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Enjoying God’s Word

Enjoying God’s Word

A brief study of Psalm 119:17-24, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 3 May 2013


Psalm 119 may be known as “The Righteous One’s Alphabet of True Godliness.” It is really a collection of songs arranged in such a way that each song has 8 verses, each beginning with the same letter in the Hebrew alphabet.

For example, in the Hebrew, every verse in the third song that we are considering, begins with the Hebrew alphabet, Gimel. In this song as with all the rest of the songs in the collection, we are given heart-felt and heart-emptying expressions for our innermost thoughts, fears, desires, anguish, hopes and grief.

But let us remember that these songs are not only about us. Rather they are the words of Christ. They are given by Christ that we may sing in union with Him as He leads us to exhort one another and to praise the Father.

When we sing these songs, we must not only think of our own experiences. We must have an eye on the experience of our Lord too. In a way, our experiences are subjective, whereas the experience of our Lord is objective. Therefore, whenever we sing the psalms, we should have an eye on the Lord, just as our Lord would have an eye on us when He by His Spirit sings in union with us.

In this third song we are given to testify of our longing to have our eyes and our heart opened to enjoy the marvelous truths of God’s Word. We may entitle it “Enjoying God’s Word.”

Let us take a look at it with a special consideration to how the Lord Jesus would have taken this song in His holy lips as He walked upon the earth as our covenant representative.

We may divide this song roughly into two parts. In the first part, verses 1-3, we are given to sing of our desire to have our eyes opened that we may behold wondrous things from the Word of God and to live a meaningful life according to it. In the second part, verses 20-24, we are given to plead with the Lord to remove the hindrances to our full enjoyment of His Word.

1. Desire for Illumination

17 Deal bountifully with thy servant, that I may live, and keep thy word.

As the Lord Jesus is a son and a servant, so we are sons and daughters, and servants of God Almighty. As the Lord Jesus desired to live for the glory and enjoyment of God, so those who are indwelt with His spirit desire the same. How may we glorify and enjoy God? By keeping God’s Word (v. 17c).

What is our request to that end? Our request is that God will deal with us according to the largeness of his liberality rather than according to the meanness of our service. When we “shall have done all those things which are commanded [us]” we shall only be able to say, “We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do” (Lk 17:10).

 

Our Lord could of course claim merit. His work is of infinite value. But he had taken “the form of a servant” (Phil 2:7), and so He would humble himself to speak as one of us.

So He obeyed as we should obey. So He walked as we should walk. So He suffered as we should suffer. So He prayed as we should pray. Thus, he continues, verse 18—

18 Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law. 

What are the most wondrous things out of God’s law? No doubt the most wondrous thing is to see our saviour in it. “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” says our Lord (Jn 5:39).

Our Lord, of course, had His eyes always opened. But as the God-Man He must “increased in wisdom and stature” (Lk 2:52). So this prayer is for illumination to connect the Scripture with His own life.

What about for us? What do we pray for in this petition? Well, for us we are praying that our eyes may be opened both to understand the Word and also to see the Word, Christ. What can be more wondrous to see from the Word of God than to see our Saviour revealed a little at a time? Oh what a thrill it is to know more about Him and how He walked, that we may walk with him.

Thus, we join Him to say, verse 19—

19 I am a stranger in the earth: hide not thy commandments from me.

Our Lord was indeed a stranger in the earth. He is “from above” (Jn 3:31). But shrouded in human flesh, He must needs have the truth revealed to Him, so this request is indeed meaningful to Him. But it is even more meaningful for us. We are “from beneath” (Jn 8:2). Yet we are pilgrims and strangers in the earth because our citizenship is in heaven. Unless we know the way of the Lord we will not make it to the Celestial City where we belong. So let us learn to cry with our Lord “hide not thy commandments from me.” Allow not my heart to be hardened by sin. Let not my eyes be veiled to my faults. Permit not my ears to be dull to hearing thy Word.

And let us pray for deliverance from that which prevents us from enjoying and glorifying God as per the second part of this song…

2. Plea for Deliverance

20 My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto thy judgments at all times.

When we desire something greatly, our soul, as it were, breaks with longing for it. Our hearts are consumed with an intense desire that can only be satisfied when we know we have what we want.

What do we want? In our heart of hearts, we want to know God’s judgements “at all times”—not just occasionally, not just in difficult situations. This would be our Lord’s desire, and it was surely granted him: for He was tempted at all points like as we are yet without sin. This means that He knew God’s will at every juncture in His life.

This is also the desire of every child of God who wants to please God. We want to be reminded of God’s will. We want our consciences to remain tender that we may listen to the voice of our conscience so that we may do what is right and so continue to enjoy God’s fellowship.

We do not want to go in the way of the proud. These err from God’s commandments as they choose to walk in their own foolishness. These are cursed and rebuked of the Lord as a result, v. 21—

Thou hast rebuked the proud that are cursed, which do err from thy commandments.

But not only do we not want to go the way of the proud, we do not wish to fall into their hands, or to remain in their hands. Verse 22—

22 Remove from me reproach and contempt; for I have kept thy testimonies. 23 Princes also did sit and speak against me: but thy servant did meditate in thy statutes. 24 Thy testimonies also are my delight and my counsellors.

For some of us, this prayer may not be very meaningful for it is simply not part of our experience. But for our Lord it was very real.

Was not our Lord’s life and ministry filled with “reproach and contempt”? “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” (Mk 6:3). “He saved others; himself he cannot save” (Mt 27:42). “Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Mt 27:40).

Did not “Princes … sit and speak against” Him in judgement? Annas, Caiaphas, Pilate and Herod: were they not in a sense “princes” since they were leaders amongst the people?

But the persecution did not prevent our Lord from delighting to do the will of the Father. Nevertheless, our Lord is fully human, and it is human to cringe from pain. So He cried: “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Mt 26:39). This is consistent with the petition in verse 22—“Remove from me reproach and contempt.

On what basis did He offer this prayer? He offered it on the basis that He meditated on the statutes of God and walked according to God’s ways: “for I have kept thy testimonies” (v. 22b). God’s words were His delight and His counsellors (v. 24). He knew precisely what the right way to think, to speak, and to walk was. He delighted to do God’s will. So He needed not to suffer the consequence of sin. He needed never to suffer pain and estrangement from God. He was indeed qualified to ask for deliverance from persecution on the basis of his obedience and delight of God’s Word.

But our Lord went through all that suffering for a purpose. He suffered for us in order that we might have a life of freedom and joy.

He was indeed unjustly judged by the princes. The chief priest and elders sat in judgement against Him. The governor Pilate and tetrarch Herod also sat in judgement against Him. None of them found any fault with him. This was because He was perfectly obedient to the Word of God.

Yet, He submitted himself to be reproached and mocked. He was betrayed by one of His disciples. He was forsaken by the rest and denied by one of His closest disciples who was overtaken by pride. He was abused by the chief priests, by the elders and by the common Jews. He was unjustly treated by the gentile magistrates and by the soldiers. He was buffeted, stripped, flogged, and nailed to the cross. He was even ridiculed by the two robbers who were crucified with Him. One of them did eventually repent of his wickedness. But at the beginning it was not so.

Our Lord could have called upon twelve legions of angels to deliver Himself out of His ordeal. But He did not. He wanted to accomplish the purpose of His coming to dwell amongst man. Though He had no sin, He had to pay for our sin that we might have life. Though He need not suffer, He had to suffer all kinds of trials so that He might be a compassionate great high priest to us.

Because of this, those who are united to Him can find comfort and encouragement in His Word. When we have to suffer reproach and contempt and false accusation we can turn our eyes to the Lord and know that He understands. But even if we do not face the same trials, we can thank God that we are spared these things because our Saviour endured them for us as He delighted to do God’s will on our behalf.

Conclusion

This is the third part of Psalm 119. May the Lord grant us that we may sing it with grace and gratitude in our hearts.

Through this psalm, we are again brought to understand that our enjoyment of God is closely connected not only to our walking according to God’s law, but to our Saviour’s suffering for us.

Oh may the Lord grant a renewed desire to be like Him! Oh that our hearts will beat with the same heavenly rhythm as our Saviour’s. Oh may we also delight to do God’s will in the midst of adversity! And may we sing the same songs in harmony with our Lord who laid His life down for us for this purpose, even that He may worship the Father with us in the midst of the congregation. Let us to this end examine our hearts, repent of our sin and meditate on the love of our Savior. Amen.

—JJ Lim

 

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