We Love Because He First Loved Us – Psalm 119:97-104 (מ)
97 O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. 98 Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, For they are ever mine. 99 I have more insight than all my teachers, For Your testimonies are my meditation. 100 I understand more than the aged, Because I have observed Your precepts. 101 I have restrained my feet from every evil way, That I may keep Your word. 102 I have not turned aside from Your ordinances, For You Yourself have taught me. 103 How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth! 104 From Your precepts I get understanding; Therefore I hate every false way.
We should notice that a change has occurred in this stanza. There is no petition from our psalmist, no lamentation, and no complaints. Coming out of the previous stanza, which proclaimed a bold confidence in God and in His Word, this section is exactly what we might expect: a straight-forward declaration of love and devotion to God and to His Word. The psalmist begins with a broad but purposeful statement – O how I love Your law!
The NASB places an exclamation point at the end of that statement, which is entirely appropriate. This Mem stanza (מ) begins with the particle מה that can be used to ask a question (how?) or to emphasize a statement in a rhetorical sense. To say How I love Your law! is not a question that asks, “well how much do I love it?” but it is an exclamation that means “I really love Your law.”
Before we go any further, we need to understand a few things. First, when we speak of love you must understand that we are not primarily addressing emotion or feelings. If you trace this word and all of its uses in Scripture, you will find that the primary meaning is that of devotion rather than sentiment. I am not the first preacher to make this distinction, but I am convinced that many do not fully understand the difference. Young people are constantly professing their love for each other when what they really mean is that they have a strong emotional attachment to one another. To desire someone or something, to have a strong emotional connection, or to enjoy someone or something is not in any sense love. Words are containers for thought. It is not the psalmist’ fault that we frequently use the wrong containers to express our thoughts.
To love means to be committed, to be devoted to someone or something. When Israel was commanded to love Yhwh their God with their whole being (Deut. 6:5), they were commanded to be devoted to Him and to be set apart for Him. When Israel was commanded to love their neighbor as they love themselves (Lev. 19:18), they were commanded to be committed to the alien and sojourner in the same manner that they were committed to themselves. When Jesus commanded His disciples to love one another in the same way that He loves them (John 13:34), He commands them to be devoted to each other in the same way that He is committed to them. When husbands are commanded to love their wives in the same manner that Christ loves His church (Eph. 5:25), they are commanded to remain devoted to their wives in the same way Christ is devoted to His church. When our psalmist says that he loves God’s law, he is not making a sentimental statement about how much he enjoys or is fascinated by the Bible, though that is certainly also true. He is making a statement about his commitment and devotion to what God has said.
Second, this bold statement is not lost on the wind but is verifiable and objectively provable. The very next line supports his exclamation: It is my meditation all the day. We’ve seen that term meditation (שיח) several times before. Here it is in the form of a noun, but the verbal cognate was used in vv. 23, 27, 48, & 78. The same meaning of a deep and internal contemplation is in view. The point is that God’s law (or Torah/instruction – תּוֹרָה) is the object of our psalmist’s daily contemplation. He is consumed by God’s Word as he reads it, studies it, and seeks to obey it. This is so much more than a temporary fascination or an emotional infatuation. This level of dedication and commitment can only be described as love.
This statement of love is in the context of an ongoing relationship. To love the Word of God and thus the God of the Word assumes that God has already placed His love upon us (1 John 4:19). After all, this psalm is written by a believer, a disciple, and a child of God. There are four additional marks of a disciple’s true love for God and His Word, but we will notice that each of these marks assume that God has first loved.
Love’s Advantages (vv. 98-100)
98 Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, For they are ever mine. 99 I have more insight than all my teachers, For Your testimonies are my meditation. 100 I understand more than the aged, Because I have observed Your precepts.
Our psalmist makes three superlative comparisons in these verses. That is to say, he states that the wisdom, discernment, and understanding of his enemies, teachers, and elders is drastically inferior. But the comparison is not egotistical or presumptuous. He does not compare their wisdom to his own. Rather, he compares their wisdom to God’s Word. He is wiser than all of these groups because he has what they do not have; that is, God’s Word.
The first comparison looks at the wisdom of our psalmist’s enemies. These are the same wicked individuals who have forsaken the law of God (v. 53) and have on several occasions sought to ensnare (v. 61) and destroy (v. 95) our psalmist. The fact that they have forsaken God’s Word makes them, by definition, foolish.
The root for make me wiser (חכם) is the basis for the noun wisdom (חכמה) that is so pervasive throughout the book of Proverbs. More than intelligence, wisdom (or חכמה) means skill. It assumes the knowledge to do something but emphasizes the ability and the practice of applying that knowledge.
An illustration may be helpful here. Baking bread is not a difficult concept to wrap our minds around. Ingredients are mixed. Heat is applied. Out comes a wonderful loaf of bread. There is nothing about this process that we struggle to understand from an intellectual level. Yet why does my bread never come out like my wife’s? Her intellect does not surpass mine as far as the concept of baking is concerned, yet her wisdom (or skill) in applying and putting into practice these simple concepts is vastly superior.
If the fear of Yhwh is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10) or even the beginning of knowledge (Prov. 1:7), then our psalmist is at a huge advantage when it comes to his enemies who have rejected God’s Word. But notice why he is able to say this: because they are ever mine. He boasts in nothing but what has been given him to have and to hold forever more.
As for his teachers, he states that his insight or discernment is greater than theirs. The comparison is not to suggest that his teachers are in the same league as his adversaries, but simply that they, like his enemies, are not standing upon a firm foundation of Scripture. They are preoccupied with something else. Our psalmist, on the other hand, is preoccupied with God’s testimonies. Once again, we see the word meditation. He is consumed with, contemplates upon, and acts out God’s Word.
Sidebar: We must not think at any moment that our psalmist is declaring something spectacular about himself. This word insight (שכל) is the same word used in Psalm 14:2 (there translated as understanding). David there says that there is none upon the earth who possess this understanding innately. That is the key difference between our psalmist and his teachers. Theirs is a natural understanding, while his insight, understanding, or discernment comes from above.
Next come the elders. Rather than a technical term for spiritual or social leaders, this is a reference to the older generation that has been there, done that, and got the T-shirt. Normally we highly value those who have lived through the same trials and struggles that we face every day. But experience apart from God’s Word is of limited value. Our psalmist claims a greater understanding than those who have more experience, but only because he actually obeys the Word of God. If experience does not lead one to obedience, then that experience is worthless.
There are two things going on simultaneously in these three verses. The first is obvious: God’s Word is superior to any human knowledge or wisdom in every arena. The second is more subtle: our psalmist is not a better, more intelligent person than his enemies, teachers, or elders. It is because he possesses, is preoccupied, and practices God’s Word that enables him to act with skill, think with discernment, and behave with intelligence. He enjoys the advantages of God’s Word only when he stands upon God’s Word. He loves God’s Word only because God first loved him.
Love is Action (vv. 101-102)
101 I have restrained my feet from every evil way, That I may keep Your word.
102 I have not turned aside from Your ordinances, For You Yourself have taught me.
In vv. 98-100 the clarity, consistency, and completeness of the Word of God was on display. The psalmist was sure to include his own responsibility (to possess, preoccupy, and practice), but here that responsibility steps forward to center stage. If love requires commitment and dedication, what does that commitment look like?
The first dedicated step looks at what is not done. To restrain his feet from every evil way means exactly that. The psalmist is proactive in taking the necessary precautions of making sure his feet do not go where they have no business going. If we love our God and love His Word, then we will not go where He forbids, speak what He prohibits, or do what He bans. To be a Christian is to live a guarded life.
This separation from evil is not a negative thing but comes with an amazingly positive result. What does the next line say? That I may keep Your Word. The guardrails that the psalmist placed upon his own life results in obedience.
Because God is holy, separate from all else, unsearchable in His ways and incomparable in His majesty, then His people must also be holy. But holiness is not only measured in what we separate from, but also what we are joined to.
In v. 102 we see a profession of fidelity. The word turned (סור) is an interesting term. It is used to describe the wandering or turning aside from a particular destination. When Moses saw the burning bush (Ex. 3:3) he turned aside (סור). But when this word is used with the preposition from (מן) it is almost always used to describe apostasy (Ex. 32:8; Deut. 9:12, 16; Judge. 2:17; Jer. 17:5). When the psalmist says that he has not turned aside from God’s decrees, judgments, and decisions, he is claiming to have not become an apostate.
Why does he claim this? Because God has always been his instructor! The word taught comes from the same root (ירה) as Torah. In a sense, the psalmist is stating that Yhwh Himself has torahed him. How could he depart from the instruction that God Himself has trained him in?
Love’s Attitude (v. 103)
103 How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Our psalmist borrows from the words of David in Ps. 19 as he describes the utter delight in consuming God’s Word. The Word of God goes down easy to those who love Him and desire nothing more than to be in fellowship with Him. It is like honey! Sweet to the taste and easy to swallow.
To so many people, the Word of God is a bitter pill to swallow. They may acknowledge that it comes from God. They might even recognize that obedience to it is for their good and God’s glory. But it still scrapes on the way down. Not so for the one who loves God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.
This verse describes the delight of the disciple, not his drudging duty. I’ve heard a wise man once say, “Where the feet are slow, the heart isn’t in it.” Rote obedience from slow feet and hands is not the mark of a confident disciple who loves his Savior. You cannot say that you love Him if you approach the Bible as if it were a spoonful of garlic. An earnest desire and delight to consume and commit to God through His Word looks like a kid with a honeycomb. They just cannot get enough!
Love’s Associations (v. 104)
104 From Your precepts I get understanding; Therefore I hate every false way.
This verse is a summary. It first acknowledges the true source of all wisdom, discernment, and understanding. Only through the step-by-step instructions from Almighty God can one possess understanding. But with that confession comes consequences. Therefore I hate every false way.
Do not try to soften that statement. As this stanza begins with a profession of love, it ends with a resolution to hate. To love God is to hate all that is contrary to God. To love God’s Word is to be committed to knowing, understanding, and obeying it. But it also means hating all that contradicts, undermines, or misrepresents it.
Please do not misunderstand our psalmist. He does not say that he hates every false person (for there would be none left to love), but every false way. Every thought, movement, ideology, theology, religion, and worldview that does not perfectly conform to God’s Word is shunned. If love is the polar opposite of hate, then we can define hatred by whatever the polar opposite of commitment and dedication is. To simply keep these things at arm’s length is not enough. We must turn our backs to them, walk – no – run away from them; for they are unclean and rob God of the glory that He is due.
To profess love for God and His Word is one thing. To actually love Him is very different. To love Him is to be committed and dedicated to Him. Do our lives reveal dedication to God, or this world? What consumes our time, thoughts, actions, and desires? To love His Word is more than a fascination of it but means that we know it, understand it, pursue it, and obey it. How much time do we spend reading God’s Word? How much effort to we expel seeking to understand God’s Word? How much time do we use contemplating and meditating upon what we have read? How often do we seek out ways to obey God’s Word? Answering those questions gives an objective account of how much we love our God. May we take an honest stock of our love, repent of our lack of love, and cling fast to Him. Soli Deo Gloria!