Just when I think David might run out of things to say about God’s law, he comes up with more. In this section of Psalm 119, David used four words that aren’t found anywhere else in scripture. He even displayed his skills by making up a new word.
Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them.
We’ve studied seventeen sections of poetry with one hundred and twenty-nine verses, and still David keeps finding new ways to extol God’s Word. “Wonderful” (pele) is a Hebrew word that means: extraordinary, astonishing, miraculous. This made me do a double-take. The Book that sits on my desk, the Book that I sometimes ignore and sometimes read over quickly, that same Book is a miracle. And it can do miraculous things in me. Of course, David wanted to keep testimonies that filled him with wonder.
The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.
Again, David reached down deep for just the right word: unfolding. This is the only place in the whole Bible this word is used and it means “revelation”. I love the idea that when we open the pages of our Bibles, God begins to unfold truth and reveal His thoughts to us. He gives us clarity where there is confusion and illumination where there is fogginess. This isn’t just available to seminary students or Bible scholars, but also to the simple. (Can I get an “amen”?) It doesn’t take great intellect to understand God’s Word because it’s the Spirit’s work to activate our hearts and reveal truth. We can’t use the excuse that we’re not smart enough to understand the Bible. Smartness isn’t required.
I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments.
David compared himself to an animal that was running, open-mouthed, sucking in air, heart beating hard, muscles exerting themselves at full capacity, running for its life. That’s how hard David went after God’s Word. The word “pant” means “to inhale eagerly, breathless.” In other words, approaching the study of God’s commandments should take our breath away. And did you notice what David was yearning for? God’s commandments! Most of us long for God’s promises more that His laws. David’s longing pushed him to action. As Spurgeon points out, “Longing that is not acted upon is more wishing than longing. Never rest content with mere longings.”
Turn to me and be gracious to me, as is your way with those who love your name.
In this verse, David began a list of prayer requests. First, he asked God to turn toward him and second, to be gracious to him. David knew that the moment God faced him, mercy would be needed. But he also knew from experience that this was God’s way of doing things. We can come to the Lord every morning for a fresh batch of mercies. “His loving-kindness begins afresh each day.” (Lam. 3:23) It is His way.
Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me.
Another request by David — this time for steadiness in his spiritual journey. He wanted to stay firmly grounded in the Word. Many people want their steps directed by something else — their feelings or friends, circumstances or comforts. David reminded God of His promise to direct him because he was aware that small compromises could lead to becoming dominated by sin. Paul warned of the same thing, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” (Romans 6:12) Steady obedience is the key, perhaps something David learned the hard way.
“Oh, how we often stagger along! We do what is right, but we quiver and shake while we are doing it.” (Spurgeon)
Redeem me from man’s oppression, that I may keep your precepts.
Once he addressed his internal battle with sin, David looked at his external struggles and requested help with those, too. Man’s oppression came in many forms, including cruelty, injustice, slander, exploitation, lies. Need I go on? Those kinds of outside pressures wore David down and distracted him from focusing on God’s laws.
Make your face shine upon your servant, and teach me your statutes.
David, the wordsmith, took the word “light” that he used in verse 130 (“The unfolding of your words gives light”) and made up a new word by attaching the word “face”. When God turned His face toward David, he saw God’s favor shining out from it. “Light” and “shine” create a beautiful connection — follow me here. When we “unfold” the word of God and let His truth shine on us, it’s the same thing as the face of God shining His favor on us. When we open our Bibles, we’re as close as we can get to seeing God’s face. *Shiver*
My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law.
David cried lots of tears. The word “streams” means “a channel of water” or “an irrigation canal.” You could say David cried a river. To make a point, he used an idiom to express his deep sorrow and anguish. What caused such emotion to rise up in David? He was sick at heart because everywhere he looked, people were blowing off God’s words. Because the people refused to listen, follow or obey, David wept.
“One of the darkest signs of any age is when the people weep but little for sin.” William Swan Plumer
Things I know for sure from this passage:
- I need to seek forgiveness for a flippant attitude toward the extraordinary, astonishing, miraculous gift of God’s Word.
- If I’m panting after something other than God, it may be an idol.
- It’s hard to keep a steady walk with God when sin has a hold on part of my life.
- When I open the pages of scripture, God’s light shines on me.
- Hardness and pride will keep me from weeping over the brokenness of sin in the world.