Updated: Apr 7, 2021
Now, more than ever before in my life, I am thankful for God’s Holy Word. It never ceases to amaze me how His Word is always applicable, always relevant, always right, and always true. The text before us proves this very point.
In reality, this stanza continues the trajectory of the ט stanza (vv. 65-72). It was there that the psalmist declared the goodness of God, particularly in the midst of affliction. This is the starting point for this י (yod) stanza. It’s one thing to declare and affirm that God is good and that He does good (v. 68) but how should we respond as believers to these afflictions? That’s the question which the psalmist will answer here.
There’s one detail that we need to understand before we dive into the text. We’ve said time and again that the psalmist is a masterful and skillful writer. Here he displays his prowess with the pen in the manner which he constructs this stanza. The whole stanza forms a chiasm, a mirrored image of itself. The image I like to use is that of a sandwich. The beginning of the stanza coincides with the end, the second layer with the second to last layer, and so on until we get to the meat in the middle.
Another picture that may be helpful is that of an archery target. A standard competition target is a collection of concentric rings; white on the outside, then black, followed by blue, then red, and finally the yellow bull’s eye in the center. The top of the target looks just like the bottom of the target. The left side mirrors the right side. All the rings work together in order to draw the eye into the center. That is exactly how this stanza is constructed.
The psalmist prays that he might respond well to this blessed and good affliction, but he does so in manner that zeros in on what he really and truly needs.
Prayer of Preparation (The white and black rings)
Looking at these two outer layers of our psalmist’s prayer we notice that he prays for two things as he prepares to respond rightly to his good and blessed affliction. First he prays for discernment and then prays for personal holiness.
Prayer of Preparation: Discernment (v. 73) – “Your hands made me and fashioned me; Give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments.”
This prayer begins the way that all of our prayers should, with an acknowledgment of God as our creator and we as His creatures. Yet this opening statement goes well beyond this obvious and humbling fact. The word fashioned is not the word of the potter and his clay, but a term that means established or made firm. This opening statement not only recognizes God as our creator but includes that it is God who is our sustainer. He knows more about us than we could ever know about ourselves. It is from that vantage point that our psalmist begins his line of requests.
The request for understanding is a forceful plea. The idea is literally make me understand! But this plea has a purpose built into it – that I may learn Your commandments. This is a plea for the ability to understand and discern the commandments of Almighty God. It’s one thing to know what is written. It’s an altogether different thing to discern the proper application of those commandments. If ever there was a time for this kind of prayer it is now.
But as we look at the other end of this prayer, the bottom portion of the target, we should notice that the psalmist is not content to ask for discernment but also holiness.
Prayer of Preparation: Holiness (v. 80) – “May my heart be blameless in Your statutes, So that I will not be ashamed.”
The heart is the control center of man. It is the rational, volitional, and emotional nucleus of personality and responsibility. He is asking God to make his heart blameless. The Hebrew here (תָמִ֣ים) could just as easily be translated perfect. The meaning of this word indicates a sense of completeness; something that is whole, intact, lacking nothing. He is asking God to make sure that his heart is whole and intact with regards to His statutes. This too is followed up with a purpose statement.
The Hebrew would more accurately be rendered so that I will never be put to shame (v. 80b). For the believer to experience affliction is a given. But to be put to shame would assume that the believer is in disobedience. The psalmist asks God for a perfect, intact, whole, and complete heart that is fully focused on the His statutes so that this shame will be forever avoided. The first prayer in response to affliction is focused completely upon God. Lord, please give me wisdom in discerning Your word and create in me a clean heart that I may not sin against You!
Prayer to be an example to the body (The blue rings)
Prayer to be an Example of Hope (v. 74) – “May those who fear You see me and be glad, Because I wait for Your word”
The psalmist refers to other believers in the same manner in both verses, as those who fear You. We should consider what it means to fear Yhwh. If I might alter the words of a song made popular by Dean Martin: everybody fears somebody all of the time. But what are the implications of fearing somebody?
It’s a simple matter to determine who we fear. We fear those whom we obey. Every single one of us operate either from a holy fear of God or a horrid fear of man. To be labeled a God fearer is a most honorable and holy title because it reveals a heart that is devoted to obeying Him. What does our psalmist pray concerning those who fear God?
Prayer to be an Example to Follow (v. 79) – “May those who fear You turn to me, Even those who know Your testimonies.”
The psalmist’s prayer is to be a light and an example for his fellow believers. After requesting discernment and holiness he asks God to make his own life and response to affliction an example to watching believers. An alternative translation of v. 79 might be “May those who fear you turn to me, so that they may know Your testimonies.” May they see my response and be glad! May they turn and join me in the knowledge of Your Word! May they enjoy and rest in the same hope that I have!
Even though he is still up to his eyeballs in affliction, the psalmist is not stuck on himself. He is concerned for the impact that his trials has on the rest of the body and he prays that his example would point his brethren back to his God.
Pastoral Note: Let’s take a time-out for a second here. If another Christian were to look at your life right now and observe the way that you are reacting to affliction, would they see your trust in the Lord? If they were to mimic your behavior and attitude, would they display hope? I have a follow-up question: Have you even considered your fellow believer and the impact that your reaction will have on them? Some things to consider.
Prayer to acknowledge God’s righteousness and request His judgment (The red rings)
Praise for God’s Righteousness (v. 75) – “I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are righteous, And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.”
I love v. 75 because it brings theology into the real world. It is one thing to declare that God is correct and right in all that He does and declares, but our psalmist does not leave that statement hanging in the air. He applies it directly to his current affliction. In faithfulness You have afflicted me. The general understanding in the previous stanza was that this affliction was good and totally under God’s divine will, but here he comes right out and says that ultimately the One responsible for his affliction is God himself…and He did so faithfully!
To recapture what he said back in v. 71 – It is good for me that I was afflicted – he’s saying here that it was good that YOU afflicted me. I can hear the words of Job here as he rebuked his wife, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?’ In all of this Job did not sin with his lips.” – Job 2:10
Our psalmist actually finds peace and rest in the knowledge that God is good and in righteous faithfulness, with his own good in mind, He afflicted him. But that doesn’t mean that the unrighteous implements of affliction get a pass.
Prayer for God’s Justice (v. 78) – “May the arrogant be ashamed, for they subvert me with a lie; But I shall meditate on Your precepts.”
Those who smeared a lie against him (v. 69) are still on his mind, for they are the first point of contact in this affliction. His request is a simple one: Lord, judge them! It is perfectly appropriate to ask God to judge the wicked, to bless us with righteousness because He has promised to do so. But we must also know that He will accomplish this in HIS timing. This wrong may not be made right until His glorious return when He stands in judgment over them. But even so, this is good and righteous.
In any case, the unrighteous and wicked world has zero effect upon our psalmist. I will meditate on Your precepts. This is the same word that we’ve seen several times before (vv. 15, 23, 27, and 48). This is that deep consideration and concentrated contemplation that becomes manifest in outward action. That outward action is steadfast obedience.
Prayer for God’s grace and mercy (The bull’s eye – vv. 76-77)
“O may Your lovingkindness comfort me, According to Your word to Your servant. May Your compassion come to me that I may live, For Your law is my delight”
This is the heart of the prayer, that Yhwh would grant His own lovingkindness and compassion to His faithful servant in this time of affliction for his comfort and so that he might live. The language harkens all the way back to Exodus 34:6 where Yhwh reveals His glory to Moses in the rock – “Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth.”
Lovingkindness (loyal-love/underserved favor/grace) and compassion (mercy/tender care) are attributes of God’s very nature and character. In the midst of his affliction our psalmist is asking for God to let His face shine upon Him and to comfort him with His very presence.
In the midst of affliction what we need more than anything else is God Himself! We stand not in our own strength, we lean not on our own wisdom, we look not to our own council; but HIS! The psalmist turns to what God had already promised, that He would be a comfort to the afflicted. He turns to God for His compassion and mercy knowing that life is only found in Him.
Our psalmist provides a simple reason to be heard: because Your instruction is my delight! Lord, I belong to You! I am one who fears You! In the midst of my affliction, which is good and righteous and comes from You, give my Your grace and Your mercy so that I can respond well to it.
This is the prayer we must pray when in affliction. The heart of it is in desperate dependence upon our good and holy God.
The prayer began with a broad circle requesting discernment and personal holiness. The rings got smaller when the psalmist turned his attention to the watching believers. His shot groups grew tighter when he acknowledged God’s righteousness and prayed for His justice. But the bull’s eye was a recognition of his desperate need for God’s grace and mercy. Let this inform our own prayers. Soli Deo Gloria!