The Pastor's Brief

Feeding the Sheep from a Pastoral Perspective

"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry." - 2 Timothy 4:3-5

 

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Black and White Star in Circle

I am blessed to serve as the the pastor of Calvary Baptist. If you have any questions regarding my theology or various doctrinal positions, you can find your answers by visiting our website: www.calvaryburley.org

Black and White Star in Circle

Like many Christians, I have been blessed by the teaching and preaching of John MacArthur. He has preached his way through the entire New Testament, and all of that precious material can be found here: www.gty.org

Black and White Star in Circle

As far as I'm concerned, straight-line exposition was perfected by S. Lewis Johnson. Much of his preaching ministry can be accessed here: www.sljinstitute.net

 
 
  • Andy de Ganahl

“Responding to the Righteousness of God Revealed” Psalm 119:137-144 (צ)

v. 137) Righteous art Thou, O LORD, and upright are Thy judgments.

v. 138) Thou hast commanded Thy testimonies in righteousness and exceeding faithfulness.

v. 139) My zeal has consumed me, because my adversaries have forgotten Thy words.

v. 140) Thy word is very pure, Therefore Thy servant loves it.

v. 141) I am small and despised, Yet I do not forget Thy precepts.

v. 142) Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, And Thy law is truth.

v. 143) Trouble and anguish have come upon me; Yet Thy commandments are my delight.

v. 144) Thy testimonies are righteous forever; Give me understanding that I may live.

I’m changing it up this week and using the text from the NASB77 edition. Why? I don’t know…because I can?

This psalm is divided into 22 individual thoughts. Each stanza stands alone as a unique contribution to the theme of the Word of God in the life of the believer. Yet, as I hope we have all come to understand, there is a continuity between these stanzas. While standing alone they continue to work together as our psalmist fully and completely develops an exhaustive study of the place, purpose, and preeminence of the Word of God in the Child of God. The stanza before us (the Tsadhe/צ stanza) builds on the stanza (Pe/פ – vv. 129-136) before it. Last time we saw how our psalmist incorporated various perspectives on worship. Worship being an appropriate and correct response to God as He actually is in light of who we really are. The psalmist showed his readers the place of the Word of God in the Worship of God. This stanza builds on that.

Before diving into the text, there are a few observations we should make. First, we should take note that the word righteous/righteousness is used with some frequency throughout this stanza. Understanding that God is righteous, what that means, and how that impacts His Word will become necessary.

Second, the flow of this stanza is a constant ebb and flow with the focus bouncing back and forth between God and our psalmist. After a glorious affirmation of Yhwh’s own righteousness and the direct implication of that perfection upon His Word (v. 137), the stanza unfolds like a tennis match with the focus bouncing first to Yhwh and then over the net to the psalmist’s court. This is a snapshot of worship in real time, in real life. In the midst of his daily struggles, our psalmist unfolds a three-staged progression which shows us how believers can, should, and must worship God through His Word for our good and His glory.

Responding to the God of the Word: His Revelation Shares His Attributes (vv. 137-138)

v. 137) Righteous art Thou, O LORD, and upright are Thy judgments.

v. 138) Thou hast commanded Thy testimonies in righteousness and exceeding faithfulness.

Right away we must come to an accurate understanding of what righteousness means. It is the first word (in both the English and Hebrew) we read and is directly attributed to Yhwh as a defining characteristic. He is righteous. But what does that mean?

In general terms, righteousness is a state of correctness or being right. It assumes a standard and describes a state of perfect harmony with that standard. Every academic paper I have ever written was graded according to a rubric, or a standard. The professor made clear what his expectations were. He would demand things like a thorough discussion of the topic, clear biblical evidence in support of various views, credible and accurately cited sources, and of course accurate spelling and grammar. A paper that received a 100% grade would be considered a righteous paper because it was in perfect harmony to the standard.

But what we must realize is that this affirmation of Yhwh’s righteousness is not only stating that He meets the standard but also that He is the standard. From a biblical point of view righteousness is nothing less than perfect conformity and harmony to the person, nature, will, and Word of God. What is amazing, and something that we must not move too quickly past, is that same quality is passed from God to His Word.

And upright are Your judgments.

To be upright is literally to be straight. The term is used in its literal sense to describe something with no tilt, lean, or bend. A wall that is upright is a wall that is perfectly perpendicular to the ground. A road that is upright/straight has no bend in it. Metaphorically it can indicate someone or something that has no deviation or incorrectness. God’s judgments, His decisions and decrees, are perfectly straight and have no waver or wobble, nor do they vacillate. Not only is God righteous but so too is His Word.

The next verse confirms and enforces this idea. It is interesting that the verb commanded (צוה) shares the same root as one of the synonyms our psalmist uses for Scripture – commandments (מצוה). The verb describes the act of giving an order or command; the giving of imperatives to be immediately followed and obeyed. But what is it that God has commanded?

There are various ways of translating v. 138. The New King James reads: Your testimonies, which You have commanded, are righteous and very faithful. The translators read the text as if the testimonies themselves are what God has commanded and then attribute those testimonies with the qualities of righteousness and much faithfulness. The New American Standard reads a little differently: You have commanded Your testimonies in righteousness and exceeding faithfulness. These translators agree that it is still God’s testimonies that are being commanded, but they stress the manner in which God commanded them. A paraphrase might read like this: You commanded Your testimonies, and when You did so, You commanded them in righteousness and in much faithfulness. But there is yet a third option.

The Hebrew might be translated in this way: You have commanded righteousness to Your testimonies as well as much faithfulness. Rather than God commanding/ordering His testimonies, it is righteousness and exceeding faithfulness that are the objects of the verb. God has commanded righteousness and He has commanded much faithfulness and He has applied that to His testimonies.

The point is this: God’s Word not only naturally shares His perfection of righteousness, but He has purposefully and specifically ordered righteousness and excessive faithfulness to be the defining characteristic of His testimonies.

The implication is this: How we respond (worship) a righteous God is betrayed by how we respond to His Word. There is a single standard. God is that standard and He has applied the same standard to His Word. To neglect, disregard, or disobey His Word is the same as rejecting Him to His face.

Responding to God’s Word: His Revelation Informs our Actions (vv. 139-141)

v. 139) My zeal has consumed me, because my adversaries have forgotten Thy words.

v. 140) Thy word is very pure, Therefore Thy servant loves it.

v. 141) I am small and despised, Yet I do not forget Thy precepts.

Here we begin to see the seesaw flow of this stanza. Beginning in v. 139 we see the psalmist’s own response come through.

Obsession and Apostates (v. 139) – The word zeal indicates an intense emotion that is in other places translated as jealousy (Deut. 29:20) or even as envy (Ezek. 35:11). It has been used as a positive emotional response (Num. 25:11), a holy and frightening response (Ezek. 16:42), and as a right intentioned yet over-the-top response (2 Kings 10:16). In all of these cases this term indicates an intense emotion that can have violent implications. What makes anger, zeal, or jealousy a good or bad emotion is always the reason or cause for it. The psalmist tells use exactly why he is filled with zeal or consumed with jealousy.

We can now add a new synonym describing those out to get our psalmist. Along with wicked, arrogant, wanderers, enemies, oppressors, double-minded, and several others I’ve neglected, our psalmist for the first time calls them his adversaries. While this is more or less synonymous with enemies, the very term implies active opposition. To be an adversary is to be in a state of adversity against someone or something. But what makes these men the adversaries of our psalmist? The fact that they have forgotten God’s Words.

The Old Testament almost never uses the term forget to indicate a loss or lapse in memory and nearly always uses the term to describe neglect and disregard. These adversaries are not pagans who do not know God’s Word, but are those who have heard and know, yet continue to neglect and disregard a righteous Yhwh and His righteous Word. In other words, they fail to take God’s Word seriously and this brings our psalmist to the boiling point. Yet that response is tempered and informed by the faithfulness of God’s Word.

Love of Trustworthiness (v. 140) – It may be best to substitute word for promise (אמרה). Once again, we have a picture of the refiner’s fire. Back in v. 119 the wicked were compared to dross, the useless slag that is skimmed off metal ore during the smelting process. In v. 127 our psalmist declares his love for God’s commandments, even more than the purest of refined gold. The term translated as pure in this verse is the general term for smelting. The point is that the promise of God has already been refined and therefore free of any impurities; it can be trusted. Because God’s Word is trustworthy in its entirety, our psalmist loves it.

The psalmist has already declared his love many times in this psalm. He has expressed his love for God’s commandments as he worships (vv. 47&48). He has declared his love while deeply reflecting upon God’s Word (v. 97). He loves God’s Word in conjunction with his hatred of apostates (v. 113) as well as his approval of God’s wrath (v. 119). In fact it is v. 119 that seems to tie the threads of this verse together. According to God’s righteous standard, the wicked have been skimmed off and discarded as dross (v. 119) yet His Word remains and is pure (v. 140). While our psalmist boils because his adversaries reject God’s pure Word (v. 139), God himself will judge them (v. 119). A heated response may actually be perfectly appropriate, but it must be informed by God’s own Word and never by our fleshly emotions.

Faithfulness in Obscurity (v. 141) – There is some debate about what our psalmist is actually saying about himself here. To be small could indicate his age, that he is young. But just as easily, and certainly more to the point of the context, it can indicate one who is insignificant. We use this same sort of language today. When we call someone a “giant of a man,” we are not making a comment on his height or weight but on his importance and significance. The psalmist is simply stating that he is considered to be insignificant and even hated by his peers. Yet he, unlike his peers, does not forget God’s step-by-step instructions.

Here we come full circle. To worship God rightly, our actions and emotions must be tempered by His Word. Zeal for God’s Word is holy, appropriate, and expected. But that must carry over into allowing God to be judge and executioner. Likewise, we must understand that zeal for God’s Word is a lousy way of making friends among those who reject God’s Word.

Why do you suppose his peers think so little of him? There are not prizes for guessing. If they think so very little of His God, why would they hold him in high regard? Because our psalmist’s response is tempered and informed by God’s Word, this rejection does not send him into a tailspin. In fact it throws him into even deeper commitment to His God and His Word.

Responding Because of God’s Word: Actions Must Reflect His revelation (vv. 142-144)

v. 142) Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, And Thy law is truth.

v. 143) Trouble and anguish have come upon me; Yet Thy commandments are my delight.

v. 144) Thy testimonies are righteous forever; Give me understanding that I may live.

There is a growth that is implicit between vv. 139-141 and vv. 142-144. While it is good and necessary for believers to check their actions, emotions, and responses against the standard of God’s righteous Word, what is even better is when believers are so consumed by God’s Word that their actions, emotions, and responses naturally reflect and demonstrate God’s Word.

God’s Nature and Instruction are Equally Eternal (v. 142) – This verse mirrors the message of v. 137 as it attributes the perfections of God to His Word. There is a simple yet powerful parallel between the two lines of this verse. Allow me to illustrate.


The righteousness of Almighty God (His state and quality of always being, thinking, and doing what is perfectly correct and in harmony to the standard of Himself) is always righteous. There never has been a time, nor will there ever be a time when God’s righteousness has been anything other than righteous. It seems almost silly to say it in that way. Our response should be, “well…duh!” But what is the implication?

If God’s own personal quality of righteousness is forever accurate and correct, then His instruction (Torah) is, and always will be, truth. There has never been a time, nor will there ever be a time when Scripture is anything less than completely, wholly, and utterly true.

The truthfulness of God’s Word is directly tied to His personal righteousness. If He is righteous, then He cannot reveal Himself in a manner that is less than perfectly accurate and correct. Yet it has become popular, even praiseworthy, to cast doubt upon God’s Word or render it useless in our modern and sophisticated society because it no longer rings true. Women are welcomed to fill pulpits because God’s prohibition is no longer valid. Homosexuality in all of its deviant forms are lauded because God’s condemnation is no longer deemed applicable. Sexual purity is no longer a virtue because God’s commands are now irrelevant. The body is excused from gathering to worship because the call to do so is inconvenient. To doubt the everlasting truthfulness of God’s Word is to call into question His own everlasting righteousness. The two are inseparably linked.

Circumstances Never Suggest Doubt (v. 143) – This verse is similar to several that we have seen and studied already. The first line reveals the real-life situation in which our psalmist faces. The term trouble literally indicates a narrow or restrained place. The idea is that our psalmist is pressed, hemmed in, and in distress. This speaks to his response to trouble rather than the trouble itself. It may be better to opt for the translation of anxiety here. The second term anguish captures well the added mark of yet another response to trouble. Both anxiety and anguish have found our psalmist. This is not a drill. But what does he do in the midst of this reality? He is still able to find delight in the commandments of God!

Even as he feels anxiety and anguish, he is unmovable in his faith. Why? Is he more holy than we? Does he know more than we do? The answer is simple: he is not looking for delight in circumstances but rather finds delight in knowing, understanding, and obeying God’s commandments.

Again, please do not move over that word commandments. How does one delight in a list of orders, commands, and imperatives? There is an assumption of doing them. His circumstances, rather than drive him to doubt, drive him further into obedience!

The Nature of God’s Instruction Draws Disciples Ever Closer (v. 144) – I can think of no better way to end this stanza than our psalmist has already done. The first line of this verse repeats a now familiar reality; just as God is righteous forever, so too are His testimonies. That is the summary statement of this entire stanza. But from that summary comes an urgent request to be given understanding.

There is an interesting note here. Our psalmist never asks for more revelation, but only for a deeper understanding of the revelation he has been given. Rather than asking for signs and wonders, he humbly beseeches God to make him understand and discern the wonderous reality of His Word. If God grants him this request, then he will most certainly live; i.e. fulfill the purpose for which he was created – to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

This must be the firm ground on which we stand. This must be our first thought in the morning and the last thought when we lay our heads upon our pillows. This stance is proactive rather than reactive. A mature Christian is not one who quickly runs their emotions through a biblical grid (vv. 139-141). That’s simply an obedient Christian. Reacting to our thoughts and emotions with Scripture keeps us from sin. But a mature Christian begins here with the assumption that God is righteous, His Word is truth, and then acts upon that assumption. The first uses Scripture to react and/or correct their thought process. The second begins with Scripture to form their thought process.

Conclusion

The truth of this stanza carries many implications and applications, yet I will leave room for God the Holy Spirit and give the reader only two. First, what we really think about God is perfectly illustrated by how we treat His Word. Hunger for His Word is hunger for Him. Time spent in His Word is time spent listening to His voice. Conformity to His Word is conformity to His nature, character, person, and will. But the opposite is also true. Do not despair, dear reader. Repent and believe.

Second, while it is good to run our thoughts and actions through the grid of Scripture to determine whether or not we are thinking and behaving in a righteous manner, it is better to begin with Scripture and then conform our lives to it.

As Paul wrote to the church in Rome – “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’” (Romans 1:16-17) – the Word of God reveals His perfect righteousness. Our psalmist understands this. The question to us is: do we?

 

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