Psalm 119

The Righteousness of God's Word

July 24, 2011 Series: Scripture: Psalm 119:137-144 by Chris Strevel

137     TZADDI. Righteous art thou, O LORD, and upright are thy judgments.  
138     Thy testimonies that thou hast commanded are righteous and very faithful.
139     My zeal hath consumed me, because mine enemies have forgotten thy words.
140     Thy word is very pure: therefore thy servant loveth it.  
141     I am small and despised: yet do not I forget thy precepts.  
142     Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and thy law is the truth.  
143     Trouble and anguish have taken hold on me: yet thy commandments are my delights.
144     The righteousness of thy testimonies is everlasting: give me understanding, and I shall live.

As the True Image of God’s Own Righteousness (vv. 137-138)

Throughout this Psalm, we have been encouraged to give ourselves to God’s word. Sometimes, David speaks of our pressing need for God’s word in affliction and suffering. At other times, his gaze turns to the many enemies we must face for the sake of Christ’s kingdom. Since we are so weak and wayward, he constantly stresses our need for the Lord to be our guide and teacher if we are to keep on the right path: “teach me thy statutes.” Our Father’s goodness to us is urged as the strongest motivation for us to embrace and obey his word. O, may we return to this Psalm, like a light in a dark place, when our soul languishes, when we need encouragement, when we are tormented and worn out by the mockery and brazen wickedness of men. Despite all these incentives to love Scripture, are we still too sluggish and sleepy to come to this rich banquet, mighty fortress, and safe pasture? Here we find another, higher motivation for us to give ourselves to God’s word. It has been assumed all along, but David now makes it explicit.

To remedy our weakness, the Holy Spirit directs us to adore the righteous Author of this book. We shall never be struck as we should be with the perfect rectitude and integrity of Scripture unless we stand in awe before the righteousness of God himself. He is the author of Scripture. Every word in it has come from him. It is the true and living image of his righteousness. True, he lisps to us in baby-talk, so much higher are his thoughts and wisdom than ours (Isa. 55:8-9), but this does not take away at all from the reverence, wonder, and desire we should have for this volume. Critics of Scripture, of course, are always seeking to separate God from the Bible, as if human authorship and historical uncertainty nullify its clarity, accuracy, and authority. These are so many attacks and temptations of Satan to undermine our sense of God’s righteousness shining lustrously in every line. If we remember that he gave us the book, we shall be humbled by the gift and fight against our slowness in availing ourselves of such a present help in all our troubles. We shall never doubt his vigilance in overseeing the transmission and guiding the preservation of his precious word. This is the theme of this section: that bowing before the righteous God, we are led by God’s Spirit to see the Scriptures as the perfect reflection of his righteousness. All we need for every decision, duty, and distress is found therein.

Surrounded by the sin within ourselves and in the world, it is difficult for us to avoid attributing some imperfection to God’s word, for at times we doubt God’s righteousness. If the wicked prosper and seem to be having their own way with things, we doubt his justice. “Lord, how long?” may quickly move from a plea of faith to a cry of frustration. If he waits long to answer our prayers or allows us to languish in sin and temptation for a time, especially when he chastens us for our sins, we question his dealings with us, perhaps blaming him for not producing within us the holiness he promises (Phil. 1:11; 1 Thess. 4:3). We are so self-centered that if he chooses to withhold something we want, even something we are persuaded is necessary for our happiness and even holiness, we argue with him, grow cold in our prayers, doubt his love and faithfulness, and would, were it possible, call him to account for his treatment of us. For these and many more reasons, it is difficult for us to conceive of a righteousness that is so complete and perfect that everything God does is holy and righteous simply because he does it. Whether in his dealings with us or in his government of the world through his Son, each act, word, decree, and thought of God is the very definition of righteousness. I know it is difficult to believe this. Everything in our fallen flesh cries out against it: “if this is true, why do the righteous suffer; why do prayers seem to go unanswered; why do I struggle so much; why does life seem so unfair?” But in each of these questions, do we not assume a standard of judgment that is higher than God, by which we may stand in judgment of him and that ignores his righteousness and unfailing uprightness in his dealings with us? How foolish we are to trust our own understanding (Prov. 3:5-6)! Rather than questioning God’s righteousness, we must question ourselves, doubt ourselves, and fly to God’s throne of grace, there by faith to behold him reigning in justice and truth (Rev. 15:3). When we are perplexed, must we not confess that we cannot see all things, even that what we see is only the beginning of his ways, and that very murky, so great is our darkness and weakness (Job 26:14; Ps. 77:19)? It is neither our place nor within our ability to find out all God’s judgments, call him to give an account of his dealings with us, or measure him by the puniness of our reason and experience. True fear of God begins with the firm persuasion that he is just in all his ways, upright in all his dealings, wise beyond our comprehension, perfection and integrity itself (Deut. 32:4). There is no standard above him by which he is judged; he is the standard.

He has made his righteousness very plain and clear to us in two places. Consider, first, the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Herein is the righteousness of God made manifest” (Rom. 3:21-22). See the absolute justice of God. He “will by no means clear the guilty” (Ex. 34:7). “The soul that sins, it shall die” (Ezek. 18:20). When our Father sent his Son into the world, he did this because there was no other way for his chosen vessels of mercy to receive forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness that would stand the scrutiny of his holy, all-seeing gaze, and peace with him than for an acceptable substitute to suffer and die in our place. This our Lord Jesus Christ did as the appointed, promised sacrifice for our sins. He did not die to make sentiment the heart of a new religion, or as a martyr for the cause of love, narcissistically considered. No, he died under the stroke of divine justice (Zech. 13:7). He became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). He took our curse upon himself by humbling himself unto death (Phil. 2:6). Only hereby could God “be just, and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). Do you not think if any other course were available than for his own Beloved to be crucified for us, that he would have chosen it? Yet, “it pleased the Lord to bruise/crush him; he hath put him to grief” (Isa. 53:10). And why? The demands of his justice must be satisfied. And so perfectly did our Savior obey his Father’s will, so efficacious were his sufferings and sacrifice for us, that we are made righteous before God, given as a free gift the very righteousness that the just God requires as a condition of fellowship with himself (Heb. 10:14). Thus, whenever we are tempted to doubt God’s righteousness, we must return to the cross. If we will but behold our Savior suffering for us, we shall be done with calling God’s uprightness into question. We shall be done with thinking that life is “unfair,” simply because things do not always go our way, hardships abound, or wicked men are given some leash so that they may trouble the righteous, only then to hang themselves by the very chords of their rebellion. No, however we tremble before such exacting righteousness, however we are tempted to question God’s dealings with us in the world, the cross of our Lord Jesus pounds every doubt into the abyss. With every nail hammered, every lash of the whip, every expression of agony of soul, every cry of separation from his Father, every drop of bloody sweat, tear, and stripe, God is showing us that he is righteous, just in all his ways, upright in all his dealings. Silenced are we before the cross: all complaints hushed into reverent silence; every conscience bowed in adoration before grace bringing atonement, love accomplishing peace, mercy satisfying justice and sealing everlasting righteousness to us. Adore God for his righteousness, child of God! Since he was so righteousness in his dealings with his Son on our behalf, we may be sure that he is absolutely upright in all other matters. This is the foundation of true, overcoming faith.

Second, when we come to his word, as David does in the next verse, what else are we to confess but that “thy testimonies that thou hast commanded are righteous, and very faithful,” even truth and faithfulness itself. We are to feel the connection between God’s righteousness and the righteousness of his word very strongly. The Bible is the reflection, the image, the testimony of God’s own righteousness, his essential righteousness, his manifested righteousness in creation, providence, and redemption. Every word, every line, every decree, every command comes to us from the righteous God who knows and governs all things in uprightness. If we do not tremble before his word, we are sound asleep. We need to be humbled again before his majesty. What a treasure he gives to us! With what amazed reverence we should approach God’s word! Each time we read it and especially when he gives us the privilege of hearing it preached, for then he joins his righteousness word with his irresistible power to save our souls (Rom. 1:16). How this puts those troublesome sections of Scripture into a different light! Do we hesitate before affirming the righteousness of God’s command to exterminate the Caananites? Of his ordering the death penalty for violations of the first table of his law, which many Christians today simply cannot stomach? Of the revelation of his electing grace, sovereign love, and awful damnation of the wicked? Why? Is he not righteous? He commands; it stands fast (Ps. 33:9). “Every one of thy righteousness judgments endureth forever” (Ps. 119:160). He utters his voice, let all tremble before him (Ps. 99:1; Isa. 66:2). Let us then rejoice in his righteousness and be about obeying and holding fast to the smallest jot and tittle of his word (Matt. 5:18)! It is our life. When we walk with God in his word, we walk in the paths of righteousness (Ps. 23:3). This blessedness is difficult to fathom – that whether we think of our families, relationships, businesses and vocations, life in the body of Christ, or more personal decisions about health, finances, and home, the righteous God has spoken to us and given us his righteous and true testimonies. We have all the light we need. Even so, this must be imprinted with great force upon our hearts, for we are determined wanderers. O, Spirit of God, write upon our hearts with your own finger a deep conviction of the righteousness of God’s word!  Heal us, Sun of righteousness, from our slowness of heart to believe all the prophets and apostles have written! What a treasure our Father has placed within our very hands! Be humbled and amazed, fear and tremble, rejoice and sing, daughter of Zion, that he now calls the church of his Son “the pillar and ground of his truth” (1 Tim. 3:15), that the Christ who brought in everlasting righteousness dwells in us as his righteous word dwells in us (Col. 3:16). Does this not place obedience in an entirely different light? Would we walk in darkness and foolishness, or submit ourselves to everlasting righteousness, our upright Father or our own vanity? Should we not pore over God’s word each day? Would we say when we stand before God, “Father, I confess that I preferred entertainment to your word, sleep to your word, socializing to your word, my unbelieving friends to your word, my own opinions and will to your righteous will?” Let this deeply embarrassing confession never be required from us, especially when we see how much righteous blood has been spilled to give us God’s word, how many believers around the world snatch even burned copies of Scripture out of the fire in order to possess charred remnants of this treasure, and how much darkness abounds in our own land because God’s righteous word remains largely a closed book to many of his professing friends.

Makes Us Very Zealous for His Honor (v. 139)

When the Holy Spirit writes God’s law upon our hearts (Heb. 8:8-13), he illumines our mind and elevates our affections so that we are persuaded of its righteousness, adore every morsel of his truth, and desire above all to obey it with our whole heart. That we need to be reminded of this so often warns us of the danger of “receiving God’s grace in vain” (2 Cor. 6:1). How often have we been encouraged to love God’s word? This is one of the first lessons with which every faithful church suckles its little ones. Yet, after hearing this hundreds of times, do we still find our hearts cold? Worldliness has this effect, as does too little quietness before God, lack of meditation upon the word itself, self-preoccupation, and unholy associations. Here we are reminded that when we are convinced by the Holy Spirit of the righteousness of God’s word, our hearts burn with zeal for it. This zeal is not religious frenzy, spiritualism, mysticism, romanticism, as when men claim they are following the Spirit while endorsing and teaching all manner of error. Spirit-born zeal is present when we are aroused to search, love, and obey the written words of God. All other religious zeal is “not according to knowledge,” potentially dangerous, and always unwise. The Spirit’s true presence within us always leads us to put ourselves under the tutelage of God’s word. And this zeal consumes us, takes hold upon us, when we see that so many men forget God’s words. Now, as this is a word-bound zeal, David does not mean here that he was constantly angry at wicked men, berated them, or desired to call down fire from heaven, as the disciples once did unwisely, and with a rebuke from our Lord (Luke 9:54). Where zeal is for God’s word, it is marked by sorrow of heart that leads to prayer, personal repentance, and fervent discipleship. It may sometimes evoke strong words, passionate pleas, and solemn warnings. The hold of God’s word upon the godly heart makes us very concerned for God’s glory and authority, as well as for man’s good, temporal and eternal. Faith, as we saw last time, is not passive. It is begotten by God himself through the word. It fuels great zeal for God’s righteousness. It is deeply grieved when men ignore God’s claims upon their lives, live indifferently to his word, and act as laws unto themselves.

Do we have such zeal? Would we have it? Scripture’s zealous men and women were deeply immersed in Scripture: Moses, David, Elijah, Daniel, John the Baptizer, the Apostles. None was more zealous than our Lord: “A zeal for your house hath eaten me up” (John 2:17) because no one has ever been more committed to doing the will of God (John 4:34). Each of these men also had recorded seasons of quiet before God. Directed by Scripture, they sought him about the evils of their times. They prayed for mercy and for truth. Saving our Lord, they repented not only for their own sins but also for the sins of their church and nation. They were sifted and humbled in private before they ever stood for him in public: again, none more so than our Lord (Phil. 2:6; Heb. 5:8). When they had a public duty to perform, a sermon to preach, evil to confront, great boldness characterized their words and actions. The force of their words, even of their character, could not be resisted, except through raging attempts, sometimes successful, to kill them. Zeal comes from bringing our consciences before God, especially in prayer and meditation upon the word. Zeal comes from a clear sense of the majesty and righteousness of God. Especially since “it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us,” the more we walk with him, the more his word dwells in us, the more we deny ourselves and take up his cross in the course of daily life, the more his zeal will be in us by the presence and power of the Spirit (Acts 4:13). Then, like him, we will speak his truth. God’s honor will be of paramount concern to us. We will love God’s truth more than our lives, more than what others may think of us, more than what we want to do in a given situation. At some level, it will be the Spirit of God who speaks in us and through us (Matt. 10:19). We will also have compassion for men, as our Savior did. The beautiful combination of zeal for God and love for men is so evident in his earthly ministry, so compelling and challenging. For many, love is either pursued without zeal for truth, or zeal for truth is evident without compassion and concern for the very men for whose good we speak the truth. We must have both; one cannot really possess one without the other, for love is the holy reflex of truth, and truth is the fuel of love’s fire. Thus, we are brought back again to this fundamental truth: true zeal is the fruit of sober, consistent, and whole-hearted pursuit of the knowledge of God revealed in Jesus Christ. Word-searching, word-hungering believers are zealous believers. May the Lord make us so in his goodness and by his power!

Love and Memory (vv. 140-141)

That zeal is not hot-headed wrath or empty-headed fluff is here made abundantly clear. When David says that God’s word is “pure,” he uses a word that means to be refined or smelted, as in a roaring furnace. There are no impurities in it: none. Every word of God is pure: even those we do not like, or doctrines that make us squirm, warnings we would rather not hear, and commands we would prefer not to obey. The purity of God’s word is built upon the righteousness of his own character. This is one vital reason we must maintain both the inspiration of the written word as originally given by the Holy Spirit and the infallibility of the word as it has come down to us. A high, adoring view of the character of God always leads to high, adoring views of Scripture. And since we are born again by the Spirit of God and are in a living union with Christ Jesus our Lord, our response to God’s word is “love.” Ah, how cheapened this word has become! It almost makes one wish we had another word, a holier word, a word not dirtied by man’s vanities and perversions. We need no other word, provided we understand this: that “love” in Scripture is not emotion without action, sentiment without conviction, words without obedience. “Love” means that our whole soul pants after God and his word. It means that there is within us a deep affection for God’s word that leads to obedience: “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:12). It means that the hungering of our hearts is for more knowledge of God, which is everlasting life (John 17:3), clearer views of his glory, greater understanding of his wisdom, more careful obedience to him – not out of guilt, pride, or partisanship but out of a life-changing revelation of God’s righteousness in our soul in the face of Jesus Christ, that there is nothing better, holier, more satisfying, happier than to walk with him in obedience. Where the Holy Spirit plants such love in us – and admittedly, it may sometimes appear a very small seed of faith indeed – we shall love God and men. We shall be able to deny ourselves, at some level, take up our cross, and follow our Lord – loving and adoring him all the way, not thinking we are making some kind of sacrifice to do so but that it is the most natural and reasonable thing in the world for “Christ in me” to conform me to his own image, break my willfulness, smash my idols, and reorient my entire being toward delighting in pleasing him. In union with our Savior, this love shall be ours, for God’s word is very pure, tried and tested, unmixed with any inferior element of human wisdom or experience. It cannot fail to give what he promises.
Man has wickedly tested its truth throughout history; unbelief has destroyed men and entire cultures. Satan tested it; the cross smashed his skull as a reward for his vicious treason. Peter tested it; his pride was crushed; then, that same word of our Savior restored him, beyond all human expectation. Judas tested it; he hung himself. Above all, the cross itself tested the purity of God’s word: redemption accomplished! Our Savior’s faith in his Father’s word was not disappointed. Even as the scapegoat for our sins, he prevailed over sin and death. All the missiles of Satan and the jeers of the wicked could not thwart him, so great was his commitment to his Father’s word. He rose again for our justification (Rom. 4:25). He reigns at the Father’s right hand, in enjoyment of his promised reward (Luke 24:26). Was not his trust in his Father’s very pure word abundantly vindicated? That we believe upon him now for life and righteousness is proof of this. Should we not love such a word that controls the destinies of men, the rise and fall of our own soul’s affections and progress toward holiness, and the stability of faith when it is tested in the hottest fires of suffering, deprivation, and martyrdom? Believer, adore the purity of God’s word. Do not test it. It has already been tested. Millions upon millions are already with the Son of God in glory because God’s word is very pure. Love this word; cling to it in the darkest dispensations of God’s providence. Make it the polestar of your life, the guide of your emotions, will, and thoughts. Adore the righteous God who gave it to us. Establish your complete happiness in him, and his pure word will bring you finally into his eternal kingdom.

If we are to receive our promised inheritance, we must think of ourselves as David does here: “small and despised.” Now this holy man likely wrote these words in a season of difficulty. Perhaps he was fleeing from Saul, hiding in the cave, or on the run from enemies in his own family. He felt his lowness, that he was nothing in himself. Even so, he trusted God’s pure word. God had made promises to build his house, give him in a seed, and make his greater Son the Savior and Lord of the nations. However wretched his condition, God’s pure word could be trusted. Let Saul treat him meanly or his enemies scoff. Let him live in exile or be chased out of Jerusalem by his own son. He would not forget God’s precepts. Now, it is one thing for a man in a fine suit, nice home, and good health to speak of “not forgetting God’s precepts.” It is one thing for a man in pleasing circumstances to speak of himself as “small and despised.” It is something entirely different for a man of David’s sufferings, some self-inflicted, to speak of himself with such painful honesty, to hope in God’s word in the midst of great suffering. It is like when we see a young Vietnamese girl reading a Bible she has pulled from a fire: its pages scorched, her clothes torn and dirty. Here we behold something of the love for God’s word David has just mentioned. Here we see the reality of our need. Here we see who we truly are: poor and despised. We are poor in that we have nothing but what God is pleased to give us each day. We are poor in that our soul longs for that in which it hopes but does not yet possess in fullness. We are poor in that the world considers us the dung of the earth. If we sensed our true dependence upon God – a neediness that all the homes, economies, vehicles, and social systems in the world cannot truly hide – then we would give ourselves to God’s word as David does here. Yet we are often blind to our true condition. When we are young, we think physical strength will carry us through whatever comes. When we are old, we trust our experience and our accumulated resources. But let the Lord touch us with a little affliction or hide his face from us, let us feel a little of the world’s ridicule of the cross and animosity against Christ’s church, and then we shall see where our true hope lies. Is it in God’s pure word, or in ourselves? Have we been seeing ourselves for who and what we really are – weak, in constant need of our Father’s love and support, helpless to do anything good unless he comes to our aid – or have we believed a lie?

Now, it is a very humbling experience to be brought to see something of our true condition. Especially living in a culture of tremendous wealth, constantly exposed to apparently happy unbelievers, and ourselves partaking in a good bit of the lie – about the nature of man, ultimate reality, true happiness – we are tempted to buy into the delusion that man is the measure of all things. How can we see something of our true need in such an artificial culture: fake money, fake people, fake lives? Only by remembering God’s righteousness: we must turn from these dreams and see ourselves as he sees us, and we may do this only in the penetrating light of his pure word. Our Father’s word tests us. It reveals our true selves, our true neediness. This is one reason apostolic preaching has fallen on such hard times in the church. We resist the shattering of self-delusion. We want to be the creators and definers of reality. Child of God, flee all these vanities if you would sincerely feel something of David’s “I am small and despised.” You have no significance, you are truly “dust in the wind,” vanity, as Solomon says, unless you build your life upon God’s pure word. But admit this, face the truth about yourself, and light dawns, and with it hope. For though we are so reduced and shattered because of our sinfulness, our righteous Father makes us his sons and daughters through the righteousness of his Son. If we embrace his promise, our sins are forgiven. If we build upon his pure word, we are secure – O, so secure that no one can touch us, for our Father himself guards us as the “apple of his eye.” We are even exalted, for we reign with Christ now as his co-heirs (Eph. 2:5-6). To know this joy, to remember God’s precepts as our life, we must be done with the world’s self-delusion. The world and its changing fashions are in reality its death-masks. Christ Jesus has made the world obsolete; it is perishing even now (1 Cor. 7:31; 1 John 2:17). If we do the will of God, however, if we love his pure words, if we remember his precepts, we shall endure forever.

Everlasting Righteousness, Eternal Truth (vv. 142,144)

But the “present” can be so tyrannical, suffocating, blinding. We sometimes suffer, always struggle with sin, and face regular pressures in our homes and in the workplace. Duties press upon us; we want to do good, but evil is present with us (Rom. 7:21). We cannot see our promised inheritance; we cannot see the Savior we love (1 Pet. 1:8). What we see with our eyes can be all-consuming, alluring, deadening to anything so removed from our daily experience as faith and heaven. We must believe that God’s precious promises are as certain as his own righteousness: that as God’s righteousness is everlasting, so our hope is built upon a sure foundation. This is the reason it is so necessary for us to believe that the very Bibles we possess are a faithful reflection of God’s own righteousness and a faithful record of his will. And, his word is eternal because his will is; because he is. Think of the copy of the Scriptures you possess. With minor variations of spelling, occasional word placement, and other copyist differences, it is the very same word that Abraham heard from God’s own mouth, that Moses received from Sinai, that Isaiah delivered boldly to Ahaz, that preserved Daniel in the lion’s den, that armed Josiah, Nehemiah, and Ezra with unconquerable zeal. It is the same word our Savior spoke from the mount and sang on the way to the garden; the same prophecies he delivered to the two on the road to Emmaus; the same gospel Paul preached in Corinth. In a world of constant change, love of novelty, promises hiding lies, and castles of air pretending to be solid, here is the same law of God. Here are the same everlasting testimonies. Did they embolden Elijah? Did they comfort and illumine Daniel? Did they fill Jeremiah with invincible hope while he was in the pit all those days? Did they keep the faithful remnant of the church alive during the four hundred years leading up to the birth of our Savior? And what of all the martyrs, all the humble believers whose dangerous days end contentedly with a crust of bread and a line or two of holy Scripture? If we believe that God’s word is eternal, that his law everlasting, that his promises endure forever, we shall have the same assurance. We shall be able to endure to the end. We shall be content with less, and hope for greater things than those who “have their portion in this life” (Ps. 17:14). We shall be willing to defend God’s honor, speak his gospel, and love our enemies. We shall be humble, hopeful, and happy. And why? We have built our lives upon the enduring word of God. Then, let afflictions come; if God’s word sustained Joseph, it will do the same for us. Let us hear that we have a horrible disease; God’s eternal word that sustained Paul with his enduring infirmity will preserve us. Let us find ourselves living in an ungodly culture; God’s certain, pure word will guide us and fill us with purpose and hope, even as it did Ezekiel and the exiles. Let us even be called upon to suffer for righteousness’ sake; some believers, you will remember, are still regularly burned, crucified, and otherwise tormented beyond description. But did not our Savior hang upon the cross? Did not his soul become “exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death,” and that in anticipation of the cup he was to drink (Mark 14:34)? And when he hung there for our poor sake, he who was holy, harmless, and undefiled made a mockery because of our wickedness, what sustained him? Psalm 22. Psalm 16. Isaiah 53. Genesis 12. Daniel 9. What, nothing more than God’s word? Nothing more. When you build you life upon God’s eternal word and righteous testimonies, you are as secure and immovable as God himself.

All Our Delight and Life (v. 143)

Even when trouble and anguish take hold upon us, threatening by their grip to quench faith and swamp hope, we shall find that God’s righteous, everlasting word is able to give us delight, comfort, and strength. David never tires of putting our feet back firmly on the ground. In the midst of the highest elevation of spirit, the most exalted flights of faith, the Lord never lets him forget that faith must be lived out in the midst of trouble. This is a great comfort to us. When we read of all the deliverances the Lord has given his people, even the moving accounts of missionaries and martyrs whom the Lord used to accomplish mighty acts of salvation, we often think: “Well, they must be made of different material than I am. I could never do that; I am so weak and sinful. They did not live when I do; my times are so evil, my family so needy, my spouse so demanding and unsympathetic.” We should review the rolls of the faithful. Have any of those whom we have had occasion to mention ever had an easy life? Were their circumstances perfect, their nation godly, their friends always constant, their lives idyllic?  No; “out of weakness they were made strong” (Heb. 11:34). In tribulation they rejoiced (Col. 1:24; 1 Pet. 4:13). What gave them the victory over so many enemies and hardships, what filled them with zeal in times of dreadful apostasy and unbelief, was faith in God’s word. Faith quenches the power of the sword, turns to flight the armies of the aliens, and gives endurance in trials of cruel mocking and scourging. We are as weak as they were – in themselves. But we do not live in ourselves. It is Christ who dwells in us (Gal. 2:20; Col. 1:27). It is his Spirit in us who is jealous for our holiness (James 4:5). Their inheritance of faith is ours; their strength ours: God’s enduring righteousness, his righteous word. If it is our delight in difficult times, there is no telling what the Lord will effect through us today (Eph. 3:20). It is our unbelief that withholds the blessing of God’s mighty works of church and kingdom building, as well as personal sanctification, wisdom, and peace (Matt. 13:58). The greater our troubles, the more we must seek from the Lord a heart to delight in his commandments. Are we asking him for such a heart? Are we pleading with him: “Lord, give me understanding, and I shall live?” Here is our sure foundation. God is righteous. His word is as eternal as he is. If we build upon this very word that has sustained so many godly ones in the darkest imaginable times, we shall overcome. We shall have joy in adversity, peace in the storm, and life in a culture of death. But only if seriously displeased with ourselves and casting ourselves upon the righteousness of God revealed and given in Jesus Christ, we delight in God’s word. To do so is to build upon an eternal foundation. “For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withereth and the flower thereof falleth away. But the word of the Lord endureth forever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” (1 Pet. 1:24-25).

Held in the Grip of God's Word

July 17, 2011 Series: Scripture: Psalm 119:129-136 by Chris Strevel

129 PE. Thy testimonies are wonderful: therefore doth my soul keep them.
130 The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.
131 I opened my mouth, and panted: for I longed for thy commandments.
132 Look thou upon me, and be merciful unto me, as thou usest to do unto those that love thy name.
133 Order my steps in thy word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me.
134 Deliver me from the oppression of man: so will I keep thy precepts.
135 Make thy face to shine upon thy servant; and teach me thy statutes.
136 Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law.

Wonder and Obedience (v. 129)

As merciful as the Lord has been to us to make us his servants and to teach us, we shall never give ourselves to him as we should until his word grips us with his wonder, until we tremble with awe and joy at his precious promises. (Isa. 66:2,5). It is true, of course, that many feel no wonder when they read the Scriptures. In their inmost being, they never penetrate beyond the letter to its life and spirit. Perhaps the humble garb in which such glories are clothed causes them to stumble. “There is nothing worthy of my consideration here,” they say, for they are filled with pride and fatally forget that the Lord speaks to us as to children, mere babes, so much higher is his wisdom than ours (Isa. 55:8-9). He has to teach us with the ABC’s. Others have no taste for God’s word and are still running away from his voice. So, even if they happen to read the Bible, whether out of guilty fear or external pressure from men, they derive no benefit from it. They pass over what they read as if it were addressed to someone else and has no bearing upon them. After a while, they give up the effort, for any sparks of heavenly wisdom that happen to fall upon them convict them without renewing, frustrate without giving any taste of God’s goodness. Then, going back to worldly thinking and living, they lose even what small gain they received from the word (Mark 4:19). This is the reason some even in the church seem to go backward rather than forward; we sometimes lose any sense of God’s marvelous word and neglect the treasure the Lord has placed right in front of us. Yet, it is impossible to stand pat where we are. Faith advances: grace unto grace, glory unto glory (John 1:16; 2 Cor. 3:18). True, faith is often beset with trouble and vexation, and sin may dominate for a season. Yet, the seed of God implanted within us will reassert itself; grace will abound where sin formally tyrannized (Rom. 5:19-21). Our Lord Jesus in us will give life and growth. Unless we are possessed of such a faith, of such a Christ, we shall regress. It is for this reason that the Holy Spirit here paints for us a living image of the soul that is held in the grip of God’s word, both so that we shall be humbled for our many failings and encouraged to seek from the Lord what he offers to us here in his free and abundant goodness.

When the Holy Spirit is renewing and reforming us into the image of our Savior, we are struck with amazement at God’s word. Who with eyes to see can read and meditate upon Scripture without being struck by its majesty? Every portion reveals the glory of God: his holiness, righteousness, sovereignty, power, and truthfulness. Who will not be encouraged by the grace and mercy that drip from every page? Though we read that he dwells in unapproachable light, we also read of his invitation to us to draw near to him with purified hearts and assured faith in his love through his Son (Heb. 10:22). Do we see God portrayed as so holy as to refuse to look upon sin, that the holy angels cover their faces and feet in his presence, never tiring to sing of his majestic splendor? We also find ourselves described as God’s “holy and elect” in Christ Jesus, his blood-purchased, purified, and sanctified people (Col. 3:12). And these are only the beginning of the wonderment that should grip us before such a book and gospel, to which the angels give themselves in constant, adoring study (1 Pet. 1:12). Scripture presents God’s truth with great simplicity and honesty, without unnecessary adornment, not requiring indoctrination into human mysteries or subservience to man-made castes, or gratifying our desire for the extravagant, bizarre, and secret. Scripture manifests an unparalleled and determined unity: God’s goodness and our Savior’s love, the progressive unfolding of his covenant, and the oneness of his people in all ages. It is sometimes quiet, as when God speaks with his “still, small voice,” and at other times thunderous, as when we are given momentary glimpses into the glories of heaven, behold God’s wrath against the wicked, and witness the unceasing energy and activity of our Savior’s present reign at God’s right hand. As no other book, Scripture satisfies, quickens, and humbles. As depressed as we may be by sin and struggle, how quickly our hearts are renewed in hope and joy when we read God’s promises, read of his sovereignty, and draw near to his throne of grace, all of which are revealed certainly to us only in the Bible. Scripture is both God-centered and man-elevating; we learn only in Scripture of our original dignity and purposes, as well as our restoration and renewal in God through the saving work of Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. When we give ourselves to the study of Scripture, fresh wisdom is discovered that is perfectly suited to our present need. God’s word is inspiring, comforting, solid, unchanging, invigorating. It is manly and courageous, as well as softening and compassionate. It humbles us in the dust without leaving us hopeless. If there is any light in the world, any wisdom, goodness, and truth, any justice, righteousness, and peace, it is only because there is a Bible. Those who have studied it the most deeply have testified to their unceasing and increasing marvel before the sacred volume. It is no wonder we are told that God’s word is more precious than rubies, that all the things we might desire are not to be compared to it (Prov. 3:15; 8:11), that we are encouraged to sell all for this “pearl of great price.”

This is more than fancy or enthusiasm. True, heaven-sent wonder is always joined with: “therefore, doth thy servant keep them.” And we shall never keep God’s word unless we have this sense of awe before it. Who can feel this enough? There is no “master” of such a volume; all are students. All must tremble. Those who have the truest knowledge of it tremble more than the rest – and ought to obey more than the rest. Hence, there is no separation between knowledge and feeling, feeling and obedience. It is not that when all our feelings are lined up, only then do we give ourselves to studying and obeying God’s word. No, God’s word is the only fuel of right feeling. We must obey him by giving ourselves to the study of his word first (John 13:17). We are not making progress as we should if what we know of Scripture, however slight, is not inspiring and strengthening us to obey God. We may have a certain kind of head knowledge, but in the absence of obedience, this is not a true knowledge. To know is to love. One does not know God’s word unless he loves it, hungers for it, and is held tightly in the grip of mystery, wonder, and awe. And since we must all confess to move through periods in which we are dull and cold before such a treasure, even that we trample and despise, neglect and ignore God’s word, must we not all repent of our hardness before God, seek his mercy, and earnestly plead with him to help us feel again a deep and transforming sense of wonder before his word? Then, we must give ourselves to the study of it – not “lucky-dipping,” haphazardly reading whatever line happens to come to our attention, or reading only those passages that we like or toward which we feel a particular affinity – but come to it as those possessed of this one idea: “How precious are your thoughts to me, O God” (Ps. 139:17). Every one of God’s thoughts is worthy of our careful, prayerful, and submissive meditation. It is no wonder that we often find our hearts cold, our mind asleep, and our wills as changeable as the weather. All our stability, all solid and lasting wisdom, all right fervor of spirit and clarity of understanding are to be found only in the heart of the faithful student of God’s word.

Light and Understanding (v. 130)

If we delight in God’s word, our Father is ever ready to take us in hand and teach us. He has given us his Spirit for this very reason: that we might all be taught of God (John 6:45). Even the smallest taste of God’s word is able to give us light and encouragement, strength against temptation, and hope in dark times. Yet, many stay away from God’s word. Some say it is too difficult or perplexing. Others complain of ignorance or lack of time. We see here, however, that our Father does not offer his wonderful word only to the smart and wise, or to those removed from active involvement in earthly affairs. The simplest believer, if he truly desires the Lord to teach him, may have confident expectation of receiving light and wisdom from God’s word. Thus, we have no excuse. In the light of such a treasure, all ignorance is culpable. Now, we study many excuses to avoid God’s word or approach it in fits and starts, which is a common weakness among God’s children. These excuses should be weighed against the consequences. If God’s word does not hold our hearts and minds tightly in its grip, darkness descends upon our souls. The line between right and wrong, wise and foolish, grows hazy. Thoughts, words, and actions we once would have shunned and condemned become tolerated, then accepted as a way of life. We begin seeing little problem with certain worldly activities. Pride creeps, then spreads. Love for sin and prayerlessness follow. We grow cold toward God, his church, and his people. The Bible seems more closed to us than ever. A glance at it on the table makes us either shudder with distaste or cringe with guilt. And why? We have rejected the light our heavenly Father offers to us. Sadly, the light of God’s word can be blazing right in front us without doing us any good at all (John 1:5). This happens to us because we are distracted, worldly, and arrogant, all of which utterly shut out the light of God’s word from our souls so that we cannot partake of its wonders.

Let the Lord graciously lead us back to his word, however, and what do we find? Our circumstances, while not necessarily easier or better, become far more bearable. We see God’s hand in them; his word teaches us this (Rom. 8:28). We are humbled before his providence. We know ourselves better: that we are prone to sin, need testing and refining, and must be conformed to our Head. Joy dawns. The word of God teaches us that there is no other way for this to occur than us for us to be humbled, bear our Savior’s cross, and learn obedience through suffering (Heb. 5:8). Hope arises. Other perplexities as to personal decisions are clarified, either by the Lord giving direct light and guiding us into the paths of righteousness or showing us that we have created the perplexity by our stubbornness and worldliness. There is no limit to the light God’s word will shed upon our path, once we give ourselves truly and persistently to it. So, the simple may not plead ignorance or weakness; God himself promises to supply the lack. The wise may not plead sufficiency or experience; progress in understanding and practice is a gracious gift we receive through no merit of our own (1 Cor. 4:7). All must come to God’s word as their only light. And notice that the promised light is not separated from the written word. Some claim understanding or insight that makes the word somehow unnecessary. Whole sects and cults are built upon this fatal error. But light without the word is nothing but giddiness and willfulness masquerading as truth. The word without the light the Spirit sheds upon it will remain lifeless to us – not that the Spirit adds anything to the word, but he quickens and enlightens the word of God by his gracious influence so that we can see what was there all the time. In ourselves, we are dull and lifeless. We are no better than the arresting soldiers who fell before our Savior’s “I am” only to return to their fell deeds the next moment. He must illumine us, and there is no other way than for us to come to his word to be taught by his mouth.

The darkness in the world, then, is not to be wondered at. Believers are sometimes surprised by the gross wickedness of some unbelievers, the unbelievable blindness of others, and almost corpse-like existence by still others. Without God’s word, every man is like Adam and Eve: hiding from God, senseless to their errors, and possessed by a stubborn persistence in those very sins that ruin their personal lives, families, and whole nations. We must have the word. We must have the living Word, Jesus Christ, apart from whose work and sufferings, all men remain blind as Bartimaeus, as dead as Lazarus, as traitorous as Judas, as stubborn as Peter. Thus, there is no hope for the restoration of men and nations apart from the “entrance of God’s word.” This is the reason we must be filled with that word ourselves, for our Lord has called us to be the light of the world (Col. 3:16; Phil. 2:15). We are to shine as lights – not simply in the way we live, though this is included, but as importantly by the words we say. For whenever God’s word is spoken, even from the lips of the humblest believer, light is shone, either exposing and confirming death or illumining and granting life (2 Cor. 2:16). God’s word must be in us (Col. 3:16). It must be our life. The speaking God is pleased to dwell with us as his children through his word. The church must become repossessed of that fervent desire for God and his word, else we shall be darkness in ourselves – and this is the most piteous thing imaginable, for those who profess to have come to the light to live in virtual darkness – and unable to shine the light of God’s truth so that men may be led by God’s Spirit to come to that word that they might have life and life through the gospel. We have God’s own promise. When his word comes to us, light dawns in our soul. We shall no longer be children, simpletons, and ignorant, but God’s illumined, faithful, and wise servants.

Thirst and Longing (v. 131)

If we are struck by the wonders of God’s word and believe the Lord’s promise to give us light, we shall pant after God’s word. An “open mouth” shows the active nature of true desire. We gasp for God’s word, for we want to know its marvelous truth and be illumined by its brilliant light. How encouraged we should be to pant after God’s word, for we have his promise and command: “open wide thy mouth, and I will fill it” (Ps. 81:10). He will always satisfy us if we are hungering and thirsting after righteousness (Matt. 5:6). This strong desire is characteristic of all true sons of Christ’s kingdom. It can wax and wane, to be sure, but this is only because we are weak and do not always feel our need as we should. If we are not being satisfied with God’s word, moreover, it is because we are not panting after his commandments. Do we not see by this verse how vital it is for us to have a firm resolve and abiding passion for God’s word? Some will say, of course, that it is not their personality type to have strong feelings about anything. This is nothing but an excuse for low and carnal desires, fleshliness, and worldliness. If we sense even the smallest wonders of God’s word, if we have enjoyed even the dimmest light, our desire will be to want more, even for our “meat to be to do God’s will” (John 4:34). Life in Christ begets desire in every true child of God. Lack of godly desire is the bane of experimental religion, the root of lovelessness, prayerlessness, and formalism in religion. It is the first step to Christianity without Christ, as in apostate liberalism, a form of godliness without power, and that giddy religion that is always searching for the “next big thing.” And why? We are not content with the old paths. Hearing that God will be our teacher does not stir our soul – and think, that the God of the universe, against whom we have sinned so many times, pledges to take us in hand and be our guide! Must we not be pricked to the quick by our low desires for God’s word, run to him for mercy, and be aroused from our careless slumbers to make use of the treasure he puts in our very hands?

There are many important things to observe about this verse. Though David was a man after God’s own heart, we see by his longing that true faith always aspires, presses forward “for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). It has tasted that the Lord is gracious; it wants more tastes and deeper experience. And all these desires are directed toward God’s word. Then, the reason believing desire is directed to the word is that God gives us himself in the word. We do not desire the word simply to be smarter, find answers to our problems, or possess the perfect paradigm for our families and churches. No, faith desires God himself, and it will have him. Against the world, the flesh, and the devil, it drives hard toward God. It will be satisfied with nothing less than God and his word. This does not vary from believer to believer, as if personality type were determinative. Faith is not something we generate; it is God’s gift. It is ever like itself, ever desires God himself. Then, true holiness and right religious feeling are always word-generated, word-focused, and word-sustained. There is too much of the spirit that says “I can be a believer yet be careless about God’s word.” One might as well claim he has lungs but be indifferent to oxygen. There is no piety apart from the word; no knowledge, no love for God, no hope, no light. Finally, must we not be deeply dissatisfied with ourselves? This is so opposed to the spirit of our age. Virtually every believer must fight against some degree of smugness, self-contentedness, and selfishness. We are encouraged to these by our own covetousness, to be sure, but our society is driven mad with self-love. The very reason that David opened his mouth and panted is that he felt himself to be lacking, empty of all good, in need of God to fill him with his word. If we know ourselves truly as the needy, sinful, and helpless creatures that we are, we shall long for God to fill our hearts with his word. And we have his promise that he will do so, for he pledges to satisfy the hungry soul (Ps. 107:9).

Look upon Me in Mercy (vv. 132,135)

What believer is not struck dumb, like Job, by his own foolishness (Job. 42:6)? When we read in God’s marvelous word that we are supposed to desire it, we fall back asleep. Though we pursue many other things with a passion – convenience, gadgets, preeminence, worldly recognition, possessions – yet we treat with comparative disdain the one thing we should desire above all. What is to be done? Some say, “Well, the preacher is at me again; I shall never measure up; I will leave the Bible to the experts and enthusiasts.” Believer, we are supposed to feel our utter inadequacy, that we are not gripped as tightly by God’s word as we should be. But this feeling must not lead to despair, paralysis, or indifference. No, like David here, we ask our Father to take pity upon us, look upon us with mercy, and give us the love of his name that will move us to seek his word with strong, joyful desire. Nothing is more common, however, than for us to give up. We have so many problems. Our families and relationships often disappoint us. We grow frustrated with ourselves. We sink into despair about ourselves and about others, thinking that at least in our case, grace is not more powerful than sin. “If only the Lord did not expect so much of me; if only he would leave me alone.” O, flee such thoughts! The Lord does not reveal our weakness to us for any other reason than to lead us to seek from him what we lack in ourselves. This is the reason he calls us back to his mercy so often in this Psalm. Yes, being servants of the living God is challenging, as we have seen, wholly beyond our wisdom and capacity. Yet, does he not promise to uphold us, to shelter us under his wings, to provide for all our needs, even to carry us in his very bosom (Isa. 40:11)? So, yes, we need to be challenged to desire God’s word more ardently. We need to be rebuked for our low and carnal aims, worldliness, and ingratitude. We need to feel like the blind, lame, leprous, and dead in the Gospels – utterly reduced in ourselves, beyond all human help, especially self-help. Why is this? So that we might seek God’s mercy in Jesus Christ. Many shy away from being brought so low, but did not our Savior bring himself so very low so that we would never consider it shameful to be exposed and laid open before God and men? Do we not see him baring his soul before his Father so that we should never feel the least hesitation in confessing to our Father all our sinfulness, weakness, and need, even with strong cries and groaning? And was he not suspended before heaven and earth, beaten beyond recognition, emptied of anything desirable, so that we should not be ashamed to shoulder that same cross and be humbled before God? And why? To languish there, filled with false pride, seeking any mask to hide from our true condition, despairing of hope? No, so that God himself may raise us up by his sworn love on the wings of our Savior’s resurrection. This is the reason our wise Father brings seasons of great humbling in our lives, more or less depending upon God’s grace and shepherding of our souls. He will have us be conformed to the image of his Son – not yet in his glory but in his lowliness and meekness before God, seeking from his Father with every breath the strength and faithfulness we require.

If we remain prideful, think what we are missing: God himself looking upon us. This is the reason David repeats and intensifies the idea in verse 135. For God to look upon us in mercy – O, every season of suffering is abundantly rewarded; every test joyful; even the simplest soul satisfied. Imagine when our Father looked upon us when he created us and said, “Very good.” He who has all things in himself and needs nothing, he who has all life, glory, goodness, and blessedness, looked upon us and smiled. This was heaven already in the soul. It was a pledge of love. It was a guarantee of fellowship, his abiding presence, his continual help, wisdom, and guidance. We forfeited his smile when we turned from him. Yet, he looks upon the face of his anointed, our Mediator, Jesus Christ, and smiles upon us again. His gracious look, his fatherly satisfaction in us as his redeemed and adopted sons and daughters, is life to our soul and health to our flesh. Thus, we never have reason to despair. Ours is a life of “joy unspeakable and full of glory,” as long as we love his name, cling to his mercy, and trust his promises. So, when he offers his word to us and encourages us to be held tightly in the love of it and obedience to it, is he not offering to smile upon us? In asking him to “make his face to shine upon us,” do we not ask this as sons in whom the Father delights? Is not our assurance his mercy? He gave his Son for us; he will give us all else we need for life and godliness (Rom. 8:32). And if he smiles upon us, he promises at the same time to walk and talk with us, teach us his statutes, and guide us into the way everlasting. O, his smile – does it not enlighten us even when we are most troubled? The martyrs have gone to miserable deaths smiling – all because they by faith saw God’s smile in the face of Jesus Christ (Acts 7:56). Closer to home, is not every task made lighter when we remember that our heavenly Father loves us and looks favorably upon us? We may endure great hardships in our homes, reproach from the ungodly, and sufferings in body and soul with joy if we know that our Father’s face is beaming at us. What mercy! What pleasure and joy – Peter calls it “unspeakable,” beyond words, higher, happier, and holier than our ability to describe it. How can we have God’s smile? There is only one way. Recognizing our weakness, that we have not loved his word as we should, we come to him as humble, believing suppliants for mercy. We plead the blood and righteousness of his Son. We desire his word above all, for him to speak to us and teach our stubborn hearts with his Spirit, who alone can subdue us. When we find that we do not desire his word, that we do not wish to be held in its grip, we confess our weakness and plead for his goodness and grace in Jesus Christ to cover all our sins and renew us in his image.

An Ordered Life (v. 133)

After pleading for his mercy, for his smile, to be taught by him, we must seek strength from him to lead orderly lives of obedience. Here is where we often falter. Of course we want to be assured of God’s love and favor. We forget, however, that this is more than a passing feeling, that God does not smile upon us so that we return to our self-satisfied and self-governed lives. He raises us up by his mercy and pledges his grace to us so that we may order our lives by his word. Nothing seems more contrary to rejoicing in God and finding abounding pleasure in his favor than to lead a discipline life, to be sober and godly in our thoughts, words, and actions. We want parties all the time, good feelings, and holiness without effort. Order seems distasteful, staid, repressive. Our culture is given to the pursuit of chaos, like the ancient Baal worshippers, thinking that meaning and happiness will come after yielding to the flesh and satisfying all our carnal desires. Examples of this abound from the highest to the lowest, from the well-educated to the ignorant, a daily parade of perversity and recklessness. Against this spirit, consider our Savior. None was ever as joyful as he (Heb. 12:3), even in the midst of his sorrows and agonies. Why? He kept his Father’s commandments and, therefore, enjoyed his steadfast love (John 15:9-10). His every step was governed by God’s word (Matt. 4:4; John 8:29). This is the pattern of enjoying God: joy comes through holiness, happiness through obedience. We shall find joy and peace, enjoy God’s smile and blessing, in no other way. An orderly life means that we do not seek to gratify the desires of the flesh (Rom. 13:14). It means the course of our lives must be nothing but a “studying to be quiet, to do our own business, and to work without our own hands” (1 Thess. 4:11). In our entertainment enslaved age – and nothing more prevents an orderly life of gratitude and obedience than the absurd notion that we are owed some form of entertainment each day, that we work in order to play, that escape and fantasy are liberating – it means that we discipline our sleeping and rising so that the Lord may “hear our voice in the morning” (Ps. 5:3). Each day’s work brings its own pleasure, not as providing the means to purchase the things we want or pursue the earthly pleasure we think we have earned, but as the way to glorify and enjoy our Father. Rather than pursuing all the tidbits of gossip and mastery of current events – as explained by blind men – we seek wisdom in God’s word, treasure it up in our hearts, and meditate upon it. Before moving ahead in anything, we seek God’s counsel, wait upon him, and rest content until he leads and provides by his word and providence. Our peace, strength, and enjoyment of God are found in quietness before him, ordered obedience to him, and “exercising ourselves unto godliness” (Isa. 30:15; 1 Tim. 4:7).

This kind of life necessarily delivers us from the dominion of sin. We learn to hate sin as that which disrupts our peace and enjoyment of our heavenly Father. Paul teaches that our true liberty is to be one with Jesus Christ in his death, by which we die to the power of sin, and in his resurrection, by which we rise to newness of life (Rom. 6:1-14). It is impossible to pursue union and communion with Christ if our lives are noisy, chaotic, and turbulent. I speak not of the necessary activity and energy of our families but of the soul disturbed by sin, irregular in its meditations, and sporadic in its seeking of God. And how compelling it is that deliverance from sin’s dominion is placed immediately after the plea for a life ordered by God’s word! We rise with it in the morning, think upon it as we are able during the day, and go to bed each evening with some snippet of truth upon our hearts and minds. It is the song of our life, the treasure of our soul, the peace that passes all understanding. All ordered living is found only in making God’s word our constant guide. Such a life necessarily focuses upon Jesus Christ, for “all things are written of him,” thus leading to deliverance from sin’s dominion. This is one of the Bible’s golden chains of happiness. If we would be happy, we must be holy. Holiness is the fruit of union with Jesus Christ (John 15:1-8; Phil. 1:11). To enjoy communion with him is found in the same way he firmly possessed it: in obedience to his Father’s commands. Thus, we are led back to ordered obedience to God’s word as the pathway to peace and happiness. But our use of God’s word must itself be orderly. That is, it must be on our minds and in our hearts. There should be no dust on our Bibles. It hinges must show use; its pages should be wrinkled. Day after day, year after year, we study its wonders, meditate upon its precious promises, and are thus led more and more to God, to holiness, to happiness.

Deliverance unto Obedience (v. 134)

This path is not idyllic. The Holy Spirit regularly describes it in terms of a wrestling match, a race, and warfare. That it is described as a narrow path reminds us of the way our Savior led. He was offered many opportunities for an easier way, for a cross-less way, for a worldly way. He rejected them all, even though the narrow path led him to such a horrible death. And has not the Holy Spirit constantly reminded us in this Psalm of the opposition we shall encounter along the way? Our own hearts are very sluggish in believing and walking with God. When we would do good, evil is present with us (Rom. 7:21). We feel the warfare in our laboring hearts (Gal. 5:17). The world is absolutely opposed to this path. And not seeking to order its individual and corporate lives upon the rock of God’s word, it necessarily sinks first into moral chaos, then into political tyranny. Unbelief always leads to revolution: against God’s moral order, his word, his Son, and finally against his church. This is the oppression David mentions here. Whether David was feeling specific oppression during the season he wrote this section or simply describing the general condition of God’s people in the world, his desire to be held tightly gripped in God’s word led him to plead for deliverance. It is not that obeying God is impossible in the midst of great personal hardship or outward adversity and persecution. But when we experience them, our Father invites us to seek relief from him. His promise of mercy extends to our lives in this world. He cares for us. Ours is not an anti-material, anti-historical faith. Jesus Christ shall have dominion from sea to sea (Ps. 72:8). The oppression we feel is more than an internal vexation; it extends to our lives and witness, livelihoods and families. We are easily overwhelmed by the hostility of the world, constantly tempted to keep silent, hide our light, or make peace with the world. Knowing this, David prays for deliverance. The reason he wants deliverance is so that he may “keep God’s precepts.” As we have seen so often, David does not want to live fat and happy, content with his own affairs and indifferent to God’s kingdom and word. He ever showed himself ready to fight for God’s honor in the world. He also knew his own weakness: that the outward oppression of men weighed down his soul, putting him in danger of falling, wearing out his resolve. His songs ring with this theme. “Lord, deliver me from the wickedness of men; I want to serve you in purity and joy; I am weighed down, attacked, and tormented by the deeds of the ungodly; when you are reproached, I am reproached. Please deliver me so that I may obey you with greater fervency, joy, and effect. When you do have mercy upon me, I will sing your praises and serve you more than ever.”

I often wonder if the striking absence of this spirit in the church broadly considered is the reason the Lord is allowing tyranny to increase in our own land. He could, of course, effect mighty deliverance for us, silence his many enemies, and overthrow their proud schemes. Would this be good for us at the present time, with our current attitude? We seem to be more agitated by what we might lose if the current regime continues – our money, liberty, and rights – than we are grieved that men are not kissing the Son. That we try to fight with worldly weapons only confirms that our faith in God’s divinely empowered weaponry is very weak. We have lost urgency in our prayers, contentment in quiet obedience, dependence upon the arm of the Lord of hosts. If he suddenly wiped the slate clean, would our rejoicing in his goodness stimulate greater obedience to him? Or, would we simply try to build the kind of empires, economic and political, that are so decidedly opposed to our Savior’s eternal kingdom? Can we honestly say that the reason we desire deliverance from our oppression is so that God will be glorified, his word held in veneration, and his church more effective in the great mission to which our Savior has called us? Do we want public prayer simply to preserve the façade of religiosity or because we would have our national life be lived in public dedication to the honor of God? Are we ready to live as free men under God’s authority? We are not unless the sincere motive of our heart is to walk in greater, more orderly obedience to God, the very life we are called to pursue even if Satan himself is roaring against us and all the demons of hell confront us. If we are panting after such a life, our faithful God and enthroned Savior will effect mighty deliverances for us, for our hearts delight in him, not this world and its pleasures.

Tender and Broken (v. 136)

That our response to oppression and tyranny is not to be anger, a vengeful spirit, or to call down fire from heaven, for the wrath of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God (James 1:20), is shown by these tears David cried. We learn that being held captive to God’s word makes us tender and broken. True, we know that God will execute vengeance upon his enemies, but our main personal response to man’s unbelief and wickedness is to cry: that men are plunging themselves headlong into destruction, that they reject the day of peace offered to them, that by their sins they call down the wrath of God upon themselves. We also weep that God’s name is dishonored – ah, we feel this very deeply. He is our Father. Since we bear his name in the world, we also bear the reproaches men heap upon him and his word. How can we sit by without crying when his name is blasphemed, his Sabbath desecrated, his word trampled in the dust. He has so joined us to himself by the sealing Spirit that our souls grow more in tune with his holiness, goodness, and beauty. His desires are becoming more our own. We are grieved that men would so treat the Father who has shown us such mercy. Rather than lining up in terms of parties and movements of man’s devising, growing more partisan, angrier and bitterer, and thus less inclined to labor for the salvation of sinners, we take our grief to the prayer closet. We are deeply affected by the world’s unbelief and treachery against God, as well as by the thousands of souls that are ushered each day into everlasting hell. This does not mean that we are emotional basket-cases. David was a fighting man; fighting for God’s name, he was also a crying man. He wept over God’s broken word and covenant. He wept over man’s hardness of heart and stubborn refusal to respond to God’s gracious invitation. Divine sovereignty, election, and providence did not make him cold and hard, stoic and passive. He cried out to God: for mercy upon the world, for defense of his own honor and word, for the coming of the Messiah and the deliverance of the world from its blindness and unbelief.

He has come. He has not saved us into partisanship but into partnership with him in the great work of saving the world. To join with him, our hearts must be tender toward God’s honor, broken over our own sins, and compassionate toward the lost. This does not make us mushy-minded respecting God’s law. How could it, for the only men who truly cry over a lost and rebellious world are those who are deeply persuaded of the truth of God’s word, the certainty of coming judgment, and the misery of the human family due to unbelief. What spirit possesses us? What word grips us? Is it the word of conservatives and liberals, both of whom view men as divided and defined primarily by secondary considerations of political conviction, racial identity, or economic condition? This breeds hatred. It prevents true gospel compassion. It blinds us to higher realities, eternal verities. It keeps men out of the church for artificial reasons. If we are gripped by God’s word, these same tears will flow from our eyes: tears of true personal repentance; tears leading to missionary zeal; tears of joy in grace; tears of hope that God will indeed save the world. Then, we shall be ready to speak of God’s love in Christ with compulsion, for our testimony will be not that a God has made us conservative, but that a holy God has had compassion on our miserable souls. He will do the same for the world, and his chief instrument will be the tender, compassion hearts of his subdued people, whose testimony in the world is of the blessedness of walking with God, the all-sufficiency of his word, the happiness that comes through holiness, and the mercy that delivers men from the dominion and misery of sin. May the Lord make us able to cry again, and cry profusely, sincerely, and expectantly. We shall if our hearts are held captive to his word, if we delight in its wonders. Then we shall be his mercy-loving, mercy-proclaiming servants. One word: mercy. One way: God’s holy word. One Savior: Jesus Christ, the lover of our wayward souls.

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