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“Praying for Appropriate Response” – Psalm 119:17-24 (ג)

Updated: Feb 17, 2021

This psalm speaks to the way that the Word of God nourishes, protects, supports, and blesses the child of God. The first two stanzas of this massive psalm (vv. 1-16) provide a big picture of blessedness and obedience. Those who are blessed, that is, those who are direct objects of God’s divine grace and favor, are those who do not search for the blessing but the One who blesses.

How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, who seek Him with all their heart.” – Ps. 119:2

The believer who seeks after God will give God’s revelation of Himself, i.e. the Bible, the utmost priority in their lives as they strive to please Him.

With all my heart I have sought You; Do not let me wander from Your commandments.” – Ps. 119:10

Both the א and the בּ stanzas work like a prologue or an introduction. They speak to the big picture. In short, the object of the believer’s affections must be the person of Almighty God who can only be known and thus obeyed through His Word. We will not be blessed apart from the One who blesses. We cannot obey without knowing the One who gives the commands. We cannot live pure lives apart from the only One who is pure.

This stanza leaves the general for the specific. We would do well to notice that the psalmist (who ever he is) begins with a prayer.

Deal bountifully with Your servant, That I may live and keep Your word.

When he asks God to deal bountifully with him, he is not asking that God give him more and more. The idea is that of appropriate action. The particular term here ranges from reward (in response to good) to recompense (in response to evil). The context here is clearly positive and so the NASB translates this as deal bountifully.

This prayer is the psalmist asking God to deal with him as would be appropriate in light of what he has already stated about himself. What has he stated about himself?

1) He has prayed for God to be the one who makes his life firm (v. 5).

2) He promises to give thanks to God and obey His rules and regulations (vv. 7-8).

3) He is one who seeks after God with his whole being and fills his heart with the treasure of God’s promises (vv. 10-11).

4) He proclaims all that God has said and carefully contemplates each of His instructions (vv. 13-16).

In other words, this psalmist is not just talk. He is the real deal. It is not boastful to state the obvious. He is asking God to deal with him as would be appropriate of a child of God who strives to please Him in everything that he does.

Notice how he refers to himself as God’s servant. He understands that he is not an equal with God who might make demands of Him. Rather, he is a servant who humbly comes before his righteous and just Master and asks Him to deal with him as would be appropriate of a faithful servant. What follows should be seen as the anticipated result of the request rather than evidence to support the request.

That I may live and keep Your Word.

The psalmist is not speaking only of physical existence (to live) nor is he limiting the concept to spiritual life and well-being. The idea is to live and to live fully. If his Master is righteous and just, He will deal with His servant appropriately. And if He deals with His servant appropriately, then the servant is certain that he will live fully and continue in obedience to His Word.

In general terms, v. 17 is a prayer that asks God to treat him as would be appropriate. This prayer is rooted in humility and motivated by God’s glory. This is still a broad request, but what follows narrows our focus considerably. The rest of the stanza contains two other requests for God to act in the life of the psalmist so that he would be able to live life to the fullest and to God’s glory.

Praying that God would remove sin that blinds (vv. 18-21)

Open my eyes, that I may behold Wonderful things from Your law.

I am a stranger in the earth; Do not hide Your commandments from me.

My soul is crushed with longing After Your ordinances at all times.

You rebuke the arrogant, the cursed, Who wander from Your commandments.

Psalm 119:18 is one of my favorite verses. This is a verse that your wife ought to stencil on a piece of old barn door and put on Instagram. It’s that good.

The request here is literally to uncover his eyes so that he is able to see. The same root is used in Numbers 22:31 where God opened the eyes of Balaam so that he could see the Angel of the Lord standing ready to slay him. The psalmist is asking God to remove from his eyes anything that would keep him from seeing wonderful things that are found in God’s law.

Remember that “Law” is better understood as instruction. The Hebrew word תּוֹרָה (Torah) indicates a body of instruction used to teach a pupil. Wonderful things reflects a term that is normally used to describe the miraculous acts of God. God promised that He would work marvels against Egypt (Ex. 3:20) in the form of great plagues. The term is not limited to miracles such as those, but refers to anything that could only be accomplished by God.

This is clearly a metaphor, but the meaning lies in understanding and discernment. It is one thing to read Scripture but it is quite another to understand it. The psalmist is asking for God to intervene on his behalf and remove anything and everything that would inhibit his ability to understand and discern God’s acts (past, present, and future) in redemptive history.

I’m often asked why there is so much disagreement regarding theology and various biblical interpretations. The answer is rather simple: personal sin blinds the reader from understanding and discerning the text.

What I’m getting at is not necessarily that only a sinless person can understand the Bible, but that we often come to the text in an inherently sinful manner. Anytime we come to the text in order to prove presuppositions that we already have, we’re likely to find whatever it is we’ve been looking for.

Does the Bible actually support homosexual relations and desires? Is there a biblical warrant for female preachers? Is Darwinian evolution compatible with the biblical account of creation? Of course not. So why then do so many people seem to find “evidence” for their positions? Because they never desired to see the wonderful things of God in the first place. They come to the text with sinful desires rooted in pride and ignore everything that would have contradicted their presuppositions.

The psalmist requests that God intervene and remove anything that would inhibit him from seeing the wonderful truth of God’s acts (things that only He can do) in the Bible so that he might understand and discern them.

I am a stranger in the earth; Do not hide Your commandments from me.

This is more or less the same request, but phrased negatively. The psalmist understands that he is nothing more than an alien, not a citizen, on the earth. This is not his home. So how is he supposed to guide his life and conduct as one who has no rights or privileges as a citizen of the land in which he is staying? His mainstay is rooted on the black and white imperatives that God has given him, His commandments. The request is urgent and desperate. Do not hide Your commandments from me! The servant of God is fully dependent upon God and longs to know and understand what God has declared.

My soul is crushed with longing After Your ordinances at all times.

So desperate to know and understand the Word of God that the psalmist says his soul is crushed with longing. The Hebrew נֶפֶשׁ (nephesh) refers to the totality of man. After God created man from the dust, He breathed into him and man became a living being, or a נֶפֶשׁ (Gen. 2:7). The way that the OT uses the term, it’s better to think of נֶפֶשׁ/soul as something that man is rather than something man has. His entire being is crushed with longing for the ordinances of God.

The NASB does us the same disservice that it rendered in v. 13. The word ordinances reflects the Hebrew מִשְׁפָּט (mishpat), or judgments. These are the verdicts, decrees, pronouncements from God. All day long, the only thing that the psalmist wants to hear is what God has said on the matter. He cares nothing for man’s opinions, but aches to hear from God.

You rebuke the arrogant, the cursed, Who wander from Your commandments.

This is just one small example of the many wonderful things found in God’s instruction. Those who are bursting with pride, those who are cursed, those who wander away from God’s black and white imperatives will receive God’s rebuke.

The verb here describes what God does. He is one who rebukes and puts an end to those who rebel. The term itself is beautiful. One commentator describes it as “a verbal activity that causes an effective end to the activities.”[1] In other words, when God says, “Stop it,” whatever He is referring to actually ceases. This is the same idea of Jesus rebuking the storm in Matthew 8. God spoke, and there was an immediate response.

This is the first time that the psalmist has mentioned a hostile third party. The next request will mention them again. Up to this point the psalmist has been concerned with knowing how to live as an alien without a country or a home and he knows where the answers lie. The request is for God to remove anything that might hide the profound truth of His Word from him so that he would continue to live a life of an obedient servant.

Praying that God would remove slander that misrepresents (vv. 22-24)

Take away reproach and contempt from me, For I observe Your testimonies.

Even though princes sit and talk against me, Your servant meditates on Your statutes.

Your testimonies also are my delight; They are my counselors.

This request begins with the exact same verb forming the basis of the prayer. The Hebrew גלה formed the root of the request for God to remove anything that blinds. This prayer uses the exact some form to ask God to remove reproach and contempt. Again we see a man who fully desires to please God but is also fully dependent upon God. He again asks God to intervene.

The second line in the verse (For I observe Your testimonies) needs to be understood. The psalmist is not giving God a good reason to remove reproach (remove reproach because I’m a good guy who obeys Your testimonies). His lifestyle of obedience is the reason that he has reproach and receives contempt. His character is under attack because he is an obedient servant of God.

When I was in high school, there was a girl in my class that had a reputation as a Bible thumper. Now, that term is usually used to describe those who preach fire and brimstone in a very legalistic fashion – If you don’t live a pure and acceptable life then you’re going to burn! Yet this was a young girl who simply tried to live a life that was pleasing to God. In fact I don’t think I ever heard her preach to anyone. Yet as she observed His testimonies (obeyed God’s statements as the key witness), she received reproach and contempt. That’s exactly the scene here.

The first prayer is a request for God to intervene and remove everything that gets in the way of his understanding of God. This request is for God to remove everything that gets in the way of his testimony, or others’ understanding of God through the way he lives his life.

Even though princes sit and talk against me, Your servant meditates on Your statutes.

Your testimonies also are my delight; They are my counselors.

These last two verses work together and finally bring the problem to light. There are powerful men (princes or rulers) who sit and conspire against our psalmist. Yet he does not react outwardly against them. Instead he turns inward and upward.

The same word for meditate used here was used back in v. 15. As you recall, that term indicates a careful contemplation. This is not some inward escapism where he just ignores the slander going on around them. This focuses his attention on what God has said regarding these individuals. They will receive their reward in full. Justice will be served.

This inward contemplation always corresponds with an outward expression. Just as in the previous stanza, contemplating the Word of God brings delight. Not just because they bring comfort, but also because they provide counsel.

That last phrase – They are my counselors – is literally men of my counsel. The psalmist compares the testimony of God, Scripture, to his personal advisory cabinet. From a worldly perspective the cards are stacked against him. He is a stranger in a strange land. There are powerful men who slander him. And yet he delights because he is not without counsel.

This stanza is a prayer first for God to act appropriately toward the psalmist and then a prayer for the psalmist to act appropriately in the face of opposition. But wrapped up in this prayer is a knowledge that he cannot please God in his response in his own strength. Even though he knows where to go for counsel (the Scriptures) he also knows that he is blind to truth unless God opens his eyes.

We would all note well that the psalmist never once prays for God to change his circumstances or remove the opposition. The psalmist is not interested in an easy life, just a God-pleasing life.

This prayer is uttered in humility as a submissive servant and motivated by a desire to respond appropriately to his circumstance. That is, in the same manner that he asked God to respond to him. How will he know how to respond? By resting in the counsel of God’s Word.


This psalm is extremely practical. We all face adversity and we all must respond appropriately. Any appropriate response will be one that gives all glory to God and thus must depend on Him fully. Here’s a few questions to ask yourself when facing adversity.

1) Have I prayed about this trial?

2) Am I asking God to change my circumstances, or change my heart that I might glorify Him in this trial?

3) What wonderful promises of God are in the Bible that would help inform my response to this trial?

4) Do I know my Bible well enough to be informed by it?

5) Do I actually desire to know what the Bible says, or do I just want confirmation regarding my own desires?

At the end of the day, an appropriate response to any situation seeks to glorify God. These questions are meant to get to the heart of the matter. Are we seeking to glorify God? And how can we know what brings Him glory?

O Lord, open our eyes that we might behold, wonderful things from Your Law!

[1]Allen Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, vol. 3, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2016), p. 485.


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