Great Are Thy Tender Mercies & Justice
By Which We Are Quickened!

A brief study of Psalm 119:153-160, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 21 March 2014


The 20th strophe of Psalm 119 is characterised by the Hebrew Resh (r).

Resh is for ha;r; (ra’ah) which means “see” or “consider.” We see the word used in verse 153, “Consider mine affliction”, and verse 159, “Consider how I love thy precepts.”

Resh is also for byri (riyb) which is a legal word meaning “contend”, “vindicate” or “plead.” We see this word in verse 154, “Plead my cause” or “vindicate me.”

But most strikingly, resh is also for br' (rab) which means “great” or “many.” We see this word used in the heart of this song in verses 156-157 to highlight a contradiction. “Many are my persecutors and mine enemies” (v. 157); but “Great are thy mercies [µyBir' òym,j}r'], O LORD.”

Putting all these thoughts together, we see that this psalm contains a plea to the LORD to vindicate and to deliver His people from their persecutors on the basis of His mercies and justice in Christ.

How does Christ come in? Well, who is the “I” and “me” in this song? I believe ultimately it points to Christ the Righteous One. Only Christ can sing every verse of this song with perfect honesty. But this song is, no doubt, inspired by the Spirit of Christ for the church to sing in union with Him. So everyone covered with the righteousness of Christ may appropriate this song and sing it as if it is his own song. So the church which truly acknowledges Christ as Head may sing this song as applicable to her.

We may entitle this song, “Great are thy Tender Mercies and Justice by which we are Quickened.”

This song may be divided into three parts. The first part is a call to the LORD to quicken us according as we are found faithful to Him. The second part is a plea to the LORD to quicken us according to His Love. The third part is a plea to the LORD to quicken us according to His covenant lovingkindness and His righteous judgements.

Notice the call to quicken in all three parts (cf. vv. 154, 156, 159). To quicken (hy:j;, chayah) is to make alive or to revive. When and why do we need quickening? We need quickening when we find ourselves weighed down and drained either by the cares of this world or by persecution and other human relationship issues.

The greatest trial of our Saviour during His earthly ministry was not physical. It was mental and emotional as He faced persecution, misapprehension and abandonment. Have you encountered that? Nothing saps our energy more than church politics and other relational issues. Ever wondered why Calvin told Farel that he would rather die a hundred times in some other way than on the cross of Geneva (on which he had died a thousand times daily)?

Church politics is sordid and in some ways worse than persecution. When we are bogged down by such or by other human disagreements and misunderstandings, life can become joyless and draggy. But really at such times, we ought to remember that we have a compassionate covenant keeping God who stands ready to revive us. This psalm is given to encourage us in this regard and also to give us words to petition the Father together in union with our Elder Brother who was tempted at all points like as we are yet without sin.

1. A Plea to Quicken us Acording 
as we are Found Faithful

153 Consider mine affliction, and deliver me: for I do not forget thy law. 154 Plead my cause, and deliver me: quicken me according to thy word. 155 Salvation is far from the wicked: for they seek not thy statutes.

There are five petitions in these three verses: “consider”, “plead my cause” (i.e. vindicate), “deliver” (twice) and “quicken.” If you think about it, you will see that ultimately what is desired is quickening or a lifting up from a situation of doldrum and oppression. We desire for God to consider our affliction and to vindicate us so that He would act on our behalf. How do we want Him to act? We desire for Him to deliver us from the present oppression so that we may be quickened according to His promise.

In any case, in these first three verses, we are given to plead with Father to quicken us on the basis of His promise to deliver His people or at least such as remain faithful to Him.

Has he not promised His covenant people? Consider for example, Deuteronomy 28:1-2—

And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: 2 And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God.

But remember that the Lord also says in the same speech, verse 15—

But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee…

This is why in our plea, we ask the Lord not only to look upon us in our affliction, but also to consider how we have remembered His law (v. 153). This is why we ask Him to vindicate us and to quicken us according to His promise (v. 154). “Salvation is far from the wicked” (v. 155). The wicked, who walk not according to God’s law, might not plead for salvation, for deliverance or for quickening.

But such as walk according to God’s Word have the privilege of appealing to God’s covenant mercies. Thus in the second part of this psalm, we are given to offer…

2. A Plea to Quicken us According 
to God’s Love

156 Great are thy tender mercies, O LORD: quicken me according to thy judgments.  157 Many are my persecutors and mine enemies; yet do I not decline from thy testimonies. 158 I beheld the transgressors, and was grieved; because they kept not thy word.

The child of God who is in this world but not of this world has many enemies—both visible and invisible. “Many are my persecutors and mine enemies” (v. 157) are the words which our Saviour gives us to sing with Him. But though great and many are our enemies, greater still are our Father’s “tender mercies.” The word in Hebrew is µj'r' (racham), which literally means “womb” and so by implication, compassion and love.

God has adopted us as His people. He loves us. He has compassion upon us. He sometimes chastises us. But His chastisements are always out of love; and He is always ready to pity us for the sake of His Son.

We have been given the Spirit of Adoption to indwell in us that we may become more and more like His Son and grieved by what grieves Him. As Christ is grieved by those who keep not God’s Word (v. 158), so we ought to grieve. When we know that this is true in us, and we are faced with oppression by those who keep not God’s Word, then we may confidently sing the Words of the Son, to call unto the Father to look down upon us with pity and love, to quicken us according to his justice. Why justice (v. 156)? Because the wicked are unfairly and maliciously troubling our souls.

But finally, we are also given to plead that the Lord will quicken us according to His covenant lovingkindness and His judgement.

3. A Plea to Quicken us According to God’s Covenant 
Lovingkindness & Justice

159 Consider how I love thy precepts: quicken me, O LORD, according to thy lovingkindness. 160 Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever.

God has taken us to be His covenant people. As Samuel puts it: “The LORD will not forsake his people for his great name's sake: because it hath pleased the LORD to make you his people” (1 Sam 12:22).

If we love not the Lord and love not His precepts, then we have no business appealing to our covenant relationship with the Father. Remember that all things work together for good only to them that love God (cf. Rom 8:28). So if we love Him and His Word and have full confidence in His judgement as in verse 160, we may appeal to the Father to quicken us according to His lovingkindness. The word “lovingkindness” translates the Hebrew ds,j, (checed), which may also be translated “covenant loving kindness.” Thus in appealing to the Father’s lovingkindness, we are actually appealing to His covenant promise.

Our covenant relationship with the Father is found in the Son’s atonement. Therefore, an appeal to the Father’s covenant loving-kindness is also an appeal to His justice. Thus we are given to sing: “every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever.” If Christ was already punished for us, our Father will not allow us to be punished again. If we have confidence that we love His commandments (v. 159), then we can have confidence that we belong to God and then we can have confidence to plead His covenant lovingkindness. Do you have the confidence, beloved brethren and children?

Conclusion

This is the 20th song of Psalm 119. In times when we are emotionally drained, bogged down, bent over due to disagreeable persons surrounding us, then let us learn to turn our eyes unto the Father. Let us learn to meditate on the Word which our Saviour has given for us to sing in union with Him.

It is good in times of burden and pain not to focus on the cause of the pain, but on the tender mercies and justices of the Lord as they are revealed in His Word. God will deliver His children out of compassionate love for them, and also out of Covenant faithfulness and justice. He will avenge His people for those who trouble them for they have touched the apple of His eyes. Such a consideration gives us impetus to pray and sing this song. Amen.