The Cartography of Life: Psalm 119:57-80 (Heth, Teth and Yodh)

July 2, 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 119:17-32 (NIV)

You are my portion, LORD;
I have promised to obey your words.
I have sought your face with all my heart;
be gracious to me according to your promise.
I have considered my ways
and have turned my steps to your statutes.
I will hasten and not delay
to obey your commands.
Though the wicked bind me with ropes,
I will not forget your law.
At midnight I rise to give you thanks
for your righteous laws.
I am a friend to all who fear you,
to all who follow your precepts.
The earth is filled with your love, LORD;
teach me your decrees.

Do good to your servant
according to your word, LORD.
Teach me knowledge and good judgment,
for I trust your commands.
Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I obey your word.
You are good, and what you do is good;
teach me your decrees.
Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies,
I keep your precepts with all my heart.
Their hearts are callous and unfeeling,
but I delight in your law.
It was good for me to be afflicted
so that I might learn your decrees.
The law from your mouth is more precious to me
than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.

Your hands made me and formed me;
give me understanding to learn your commands.
May those who fear you rejoice when they see me,
for I have put my hope in your word.
I know, LORD, that your laws are righteous,
and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.
May your unfailing love be my comfort,
according to your promise to your servant.
Let your compassion come to me that I may live,
for your law is my delight.
May the arrogant be put to shame for wronging me without cause;
but I will meditate on your precepts.
May those who fear you turn to me,
those who understand your statutes.
May I wholeheartedly follow your decrees,
that I may not be put to shame.

CONSIDER THIS

We have emphasized the “facets of the diamond” which unfolds, like a beautiful spectrum, the eight different words for God’s revelation to us: law, statutes, precepts, commandments, ordinances, decrees, promise and word. We have also seen the beautiful array of words used to describe the worship and joy in the presence of God’s law.

Now, as we turn this “Grand Diamond of the Psalter” again we encounter another beautiful spectrum of words used by the psalmist to demonstrate how God’s word impacts our very physical bodies. The word of God is not merely something tied to some ephemeral spiritual realm. Rather, its purpose is to transform our daily lives and the ways in which we interact in the real world. This psalm draws upon language that embraces what might be called the full cartography of life, as every sense and many parts of our bodies are enlivened, quickened and directed by God’s revelation.

Psalm 119 regularly speaks about our feet running, walking, standing, or not straying from God’s path. God’s revelation causes us to lift up our hands in praise. Our eyes are not only fixed upon him and his word, but are filled with tears when God’s law is not obeyed. Our mouth, tongue and lips speak and declare God’s word. God’s word is even said to be sweet to our taste, even “sweeter than honey” (vs. 103). Our minds meditate upon God’s word, and our hearts are filled with his commands and decrees.

These stanzas emphasize the importance of our full, wholehearted life engagement with God. It is a reminder to us about walking with God day by day: “I have turned my steps to your statutes” (vs. 59) and “at midnight I rise to give you thanks” (vs. 62). The psalmist keeps God’s word in his heart (vs. 69) so he can journey through life with the confidence and joy that is “more precious to [him] than thousands of pieces of silver and gold” (vs. 72).

The psalm does not contemplate the idea that someone might begin the journey but not complete it, or that they might enter the door of the household of faith but simply live on the threshold and never actually dwell in the house. This section of the psalm envisions nothing less than a blameless heart: “May my heart be blameless toward your decrees” (vs. 80).

This foreshadows one of the great developments of the New Testament. God does not only justify us through our faith in the completed work of Jesus Christ upon the cross. He also transforms our lives through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, so that the justified life becomes, through God’s power, the sanctified life. The sanctified life becomes, through the portal of our death and resurrection at the dawn of the New Creation, the glorified life. This is that deeper journey that the psalmist could only begin to grasp in seed form.

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Timothy C. Tennent is the President of Asbury Theological Seminary and a Professor of Global Christianity. His works include Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century and Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology. He blogs at timothytennent.com and can be followed on twitter @TimTennent.

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