It’s Bible Study Day! Let me encourage you to spend some time reading over Psalm 119:41-48 before perusing these humble comments. Sometimes when I study, I write down as many questions as I can about the passage. I might not be able to answer them all, but it gets me thinking!
Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise;
The word “steadfast” is a doozy. There is no word in the English language that can capture the depth and richness of its Hebrew meaning. But I’m going to try. The word “hesed” is translated as “steadfast love, lovingkindness, mercy, unfailing love, faithful love, loyal love; a long-suffering love that extends to the undeserving and even intervenes on their behalf”. Whew! That’s a mouthful — and a brainful. It shouldn’t surprise us that it’s hard to define God’s love. After all, it is longer, wider, deeper and higher than anything we can think or imagine.
Another way to define “hesed” is “Covenant love”. So in this verse, David was not asking for steadfast love and salvation; he was claiming it, according to the promise, or the covenant agreement made with God.
then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me, for I trust in your word.
King David had a group of negative critics. (We met them in verses 21-23.) It wasn’t a good idea to taunt the great Warrior-King, but some people just don’t know when to stop. Anyone in any kind of leadership position knows that there is always pressure because it’s impossible to please everybody. “It is precisely when we are squeezed by pressure that ministry grows. When there is no pressure, when our Christian service comes at no cost, it doesn’t grow.” (Christopher Ash)
We don’t know what answer David was going to dish back, but certainly it would be tempered by the “hesed” love that came to him from the Lord.
And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your rules.
David trusted in God’s words, but he didn’t completely trust his own. During a heated exchange, it’s easy to use exaggerations, accusations and speculations. What a good prayer: “Dear God, keep the truth in my mouth.” His hope wasn’t in a crushing comeback to silence his mockers. Instead, he was willing to wait patiently for God’s verdict.
I will keep your law continually, forever and ever,
David never threw up his hands and said, “I quit.” It seems like he never even took a day off from partnering with God. Clearly, he had some big failures, but his intention was to regularly, constantly and daily keep up his end of the deal all the way to the finish line.
and I shall walk in a wide place, for I have sought your precepts.
A few years ago, PB and I drove Beartooth Highway, 68 miles of curvy mountain road that winds its way through southwest Montana and northwest Wyoming. If guardrails hadn’t been on the side of those deep drop-offs, I would have crawled into the back seat and pulled a blanket over myself. I also would have missed the incredible vistas. It was a narrow road, but the guardrails made it seem safer.
We tend to think that rules constrain us and take all the fun out of life. In truth, they keep us from straying into dangerous areas and they minimize damage by keeping us in the safety zone. There is so much freedom within the secure limits of God’s good rules.
I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame,
As King of Israel, David must have had the occasion to show hospitality to rulers from other nations. He had status, power and wealth and realized his position could open up doors of opportunity to make much of his God. Freshly assured of God’s steadfast love and promise of salvation, David was emboldened to speak up and draw attention to Israel’s true King.
for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love.
Again, the love David had for God’s commandments might sound strange to our western ears. The Hebrew people were so well-known for their fervency and fondness for study of the Torah that they were called “people of the book”. The word “law” in our English Bibles would have been understood by the Hebrews as “guidance” or “teaching”. “What sounds like an onerous burden to us, sounds to them as if they are uncovering the very thoughts of God.” (Lois Tverberg) Perhaps if we read the word “law” in the coming passages with the Hebrew connotation, we might come to love the law, too. As Spurgeon said, “We delight in what we love.”
I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love and I will meditate on your precepts.
In another Psalm, David wrote, “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.” (Psalm 63:3-4) Lifting up our hands is simply a biblical way to bless the Lord. There’s nothing radical or extreme about it. Just as children lift up their arms to loving parents to be hugged, lifting our hands is stretching ourselves toward Him. It is an act of love.
Lastly, in this section meditation is once again connected to delight. (See verses 15-16 and 23-24) The more we think about God’s words, the more delightful they become.
Things I know for sure from this passage:
- We have no reason to ever doubt God’s steadfast love for us. Ever.
- When we seek God’s truth, we find not only truth, but also delight.
- When God’s steadfast love comes to us, things happen: we keep His law, we walk in freedom, we speak of Him, we delight in Him and we lift up our hands to Him.
- We can pray confidently for God to fulfill His promises to us.
- “Let thy mercies come…” v. 41 in the King James Version — “mercies” are plural because we need so much and so many kinds.
For more about the Hebrew word “hesed” see: