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Psalm 119

June 11, 2017 Speaker: Kristopher Schaal Series: Psalms

Passage: Psalm 119:25-32

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Introduction

Please open your Bibles to Psalm 119. I promise I won’t preach on the whole psalm. ☺ When I found out on Monday around lunch time that I was going to be preaching this Sunday, I immediately began thinking and praying about what passage to preach. (That decision is simpler when you are working through a book study; but when you’re preaching a stand-alone message, it’s a lot more difficult.) I spent some time sorting through past sermons that I have preached and passages that interest me, but I finally landed on the passage we’re going to look at today because I memorized it recently, so it stands out in my mind. Please turn to Psalm 119:25-32. Psalm 119 is the longest of the psalms; it’s 176 verses long. Also, you can see by looking at it that it’s divided into 22 sections, each of which corresponds to a letter in the Hebrew alphabet. For that reason, we call it an acrostic. Finally, I should note that the focus of this psalm is the law of God, or the Torah. The psalmist uses 8 separate words to refer the Torah. He talks about God’s “law,” His “testimonies,” His “precepts,” His “statutes,” His “commandments,” His “ordinances,” His “word,” and He uses another word for “word” or promise.” Each of these words has a slightly different emphasis, and yet they are also used interchangeably. 

This morning, we’re going to look at daleth, vv. 25-32. And we are going to learn how we ought to pray when we are faced with great difficulties. If God tarries, each one of us in this room will pass through very difficult circumstances—perhaps even the valley of the shadow of death. What should we pray for in those types of circumstances? Should we merely pray to get better? Or are there other things we should be focusing on? We will also get a glimpse of the type of commitment to God that all of us should have. 

So, without further ado, please follow along as I read Psalm 119:25-32.

Prayer

I’d like to consider this psalm chronologically, like a story. I’ll explain why I chose that arrangement later on, but for now, I just want to tell you that we’ll start by looking at the psalmist’s commitment, followed by his condition, then his prayer, and lastly his confidence. First, the psalmist’s commitment.

Interpretation

The psalmist’s commitment

In a moment, we are going to see that the psalmist is in trouble. He says that his soul has melted into tears (we would say he’s cried his heart out) and that he feels like a dead man. Perhaps he was even at death’s door. However, before we dive into his situation, we ought to take a look at his background (vv. 30-31a).

It’s been said that there are no atheists in fox holes. Of course, what that means is that even people who have said, “There is no God,” will pray to Him and call out for help when they think they’re going to die. The psalmist was not like those people. he had lived a godly life prior to the circumstance he describes in vv. 25, 28. It’s not like he was just turning to God now that he needed help; he had been faithfully following the LORD for some time. Notice that he says in v. 30, “I have chosen the way of truth [or ‘faithfulness’].” That is, he had made a conscious decision to walk in faithfulness to God’s Word. And then he says, “Your judgments I have laid before me.” God’s judgments are his rulings about common human situations. They are the standards for how we are to treat one another. And the psalmist says, “I have set those before me.” In other words, “I have made a conscious decision to focus on them.” We might say, “I have kept them on my mind.” 

And then he says in v. 31, “I cling to Your testimonies,” or “I have clung to Your testimonies.” I love this word picture! Why would a person need to cling to something? Because it’s slipping out of his grasp. This month, the Schaal family took a momentous step—we got a dog. The McPhillips family couldn’t take their dog with them to Roseville (the house they are renting does not allow pets), so we got Summer, their boxer. The first time I took Summer running with me, we were just walking away from the house when she took off running, and I dropped the leash. My heart started pounding; I’m thinking, “Oh no! A car’s going to run her over or something!” But I yelled her name, and she immediately stopped until I walked over and picked up the leash again. (It’s nice to have a dog that’s already trained.) But as we were running, I noticed my tendency to loosen my grip on the leash. Summer would be running right next to me, so I would lose focus on relax my hand. Then, she would see something that she wanted to investigate and take off running, and would have to grip that leash hard so I didn’t drop it. That simple example reminds us of what it means to cling to God’s testimonies—His faithful, outspoken witness. However, when it comes to God’s Word, the problem is not it being yanked away from us, is it? What is the problem that we face? The problem is that we tend to stray from it. We are “prone to wander,” as the hymn writer famously put it. We are drawn away by “the way of falsehood” that the psalmist mentions in v. 29, deceived by the lies of Satan and of the world. In addition, we sometimes get discouraged when we go through trials, and we feel like giving up on God and His Word.

Have you ever felt that way? The psalmist felt those tendencies, too. However, he clung to the word of God like a man who has fallen overboard clings to the life preserver. He could feel himself being pulled away, but he refused to let go.

 

TRANSITION: You say, “Pastor Kris, that’s kind of interesting. But why did you need to set all that up before looking at the psalmist’s condition?” Well, I’m glad you asked. ☺ It was important to set those things up because the psalmist’s prayer is based upon his commitment, which was prior to his condition. So the chronology of it all matters. He pleads with God to help him based upon his obedience to the Covenant. Let’s take a look (v. 25).

 

The psalmist’s condition

So we already talked a little about the psalmist’s condition; now let’s discuss it in more detail. He says here that his soul was clinging to the dust. You say, “What on earth does that mean?” Well, maybe this will help. Do you remember when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and then God cursed them. What did he say to Adam, “For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” So the psalmist felt like he was about to die. It’s almost as if his body was being magnetically attracted by the grave. Perhaps he was very sick. We don’t know for sure, but we do know that he was in a dark place. You say, “But why does the psalmist say that his soul clings to the dust?” Well the Hebrew word nephesh can be used to refer to the entire person, and not just the nonphysical part of him. And it appears to be suffering physically, because he prays, “Revive me according to Your Word.” “Make me live, God. Don’t let me die!” So, there is physical aspect to his suffering.

But as you can imagine, there is also an emotional aspect to it. He says in v. 28, “My soul has melted on account of grief.” It’s as if his heart melted and ran out his eye sockets. He’s cried his heart out.

 

TRANSITION: And in light of this, the psalmist cries out to God.

 

The psalmist’s prayer

His prayer for healing

He says in verse 25, “Revive me!” “Don’t let me die!” And then in v. 28, “Strengthen me!” Literally, “Set me up again.” “Help me get back up on my feet.” I think we can understand those requests. The psalmist wants to be delivered from his affliction and restored to abundant life.

But I also want you to notice the basis for his request (and this is where we run into the differences between the NT and the OT, between Israel and the church). The psalmist bases his request upon the word of God. Verse 25 says, “Revive me according to Your Word.” Verse 28 says, “Strengthen me according to Your word.” What does that “according to Your word” mean? Well, it’s important that we recognize that the Mosaic Covenant established a strong link between obedience and abundant living, which included physical health. Turn to Ex 23:25-26.  “I will take sickness away from the midst of you.” “No one shall suffer miscarriage or be barren in all your land.” Do those sound like impossible dreams? Perhaps so, and yet that is what God promised to the children of Israel if as a nation, they would keep His covenant. And this isn’t the only place these promises show up. Turn to Deut 7:14-15. Once again, we see the promises: “There shall not be a male or a female barren among you or among your livestock,” and “the LORD will take away from you all sickness.” Now, sadly, Israel failed to keep the covenant, and so they never experienced these promises to the fullest. However, the principle behind them remained. And that principle is stated very succinctly in Lev 18:5. God says here that if Israel would keep His statutes, they would live by them, the idea being that they would experience abundant life—the kind of life described in verses like the ones we just looked at. But notice that he doesn’t apply that statement to the nation in general, but to the individual. He says, “If a man does, he shall live by them.” So the principle of blessing upon those who keep God’s covenant was for the individual as well as the nation.

Now, take that understanding back to Psalm 119:25. Remember, the psalmist tells us that he chose the way of truth, he laid God’s judgments before him, and he clung to God’s testimonies. Now he says, “Make me live, according to Your Word.” What is he saying? He’s saying, “Lord, look at my life. You know it hasn’t been perfect, but I have honestly sought to obey You. And Your Word says that the man who keeps Your statutes will live. So please, let me live!” Do you see how he’s claiming God’s promises? 

And then in v. 31b, he says, “O LORD, do not put me to shame!” Do you know what shame is? Shame is the exposure of misplaced confidence. You sit in a chair and it breaks under you. You feel ashamed because you acted as if that chair would hold you up, but it didn’t. Ladies, you get all dressed up to go to some kind of social event, and you think that you look really good, so you are very upbeat, but then at the end of the night, you walk into the bathroom and discover that all night long, there’s been a big chunk of broccoli in your teeth. You feel ashamed. Why? Because you were confident in your appearance, but as it turns out, you looked foolish. Or men, you brag about how good of a shot you are, but then you go hunting and miss every bird. You feel ashamed. Why? Because you were inappropriately confident. The psalmist is worried about that same thing happening with reference to him and God. He has placed his confidence in the LORD. He’s lived according to God’s rules. He’s tried his best to keep the Covenant. And now He’s praying to God for help, and he’s saying, “LORD, don’t let me down! I’ve banked on You. I’ve talked about You. I’m trusting in You. Please don’t fail me!”

And notice that even though his situation is very difficult, there is something that bolsters the psalmist’s confidence (v. 26a). In other words, he has prayed this type of prayer before—this prayer in which he recites his faithfulness to God and pleads for His help. And what happened in that instance? God answered Him. Isn’t it wonderful to know that as one of God’s people, He will never fail you? He may allow very difficult trials into your life. You may complain to him like Job, but He will never fail you.

So we see here the first thing that we ought to pray for when we are “in the dust,” so to speak, when we are facing great difficulties. And that is, we ought to pray for relief. We ought to pray for help and for healing. God is our Father, and He wants us to pray to Him like little children, bringing Him our requests.

However, it’s also important to note that as Christians who are not a part of the Mosaic Covenant, we cannot claim those promises in Exodus and Deuteronomy. They are not for us. Now, the Bible is clear that life generally goes better for everyone when they obey God’s Word. However, Jesus also says that “all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” And we just saw in Pastor Kit’s series on 1 Timothy that Timothy got sick, even though he was serving God, and in fact, because he was serving Him. So, although we can and should pray to God for help and healing when we are sick or troubled, we cannot claim the same promises that the psalmist probably had in mind.

 

TRANSITION: However, relief from circumstances was not the only thing the psalmist prayed for. He also prayed for discernment and purification. 

His prayer for discernment and purification

Take a look at v. 26. Why does the psalmist turn around from talking about answered prayer and ask God to teach him His statutes? Because he recognized their value. He had kept God’s commands and had watched God hold up His end of the bargain. So he was left with a desire to do even better at keeping God’s commands. One of the commentators I read pointed out that it should surprise us that the psalmist would ask to be taught His statutes after just implying that he had obeyed God’s statutes. However, it also makes so much sense! None of us ever learns to obey God and then moves on to other things because we have that lesson down pat. No, we all must grow in our obedience to God, and we never reach perfection this side of glory. But we ought to keep trying to obey God better, more consistently, and we ought to ask Him to help us do so.

Now, I want you to see how important this prayer for illumination is in this psalm. It comes up not only in v. 26, but also in vv. 27 and 29. In v. 27, the psalmist prays, “Make me understand the way of your precepts.” What does he want to understand there? God’s law in a theoretical sense? No! He doesn’t say, “Make me understand Your precepts;” He says, “Make me understand the way of Your precepts.” What does that mean? “Make me understand how to live a life that is sensitive to every detailed command. Help me understand how to live life on Your terms.” This is interesting, because I think we tend to think of discretion as a NT concept, as if the OT believers didn’t have to exercise it; they just followed rote commands. However, that is not the case. In fact, you have an entire genre of the OT (the wisdom literature) dedicated to making discerning choices based upon principles in the Word of God. So the psalmist prays, “God, help me to do that! Help me make wise decisions.” 

And then in v. 29b, we have this great prayer, “Grant me Your law graciously.” The English verb and adverb are one word in the Hebrew. It reads literally, “Grace me with Your law.” Obviously, the giving of the law was a one-time event on Mt. Sinai. But the psalmist is looking for a personal application of that law upon his heart. He wants a mind to understand God’s Word, a heart to appreciate and love it, and strength to obey it. Spurgeon said about this verse, “He is in a gracious state who looks upon the law itself as a gift of grace,” and that is how the psalmist viewed things.

But not only did the psalmist pray for relief and discernment, he also prayed for purification. He says in v. 29, “Remove from me the way of lying.” Psalm 1, which serves as the introduction to the rest of the book, sets up 2 ways, 2 lifestyles that every Israelite has to choose from. The first is the way of the righteous, which is characterized by loving and meditating on God’s law. The second is the way of the ungodly, which consists of walking in the counsel of the ungodly, standing in the way of sinners, and sitting in the seat of the scornful. The psalmist here describes that second option as “the way of lying.” To reject God’s commandments is to accept Satan’s lie. That was the case in the Garden of Eden, and it has been ever since. Satan is constantly throwing lies at you. “God’s way is not good.” “See, obeying God doesn’t pay off after all!” “You deserve better than this!” “God has forgotten you.” Lie after lie after lie after lie after lie. And sadly, in our fallenness, those lies appeal to us. They find a sympathetic ear in our hearts. The psalmist recognized this, and so he prayed, “God, remove from me the way of lying! Get it out of me! I don’t want to listen to those lies! I don’t want to go that way. I want to follow You. So take these lies away from me and give me instead Your Word.”

Alright, now when was the last time you prioritized that kind of prayer when you were facing great difficulty? It’s not that you can’t pray for relief; that’s good to do; the psalmist does that. But the emphasis of this section is clearly on the Word of God. The psalmist wants to understand it and he wants to obey it.

 

TRANSITION: Finally, let’s consider the psalmist’s confidence.

 

The psalmist’s confidence

The psalmist was sure that God would answer His prayer for discernment. He says in v. 32, “I will run the course of your commandments, For You shall enlarge my heart.” That’s a fascinating metaphor, isn’t it? But it also raises an interesting question, because in the OT, the heart is pictured as the seat of the mind, the will, and the emotions. So which one of those does the psalmist want God to enlarge? Is he praying for the rational understanding of the Word? For determination to do what he already knew was right? Or for affections for God and His Word? Well, it’s interesting, this same phrase also shows up in 1 Kings 4:29, so let’s see what it refers to in that context. Turn with me to 1 Kings 4:29. In this passage, “largeness of heart” has to do with a breadth of knowledge or understanding. So it’s safe to assume that when the psalmist used that phrase, he intended the same thing. Do you remember how he asked God 3 times in this passage to help him understand His Word? Now the psalmist is saying that he expects God to do just that. 

By the way, one commentator pointed out that Bible-believers are often criticized for being “narrow-minded.” But according to this verse, just the opposite is true! The people who reject God’s Word are the narrow-minded ones! Bible-believers, on the other hand, think truly big thoughts, because they think God’s thoughts after Him.

So the psalmist is convinced that God will indeed help him to understand His Word. And he says, “LORD, when You do that, here’s what I’m going to do—I’m going to meditate on Your wonders, and I’m going to run the course of Your commandments.” Let’s look first at the psalmist’s commitment to meditate on God’s wonders (v. 27). How many of your translations say “wonderful works” in v. 27? Does anyone have a NASB? What does it say? (wonders) Yes, the NASB translates that word “wonders,” and I think they get it right. Now, the word itself can certainly mean “wonderful works,” as in miracles, and it’s often used that way. However, we have an example close at hand in which the same word is used to refer to wonderful things in God’s law. Take a look at v. 18. So I think it makes sense to take v. 27 as a reference to wonderful things as well. The psalmist is saying, “Lord, when you help me to understand what it means to live life on Your terms, I’m not just going to rush off to the next thing.” Have you ever given a present to someone who is unappreciative? It’s not very much fun, is it? In fact, you may even feel like you wasted your money. But what if you give a present to someone, and that person cherishes your gift? Perhaps you get the opportunity to deliver toys to poor children in a third-world country. And you see the look the in that little girl’s eyes when you hand her a baby doll. She takes that gift from you, and she cradles it in her arms. And she strokes the cheek. And she won’t let anyone else touch it, because she doesn’t want them to mess it up. Because she’s never seen anything like this before, and she is determined to guard it with her life. When God opens our eyes to understand His Word, He is giving us a gift far more precious than a baby doll! Do we express that same sense of appreciation towards Him? Perhaps we say, “Thanks, Lord,” and then we go and watch some TV. The psalmist says, “LORD, if you help me understand Your precepts, I will meditate on them. I will value them. I will cherish them.”

Finally, we have this commitment in v. 32 (v. 32). Pastor Kit often uses the metaphor of running hard after God. Here it is in the Bible. And it’s really fascinating, because typically in the psalms, the writers will talk about walking in God’s way. But here, it’s as if the psalmist wants to up the ante. So he says, “Lord, when You enlarge my heart, I won’t just walk down Your path, I’ll run down it! No half-hearted effort for me! I’m going to give 100%.” 

TRANSITION: I think that the attitude the psalmist displays here is one of the main take-away’s for us from this psalm. We ought to be committed to obedience like he was.

Application

We live in southern California, where it’s popular to be casual and cool. But did you know that you can’t approach the Christian life that way? If you are going to be pleasing to God, you must take His Word seriously and run the way of His commandments. When I was a freshman in college, I had a senior roommate who tried to “teach me the ropes.” And one of the things he taught me was, “It’s better to be late than to run.” If you’re going to be late for a class, it’s better to take the consequences than to look like a moron running across campus with your backpack. That may have been good advice in terms of one’s image on campus, but again, it’s not the way the Christian life works. The OT says that we are to seek God with our whole hearts. And that means having some determination, showing some mental fortitude. Listen to the psalmist: “I have chosen the way of truth, Your judgments I have laid before me. I cling to Your testimonies… I will run the course of Your commandments.” “I will, I have decided, I am going to do this,” that’s the type of language that the psalmist uses.

You say, “Pastor Kris, that sounds sort of moralistic. It might, but then consider the other things that the psalmist says in this passage. He balances the “I wills” with “help me’s.” “Teach me Your statutes.” “Make me understand the way of Your precepts.” “Remove from me the way of lying, and grant me Your law graciously.” Again, and again, and again he asks God for help. Why? Because he knows that he can’t do it on his own. He’s not strong enough. The way of lying gets into him, he’s to dull to understand the Word, he lacks biblical discernment—in short, he needs God! So there’s this beautiful mixture in this psalm of firm “I will’s” and humble “help me’s” that enable the psalmist to succeed.

What about you? Are you determined to obey God—to run in His way? Or are you like a light switch, sometimes on and sometimes off. Go to church for a few weeks, then skip a couple. Show up on Sunday night if the topic perks your interest. Read your Bible now and then, when you feel like it. Try really hard to have a good attitude some days, but then on others, just give up and say whatever comes to mind. I’m not saying that we don’t have good days and bad days. That’s not the point. The point is that we must be consistently determined to obey God.

Perhaps you’ve been determined to obey Him, but then you keep falling on your face, because you’re trying to do it in your own strength. Maybe what you need to do is cry out to God and ask Him to give you understanding and teach you obedience.

Maybe you just don’t value God’s Word like you should. You’ve been going through difficult experiences, and you’ve been praying, but your prayers have been imbalanced. You’ve been asking God to deliver you from the trial, but You haven’t been asking for wisdom, discernment, and purity. These are the things the psalmist focuses on in prayer, but you’ve been neglecting them altogether. I hope you see that what you need most when you are going through hard times is wisdom so that you can obey God.

Lastly, there may be someone here today who doesn’t know God as Savior. Maybe all this talk about commitment and prayer for healing, and running in God’s ways seems somewhat foreign to you. But you’re interested, and you want to learn more about what it means to have a relationship with this God of the Bible. If that’s you, let me just urge you to stick around and to ask your questions. There are many people here who would love to answer them and to show you from the Bible how you can have a relationship with God. So ask your questions, keep coming, and then open up a Bible and see for yourself who this God is and what He did for you. I’d recommend starting in one of the gospels, either Mark or John, and if you do so, you’ll see explained on those pages how God showed His love for the world through Christ. It’s the most beautiful story ever told, and it’s true. I encourage it to read it.

Let’s pray.