Righteous Art Thou & Thy Word!
A brief study of Psalm 119:137-144, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 24 Jan 2013
The 18th stanza of Psalm 119 is demarcated by the Hebrew letter x (tzaddi). It is not surprising then that the theme of this song centres around the word “righteousness.” “Righteousness” is qyDix' (tzaddiq). It begins with the letter x (tzaddi). We may subtitle the song with the words, “Righteous Art Thou and Thy Word.”
These words are given for us to sing in union with our Saviour, the Righteous One. Though they were probably penned by David and expressed his thoughts, they were not merely his words. They were, rather, the words of the Christ, the Greater David, which David penned as he was inspired by the Spirit of Christ.
Christ our Saviour would, no doubt, have been able to take these words in his lips as he faced persecution and wickedness in His earthly walk. And we may take these words in our lips both with reference to our Saviour’s appreciation of the Word of God, and with a view of what the Spirit of Christ is doing in our own hearts.
There are three parts to this psalm. The first part (vv. 137-138) is a declaration that the LORD is righteous and His Word is righteous. The second part (vv. 139-142) is a testimony of zeal for the LORD’s word. The third part (vv. 143-144) is an affirmation of comfort derived from God’s word.
1. God’s Word is Righteous
137 Righteous art thou, O LORD, and upright are thy judgments. 138 Thy testimonies that thou hast commanded are righteous and very faithful.
The LORD is righteous. His judgements are upright, therefore He is just and upright. His testimonies are righteous and very faithful, therefore he is not only righteous, but very faithful.
Righteousness, uprightness and faithfulness: in some ways these terms are synonymous and in some ways they overlap one another. To be righteous is to be just, lawful, correct, etc. To be upright is to be right, straight, correct, proper, etc. To be faithful is to be firm, steadfast, steady and not veering from what is right, not crocked, not bending from uprightness.
God and His Word may be described with all these terms, for ultimately He alone defines what is right. God alone is absolutely righteous and upright. Therefore, God’s word gives us the absolute standard of righteousness and uprightness.
God’s children must understand that, for none of us are righteous. There is none righteous, no not one. We can appreciate and love God’s righteousness rather than being terror stricken by it only because Christ, the Word of God, the Son of God came to purchase righteousness for us. We can approach the righteous God and have our worship accepted because His righteousness covers us.
Thus we sing these words gratefully. Thus our hearts are set aflame when we think about the righteousness of God’s Word.
God’s Word sets the
139 My zeal hath consumed me, because mine enemies have forgotten thy words. 140 Thy word is very pure: therefore thy servant loveth it. 141 I am small and despised: yet do not I forget thy precepts. 142 Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and thy law is the truth.
The word translated “small” in verse 141 (ry[ix;, tsàiyr) carries the sense of insignificance. Regardless of how old and how large we may be, there is always cause for us to feel insignificant. We are small in the sight of God, but the Lord does not despise us. However, we are small in the eyes of the world, and we are often despised.
Thankfully, it is not what we are in the eyes of the world that matters. What matters is how we are when measured against the Word of God. The enemies of God hate God’s word and therefore live as a forgetful people without regard to God’s righteousness (v. 139).
But God’s children indwelt by the Spirit of Christ will begin to love what Christ loves and develop the attitude that Christ had. This is how we can sing the psalms meaningfully in union with Christ. Christ, our worshipper-in-chief, can always mean what He says when He sings with us “My zeal hath consumed me, because mine enemies have forgotten thy words.” He totally means it when he says He loves God’s Word (v. 140) and forgets not His precepts (v. 141). We, on the other hand, have a measure of corruption. Nevertheless, filled with the Spirit of Christ and united to Christ, we may sing these words with sincerity.
Our hearts are set aflame by the purity, eternality and veracity of the Word of God. We love the Word of God. We do not forget it. We are grieved that there are those who,—to their own detriment,—walk as if they have no memory of the Word of God. So though we are despised by them, we care not for their opinion of us. Rather, we grieve for them and pray that they too may come to appreciate God’s word through our Redeemer.
143 Trouble and anguish have taken hold on me: yet thy commandments are my delights. 144 The righteousness of thy testimonies is everlasting: give me understanding, and I shall live.
Our Lord and Saviour is the Prince of Peace, but that does not mean that all who trust in him will have no trouble or reason for anguish in their life. The fact is: Our Master was troubled on all sides and faced with situations that provoke anguish. Therefore, we will experience the same. The servant is not greater than his master.
But be as that may be the case, trouble and anguish do not overwhelm us. The word translated “taken hold” must not be misunderstood. The word in the Hebrew is ax;m; (matza) which carries the idea of finding something. It is usually translated as “find” in our version. The idea is that trouble and anguish finds us. We are caught up in troubles and afflictions, and situations where we are pressed and cornered. We live in a fallen world. Trouble and anguish follow us and find us like the tempestuous storm that troubled the disciples in the lake.
But regardless of what happens outside us, we can have peace inside. Why? Because the Word and Spirit of the Prince of Peace bring delight, comfort and peace.
This is so because the righteousness of God’s testimonies is everlasting. That is to say, God’s word is true and right in all circumstances and at all times. It does not fluctuate based on circumstance and time. Therefore, when we understand God’s Word, we shall be able to live truly with peace and joy.
And thus we are given to sing in the last verse of this song our desire to have understanding in regard to the everlasting righteousness of God’s Word.
144 The righteousness of thy testimonies is everlasting: give me understanding, and I shall live.
This is the 18th song of Psalm 119. Christ is the Righteous One. We are righteous ones united to the Righteous One. This is why we are called saints. As righteous ones we find delight and comfort in the fact that God and His Word is righteous. In this song we are given to pour out our heart on this matter.We could have no delight in the righteousness of God and His word if we are accounted unrighteous in the sight of God or are walking in unrighteousness for the Word of God will condemn us. But thank God for the righteousness of Christ covering us; and thank God for the Spirit of Christ working righteousness in us. Thank God for justification and sanctification. “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” says the Lord (Jn 16:33). Because of what our Righteous Lord has done and is doing for us, we can sing these words confidently in union with him. Amen. Ω