Thy Testimonies Are My Meditation

A brief study of Psalm 119:97-104, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 4 Oct 2013


97 MEM. O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day. 98 Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me.  99 I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation. 100 I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts. 101 I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep thy word. 102 I have not departed from thy judgments: for thou hast taught me. 103 How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!  104 Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way” (Psalm 119:97-104).

The 13th stanza of Psalm 119 is demarcated by the Hebrew letter Mem (m). Providentially, the subject of this song is “meditation.” We may entitle it, “Thy Testimonies are my meditation” based on verses 97 and 99.

The word translated “meditation” (hj;yci, siychah) in these two verses appears only in these two verses in the Bible.[1] It is, however, related to the word siyach (j'yci) which occurs 14 times, variously translated as “complaint”, “meditation”, “prayer”, “talking”, “communication” and “babbling.” You will notice that the word often carries an audible element. In other words, we must not think that “meditation” is always silent and in the heart. Biblical meditation involves a musing of the heart, but it is often expressed audibly. The singing or chanting of psalms is a means of meditation.

But meditation is often not very structured in terms of content since it is a musing of the heart. Thus this song which is directly about meditation of the word of God is not very structured.

Indeed, you will find that there is a logical thought in each verse, but the verses are not organised in a clearly discernable way. Thus, we could say that there are eight thoughts in this song. They would reflect the thoughts of Christ in His incarnation. They were inspired by the Spirit of Christ that we may sing in union with Christ in regard to our attitude towards the Word of God.

Let’s look at them one by one.

a. First, we are given a statement to express our love for the Word of God, verse 97—

97 O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day.

It is interesting to note how the letter mem is used here to express an exclamation. It is used in the same way in verse 103 so that it may, in fact, be translated “O how sweet are thy words unto my taste!” Translated in this way it expresses a heartfelt amazement to the fact.

 O how love I thy law!” I am amazed at how deeply I love thy law! Christ our Lord would have used this expression to speak of his deep affection for God’s Word. We may use the same words to express our surprise at the feelings in our hearts toward God’s Word. Such a love is not natural. How can we,—who are by nature dead in sin and trespasses, who have a dullness in our heart for spiritual things, who are condemned by the law of God—love the law of God? And we love it above the things of this world. It is inexplicable. It can hardly be described with words. 

But it is this love that makes us meditate on the law all the day. We meditate by thinking, praying and singing.

If you are not converted, you cannot sing this statement honestly. If you are backslidden the words will also sound hollow to you. But thank God that Christ’s perfect love and meditation of the Word is imputed to all who are united to Him so that as we sing His Word, His Spirit works in us conformity to his heart!

b. Secondly, we are given to express our gratitude to the Father for making us wise by His Word:

98 Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they [i.e. thy commandments] are ever with me.

The believer, like the Lord, has many enemies. “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you” says our Lord (Jn 15:18). Our enemies which are all in cahoots with the Arch-Enemy of our soul, the Devil, seek to overwhelm us so that we sin against God and walk in misery. But God in His wisdom has given us His commandment to make us wiser than our enemies. We do not need to be outmanoeuvred by our enemies. We can have the wisdom of Christ though all temptations and enmity if the word of God is hid in our hearts and therefore ever with us.

c. Not only so, but thirdly, we have the potential to have more understanding than our teachers if we make the word of God our meditation, v. 99—

99 I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation.

Our Lord truly had more understanding than all his teachers even as He grew in wisdom and grace as a child. So too for us. If we spend time to meditate and reflect on the Word of God, we can actually begin to understand more than our teachers. This will not happen over night, of course, but if you persevere and spend time to reflect on the Word of God and consider how it reflects the mind of God, you will grow wiser than most, if not all your teachers.

And that includes those who are much older, for…

d. Fourthly, we are given to testify how we can have more understanding than old men and women if we not only know but obey God’s precepts, verse 100—

 100 I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts.

The apostle to the Hebrews says,—

13 For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. 14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

Them that are of full age, or mature, are those who by reason of walking by the Word of God “have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” If you would be mature and have more understanding than those who are older than you, you must not only meditate on the Word of God, but also practice it. If you fail to do so, you will backslide and become dull of hearing (v. 12).

But in order to practice it, we must learn to flee temptation, so…

e.Fifthly, the godly man is given to testify how he eschew temptation in order to keep God’s word, verse 101—

101 I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep thy word.

Once again, this would have been the testimony of our Lord. What about us? Have we sought to keep God’s word by fleeing from temptation, or do we allow ourselves to fall into situations where we are easily tempted? If we allow ourselves to go into situations where we are easily tempted, we will fall and we will not grow in the understanding of the Word of God. We will instead grow in hardness of heart and hypocrisy.

f. Thus, we are given sixthly, to testify, verse 102—

102 I have not departed from thy judgments: for thou hast taught me.

Only Christ our Lord could have taken these words with perfect honesty. But those in whom Christ has begun a good work can indeed testify of a new nature that hates to depart from God’s Word. Thus the apostle John reminds us:

“Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” (1 Jn 3:9).

Those who are born of God ought to be able to sing as we are given in this psalm because or the new nature given us. But when we find ourselves beset with guilt because of our failures, then let us remind ourselves that though we failed, Christ has not and it is the song of Christ we sing.

Oh how that ought to fill our hearts with gratitude as well as a desire to imitate Christ and to walk with Christ who laid his life down for us? How that ought to instil awe and wonder for God’s word in our heart.

g. Thus once again we are given to express our delight in God’s word, verse 103—

103 How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

The Word of God when properly appreciated is truly a delight for the child of God. What can be sweeter than honey to the taste! When we think about it carefully, nothing can be sweeter to the tongue of our soul than the Word of God.

The more we grow in sanctification and Christ-likeness, the more we will love and delight in God’s Word. Oh how the child of God desires more and more to learn and enjoy God’s word.

h.But finally, we are again given to testify how the Word of God shapes our understanding and our lives.

 104 Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way.

Those who have gained understanding from God’s word, in whose heart dwells the Spirit of Christ cannot love false ways. False ways are ways not consistent with God’s Word. Indeed, we begin to hate every false way even as Christ our Saviour hates them so much, and loves us so much, that He suffered and died for us to deliver us from them.

Oh how can we not hate false ways when our Father in heaven hates them? Oh how can we not hate false ways when our Saviour so hates them? Oh how can we not hate false ways when the Holy Spirit who dwells in our heart hates them?

Conclusion

This is the 13th song of Psalm 119. As I mentioned this is a song about meditating on the word of God. How shall we meditate on the Word of God? This song gives us the content to meditate on. Herein we are given words to express in union with Christ our love and delight of the Word of God. Herein we are given to express our gratitude for wisdom and understanding in life because of the Word of God in our heart and life. Herein we are given to express our resolve to walk according to the Word of God and to hate every false way.

Thank God that our salvation depends not on our meeting the standard set in the Word of God, or even in this Psalm; for Christ met the standard for us. But thank God that through the work of the Spirit of Christ in our heart, we are enabled more and more to sing these words in sincerity as we look forward to the day when we shall be able to enjoy pure delight in the Word of God. Amen.

—JJ Lim

 



[1] In most other places in the English Bible where the word “meditation” appears (Ps 5:1; 19:14; 49:3), the word used is related to the verb hagah which carries a similar set of meanings, and is translated in our version as “meditate”, “mourn”, “speak”, “imagine”, “study”, “mutter”, “utter”, “talk”, etc.