Sprinkled throughout the 119th Psalm is a phrase that David used often and it’s here in the last section twice: “according to your word”. That’s a good way to sum up David’s heart’s desire — he wanted to live his life in accordance with God’s Word. “According to” means “in agreement with”. This favorite phrase of David’s reminds us that a life of faith is agreeing with God more and arguing with God less.
Let my cry come before you, O Lord; give me understanding according to your word!
We don’t know if David was aware that this was his final entry in his long song. We also don’t know how old David was as he penned these words. Certainly he was an older man at this point, yet he was still crying out to God and asking for understanding. Not all cries are in desperation — the word used here can also mean “shouts of joy, singing, gladness”. That exclamation point might indicate a triumphant cry!
None of us will get everything all figured out this side of eternity. Albert Einstein said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” The key is to continue to seek understanding according to the Word. “To be given understanding means more than to be given cognitive content, it means to be changed inside.” (Christopher Ash)
Let my plea come before you; deliver me according to your word.
David spent his whole life coming to God with his requests and he had seen the hand of God move on his behalf in mighty ways. Coming to the Lord for help was nothing new for David; it was completely natural for him. We shouldn’t expect to “out-grow” our need for God’s help. In fact, challenges often increase as we age, so developing the holy habit of coming before God with our needs is wise.
My lips will pour forth praise, for you teach me your statutes.
David followed his two prayer requests with two promises. The first was to praise God, out loud and profusely. The Hebrew word for “pour forth” means “to gush, blurt, flow abundantly”. After laying out his requests, David went directly into praise, probably before the understanding and deliverance arrived. This was also his holy habit — so many of his songs gush with exultant adoration. Again, it was natural for his lips to pour forth praise because it had been his life-long practice.
My tongue will sing of your word, for all your commandments are right.
David’s second promise was to sing! Words of praise gave way to songs of praise. Charles Wesley wrote the hymn, “O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing” and the lyrics always make me smile. Here is Charles, wishing he had 1,000 tongues in his mouth so he could use them all to praise God. And here I am, having more than enough trouble with my one and only tongue. What would happen if I had 1,000 tongues? Yikes. The truth is, we can control how we use our tongues but it’s not easy. James wrote, “The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.” (Jam. 3:5-6) The Holy Spirit can redeem our tongues to be used for praise!
Let your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts.
The pendulum swings from praise to petition once more. It’s like David can’t make up his mind how to pray. I can relate. There is an unresolved tension that oscillates between good days and bad days, ups and downs, highs and lows. We praise Him, we cry out to Him. Over and over and over. But we have something David didn’t have — Jesus, a High Priest that sympathizes with our weaknesses and invites us to approach the throne of grace with confidence. (Heb. 4:15-16) Jesus proved that God’s hand is ready to help us.
I long for your salvation, O Lord, and your law is my delight.
The longing David felt might have been for personal deliverance, but it also may have reached beyond that to the salvation God promised in the coming Messiah. Everything inside David yearned for the fulfillment of the covenant and the establishment of a kingdom that would last forever. David looked forward to the promise with faith, as did all the Old Testament saints. We are the blessed generations who get to look back on Messiah’s coming to purchase salvation while also looking forward to His glorious return. In the meantime, His Word is to be our delight.
Let my soul live and praise you, and let your rules help me.
Years ago, I read this verse in the Message translation and wrote it in my NIV Bible. “Invigorate my soul so I can praise You well. Use Your decrees to put iron in my soul.” I love that! To invigorate means to infuse with life, energy, and vitality. That’s how I want to live — with Holy Spirit energy running through my veins, providing vital praise to my lips. That’s how I want to grow old — with Holy Spirit strength in my inner being, providing iron-clad endurance and faithfulness.
I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.
Wait. What? What just happened? Can we please lop off this last verse and end on a high note? No, we can’t. Because even though David affirmed his belief, he was aware of his frailty and his dependence on God’s grace. We are lost sheep — “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it.” But do not forget, God does seek after us, especially in His Word.
I’m going to close David’s long song with a long quote from “Bible Delight” by Christopher Ash. You can skip it or read it later. However, his comments on this ancient psalm seem to speak right into our present world.
“As so often in the Bible, the end of the psalm is not the end of the story. If we think of the psalm as portraying the believer as a building under construction, this last verse is a reminder that the scaffolding is still in place. At the end of this psalm we are still in painful tension. This is how it is. This psalm will not be sung in the age to come.* But for now it is authentic Christian experience. This is so realistic.
‘How are you?’ ‘I really don’t know. I cannot work out whether I am in prayer or praise. I seem to feel both strongly and inconsistently.’ This is the authentic Christian response. There are two simpler responses; and neither of them is Christian. If I just say it is grim grim grim, that is not an authentic Christian response. And if I say it is great great great that also is not an authentic Christian response. The authentic response is to say I really don’t know. I am held by the word of God from a painful present to a glorious future. And that word brings into the present a foretaste of joy, hope, peace and praise. And the praise is all muddled up with the prayer. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry; and I do both at the same time. That is authentic Christian experience.
The people of God delight in the word of God, because this word alone ties us in the pain of the present to the glory of the future. May God help us sing it.”
*Mr. Ash seems to think David will not be performing Psalm 119 on the New Earth. Darn. Oh well. He’s got a lot of other good songs and is probably writing more even now. I’m keeping my front row seat.