The author of Psalm 119 (presumably David) wrote eloquently about the goodness of God’s law and his desire to keep it with all his heart. Occasionally he wrote about adversaries who were making his life difficult. In the next section, David took these two realities and put them together into one truth: God’s goodness is best known in affliction. “The affliction God gives is His good gift to His people…to draw us into, and keep us in, the Word.” (Christopher Ash)
You have dealt well with your servant, O Lord, according to your word.
David began the ninth section of his long song by looking back and acknowledging the goodness of God in his life. He wasn’t referring to his extravagant palace, or his table of fine food, or his closet full of regal robes. David saw that the promises of God had proven to be rock solid words of truth that gave his soul both help and delight.
Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments.
Even though he had been walking with God for awhile, David stayed teachable. His experience of God’s goodness only made him want to know more, so he asked for knowledge and good judgment. The word “judgment” in this verse means “a taste for” — so David was asking God to put a craving for good and wise living in his heart. “Taste and see that the Lord is good,” David wrote in Psalm 34. The ability to discern, or “taste”, God’s goodness in the middle of suffering is a mark of spiritual maturity.
Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word.
What was David’s affliction? Apparently, he was persecuted for staying loyal to God’s law and choosing the way of faithfulness. (See verses 21-23, 39, 42, 50-51, 61) Taking a stand to uphold God’s law in the face of persecution only made David more resolute to keep it. He saw affliction as the thing God used to bring him back into right relationship with Himself. When life was easy and comfortable, he didn’t sense his need for God.
C.S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” God often uses times of trial to get our attention and bring us back to Him.
You are good and do good; teach me your statutes.
Because of the affliction, David had a new-found taste of God’s goodness that was present during his time of trial. In fact, David recognized how valuable it was, so he said, “If this is the only way for me to learn to walk in Your ways, then afflict me whenever You need to. Keep teaching me, whatever it takes.” David understood that if he never went through hard trials, he would never experience the depths of God’s goodness.
The insolent smear me with lies, but with my whole heart I keep your precepts;
Smear campaigns are nothing new, although with social media, our culture seems to have taken it to a new level. Keep in mind that David was experiencing this adversity because he took a stand for God’s law. We can get ourselves into all kinds of trouble on our own for saying and doing stupid things. Suffering for being a believer is different. The prosperity gospel teaching that God will give you a comfortable life and make you healthy and wealthy is a false gospel. If even Jesus learned obedience through suffering (Heb. 5:8), we should expect to as well.
their heart is unfeeling like fat, but I delight in your law.
“A greasy heart is something horrible,” said Charles Spurgeon. Yuck — I agree. This is the only place in the whole Bible this word is used, so different versions interpret this verse in various ways: “Their hearts are unfeeling, like blubber.” (CEB) “Their hearts are cold and insensitive.” (GW) “Their unfeeling hearts are hard and stubborn.” (NIRV) “Their heart is as fat as grease.” (ASV) It seems that too much ease causes heart disease and a greasy heart becomes proud and arrogant. Instead of delighting in the law, they were repelled by the law. Greasy hearts and living water don’t mix.
It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.
David saw that he was on the path to a greasy heart, too, until affliction did its good work in him. He would never have become a man who delighted in God’s word otherwise. He was convinced that the gracious hand of God was all over his trials because they trained him to walk in the ways of the Lord. Suffering and God’s goodness were not two separate experiences for David — they were closely tied and they compelled him to love the Word. Of course, it’s difficult to see the benefits of going through painful trials when in the midst of them. David only saw in retrospect that he was better for having gone through them.
The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.
Some people try to buy their way out of discomfort, inconvenience, and tests of faith. David realized that he couldn’t put a price on the lessons he learned in adversity. He may have been the wealthiest of kings, but the riches of God’s word were far more precious to him.
And so we have here a deep truth. No man will love his Bible until God has afflicted him. He may be intrigued by it. He may have an intellectual affection for it. He may have been brought up to have a cultural affinity with it, or an aesthetic love of its verbal resonances. But he will not delight in that word above all the wealth of the world until he has been afflicted, until he has felt the fragility of this world, this age, this mortal body. But when that happens he will cling to the word as the only tie to the age to come. ~Christopher Ash
Things I know for sure from this passage:
- When things are going good, we tend to wander away.
- Those who wander too far for too long can become calloused and heartless.
- God often uses difficulties to woo us back to Him.
- Anything that drives us closer to God is good.
- The word of God is priceless.