June 25, 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 119:33-56 (NIV)
Teach me, LORD, the way of your decrees,
that I may follow it to the end.
Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law
and obey it with all my heart.
Direct me in the path of your commands,
for there I find delight.
Turn my heart toward your statutes
and not toward selfish gain.
Turn my eyes away from worthless things;
preserve my life according to your word.
Fulfill your promise to your servant,
so that you may be feared.
Take away the disgrace I dread,
for your laws are good.
How I long for your precepts!
In your righteousness preserve my life.
Remember your word to your servant,
for you have given me hope.
My comfort in my suffering is this:
Your promise preserves my life.
The arrogant mock me unmercifully,
but I do not turn from your law.
I remember, LORD, your ancient laws,
and I find comfort in them.
Indignation grips me because of the wicked,
who have forsaken your law.
Your decrees are the theme of my song
wherever I lodge.
In the night, LORD, I remember your name,
that I may keep your law.
This has been my practice:
I obey your precepts.
Psalm 119 is a song of worship. Although this psalm is filled with themes about instruction, obedience, and even lament, it comes together as an act of worship. Another way of looking at the “diamond” of Psalm 119, is to see the “facets of praise” employed in this psalm. Psalm 119 is filled with different words describing what happens when we worship. We will survey some of the words used, with an example or two of each from the many found in the text.
God’s word brings joy (vs. 111), praise (vv. 7, 171), delight (vv. 16, 174), singing (vs. 172), and thanks (vv. 19, 62). In the presence of God’s word, we rejoice (vv. 14, 74), we give thanks (vs. 62), we hope (vv. 43, 114) and we find comfort (vs. 76). His word makes us “ponder” (vs. 75); it produces a deep “longing” (vs. 40) and even “panting” for the Lord and his word (vs. 131).
Surveying some of the “facets of praise” is particularly appropriate for this section of Psalm 119, which emphasizes the joy of the journey of walking in God’s ways, though it is a theme that runs through the entire psalm. The psalmist sees us brought into the joy of God’s living presence. This makes the whole journey of walking in his ways and following his commandments a joyous one, not merely one of obeying dry commandments or fulfilling duties as the servant of God. In earlier stanzas, we already encountered this theme as the psalm declares such treasures as, “I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches” (vs. 14), “I delight in your decrees” (vs. 16), and “I will meditate on your wonders” (vs. 27).
In this section, he declares that in God’s law he “finds delight” (vs. 35), and he celebrates that in God’s law he finds “freedom” (vs. 45). The whole movement of the psalm is to show that following in God’s ways is not restrictive, nor is it some crushing burden. Rather, following the Lord has opened up his entire life with joy and endless new horizons of possibilities. You can almost feel his excitement and joy as he declares, “For I delight in your commands because I love them” (vs. 47). Although he has suffered, it is God’s word that has “given [him] hope” (vs. 49). He has even turned God’s decrees into a “song” (vs. 54).
This is not the picture of someone begrudgingly trying to be a good soldier. This is a picture of a heart set free, a life filled with joy, a mind bubbling with ideas. We should remember afresh that God’s word is living and active, and he calls us into his joyous fellowship. His words bring life, and joy and wonderment as we increasingly discover his wondrous plans for us and for the world. It is a life truly greater than anything we could imagine.