73 JOD. Thy hands have made me and fashioned me: give me understanding, that I may learn thy commandments.
74 They that fear thee will be glad when they see me; because I have hoped in thy word.
75 I know, O LORD, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me.
76 Let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to thy word unto thy servant.
77 Let thy tender mercies come unto me, that I may live: for thy law is my delight.
78 Let the proud be ashamed; for they dealt perversely with me without a cause: but I will meditate in thy precepts.
79 Let those that fear thee turn unto me, and those that have known thy testimonies.
80 Let my heart be sound in thy statutes; that I be not ashamed.
As the Purpose of our Existence (v. 73)
An overwhelming sense of need best describes David’s condition as he wrote this section. All the godly sometimes feel perplexed, even to the point of not knowing which way to turn. This may be due to our sinfulness, which always haunts us, by a sudden desolation from the hand of the Lord, as in horrible storms, earthquakes, wars, or diseases, or through the attacks of Satan and his wicked hordes. It is very necessary for us to feel how much our safety and security lies in God’s hands, or we shall never appreciate David’s pleading here. At the beginning, however, David lays hold of the sure claim he has upon God’s goodness. He recognizes that he does not belong to himself, that God has lovingly and wisely made him. Therefore, whatever he is facing, he is not facing it alone, as if he was adrift on a sea of chance and fortune, with no help but that which he can give himself or others may provide. No, he is of God’s making. And since God has made him, he may call upon his God and Maker with absolute confidence that the Lord will not forsake him. Now, it is true that God sometimes devastates his creation and destroys men. He can do what he pleases with his own, which is not a capricious declaration but a realization of the goodness, wisdom, holiness, and sovereignty of his purposes, which are far beyond our puny ability to comprehend (Rom. 9:20-21). It will do no good, therefore, to complain that since we see so much devastation in the world, so much misery and death, that God turns a deaf ear to his creatures, and that David is a fool at worst, or at best speaking as all men do when faced with adversity, calling upon “some God out there, if he is there.” This is the frustrated, guilty reflex of those who do not like to retain God in their knowledge but cannot shake God’s indelible inner witness that they are his image-bearers. Against this, we learn here that if we will have God for our helper, we must humbly recognize that we are not our own (2 Cor. 6:19-20), that we belong to him, that our only good lies in walking with him. Only then can we expect him to be kind to us and to help us. He loves us, but can we expect him to act toward us as a faithful, concerned, and generous Father if we ignore him, spurn his word, or live as we please until adversity comes? No, if we are wayward, if we do not recognize that the whole purpose of our creation is that we might give ourselves completely to him, if we call upon him only when times are tough, then he may justly say: “Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: for that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord” (Prov. 1:28-29).
We see here upon what basis we may have confidence that God will speedily hear and answer us when we are in trouble. It is when the knowledge of him as our Maker leads us to recognize the purpose of our creation: to know him and obey his word. We have seen this remarkable and very personal truth throughout this Psalm. Whenever David feels his great need, he does not immediately begin telling the Lord all he his wants or presume to lay out for the living God all the ways he thinks help would be best given. No, he begins by recognizing that his greatest need is for the Lord to hold him on the course of obedience, whatever his outward circumstances may be. It is as if David prayed: “Lord, I am in trouble; help me to obey you. Lord, I am besieged; help me to believe your promises. Lord, I am uncertain; give me your word.” You see, we shall always be frustrated, for life is filled with tests, hardships, and troubles, unless we recognize, first, that God is our only help. Then, we do not seek his help only to be relieved from our misery but so that we can obey him more fully, delight in him more deeply, and cling to him more unswervingly. If this is our heart, we truly recognize the purpose of our creation. It is so that we may understand the living God as he reveals and gives himself to us in his word, that in understanding him, we may love his word, hold fast to it whatever we see with our eyes, and desire, whenever troubles and testing come, to follow him more closely. It is our failure to appeal to God on this basis and with this assurance that robs us of the satisfaction that is ours if we cheerfully embrace our only purpose in life: “to know thee, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3-4). When many call upon him, it is only out of a slavish sense of dread, superstition, or like a genie in a bottle, as if we can ignore God most of the time and demand him to be there for us when we finally reach the end of our own supposed wisdom and normal human helps. If we would have God for our sure helper, if we would be armed with great confidence in his faithfulness and love, if we would have him come to our aid in our hour of need, we must be ever seeking him as our Maker, our only good, and our only deliverer. Then, we shall pray as David did: “Lord, what I really want in this time of trouble is to walk with you more closely and obey you more devotedly.” The Lord will always hear such prayers and bring aid to us that is far beyond our ability to conceive.
Because It Brings Joy to the Godly (vv. 74,79)
Twice in this short span of verses David shows that his pleading for God and his word is not simply for his own personal relief. He desires to be a blessing to the godly (v. 74) and to receive blessing from them (v. 79). This intimate relationship between the people of God is worthy of careful attention, for it is Paul’s own model for the mutual affection and blessing we ought to have and seek from one another (Rom. 1:10-12). On the one hand, David feels strongly that his hope in God’s word will be affirmed when God helps him, gives him understanding, and guides his steps. This will give great joy to those who fear the Lord, for they share in one another’s joys. All their delight is in “God’s excellent ones” (Ps. 16:3). We seek the Lord, therefore, not simply for our own good, which can be a very narrow and selfish consideration, but so that when God answers us and comes to our aid, the faith of our brothers and sisters may be greatly encouraged. After all, we live and die for each other. We mourn and rejoice with one another. There are no legitimate individualists within the body of Christ. Beyond this, what we love in each other is “Christ in you,” for when we see one another walking righteously and desiring him, what an exhilarating blessing this is! We see in them more of the loveliness of our Savior, more of his marvelous grace and power. God’s goodness to our brothers and sisters motivates us to seek him with the hope that he will be good to us also. And when we see a believer sorely tested and afflicted, as God upholds and delivers him, our own faith soars to heaven on the wings of hope and assurance of divine love. If a tempted brother overcomes, we are steeled for the conflict. If a straying believer is restored, not only does heaven rejoice but also our own hearts are filled with gratitude to God.
Thus, should not we who have been saved by God’s grace, joined to Jesus Christ, and invited to plead with God to be our good and shield, endeavor to live in such a way that when another believer sees us, his heart leaps with joy? How sad it is when those who should make us glad are the occasions of our discouragement, and even worse, when we ourselves are the cause why fellow-believers grieve, lose hope, and grow weary of the conflict. Each one of us should ask: “Are other believers glad when they see me? Are they encouraged because they see me hoping in God’s word even in the midst of adversity?” If not, we are doing serious harm to the body of Christ and robbing ourselves of great good, for how can others then serve the Lord with vigor, have their hope and faith in his word realized and confirmed as it might be, and in turn encourage me if when they see me, they are tempted to despair? Nothing ought to be more joyous to us on earth than the sight of a godly man walking toward us; in turn, each of us should aspire to be that godly man, so that the whole body may increase, rejoice, and be encouraged. But this will be us only if we hope in God’s word. This hope will never be disappointed. Whatever specific need we have, God’s word will meet it. However grievous our troubles, God’s word will quicken us (Ps. 119:50). And the fruit of this will be grace, mercy, and peace spreading throughout the whole body and our greater motivation to persevere in adversity and in our conflict with the world. Do you see, then, how bound we are to each other, that godliness is not simply important for my own state before God but also for the strength of the whole church? Thus, however humble may be our personal circumstances, however slightly gifted we may think ourselves to be, each one of us has, by virtue of union with Jesus Christ and his mighty working in us (Col. 1:29), a fountain of grace unto holiness that will be a rich blessing to the entire congregation. When they hear of us, see us, or talk with us, they will be blessed, encouraged, and relieved, as if God himself came down and spoke encouragement to our weary souls. Christ Jesus our Lord will bless them through us; we shall be blessed by his sustaining grace in them. May we so hope in God’s word alone, so give ourselves to it, that our lives, afflictions, and perseverance will encourage those who fear God! This is our duty and our privilege. It is also a great need, for young and old alike. Do you, Christian young man, bring joy to your parents, or are you a grief and burden? Does your modesty, industry, and faith, young daughter of the King, encourage us all with the beauty of the church, the transforming power of grace, and the insuperable power of God’s word? What of you, husband, and you, wife? Is your spouse glad when he sees you? Does your hope in God’s word stimulate his hope? We are so vitally connected to each other because we are thus joined together in Christ our Head.
This is no pious platitude or wishful thinking that David here expresses. Since we are so joined together in Christ that the hope, joy, and suffering of one are the common possession of all, without helping one another in this way, we shall surely faint, grow weak, and despair. After speaking of his afflictions, David then expresses the other side of this: that he feels acutely his need of encouragement from those who fear the Lord (v. 79). This is a humbling thought: that David, godly man that he was, pleads with God to send him the fellowship and assistance of godly men. And yet we often live as if our only thought is of our own situation, and perhaps that of our family. We do not enter into the sufferings of others as we should, or give only shallow moralisms to those who are struggling. They do not need our dismissive, passive, or pious sounding words. They need the encouragement of like-minded, compassionate, and God-fearing brothers and sisters. When we see others struggling, if we have any love in our hearts, are touched with any sense of his goodness to us, we must turn to one another with all the “bowels of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:8); the very seat of our affections, compassion, and sympathy must be poured out to them. But this will never be unless we hope in God’s word alone and have learned that God’s promises are our only safety and joy. Then, having known this in our own hearts, having “tasted that the Lord is good,” we shall be able to minister to our brothers and sisters sincerely, meaningfully, and hopefully. How do you feel toward those you know who are being sifted by the Lord, tested by sin, and allured by the world? Toward the weak and wandering? Do you stand at a distance, waiting until they are as holy as you think you are before you will accept and help them? Or do you run toward them, knowing that you have been similarly tested by the Lord, and that as your hope in God’s word has not been disappointed but confirmed time and again, you will be a joy and consolation to them in their struggles? This casts a totally different light upon our need to hope in God’s word, the reason we plead with him, and the way we relate to one another. Our blessings in our God are mutual. Our sufferings are shared. Our deliverances are corporate. Our hope is one. Let us fear God and run to one another, offering the assistance of our common faith in God’s word, our unified experience of his faithfulness in adversity, and our mutual dependence upon his power in our weakness.
So that I May Embrace God’s Judgments and Afflictions (v. 75)
After confessing his utter dependence upon the God who made him, David then admits to the Lord that his judgments and afflictions are right and faithful. The former is inescapable; the latter is truly a work of grace. We may confess that whatever chastening the Lord has brought upon us is deserved. How can we argue with this, since we know that the “Judge of all the earth will do right” (Gen. 18:25)? We can never legitimately question that his blessings far outnumber his judgments, that we always deserve more afflictions than we receive (Lam. 3:39). But more is required than simply a passive acceptance of the inevitability and righteousness of God’s afflictions. If we would humbly plead rather than bitterly complain against God, we must go on to confess that his afflictions are “faithful.” That is, “Lord, I stand self-condemned before you. I admit not only that your judgments are just but that you were faithful in giving them. Whether I would have confessed it before or not, I need for you to chasten me. I bow myself before you. If you think it good, wise, and just, please, chasten me more.” The godly pleader with the Lord recognizes that the Lord is like a skillful surgeon who cuts deeply to remove all our filthy pride, self-reliance, and lifeless idols. Before even asking for help and deliverance, which David turns to in the next line, we must bow before the righteousness of God’s afflictions and humbly receive his faithfulness in acting toward us as a loving Father.
How few of us confess both of these? We brace up before the idea of righteousness, then immediately crumble under the thought of faithfulness. Yet, if we are to benefit from our afflictions, if we are to be prepared to receive our Father’s mercy and love in them, our faith must see both. I deserve and need these afflictions. God is both righteousness and faithful in giving them to me. If he thinks it best for me, give me more adversity, suffering, even death. Like Job, though he slays me, yet will I trust in him (Job 13:15). How we must seek from the Lord such a heart! David could never have made this confession unless he had yielded to God’s ownership of him (v. 73), indeed, unless he had already established his complete happiness in God, so much so that he desired to be treated as God’s son, with all the affliction and chastening required for him to be more like his Father and hope more fully in his word. Then, he had to be persuaded that all God’s purposes toward him are good (Jer. 29:11), even the difficult providences under which we tend to wilt, fret, and complain. If this “I know” is to become our confession, we must learn to think less of ourselves, indeed, to deny, repudiate, and renounce ourselves, especially our self-love and worldliness (Matt. 16:24-25). Our lives are not our own to live. “Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom. 14:8). If we are to save our lives, we must lose them – for Christ, in Christ, unto Christ. This is really the difference between the child of the world and the child of God: the former may be forced to recognize justice, but the latter adores faithfulness. The former knows God as a terrible judge; the latter as chastening, loving Father. The former does not hope in God’s word and chafes against him for the very judgments that would bring temporal and eternal good to him; the latter receives them as evidences of the love of a Father who is his good in life and death, good and evil, peace and calamity. May the Lord help us to plead with him as humble confessors of his faithfulness, not simply when all is going well but when all his waves and billows roll over us. Then, he will hide us under the protection of his wings, cover us with the pavilion of his covenant, and give himself to us as our good.
Because His Mercy and Pity Alone Bring Comfort and Life (vv. 76,77)
As important as it is for us to feel and confess our bond with God based upon his creation of us in his image, it is even more necessary to move beyond this to his covenant of grace. Without assurance of his fatherly love and goodness to us, life is unbearable. Yet the natural ties between God and us are irreparably torn because of our sins, so much so that nature reveals only his wrath (Rom. 1:18). This is the reason there is no comfort in notions of “God in general,” providence without covenant, or natural theology. It is one thing for theologians, philosophers, and politicians to prate about such an unknown God when life is going well, but let adversity strike, devastation and death hound us, then all these dreams evaporate before the dark uncertainty of affliction. Our only hope and comfort in such times is God’s covenanted, sworn love, and upon this David falls headlong in the midst of his own troubles. This is the reason he pleads: “Let they merciful kindness be for my comfort.” God’s merciful kindness is his goodness, kindness, and mercy to those who seek his face. It is a strong word: hesed (ds,xñ,). It is God’s promised love to all that fear him, repent of their sins before him, and seek his grace and truth. The word is often paralleled with “covenant” to teach us that God’s covenant and his kindness to us in Jesus Christ are one and the same thing (Deut. 7:9; 1 Kings 8:23; Neh. 1:5); he promises to be good and kind to us. God’s kindness to his people is frequently grouped with his other attributes (e.g. Ex. 34:6) that we can only tremble and rejoice that God would so extend himself to us, for in giving us his kindness, he gives us himself. It is for this reason that we must praise his loving-kindness and depend upon it, for it is promised to thousands of generations (Ps. 107:8,15,21,31): but only to those who love him and keep his commandments. We can have no experience of God’s kindness, no hope in his goodness, and no expectation of his faithfulness unless we, in overwhelmed, humbled response to his love and mercy to us, love him in return, trust in him alone, and look to him as our only helper. This is true at all times, but we feel it more deeply in dark ones. Thus we plead: “Lord, please extend your covenanted goodness to me; you have promised; I deserve nothing from you, but look upon the face of your Anointed, Jesus Christ (Ps. 84:9). Since you have made all these promises to me in him (2 Cor. 1:20), be kind to me, bless me, and help me for his sake. You love me immovably because he is your Beloved. This is your word to me; I have no other hope, desire, or rock.” This must be our cry when we feel our Father’s afflictions: “Father, remember your word to your servant, upon which thou has caused me to hope” (Ps. 119:49). He will never refuse such faith, and his heart is so open to us in Jesus Christ that he will give this faith to us if we diligently seek him, for he is abundant in mercy.
And we must, for our need of God’s goodness, his kindness and love, is inestimable. It surrounds us at all times, of course, for every healthy, fed, and safe day we have ever enjoyed has come from his hand. His goodness is the only true and lasting delight of every child of God. Every instance of faith in his gospel, victory over sin, and perseverance in believing his truth is evidence of his kindly affection to us through his Spirit of light and grace. Let his chastisements and afflictions descend upon us, however, let all the wind be taken from our sails, so to speak, and we will learn more that his kindness alone sustains our hope – that he, the living God, will not forsake us; that he hears our cries and gathers all our tears in his bottle, knows our soul in adversity, and watches over us with eternal vigilance. How pitiable is that man or nation that knows trouble without knowing the God of covenant love! How miserable, tasteless, and worthless is life without a firm and certain knowledge of God’s mercy and goodness in the depths of our soul! But to call us with indescribable fervency to cast ourselves upon our God’s love, David adds the idea of “tender mercy.” This is God’s compassion, his tender heart toward us. We may have earthly fathers and husbands whom we know love us, but yet they are not very tender, speak gruffly at times, and are prickly or uncomfortable when we try to get close to them. We know that they will help us as much as they can, would perhaps even die for us, but there is little feeling of warmth or sympathy in them. Perhaps they never experienced such themselves, or their own burdens, while not preventing them from loving and trying to encourage us, hinder them from really entering into our struggles and grief. Not so the Lord of tenderness: he is both the Father of love and the God of compassion. In our affliction, he is afflicted; he redeems us in love and pity (Isa. 63:9). And is this not even more wondrously true since the Son of God took upon himself our flesh, was tempted in every way as we have been, and became the Man of Sorrows because sin had sunk us so very low? Because we are flesh and blood, we need to know that our God and Father enters into our sufferings with us; he does so through Jesus Christ, the Lover of our soul. We need to know that he pities us in our struggles, sympathizes with us in our weaknesses, and groans with us in our groaning; he does so through the intercession of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit (Heb. 5:8-9; Rom. 8:26). So necessary is it for us to know God’s tenderness, David pleads: “Lord, let your tender mercies come to me, that I may live. My redeemed yet afflicted soul cries from the deeps to your deeps, the depths of your compassion for me (Ps. 42:7). I can endure anything if I know you are sympathizing and upholding me by your power, wisdom, and goodness. I will live if I feel your tender love for me.” And let me live “because your law is my delight.” Again, David pleads for tenderness from the Lord because he loves his word and would love and obey it more.
Modern views of God, even in the church, simply will not suffice. They are either giddy, as if God is a cheerleader or master therapist, or cold, like Europe’s empty cathedrals of stone. Such a God does not exist. He has made us for himself. He has given us his Son to be our Head and has so joined us to him that we are crucified and raised together with him. It is no longer we who live, but Christ himself, by his Spirit, who lives in us. He is full of tender mercy; his arms are open to us. His compassion is not empty words but eternal power and faithfulness joined with wisdom and goodness. His love is not the ever-changing feelings of the religious enthusiast but the steady, sworn, and vigilant affection of his own heart for us. His tenderness is our life. And he will so work that we will feel this to be the case. We can hardly learn this, so chained to the earth are our affections, unless he gradually, though sometimes with greater energy and rapidity, removes all the artificial props and vain trifles upon which we waste so much time and attention. He will have us love him supremely, to know the height, width, depth, and breadth of his love for us in Jesus Christ. He will have us feel how much we need his pity and kindness, for we are his dependents, created and redeemed to know that he is our life. We are also his friends and servants, and he will have us both know the privilege of having him for our reward and devote ourselves cheerfully to his service. Often, as we see here, troubles are his best rod of correction, for through them he testifies to his love for us, that his intent is our reformation, not destruction, that our destiny is to be with him forever, enjoying his goodness and kindness in heaven. Receive afflictions, then, child of God, and when they come, plead his kindness and pity. Our redeemed souls were made over in Christ to be filled with them, to taste and see his goodness, and to be satisfied with him as our portion, even when the seas of life are raging around us, Satan fumes, and the proud mock our simple faith.
For Relief from the Proud (v. 78)
And mock they will. David’s afflictions commonly involved the lies and schemes of proud men, whom we have already encountered in this Psalm. Proud men hate humbled men. Indeed, if we wish to fight God’s battles and serve him truly, the best way to enlist under his banner is to be humbled before him and to make his goodness our only joy and strength. Then, we shall certainly call forth the ridicule of the world and find much opportunity to stand for the Lord’s truth and serve as his soldiers. How do proud men respond to calamity? They speak of recovery after disaster, but no repentance. They pour forth money to help “victims,” but no tears for their sins. They try and build a better Babel but would pull down Zion. They loathe those who speak of God’s judgments. When anyone humbly testifies to God’s goodness in preserving them through trouble, they shut their ears tightly, move quickly to a man of pride who speaks of his own fortitude and luck, and would, if God allowed them, blot out the memory of God-fearers from the face of the earth. Satan tolerates no reminders that troubles are God’s handiwork, that disasters are his judgments, that misery should lead us to him as our only refuge. But he is stymied, for the righteous know the Lord of goodness and tenderness. They plead with him: “Let the proud be ashamed; they deal wickedly; Lord, they hate us for no other reason than our faith in you and love for your word.” This plea, when the church makes it in faith, is the doom of arrogant men. It was our Savior’s plea: “All they that see me laugh me to scorn; be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help” (Ps. 22:7,11). By it he cast out Satan and is now spoiling his house (Luke 11:20; John 12:29-31).
God’s goodness and pity upon us have purposes far beyond simply giving us comfort in our sorrows and helping us in our weakness. His afflictions and preservations are part of a broader work in which he brings his people very low at times so that the power of Christ may rest upon them. He will use the weak to bring down the high and mighty (1 Cor. 1:27-28). He uses humble, gospel preaching to overthrow his self-willed despisers. So, when we are brought low by pain and trouble, when we are so reduced that our only comfort is God’s promises, it is so that, humbled by our sins and led to cast ourselves upon his covenanted love and tenderness, he might raise us up, high above our enemies. Thus, we must “possess our souls in patience,” for God is waging a continual war against human pride. It will be exposed as chaff, overthrown, and cast into everlasting hell. As we watch and wait, and sometimes suffer for righteousness’ sake, we must “meditate upon God’s precepts.” This is not passive, isolationist spirituality. God’s precepts guide us as we seek to serve God in this battle. They encourage us that Christ, not man, is King. They lead us to God’s promises as our sure rock and refuge. They will never be disappointed. The hope of the wicked, however, will perish (Job 8:13; Prov. 10:28; 11:7), as will their arrogance and torments against the righteous. But those who build their lives upon God’s precepts, upon the words of Jesus Christ, will sometimes be battered by all God’s storms, but they will stand, shining forever as the sun in the kingdom of God (Matt. 13:43; Phil. 2:15). How this hope must light our way, encourage us in suffering, and fill us with courage in withstanding evil men! We must plead with God to destroy the pride of man and bring all to see their absolute dependence upon God, their need of his love and compassion.
That I May be Whole and Confident (v. 80)
When we turn to the Lord in our hardships, along with desiring his goodness and compassion, in addition to desiring for him to overturn the schemes of the proud in heart, we must plead with him to give us a heart that is sound in his word. “Soundness” is moral wholeness, integrity, a profession that is consistent with the true condition of the heart. Afflictions reveal whether our heart is sound or not: do we turn more to God’s word and away from our own thoughts? Or do afflictions reveal our hypocrisy, inconstancy, and bitterness? Heavenly fires, for so we must consider all our troubles to be, are like a smelting furnace that separates the pure metal from the impure dross. David feels his weakness. It is easy to complain when our house burns down. Many will take disease as an opportunity to “become a survivor.” Very few are humbled before God in the face of hardship. This is because we are not single-minded, or, as our Savior said, “Our eye is not whole” (Matt. 6:22-23). Our faith is not fixed upon God and his promises. The single desire of our lives is not that God may be glorified and that we may enjoy him, whatever may happen to us. Then, when adversity comes, our impurities rise to the surface. Perhaps it is an underlying pride. It may be covetousness, bitterness, or anger. This prayer for “soundness” must become more of our beating heart for the Lord. “Lord, give me singleness of desire for you; make your word the very core of my affections, thinking, and habits; so work in me that I may be a man or woman of integrity.” If this is our prayer in affliction, we shall never be put to shame, either before our Father or before men. We may be brought very low. We may feel like Jonah in the depths of the sea, there for our own folly. We may be drowning, like Peter who was sinking because he took his eyes off the Lord. All God’s waves and billows will go over us at times. He would not be a faithful and true Father if they did not. If our plea is for integrity of heart, however, if his afflictions bring us to our senses, our hope shall never be disappointed. He loves us and has brought adversity upon us for this very reason: that we may know that he is our Rock, stand amazed before his love and mercy, and depend upon his word as an unassailable foundation.