiving (v. 164) – The word praise here reflects a very common term (חלל) used no less than eighty-nine times in the psalter with a very heavy concentration in Psalms 111-119, yet this is the very first time that we’ve seen our psalmist use this word. The word praise indicates and assumes the idea of thanksgiving. It assumes an inferior addressing a superior in humble thanksgiving and gratitude for all that the superior is and has done to benefit the inferior. The psalmist is drawing to the conclusion of his right focus and does so with direct and focused praise and thanksgiving for his God.
The mention of seven times is not a magical number. The idea is not that we should dedicate seven specific times throughout the day where we stop what we’re doing and give thanksgiving to God (though that is hardly a bad idea). The idea is two-fold: it emphasizes excessiveness and completeness.
The ancient Israelite who took worship seriously would pray at least twice a day, at the time of the morning and evening sacrifices (Lev. 6:8-13). A very pious man might stop and pray at mid-day for a total of three times daily (Dan. 6:10). But seven times a day would be extreme and over the top. Seven is the number of completeness and totality. Our psalmist is not suggesting a ritual of seven dedicated prayer times, he’s declaring something even bigger. He’s stating that he never stops or ceases to give praise and thanksgiving to his God. His day, all day long, is filled with praise and thanksgiving to the Almighty.
Our psalmist, the true disciple, comes from the fire with a right focus. He is consumed with a holy fear of God and utter indifference to the schemes of man. He searches and finds joy in the treasure trove of God’s Word. He binds himself to whole-hearted commitment to the one and only truth. And he directs his gaze in complete and ceaseless praise for and to his God.
The Right Understanding: Explaining Security in Yhwh (v. 165)
165 Those who love Your law have great peace, And nothing causes them to stumble.
Here a right focus gives way to a right understanding. Just as in vv. 156 & 157 the idea behind great is much/plenty/a whole stinking lot. This is an objective observation regarding those who love God’s law. Again, he uses the word Torah or instruction, the same body of divine revelation that instructs God’s people which our psalmist has just professed his own love for. He has included himself in this group.
The word peace here is a rich term that we must understand. The Hebrew shalom (שָׁל֣וֹם) indicates more than just the absence of hostility but goes further to indicate a state of prosperity and well-being. It is for this reason that the word remains to be a Hebrew greeting. To meet someone and greet them with peace goes well beyond you wishing them a lack of violence or opposition. It is an expressed desire for their well-being. Those who love God’s instruction, who wear it as frontals before their eyes and bind it to their wrists (Deut. 6) have much well-being. As a result, there is nothing in their path for them to trip over.
The grammar here points toward possession. What these people have is abundant peace. What they do not have is any stumbling block. When we become distracted, deterred, or disoriented as Christians the reason is always the same: we have somehow neglected, forsaken, or waned in commitment to God’s Word. When we sin actively it is because we have exchanged the truth of God for a lie. When we sin passively it is because we have neglected to hold tight to the promises of God. The one actively engaged in a sincere commitment to God’s Word will never trip. After all, it is indeed a light that reveals our path (v. 105).
The Right Reasons: Affirming the Gospel Connection (vv. 166-168)
166 I hope for Your salvation, O Lord, And do Your commandments. 167 My soul keeps Your testimonies, And I love them exceedingly. 168 I keep Your precepts and Your testimonies, For all my ways are before You.
On several different occasions the apostle Paul boils the gospel message and its implications for the believer down to three simple words: Faith, Hope, and Love (1 Thes. 1:3; 5:8; 1 Cor. 13:13; Col. 1:4-5). Our psalmist may not follow the same order, but he is thinking much along the same lines.
Connecting Hope to Obedience (v. 166) – We have mentioned this many times before but it is good to repeat truth so that it becomes ingrained in our minds. The idea of hope is not ever wistful or wishful thinking. The Bible uses several different terms to communicate this idea, but all of them speak of a firm and fixed expectation and anticipation of what will most certainly happen. To hope for God’s salvation is to be certain of its coming and assume its arrival. The next line reveals the sincerity of our psalmist’s hope.
It is better to understand the beginning and in the NASB as since. We see an action that is the result of our psalmist’s hope. The idea runs like this: I hope for Your salvation, since I do Your commandments/Because I fully anticipate and expect Your salvation, I keep Your commandments. His obedience to God’s Word is not what produces or guarantees his salvation. On the contrary, his certainty that salvation will come produces the motivation for his obedience. But this works in both directions. His obedience can therefore be seen as the evidence that he is actually anticipating the coming salvation of Yhwh.
How can we say that we anticipate what the Bible tells us yet refuse to do what the Bible requires? He is proclaiming his definite expectation that the master is coming, and He will find our psalmist as a good and faithful servant.
Connecting Love to Obedience (v. 167) – We have a similar connection in this verse with a similar emphasis: My soul keeps Your statutes, since I love them exceedingly. Does he love them because he keeps them, or does he keep them because he loves them? The answer: YES!
How will men know that we are disciples of Jesus? If we have love for each other (John 13:34-35). What is the proof that we love Jesus? If we obey His commandments (John 14:15). Love is a verb. It describes the action of commitment and devotion. The psalmist states that his soul – the entirety of his being – obeys the testimonies of Yhwh. Why does he do this? Because he is fully committed. He loves them all very, very much.
Connecting Faith to Obedience (v. 168) – This is the first time that we have seen two synonyms for Scripture being used in the same line of the same verse. Again, the idea is totality. Both God’s precepts (the step-by-step instructions and procedures) and His testimonies (God’s first-hand account of who He is, what He’s done, and what He will do) are carefully obeyed by our psalmist. Why? Because everything that he says, thinks, and does – all of his ways – occur in the very presence of the Almighty. He is speaking with a pristine understanding of God’s omniscience and omnipresence. He believes (has faith in/trusts completely) who and what God is as revealed by His Word. He believes (has faith in/trusts completely) who and what he is as revealed by God’s Word. And he believes (has faith in/trusts completely) he has but one single response: To submit and commit.
This is the life that has been tested by fire and come out refined. To discover this gold is the reason why James tells his readers to consider it all joy when we encounter various trials. When trials come and reveal a right focus, a right understanding, and a gospel connected response, there can be no doubt that we belong to Almighty God. We are His children when His Word is alive and active within us. Soli Deo Gloria!