Motivation in Remembrance – Psalm 119:49-56 (ז)
Updated: Mar 17, 2021
So we have come to the ז (zayin) stanza. Right off the bat I can’t help but notice a few details. Usually we’ve noticed that out of the eight different synonyms for the Word of God/Scripture/the Bible (law, testimonies, precepts, statues, commandments, judgments, word, promise), most stanzas use a colorful arrangement of them. This stanza repeats the law of Yhwh (His Torah/instruction) 3 times (vv. 51, 53, & 55).
Another observation is the use of God’s divine name. In the NASB when you see Lord spelled with all capital letters it reflects the Hebrew יהוה (Yhwh). This is the seventh stanza and contains the sixth and seventh use of the divine name. Only here has God’s personal name been used more than once.
Another observation is the repetition of the verb to remember (vv. 49, 52, & 55). This word dominates the stanza and carries with it a rich theological pedigree.
- God remembered Noah (Gen. 9:16)
- God remembered His covenant with Abraham (Ex. 2:24)
- God gave His personal name as His memorial name (Ex. 3:15)
- Israel is called to remember their God, who He is, and what He has commanded them (16x Deut. alone)
And this is just a sample of the significance of this word remember. But the act of remembering demands so much more than simply recalling an event to mind. To remember, in the biblical sense, assumes that action will follow. The memory of a person or event is to provide the proper motivation to engage in activity. When God remembers what He has promised, it is not that He has forgotten. The memory provides the motivation for His action. We sometimes forget and are in need of being reminded, but that reminder assumes that we will be motivated to act.
We still speak in these terms today. The battle cry of Sam Houston’s Texan army at the battle of San Jacinto was “Remember the Alamo!” Why? Were the soldiers afraid that the battle at San Antonio only two months before would be forgotten? No, they were using the memory of their fallen comrades as motivation to act in the present.
Our psalmist is using this word, remember, in a similar fashion. In the midst of affliction, persecution, and discomfort; what can motivate him to hope, trust, and obey? If memory motivates action, this text brings out three actions spurred to life through remembrance.
Promise that Motivates Hope (vv. 49-50)
“49 Remember the word to Your servant, In which You have made me hope. 50 This is my comfort in my affliction, That Your word has revived me.”
The stanza begins with an urgent plea. The word Remember comes in the form of an imperative. But when an inferior is addressing a superior (like a finite human being addressing his Creator) the imperative emphasizes an urgent request. The request is for God to remember what He has already spoken to the psalmist.
It is not as if God has somehow forgotten what He has said. He did not command His Word to be written down so that He could refer to it, but so that we could refer to it. The psalmist is asking for God to act. After all, it is in this very Word that the psalmist was made to hope.
The word hope here is the same word we looked at last week in v. 43. There the NASB translated יחל as wait, but the same expectant anticipation is present in both English terms. I cannot help but marvel at the psalmist’s skill in his presentation of divine ability and personal duty. He has waited and anticipated the fulfillment of God’s Word, but only because God Himself has made him hope. He elaborates on this hope in the next verse.
The pronoun “this” works like a laser pointer as it highlights a specific word or idea. The psalmist is in the midst of affliction, pressure, persecution and yet he has been able to find comfort. What is this comfort? What is “this” pointing to? The answer: that Your word has revived me.
The Hebrew behind word is אִמְרָה rather than דָּבָר. If you recall, we have taken the stance that this term is better understood as promise. The psalmist is asking God to act according to His promise because it is that very promise that the psalmist has found comfort in. The word comfort does not signify a warm feeling in rough times. It’s not referring to a hug or a sappy Hallmark card. The word could just as easily be translated as encouragement.
The Greek translation of this verse uses the verb παρακαλέω, which means to call alongside. To encourage a brother is call them alongside the unbending standard of God’s Word. That can take on many forms depending on the context. It might look more like a rebuke when they are in sin, comfort when they are afflicted, or encouragement to continue in obedience, but in every circumstance there is a calling to toe the line and come alongside the objective standard of truth.
It is as a result of this comfort that the psalmist is revived. We’ve seen this term used several times already in this psalm (vv. 25&37). It means to make alive/revive/live. The result of coming alongside God’s promises in the midst of affliction is a revived life. All of the psalmist’s eggs are in the basket of God’s promises, so he calls God to remember and thus act upon them.
Perseverance Motivated by Recalling God’s Promise (vv. 51-53)
“51 The arrogant utterly deride me, Yet I do not turn aside from Your law. 52 I have remembered Your ordinances from of old, O Lord, And comfort myself. 53 Burning indignation has seized me because of the wicked, Who forsake Your law.”
Here we get a glimpse of the affliction he was referring to. The terms arrogant or prideful or haughty (all acceptable translations) never describe the good guys in Scripture. In fact, this term is exclusively used to describe the enemies of God. In fact, the psalmist has already described his enemies with this exact term back in v. 21 where they are cursed and said to wander away from God’s commandments. These arrogant apostates are giving it to the psalmist with everything they’ve got, yet he perseveres and does not turn aside from Yhwh’s instruction (Torah).
This verse reflects the same verb used in v. 36 (incline). In the same way he urgently pled for God to turn his heart, he now confesses that his feet have not turned away from God’s precious Word. What has kept his feet upon the solid path?
I have remembered Your ordinances from of old, O Lord, And comfort myself
The psalmist recalls the judgments (I just like that translation) that Yhwh Himself has decreed from long before. One commentator describes these judgments as the valid, verified decisions of God revealed from the oldest of times. This recollection serves as motivation and encouragement. He wraps himself, as it were, with a blanket of God’s certain decrees and rests in the knowledge that they will come to pass.
As we have already said, memory is to motivate action. In regard to himself, the psalmist is encouraged and finds rest in God’s decrees from ancient times. But as he looks out upon the world he is motivated to burn with white-hot holy anger.
The burning indignation translates a very rare Hebrew term in Scripture that is only used in two other locations (Ps. 11:6; Lam. 5:10). Both of these other verses are written in the context of God’s anger in judgment. The burning indignation that seizes our psalmist is a response to the wicked who have long departed from the instruction (Torah) of Yhwh.
It is here that I hope we can relate to the psalmist. We live in a world that is characterized by apostasy. Our nation is a personification of King Ahab who thought it a trifling thing to walk in the apostasy of his fathers but sought out new and inventive ways to blaspheme Yhwh. On the one hand we should be grieved for our neighbors because, in a sense, they know not what they are doing. But on the other hand we should burn with a righteous anger at the continuous blasphemy against our holy God. But memory is to motivate action. So the question is, what are we going to do about it? The psalmist turns his full attention to his God.
Praise Motivated by Recalling God’s Person (vv. 54-56)
“54 Your statutes are my songs In the house of my pilgrimage. 55 O Lord, I remember Your name in the night, And keep Your law. 56 This has become mine, That I observe Your precepts.”
The songs here are songs of praise and worship. He has turned the rules and regulations of God set in stone (statutes) and made them into his songs. Singing the Word of God is worshipful as it declares the nature, person, and promises of God and it is also a helpful memory tool.
The best hymns are not just based on theological truth (though if all songs in church would at least start there, we’d be gaining ground) but on specific passages of Scripture. For example, Martin Luther’s best-known hymn A Mighty Fortress Is Our God is based off of Psalm 46. The hymn is nothing short of Luther’s exposition of that text. Yet even that falls short of what the psalmist says here. The statues of God, that is the Bible itself, are his songs. He sings the very words of holy writ. But remember that these are songs of praise. The psalmist is not singing a dutiful dour dirge, but a jubilant and joyous refrain. The rules and regulations of God are his cheerful songs.
The house of my pilgrimage is literally the house of my sojourn. He is referencing his current status as an alien on in this world who is awaiting the coming kingdom (v. 19). But look at what motivates and sustains this attitude of praise.
O Lord, I remember Your name in the night, And keep Your law
Once again the psalmist remembers. But the object of his recollection is not simply a portion of God’s Word, but the very name of God. Please understand that he is not referring simply to a proper noun, Yhwh. The name of God encompasses the totality of who God is – His nature, character, deeds, and promises. After all, the Word of God reveals the God of the Word. He recalls God’s very person and it is this recollection that motivates praise and obedience.
The last verse begins with another laser pointer: this. Just like in v. 50, it points to the second half of the verse. The whole phrase – This has become mine – functions as a bridge between the confession of obedience in v. 55 (and keep Your law) and the confession of obedience in v. 56 (that I observe Your precepts). The psalmist is saying that it is his lot, duty, privilege, and possession to obey God; God has given this to him, it is his. The recollection of God’s person in the stillness of the night motivates a desire to obey (v. 55), but it remains God’s providence to enable the result of obedience (v. 56). Soli Deo Gloria!
The psalmist is speaking from the perspective of intense affliction. From a worldly perspective, things are not going well. What on earth is going to motivate him to continue in a manner that glorifies God? What is going to being genuine comfort and encouragement? He begins by pleading with God to act upon His promises. But that request forces the palmist to do some recollecting himself. When our eyes are fixed upon God’s Word and Person rather than ourselves and our circumstances, suddenly there is hope, comfort, and encouragement.
F. Delitzsch, Psalms, ed. C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, trans. James Martin, vol. 5, 10 vols., Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975), p. 250.