Monthly Archives: March 2017

Psalm 119:137-144

137Righteous are You, O LORD; upright are Your just decrees.

138You have appointed Your testimonies in righteousness, and in much faithfulness.

139My zeal consumes me, because my foes have forgotten Your words.

140Your promise is well tried, and Your servant loves it.

141I am small and despised, but I do not forget Your precepts.

142Your righteousness is righteous forever, and Your law is truth.

143Trouble and anguish have found me, but Your commandments are my delight.

144Your testimonies are righteous forever; give me understanding, that I may live.

 

The psalmist is committed to the proposition that YHWH is just and faithful in all that He does. Even when there is trouble and anguish that comes upon him, he affirms that whatever YHWH says is faithful and true (138). He has, for some time, walked in the discipline of the faith. He has “tried” the promise of God quite thoroughly (“well,” מְאֹ֗ד, 140), and loves it still. There is no trouble that can dissuade the psalmist from clinging to YHWH’s commandments; on the contrary, he finds great delight in them, and this forms a great contrast to the darkness that surrounds him. He trusts that YHWH’s testimonies are forever, and that they give him understanding and life.

 

Some days, you can feel God’s faithfulness. Other days, you can’t feel anything but the trouble and anguish around you. Which is real? Which can be counted upon? The servant of God knows that His ways are unchanging, and that His precepts are true regardless of how dark it is around us. The servant of God continues to walk in the promise of God, regardless of circumstance, because it is in God’s word alone that he finds consistency and solace. Over time, trusting in God’s promise brings delight—it brings delight both when we consistently affirm it in darkness, and when it is brought to fruition, banishing the darkness. The habit of trust in all circumstances gives us understanding, which gives us life. Those who do not have this habit of trust live dead lives; they cannot find meaning or purpose, and are wracked with bitterness over the anguish and trouble that rains into all of our lives. But the servant of God has learned to trust, and finds delight in the way of faith.

 

Whatever you are going through this day, know that your only real responsibility is to trust Him. Believe His promise: “try” it thoroughly. Commit yourself to the discipline of the habit of faith—believing His word, no matter how strange it may sound in a given circumstance. When you commit yourself to this faith, trouble and anguish are contextualized and given meaning—they are secondary characters in the play that is your life, rather than main characters dominating the action. God’s faithfulness in your life is the driving force of your delight and your purpose for living. This is the way of God—the way of faith. Will you join the family of Christ in this way?

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Psalm 119:129-136

129Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them.

130The disclosure of Your word gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.

131I open my mouth and pant because I long for Your commandments.

132Turn to me and be gracious, as is Your custom to those who love Your name.

133Establish my steps according to Your word, and do not let any iniquity have dominion over me.

134Redeem me from the oppression of man, that I may keep Your precepts.

135Let Your face shine on Your servant, and teach me Your statutes.

136My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep Your law.

 

In this stanza, called “Pe” after the Hebrew letter פַּ, the psalmist notes that his own ability and willingness to keep YHWH’s testimonies is a posteriori to the existence of those wonderful testimonies (129). First comes YHWH’s word, then comes his own love for it. YHWH’s word gives light and understanding (130), and the psalmist confesses a deep, passionate desire for it, as well as a protective zeal regarding it (131, 136). He begs the Almighty to do some things for him; these take the form of seven imperatival verbs in the passage:

  • Turn to me. The implication is that the psalmist and YHWH are not face to face; there is separation or alienation of some sort. The psalmist has moved away from the gaze of YHWH, and wants Him to turn to him.
  • Be gracious. YHWH is typically full of grace to those who love His name, according to the psalmist.
  • Establish my steps. Some versions translate this “order,” and the implication here is that no matter where the feet fall in his daily walk, the psalmist’s steps might be established not by his own wisdom but by the power of YHWH.
  • Don’t let any iniquity have dominion over me. The psalmist sees himself as belonging wholly to YHWH, and does not want to slip into the apostate situation of inviting a new lord into his life. He asks YHWH to prevent this.
  • Redeem me. This economic term, familiar to Old Testament readers, contains the image of buying back from slavery or some social status an individual. The psalmist sees himself as YHWH’s property, and longs to be purchased by Him and no other.
  • Let Your face shine on me. Again, there is the implication that there is darkness when YHWH is facing elsewhere. There is light in His gaze. There is daytime in His presence.
  • Teach me Your statutes. The psalmist is quite passionate about the discipline of the faith—learning YHWH’s statutes, commandments, precepts, and testimonies. He sees YHWH as his Great Teacher.

 

What a powerful vision—to be so enraptured and impassioned by God’s word that we are zealous for it and long for it. This can only come from submission to the daily discipline of an habitual faith walk. In such a walk, God does these same things for us that He is doing for the psalmist. He turns to us and is gracious to us. He establishes our steps—this is an especially comforting thought to the person wracked by stress and anxiety over whether or not the decision that he’s just made is regrettable. He prevents the diligent from being wholly owned by iniquity. He has purchased us from slavery, and brings light to our lives by teaching us His ways. Before we knew Him, we walked in darkness and stress and anxiety and despair. In the light of His gaze, we have daylight and rejoicing—even in the midst of suffering and darkness all around. We are bought and paid for, and wholly belong to Him, rather than to ourselves in some sort of self-reliance myth.

 

The psalmist clearly saw himself as God’s property. What about you? To whom do you belong? Are you following your own code of life? Or do you belong to God? If your answer is the latter, you should submit yourself to the discipline of the faith. Spend time with Him in daily prayer. Learn His word. Study His commandments and precepts. Recall the sermon from Sunday, and text from Bible study. Keep to this path, and you’ll find your steps ordered through the chaos that is life. Iniquity won’t own you; you’ll be owned by Him. In the light of His daily gaze, you’ll experience the joy of continuing salvation even in the midst of suffering.

Psalm 119:121-128

121I have done what is just and right; do not leave me to my oppressors.

122Give a pledge to Your servant for good; do not let the arrogant oppress me.

123My eyes long for Your salvation, and the fulfillment of Your righteous promise.

124Deal with Your servant with loyal love; teach me Your statutes.

125I am Your servant; give me understanding, that I will know Your testimonies.

126It is time for the LORD to act; Your law has been broken.

127Therefore I love Your commandments more than gold—yea, more than fine gold.

128Therefore I consider all Your precepts to be right; I hate every false way.

 

The psalmist remarks to YHWH that his own “doing” matches his “believing.” That is, he believes in  submitting to and walking in the righteous path of YHWH—and his actions match that. He believes that whether or not he is oppressed by his enemies is completely in God’s hands. He trusts that YHWH will deliver him from that fate; indeed, the psalmist places a high level of trust in the character of YHWH to deal in loyal love and understanding. He continues to submit himself to the process of learning YHWH’s ways, and trusts that His justice on the wicked is forthcoming. He hates what is false and clings to what is true.

 

Waiting for God is hard. Every molecule in our being defies the notion of trust, faith, patience, and waiting for some Other to come and do what we’ve convinced ourselves is in our own power. It is an act of superhuman defiance to trust patiently in the character of God when we so need His loyal love in the moment. It is not, simply put, human to do so. The miracle of faith, given graciously to us by God, allows us to do this. It is a great gift that should be appreciated and exercised regularly and habitually. Embracing the discipline of the habitual walk with Christ strengthens this gift and turns our eyes to the highest possible good—not the lesser one of Self. When we submit to this process in humility, we can then trust the God’s timing and justice and deliverance is best. Our task is then simple: to hate what is false and cling to what is true, which is the way of Christ.

 

Do you trust His character today? Or do you suspect that you’re going to have fix all this on your own? One way leads to patience, understanding, and the deliverance of the Lord. The other way leads to disaster, despair and doubt. One is the way of faith; the other is the way of distrust. To which do you cling today?

 

Psalm 119: 113-120

SAMEKH

113I hate the double-minded, but I love Your law.

114You are my refuge and shield, and I hope in Your word.

115Depart from me, you evildoers! And I will keep the commandments of my God.

116Uphold me according to Your promise and I will live; do not let me be put to shame in my hope.

117Hold me up, and I will be safe, and have regard for Your statutes continually.

118You reject all who go astray from Your statutes, for their deceitfulness is in vain.

119All the wicked of the earth You discard like dross; therefore, I love Your testimonies.

120My flesh trembles in fear of You, and I fear Your judgments.

 

The psalmist draws some sharp contrasts in this stanza, the lines of which begin with the Hebrew letter סִ, or “Samekh.” The contrast is between what is rejected and what is embraced. Those who are double-minded, for example, are rejected, while those who love YHWH’s law are embraced (113). Those who go astray from YHWH’s statutes are rejected (118), while those who have regard for those statutes continually are embraced (117). Evildoers are rejected, while the commandments of God are embraced. The psalmist sees existence in black and white terms—that is, the way of the YHWH is correct, and the way of man is false and wrong. There is hope in the former and shame in the latter. YHWH’s promise to him is what keeps him alive, and there is no shame in his hope. He sees YHWH as his refuge and shield, but has a reverential fear of His justice. In fact, the reason he loves YHWH’s testimonies is because of what he knows happens to the wicked of the earth. Both justice and hope are motivators for the psalmist.

 

Each day we have a similar choice: what to reject and what to embrace. Do we tolerate a little of the evildoer tendencies that we have? Or do we reject them completely? Do we make God our refuge and shield? Or is our embrace reserved for the ways of man? Do we have a single-minded focus on God’s ways? Or are we double-minded? God is a just God, and will ultimately discard all of the wicked like dross. Do we recognize that? Do we stop to think of His justice as well as His grace? If we do, perhaps we can be more motivated to reject that which is worthy of rejection, and embrace that which is worthy of embrace.

 

I know I have stuff in my life that needs to be rejected: remnants of a life lived for the self rather than for God. They tempt me to return, but they must not be tolerated. They must be rejected, so that my single-minded focus is on the way of God. Only then can I escape the fate of following my own way.

Psalm 119:105-112

105Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.

106I have sworn and confirmed it, to keep Your righteous decrees.

107I am severely afflicted, O LORD: revive me according to Your word.

108Accept, I pray, the freewill offering of my mouth, O LORD, and teach me Your just decrees.

109I hold my soul in my hand continually, but I do not forget Your law.

110The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from Your precepts.

111I have taken Your testimonies as my heritage forever, for they are the delight of my heart.

112I have inclined my heart to perform Your statutes; the reward is forever.

 

 

The psalmist delights in YHWH’s word. It is the great joy of his heart (111), and is also the light that shines the way forward in the darkness of affliction (105). It is life-giving, and capable of reviving the human soul. He also beseeches YHWH to accept the freewill offering of his mouth (108), which is his praise. He asks YHWH to continue the ongoing process of teaching him those just decrees. Life can seem precarious to the psalmist, but he never wavers in his devotion to YHWH’s way; he simply refuses to be distracted by anything else. Rather than chase after some other material heritage, the psalmist pledges that the word of YHWH is his heritage, and it lasts forever—as does the reward.

 

Existence would indeed be the dark prospect of Nietzsche’s nihilism if it weren’t for the word and way of God. Those who make it the delight of their hearts, rather than a dreary chore to be executed or a bland religious book to be ignored find that existence is actually quite pleasant. It is full of blessings and light that shine the way forward through the darkness of affliction. When the righteous praise God, it is a type of freewill offering, and part of the ongoing process of God’s teaching them. Life may seem precarious to us at times, but when we refuse to be distracted from the way of God, we see the beauty and joy in life. This process, in time, becomes our heritage: much more important than how much money we have or what property we own or what status we have in life. His ways become the “stuff” we inherit, and the “stuff” we pass down, and it turns out that His “stuff” is eternal, unlike the earthly stuff.

 

What’s lighting your path today? In the midst of your own affliction and darkness, what is bringing you light? The word of God can revive your soul. When you give yourself over to the discipline of the habitual disciple, you will see this revival. When your “Christian walk” becomes more than a powerful moment at an altar and starts to become a habit, you will see how Christ transforms you. This habit will include your daily offering of praise to God, Who teaches you His ways in this habit. Don’t be distracted by affliction, darkness, or the wiles of the wicked; your inheritance is His way, and its reward is forever. Engaging in this habit isn’t a waste of your time, but an investment in the only One Who counts.

Psalm 119:97-104

97How I love Your law! It is my meditation every day.

98Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, because they are ever with me.

99I have understanding, more than all my teachers, because Your testimonies are my meditation.

100I have understanding more than the aged, because I keep Your precepts.

101I have restrained my foot from every evil way, that I may keep Your word.

102I have not turned away from Your just decrees, for You have taught me.

103How sweet to my taste is Your word! Sweeter than honey to my mouth!

104Through Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.

 

 

The psalmist remarks that YHWH’s law is his meditation; he does not dwell on the darkness or the affliction around him. He is not obsessed with his opponents. The thing that looms largest in his mind is the way of YHWH. To the extent that the psalmist has wisdom and understanding, it is because YHWH has given these things to him, throughout the course of the discipline of the Way. And the wisdom and understanding he has learned and developed are truly great. Along with possessing these comes a hatred for falseness; a desire to adhere to YHWH’s path and not turn aside from it. Constancy and habitual discipline are the hallmarks of the wise and understanding, because they are the hallmarks of YHWH. The disciplined way is not a chore to the psalmist, either: he finds YHWH’s commands sweet as honey to his taste. The eating metaphor is a frequent one in Hebrew scripture; the idea of digesting YHWH’s word and allowing it to become internal rather than simply external is repeated in the story of Ezekiel and others.

 

As we journey through life, we are stung by criticism from those who oppose us. We feel the pain of injustice, and it is easy to let these things become the primary focus of our consciousness. But they should never be; yesterday’s readings showed us that these things are temporal. Today’s readings remind us that the habitual discipline of God’s way brings us understanding and wisdom in such moments. God’s ways should be what looms largely in our minds, not the darkness we endure. The habitual, disciplined way of God leads us into wisdom and understanding, and our attitudes change as well as our habits. His way stops being a chore to us, and starts being the source of pleasure—a status we previously only gave to our own appetites. In keeping to His way and not turning from it, then, we develop healthier appetites—the hallmark of maturity.

 

What looms largely in your mind today? Your affliction? Your trial? Your bruised ego or feelings? An injustice? Meditate on God’s ways. Let them loom largely in your consciousness, rather than your affliction. Make a habit of adhering to His ways, and the habits of adhering to your own will fall away. His way will be a source of pleasure and comfort to you, rather than a chore to achieve.

 

 

Psalm 119:89-96

89Forever, O LORD, Your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.

90Your faithfulness endures to all generations; You have established the earth, and it abides.

91By Your just decrees they stand this day, because all things are Your servants.

92Unless Your law had been my delight, then I would have perished in my affliction.

93I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have given me life.

94I am Yours; save me, because I have sought Your precepts.

95The wicked lie in wait for me to destroy me; I consider Your testimonies.

96I have seen the limit of perfection, but Your commandment is exceedingly broad.

 

This stanza is titled Lamedh, from the Hebrew letter לִ. It begins with the psalmist extolling YHWH’s word as eternal. Indeed, since all things are established by YHWH, then all things are necessarily His servants. His way, His word, His precepts, His commandments—they are all eternal and unchanging. All of creation, then, stands and abides by His own appointment. The psalmist then compares that eternal nature of YHWH with the temporal nature of his own affliction. If the law of YHWH (or “Torah,” תּוֹרָה) had not been his own delight, then that affliction would have been much bigger—and ultimately would have killed him. In that sense, YHWH’s precepts gave the psalmist life. He affirms that he is the possession of YHWH, and on that basis begs Him to save him. The imperative “save me!” (הֹושִׁיעֵ֑נִי, v. 94) is a powerful hinge on which the verse turns. Up until this moment in the stanza, the psalmist had been extolling something about YHWH; here, he beseeches Him directly. I have translated the last line as literally from the Hebrew as I can, but in its most literal form it can be a bit of a head-scratcher. Leslie Allen, in his commentary on the Psalms, translates it a bit more freely: “every aspiration I have seen fall short of realization: your command is so wide in scope.” Willem A. VanGemeren perhaps gets closer to the mark with his observation that the commands of YHWH are boundless and therefore give the psalmist liberty to live—a new lease on life, as it were. VanGemeren’s translation—“everything else, perfect as it may be, is limited”—is solid.

 

Our afflictions seem eternal. They appear quite big. They frighten us and darken the present with their ominous foreboding of the future. They seem scary and indomitable, and we feel weak and unable to defeat them. But the truth is that our afflictions are not eternal; they are quite temporal. All creation—including the evil that is our affliction—is subject to the sovereignty of God. Literally: “all things are Your servants.” Next to the eternal nature of God’s command and His ways, our major afflictions are nothing more than a stubbed toe, cosmically speaking. Put even more simply, our temptation is to make our problems bigger than our God. And this isn’t so. Our perspective, then, is all that we truly control. During our time of affliction, do we find delight in God’s ways? Or are we focused on how terrible our lives are at this moment? The ability to embrace the former and reject the latter is liberating: once we realize that God is greater than our affliction, we may affirm, in the deepest parts of ourselves, that in the shadow of the Perfect One our imperfect afflictions melt away. We are free to follow God’s way, even in our moments of darkness, because we trust Him to save us.

 

Your choice is the same as the one the psalmist had: to see your affliction as temporal and subject to God’s unchanging hand—or to stress out about it and therefore make it your real god. If you trust God, your affliction becomes small. You are liberated from anxiety as you trust Him. Call out to God to save you today, and believe Him. Believe in His character—His desire to save you, keep you, and grow you through this very temporal season of darkness. All of creation abides by the sound of His word; dare you think of your affliction as more than a stubbed toe next to His power? Be liberated by trust in Him.