“Power in Humility” - Psalm 119:33-40 (ה)
“33 Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes, And I shall observe it to the end. 34 Give me understanding, that I may observe Your law And keep it with all my heart. 35 Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, For I delight in it. 36 Incline my heart to Your testimonies And not to dishonest gain. 37 Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, And revive me in Your ways. 38 Establish Your word to Your servant, As that which produces reverence for You. 39 Turn away my reproach which I dread, For Your ordinances are good. 40 Behold, I long for Your precepts; Revive me through Your righteousness.”
This stanza is absolutely amazing. These verses drip with the power of God to change the lives of those who are His. They express complete confidence in God’s power and ability to conform His children into the image of His Son. And they were written by a man who understood the way in which God’s children approach Him: with humility.
Just like the stanza before, this stanza has eight verses, each on beginning with the next letter in the Hebrew alphabet, ה (He/Hey). But what is immediately fascinating about this stanza is that the first seven of these eight verses all begin with an imperative or a command.
Now, in the context of a prayer, imperatives are used to express requests, desires, or wishes. It would not be accurate to say that the psalmist is commanding God to act, but that he is requesting God to act. We pray in this same fashion: God, heal aunt Martha…God, I pray that you save cousin Johnny, etc. Now you might be wondering why this is so interesting. If this stanza is prayer, then why is it significant that he uses a verb tense that is common in most prayers? It’s interesting because all of these imperatives strongly emphasize God’s action upon the psalmist. In other words, this is a prayer that requests for God’s sovereign power while at the same time submitting to it. This is a prayer that is uttered in humility.
The believer’s life could be reduced to three basic areas:
1) Obeying God
2) Being transformed by God
3) Being blessed by God
All three of these areas assume the stanza that comes before (vv. 25-32), the dependency upon God and devotion to God. All three of these area’s assume that the believer is approaching his God with humility. Without humility, there can be no obedience, no transformation, and certainly no blessing. Let’s look at how the psalmist presents his prayer.
Humility Required for Obedience (vv. 33-35)
“33 Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes, And I shall observe it to the end. 34 Give me understanding, that I may observe Your law And keep it with all my heart. 35 Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, For I delight in it.”
We may be tempted to see the way v. 33 begins and link it to vv. 25&12, but that would not be an accurate connection. The word teach in those previous verses come from the Hebrew למד (lamad). The normal sense of this term is to learn. In both of those places the psalmist is literally asking God to learn him, give him some learning. But the term in front of us is a completely different word. Here we actually see the same root as the word Torah or instruction. This is the word that most of out Bibles translate as law. The psalmist is asking God to act as an instructor and instruct him.
Here’s a picture for you. The law of Yhwh or His instruction is much more than rules and regulations. It contains much more than a list of dos and don’ts. It’s better to understand that word in the sense of a class syllabus. A good syllabus will include not only the requirements that the student must keep, but also will detail what the student is about learn and how he will learn it. Everything from the requirements and expectations to the pathway to meet those requirements and expectations is included in the syllabus. So if the law is a syllabus, this term here is asking God to formally instruct the psalmist and walk him through that syllabus. This is a very, very humble request; but even more so when we see how the verse ends.
And I shall observe it to the end
What is it that the psalmist plans on doing with his new found knowledge and understanding of God’s syllabus? He plans to obey it right up to the very end. Please understand that statement. He is not asking God to personally instruct him in the Scriptures so that he can find something new and exciting or so that he can enlarge his theological understanding (though that will certainly happen). The reason or goal of the instruction is so that he will obey it. He comes to the Bible with a humble attitude – Lord, instruct me – and a submissive goal – Lord, I will obey what you instruct.
Give me understanding, that I may observe Your law And keep it with all my heart
The imperative here is so neat. The idea behind understanding is really the idea of discernment or the ability to distinguish between two things. Sometimes, actually most of the time, our choices are not between what is right and what is wrong. I pray that those choices are abundantly obvious to God’s people. But many times our choices are between what is good and what is best. This term speaks to the choice between, not just two things, but between a variety of options. The request is for the ability to pick out from a barrage of options the best one and in so doing obey God’s law (or instruction – Torah).
Once again we see the term heart and once again I must remind your that this has nothing to do with emotions. Valentine's Day is tomorrow and so all over the United States little boys and girls will be giving each other little notes in the shape of hearts to signify how the feel. To the Hebrew mind, the heart is the seat of decision, volition, and will rather than feelings.
** Side Bar: The Hebrew translates feelings and emotions with reference to the stomach or bowels. Maybe you should find some intestine shaped cards for your kids. I guarantee they’ll be the talk of the class.
Back on point, the psalmist is not only submitting in humility to God’s teaching and God’s instruction but here requests that God grant him the ability to make choices that are best so that a) his decisions are in conformity with God’s Word and b) that this obedience will be done with his entire will and volition.
The request is not only enable me to discern and obey, but includes make me desire to discern and obey.
Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, For I delight in it
Again we see a request that emphasizes God’s power. Some translations may say lead me in the path… That is a very weak understanding. The request is not to lead, but to make me walk. We’ve gone well past enablement to a request for God to actively ensure that he lives a life of obedience. Why does he ask this?
For I delight in it
This does not require a lot of explanation. We know what it means to delight in something or find pleasure in something. The word “it” refers to the path itself. The psalmist admits and claims that he finds pleasure in the path of God’s commandments. Every believer understands and knows that there is tremendous pleasure and delight when they are living a life that pleases God. When our sins are confessed, our focus is on Him, our minds are consumed with His Word, we experience great delight.
There’s a beautiful chain in these three verses. The psalmist begins at the beginning, submitting to the instruction of God’s set in stone rules and regulations with the intention of obeying them. From there he asks God to grant him discernment so that he can submit to God’s instruction. Then he asks God to maintain him and make him walk in obedience. Obedience begins with the head (knowing the will of God as revealed in His Word), invades the heart (desiring the will of God as revealed in His Word), and comes out of the hands (doing the will of God as revealed in His Word).
Humility Required for Holiness (vv. 36-37)
“36 Incline my heart to Your testimonies And not to dishonest gain. 37 Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, And revive me in Your ways.”
The first three verses (vv. 33-35) beautifully couple God’s necessary action and man’s required action in order to live a life of obedience. These two verses lean heavily upon God’s necessary action to transform the heart.
When he’s asking God to incline his heart, he’s asking God to take the wheel of his decision maker and make a drastic U-turn. When we use the word incline, we usually mean that we are prone to something or at least leaning in a certain direction. The term here means to turn, direct, steer. The request is for God to steer him in between the lines, down the middle of the lane of God’s own testimonies and not in the direct of dishonest gain.
That phrase, dishonest gain, translates a word that indicates plunder, treasure, or some kind of wealth gained through violence, deceit, and/or dishonest shenanigans. The psalmist admits freely that his own heart is prone to desire the fast and easy dollar. This request is for God to transform his desires to obey rather than an empty pursuit of riches.
The next verse speaks in a similar way. Not only does he ask for God to turn his heart away from desiring riches, but even to turn his eyes again from even looking at what is vain, empty, worthless, and useless. The verb here – turn my eyes – is from the same root as pass over (as in THE Passover). The idea is that his eyes will look right over the top of vain and worthless things as if they do not even exist. The eye lingers on what the heart desires.
If the first few verses are asking God to enable him to obey, then these verses are asking God to do the work of transformation. Both actions assume humility on the part of the believer. A humble servant desires his Master’s will over his own.
Humility Required for Blessing (vv. 38-40)
“38 Establish Your word to Your servant, As that which produces reverence for You. 39 Turn away my reproach which I dread, For Your ordinances are good. 40 Behold, I long for Your precepts; Revive me through Your righteousness.”
There is a pattern that emerges from each of these divisions. In vv. 33-35, each verse contains a request for God to act upon the psalmist in relation to His Word (Teach me Your statutes/Make me discern Your instruction/Make me walk in Your commandments). In vv. 36-37 the direction changes to requests for God to actually alter or change the psalmist (turn my heart/make my eyes look past).
The structure changes yet again. In vv. 38-39 the requests are for God to act not necessarily upon the psalmist directly, but upon the things that the psalmist interacts with; namely, God’s Word and the psalmist’s reproach.
Establish Your word to Your servant
You may recall from our explanation of v. 11 in the בּ (Beth) stanza, but there are two different Hebrew terms that most of our translations render as word. The one used here is אִמְרָה (imrah) but can also be translated as promise. This is a request for God to confirm His promise; to establish as true what He has already said to His servant because it is His promise that produces a healthy and holy fear of Him.
Many Bible translations soften the Hebrew יִרְאָה (yirah) to reverence, but any way you slice it the idea is fear. The fear of Yhwh is the beginning of knowledge (Prov. 1:7) and in the end is all that matters (Ecc. 12:13). Many preachers are quick to state that a healthy fear of God is necessary for salvation, but falter at emphasizing that His children must continue to fear Him. If the absence of fear marks the unregenerate (Rom. 3:18), then the presence of fear must mark the redeemed. When we see God fulfilling His promises to both save and destroy, to redeem as well as judge, we should be moved to awe, fear, and worship. This request is for God to confirm what He has already said. This is a request for God to act in accordance with His own Word.
Turn away my reproach which I dread, For Your ordinances are good
This request is for God to take the same action to the psalmist’s reproach as to the psalmist’s own eyes. Look over my reproach, pass over my reproach. In the same way that You turn my eyes from looking at worthless things, make my reproach do a U-turn away from me.
The reproach here is better understood in the context of v. 22 and the slander that has been slung against our psalmist from the wicked. He’s not asking God to look over his own sins/reproach in the sense of sweeping them under the rug. Rather, he’s asking God to turn away the slander that his enemies place upon him.
In connection to v. 38 (Confirm Your promise), this may be a request for God to vindicate him and judge his enemies. The overall point though ends with the confession that God’s judgments (ordinances), decrees, declarations, and decisions are good. God only creates good things (Gen. 1:31) and he only gives good gifts (James 1:17). One can only assume that His decisions would also and only be good.
All of this talk of humility and submission grates against our nature and goes against our grain. We do not like the idea of submitting. But you must understand that not only is God the only sovereign to whom you owe submission, but His will, character, nature, and commands are ever and always good. Submitting to Him is always in your best interest and for your benefit.
Behold, I long for Your precepts; Revive me through Your righteousness
This is the only verse in this stanza that does not begin with an imperative. The word behold is an attention getter. It means literally to look but with the idea of bringing one’s attention. It’s a verbal way of pointing something out – Hey, look at this!What is he drawing attention to? His genuine desire and longing for the step-by-step instructions from God.
This longing only comes as a result of God’s action combined with humble submission. He has requested that God instruct, make him discern, and obey His Word while at the same time humbly submitting to and endeavoring to obey. He has requested that God change his affections away from sin and turn them toward God. Then, and only then, does he request for God’s divine blessing.
Revive me through Your righteousness
This is the same request from v. 25. Revive means to make alive, but the idea is a fullness and completeness of life. It refers to a full and God-pleasing life now, as well as eternal life to come. I am amazed at the simplicity, yet the specificity of the psalmist’s wording. Through Your righteousness is better understood as with Your righteousness. The preposition communicates the means by which life will come. This final request is for God to give him full and complete life by means of GOD’s righteousness.
Is this not the same means by which we enjoy our lives in Christ? Do we stand before a holy God adorned in our own righteousness, or an alien righteousness? It is with the righteousness of Jesus Christ that we too enjoy life and it is by means of His righteousness that we can pray for God to: Revive me! Restore me! Make me live as You have designed!
The blessed marriage between an active God and an active believer continues through this stanza. The obedience, transformation, and blessing that is promised to God’s children begins with a humble and submissive understanding that God must act and we must obey.
To step back and ask God to just make our lives nice and neat – i.e. let go and let God – displays gross arrogance rather than humility. It reveals a heart that chases the blessing without regard for the One who blesses.
There is genuine power in humility. There is strength in submission. The only power to redeem, transform, and obey comes through humble submission to the One who is able to redeem, transform, and enable obedience. To Him be the glory! Soli Deo Gloria!