Part I: Psalm 119:1-32

In the previous post we looked at how God’s Law brings joy to the life of a believer; continuing through Psalm 119, lets now explore the practical side of the Law. It is my belief that Psalm 119 not only displays the joy that God’s Law brings to His followers, but it also outlines the principles necessary in order to fully experience those blessings.

Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end.
Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.
Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.
Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.
Confirm to your servant your promise, that you may be feared.
Turn away the reproach that I dread, for your rules are good.
Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life!

(Psalm 119:33-40)

First, notice the requests of the psalmist: Teach me (v.33); Give me (v.34); Lead me (v.35); Incline my heart (v.36); Turn my eyes … give me life (v.37); Confirm to your servant (v.38); and Turn away the reproach that I dread (v.39). Robert Davidson contends, these requests “speak of a commitment which expresses itself in wholehearted obedience and which will have moral and social consequences”[1]. Exploring this notion further, the object of the psalmist’s request is God’s Law in each of these verses:

  • 33, “Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes…”  Statutes refer to the permanence of Scripture, specifically on how it is inscribed (or written down) “as a witness forever” (Isaiah 30:8).
  • 34, “Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.” This verse best exemplifies the practical side of the Law. Knowing God’s Law is an intellectual undertaking that consumes many scholars; however, true faith only comes though understanding what one knows. This is why the Apostle Paul wrote, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). This idea also conveys that understanding is not just for the pursuit of knowledge but for obedience.
  • 35, “Lead me in the path of your commandments…” The psalmist is highlighting God’s authority in having the right to give that which is to be followed. He yearns to imitate his Savior: to walk as he has walked (see Obedience: Trust, Listen, Walk; John 1:19-12:50).
  • 36, “Incline my heart to your testimonies…” God’s scriptures are dependable and trustworthy and therefore are perfect for displaying His perfect standards and dire warnings: “Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against you” (Deuteronomy 31:26).
  • 37, “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things, and give me life in your ways.” Searching for salvation apart from God is worthless; this verse illustrates the psalmist’s faith in obtaining salvation only through the ways of his Lord and Savior.
  • 38, “Confirm to your servant your promise…” A request to embrace God’s truth as it is shown to him, echoing what was declared previously, “strengthen me according to your word” (Psalm 119:28b).
  • 39, “Turn away the reproach that I dread, for your rules are good.” The reproach of God is a reference to His standard, that He is the final arbiter.

Each of these requests point forward to verse 40, “Behold, I long for your precepts…” The psalmist makes seven requests and concludes this section by stating he cares about the fine details; that each individual instruction from His Lord matters to him. It is because the Law was set before mankind by a righteous God, which is the only way the psalmist can then cry out: “in your righteousness give me life!”

The author of Psalm 119 knows that God’s Law brings joy to life, but that joy can only come by asking God to instill it into his mind and onto his heart so that, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).

1. Robert Davidson, The Vitality of Worship: a Commentary on the Book of Psalms, 393.