June 18, 2017
A note to readers: Today’s post is part of a Sunday Voice Series by Dr. Timothy C. Tennent, a close friend, mentor and colleague of mine. He serves as the President of Asbury Theological Seminary among other posts he holds across the global church. This Sunday Voice Series will cover the Psalms, beginning to end, by focusing on a Psalm each Sunday. I can’t tell you how excited I am for his interest in contributing here. This will be a huge blessing to us all.
Psalm 119:17-32 (NIV)
Be good to your servant while I live,
that I may obey your word.
Open my eyes that I may see
wonderful things in your law.
I am a stranger on earth;
do not hide your commands from me.
My soul is consumed with longing
for your laws at all times.
You rebuke the arrogant, who are accursed,
those who stray from your commands.
Remove from me their scorn and contempt,
for I keep your statutes.
Though rulers sit together and slander me,
your servant will meditate on your decrees.
Your statutes are my delight;
they are my counselors.
I am laid low in the dust;
preserve my life according to your word.
I gave an account of my ways and you answered me;
teach me your decrees.
Cause me to understand the way of your precepts,
that I may meditate on your wonderful deeds.
My soul is weary with sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word.
Keep me from deceitful ways;
be gracious to me and teach me your law.
I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
I have set my heart on your laws.
I hold fast to your statutes, LORD;
do not let me be put to shame.
I run in the path of your commands,
for you have broadened my understanding.
We begin this devotional by surveying each of the eight words, which, as we noted earlier, are like eight facets of a precious diamond. As we survey each of the eight, reflect on how each of these influences your own life as you encounter God’s Word. The first is the word law (Torah), and refers to instruction or teaching. God instructs us and teaches us through his word. The second is the word statutes (‘edot). This is a word associated with the specific stipulations of the covenant of God. Statutes flesh out the application of God’s law in specific settings. They are like the guiding wisdom in life’s daily situations.
A classic form of God’s statutes in the Bible is, “if this happens, then you should do that.” It is the application of God’s word. Some translations use the word testimonies which carries the same idea when we give specific evidence in a court as proof of our claims. Likewise, our daily obedience to God is specific evidence for our adherence to God’s covenant. The third word is precepts (piqqudim). This refers to various things God has appointed to be done. However, they often come to us as guiding principles so that our lives can be conformed to God’s plan.
The fourth word is the word for command or commandments (miṣwot). This word reminds us that we are under God’s lordship and called to obey him and heed his voice. The fifth word is ordinances (mishpatim) and refers to God’s righteous legislation. Sometimes it is translated judgments or laws. The word reminds us that God is the great Lawgiver. As the source of all just laws, he has set forth or established the basis for justice in the world. This word reminds us that when God speaks, he speaks justly, he issues righteous judgments, and he is committed to bringing about justice on the earth.
The sixth word is decrees (ḥuqqim). This can refer to not only a decree of judgment against those who disobey God’s law, but also a decree or judgment of acquittal for those who trust in the Lord. The seventh word is promise (‘imrah), which refers both to the ways God calls us to faith and obedience, and God’s own faithfulness to keep his covenant. The eighth and last of the terms is word (debar). It refers to not only God’s written word, but also His spoken word, or speech. God speaks, and his words are powerful and true. We do not have a silent God, but One who speaks. We believe in revelation as God’s own act of self-disclosure. This comes to us in the written word, in the spoken word to prophets, and ultimately, in His Son, Jesus Christ, the Word Made Flesh. So, the eighth word of superlative perfection points us to God’s final word, Jesus Christ!
The wonderful insight of these particular stanzas is that God is actively involved with us as we engage his word. One of the legacies of the invention of the printing press is that most people encounter scripture silently inside their head as they sit and quietly read Scripture. This would not have even been possible, of course, for most people until the last five centuries. People encountered God’s word as it was vocalized and read out-loud, and in the presence of others. In other words, when they heard God’s word, they heard it in community. This psalm sees the Lord actively engaged with us as we read or hear his word. He is there, “opening eyes,” (vs. 18) not “hiding” his commands (vs. 19), “teaching his statutes,” (vs. 26), etc. Even when we are “laid low in the dust,” his word comes to revive us (vs. 25).
As Christians, we also do not read Scripture alone. We read Scripture in the presence of the Risen Christ, and the Holy Spirit is the agent who teaches us, instructs us, and enables us to see the truths of God’s word. Isn’t it wonderful to know that when we read or listen to God’s word, we never do it alone? He is with us, as our teacher and our guide. Before we read God’s word we can truly pray that wonderful invocational prayer found in this section of Psalm 119: “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law” (vs. 18).