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God is Good and Does Good

Teth (j) Stanza (65-72)

This stanza has ministered to me more than any other in Psalm 119. I have preached these verses to myself in many circumstances. Verse 68 kept me sane during some of the deepest trials of my life. The central theme is God’s goodness, especially His goodness to us in affliction. Five times the Hebrew word for good is used, starting five lines of the stanza.

God’s Goodness in the School of Affliction (65-67)

65 You have dealt well with Your servant,

O Lord, according to Your word.

66 Teach me good discernment and knowledge,

For I believe in Your commandments.

67 Before I was afflicted, I went astray,

But now I keep Your word.

Young’s Literal Translation captures the emphasis in the Hebrew text: “Good Thou Didst with Thy servant, O Jehovah.” The Psalmist is considering that God has treated him better than he deserved. He has treated him just as He promised. God does not necessarily treat us in the way we ask, nor even the way we expect, but He always treats us faithfully and in accord with His Word.

He then prays to learn good discernment. The Psalmist is always asking God to teach him, he, like us, has much to learn! Here he asks to be taught discernment and knowledge. He desires spiritual and moral understanding. Perhaps, as context would indicate, he was slow discerning God’s goodness to him. He wants a better grasp of God’s goodness, better  spiritual insight and understanding because he truly believes in God’s commandments.

The Psalmist then makes confession of the benefits of God’s discipline. There is a “before” and a “but now.”  “Before I was afflicted, I went astray.” For all his integrity, he still knows what it is to go astray, to wonder. He would have given a hearty “amen” to

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it.

Prone to leave the God I love.

He sees God’s keeping grace in the affliction. Perhaps that prayer for discernment and knowledge was to have a quicker perception and better response earlier in the process of wandering. Nevertheless, he sees God’s loving discipline in the affliction, which has produced fruit, “But now I keep Your Word.”

God’s Goodness in His Person and Actions (68-70)

68 You are good and do good;

Teach me Your statutes.

69 The arrogant have forged a lie against me;

With all my heart I will observe Your precepts.

70 Their heart is covered with fat,

But I delight in Your law.

Verse 68 is such a simple and yet amazingly profound declaration about God. “You are good.” God is supreme goodness. Goodness is essential and intrinsic to God’s nature (Ex. 33:19). His goodness manifests itself in His kind disposition towards His creatures in general and His elect in particular. The next phrase, “and You do good” is the necessary consequence of God being good. He acts out of His nature. What He is determines what He does. His sovereign goodness guarantees goodness in His sovereignty. Seeing God’s goodness in affliction is important. But when we can’t see it, we need to at least acknowledge it by faith. “Father, I know You are good and know You do good. I can’t see any good in any of this right now, but I know, by faith, that You are doing good. Help me to rest by faith in what I cannot see.”

The Psalmist then asks, again, to be taught by God. He doesn’t want the lessons to go to waste. There then is an interesting shift in the section, the Psalmist then begins talking about the arrogant and their verbal assaults against him. The proud are fabricating a façade of falsehood. Their heart is thick, insensitive, and the truth arteries are clogged.

Perhaps this was part of the affliction. But in the midst of such trying circumstances, the Psalmist affirms he will observe God’s precepts with all his heart and he delights in the Law. Only the tenderhearted can delight in the Word. The Psalmist is thankful for the heart God has given.

Reflections on God’s Goodness in Affliction (71-72)

71 It is good for me that I was afflicted,

That I may learn Your statutes.

72 The law of Your mouth is better to me

Than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

God is good. God does good. It is good to be afflicted. Of course, the world knows nothing of this. And certainly, we don’t seek affliction. But when it comes, it comes with purpose according to the kind intention our Father’s will. In 2016 I had a massive brain tumor that required 11 ½ hours of surgery. I do not want to ever go through that again! But as I look back, I see God’s hand, His kindness, His lessons, His love. God’s school of affliction is good for us because we learn of Him and His ways with a depth that does not come any other way.

The Psalmist concludes the stanza with an oft repeated emphasis on the value of the Word. The main textbook in the school of affliction is God’s Word. This book, in this school, is more valuable than all the money in the world. Affliction exegetes and applies the Word for us in ways that can only be experienced.

Application

Andrew Bonar writes, “’He never wronged me or mine,’ was the saying of a Scottish saint, even when the bloody head of his martyred son was held up to his view.”[1] He has never wronged me. He always treats me better than I deserve. Even in affliction He is teaching me. He knows how to skillfully apply affliction, pain, trials, and tragedies.

Child of God, can you say that? If you believe in the Cross of Jesus, then you know that God has done you ultimate good through the suffering, affliction, and death of own perfect Son. All our affliction now is not punitive, but remedial. May God give us eyes to see and faith to believe that He is good, He does good, and affliction is for our good.

John Newton wrote these powerful words, which beautifully capture this stanza:

Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Cast out my feelings, and laid me low.

Lord, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
“‘Tis in this way, the Lord replied,
I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

[1] Bonar, Christ and His Church in the Book of Psalms (reprint, Tentmaker Publications, 2001. Originally published 1859), 364.

The Exile’s Inheritance

Heth (x) Stanza (57-64)

Every Israelite has an inheritance in the land. Exile would mean expulsion from the land and loss of the inheritance. So what do you do when you are removed from the land and it looks like the inheritance is lost? The Psalmist, as an exile, looks to the ultimate reality of the inheritance, and it was not a piece of real estate, it was the Lord Himself. Girded with that truth, he works out the implications of the Lord as his inheritance in this stanza.

The Exile’s Inheritance (57a)

57a The Lord is my portion;

In the OT, Israel was the Lord’s inheritance (Deut. 32:9). As mentioned in the opening paragraph, every Israelite, after the settlement of Joshua, had a family inheritance. The inheritance was the chief thing a man possessed. But what of a temple-less priest? What of a landless Jew? This declaration, “the Lord is my portion or inheritance” is spoken by faith. Psalmists and Prophets had made such declarations before (Psa. 16:5; 73:25-26; Lam. 3:24). Now, the Psalmist in exile confesses, “the chief thing I have is God Himself. He is my inheritance and my portion, He is my chief good and best joy.”

Obedience, Grace and More Grace (57b-58)

57b I have promised to keep Your words.

58 I sought Your favor with all my heart;

Be gracious to me according to Your word.

If God is the most important person in my life, if He is my portion and my joy, then a continual resolve to obey His Word is the natural and necessary result. But this resolved obedience is not mere obedience, it is an earnest pursuit of communion with God as the fountain of all grace. Seeking Him, seeking His favor (literally “seeking Your face”) with all my heart is my passion.

The Psalmist, after his commitment to obey and seek God’s grace, now prays that God would give him grace according to His Word. We cannot but help to see that virtually every time the Psalmist makes a commitment, a resolution, a determination, he follows up with asking God for the grace and favor to what he has committed to do. John Calvin summarizes this:

“Let us then desire nothing else, but that God would draw us into himself, link us unto him, and grant us the grace to keep his commandments.”[1]

Confession, Repentance, and Obedience (59-60)

59 I considered my ways

And turned my feet to Your testimonies.

60 I hastened and did not delay

To keep Your commandments.

When God is our treasure, our inheritance, it causes us to examine our lives and our priorities. The process, of course, can be painful, but the Holy Spirit will faithfully show us where there are contradictions and conflicts. This is what the Psalmist does. He considered his ways and then repented! Repentance is described as “and turned my feet to Your testimonies.” His feet represent his ways, his actions, the direction of his life. Matthew Henry noted,

He determined to make the word of God his rule, and to walk by that rule. He turned from the by-paths to which he had turned aside, and returned to God’s testimonies. He turned not only his eye to them, but his feet, his affections to the love of God’s word and his conversation to the practice of it.[2]

He says he did this immediately. Upon his self-examination, he repented without hesitation. Child of God, beware of being slow in repentance. Beware of being too cerebral and delaying what we know we need to do. Beware of putting on God what He has put on you! Matthew Henry again:

“When we are under convictions of sin we must strike while the iron is hot, and not think to defer the prosecution of them… When we are called to duty, we most lose not time, but set about it today, while it is still called today.”[3]

Rejoicing While Persecuted (61-62)

61 The cords of the wicked have encircled me,

But I have not forgotten Your law.

62 At midnight I shall rise to give thanks to You

Because of Your righteous ordinances.

The Psalmist is a man of principle and true piety. His heart is in the right place, and yet he still encounters the “cords of the wicked.” He is surrounded and overwhelmed (Psa. 18:6). Think of Daniel in Daniel chapter 3 and 6, surrounded by enemies. Now the Psalmist is able to say, even though enemies surround me, despite persecution, I have not drifted from Your Word, I have not forgotten it in the pressure cooker of life. He arises in the night to give thanks to his God and for His Word.

Godly Companions (63)

63 I am a companion of all those who fear You,

And of those who keep Your precepts.

Close friendship with those who fear and obey God is a powerful means of grace in our lives. Just as sure as “bad company corrupts good morals_” (1 Cor. 15:33; Prov. 15:33), so godly friends can help us, encourage us, exhort us, pray for us and walk with us. Daniel’s friendships are a model and an admonition to keep godly company. I wonder how many Christians, when they have encountered hardships and trials, have been led astray by the counsel of ungodly friends? Our friendships, especially as exiles and strangers in this world, are vital for our own faithfulness.

The Lord’s Hesed Fills the Earth (64)

64 The earth is full of Your lovingkindness, O Lord;

Teach me Your statutes.

This verse forms a beautiful bookend to this stanza. It begins with an inheritance and ends with covenant love. God’s hesed, His covenant love, is better than life (Psa. 63:3). The Psalmist, despite his circumstances, sees God’s covenant love everywhere. God’s lovingkindness meets him every morning, and he sees it. It surrounds him throughout the day, and he acknowledges it. It lays his head at night and is there as he awakes in the night. Such eyes of faith which sees God’s loyal love everywhere inform the heart to once again cry out, “Teach me Your statutes!.”

Application

We are exiles. We are aliens and strangers. We are pilgrims in this world. When God is our inheritance, our Treasure, we have all we need to be satisfied and to live a life of joyful obedience. When God is our inheritance we are committed to obedience, to self-examination and godly friendships. When He is our everything, we have all the covenant-love we could ever need to face life’s challenges.

[1] John Calvin, Sermons on Psalm 119 (reprint, Old Paths Publications, 1996. Originally published, 1580), 153.

[2] Matthew Henry, A Commentary on the Whole Bible, Volume III, 698.

[3] Henry, 698.

God’s Remembering and Ours

Zayin (z) Stanza (49-56)

When the child of God calls upon God to remember, it is an act of faith. Not because we think God can forget, but because we are calling upon God to act upon a specific promise on our behalf. When the child of God himself remembers God’s promises, it is an act of faith because we are recollecting God’s promises and God’s past faithfulness to us to stir up faith. Charles Bridges noted, “Recollections without faith are shadowy notions” (138). In this stanza, the Psalmist calls God and himself to remembrance as an act of faith.

God’s remembering (49-50)

49 Remember the word to Your servant,

In which You have made me hope.

50 This is my comfort in my affliction,

That Your word has revived me.

The Psalmist begins by petitioning God to remember. In Scripture, “remembering” is a mental activity that often is a call to pay close attention and results in action. But God never forgets because He is omniscient. When the Psalmist asks God to remember he is calling upon God to take notice and to act on his behalf.

The thing he wants God to remember is “the word to Your servant, in which you have made me hope.” The Psalmist is, as it were, taking his finger and pointing to the Word, the promise, which he has now personalized. He is not simply asking God to remember His Word in a general way, but he wants God to remember the Word He gave to him. The child of God does not look at the Word of God as if it were a general Word given indiscriminately, rather, the attitude of God’s child is “This Word is mine! This promise is mine! It is for me! God has given it to me, He has made me hope in it, and now I am reminding Him!” Bridges says, “Thus is prayer grounded upon the promise, which it forms into a prevailing argument, and sends it back to heaven; nothing doubting, but that it will be verified in God’s best time and way” (123).

As the Psalmist looks back to God’s monuments of faithfulness, he remembers the times God had revived him. This has been and continues to be his comfort during his affliction. He has lived a life of faith in the living Word, his experience of God through the Word is a powerful comfort. Christian, in your affliction do you point out God’s promises to Him? Do you know how to form a prayer, grounded on a promise, into an argument and then send it to heaven? Do you live in confident expectation that He will again come through? He remembers every promise He has ever made, and He loves for you to point them out and call upon Him to remember what He can never forget.

I have remembered Your ordinances (51-53)

51 The arrogant utterly deride me,

Yet I do not turn aside from Your law.

52 I have remembered Your ordinances from of old, O Lord,

And comfort myself.

53 Burning indignation has seized me because of the wicked,

Who forsake Your law.

Now it is the Psalmist’s turn to remember. The pagans who surrounded Daniel, scorned him and mocked him, his religion and his God. But he would not turn aside, he remained loyal. How foolish to abandon the steadfast Law of God when carnal opinions are against us. The Psalmist would not be detoured for the path of God’s holy Law. He engages himself in the mental activity of remembering. He is paying close attention to God’s ancient words and testimonies, he rehearses them, he preaches them to himself, and is comforted.

Instead of flipping or flopping because of the wicked, he experiences righteous indignation. This is probably not a reference to the pagans in Babylon, but rather Daniel’s fellow Jews who were compromising in Babylon. The compromisers were the wicked who were abandoning God’s Law for the sake of Babylonian acceptance. Such apostasy caused the Psalmist to burn with indignation.

I remember Your name (54-56)

54 Your statutes are my songs

In the house of my pilgrimage.

55 O Lord, I remember Your name in the night,

And keep Your law.

56 This has become mine,

That I observe Your precepts.

These lines, following his burning indignation, give us insight into the character of the Psalmist. He didn’t become an angry blogger who attacked all who were unfaithful, instead he re-focused his heart and mind and worshiped the Lord. He sings Scripture. “In the house of my pilgrimage” is a reference to captivity in Babylon (Ezek. 20:38). Even in a strange land, the Lord’s truth is his song. He again exercises his memory in the night, that blessed time for reflection and meditation.

The last verse is variously translated. The KJV and the NASB remain quite literal. Perhaps the ESV best captures the thought, “This blessing has fallen to me, that I have kept Your precepts.” The Psalmist sees his own obedience as a blessing, a gift, which has been given to him. In a faithless generation, it is a great blessing to be among the obedient remnant, and those who are in that camp are there by grace alone.

Application

The role of remembering in the Christian life is so important. God’s remembering His covenant (Ex. 2:24; 6:5) is the foundation for Him acting in the Exodus. God’s people call upon Him to remember again and again. As Spurgeon put it, “Let but the Lord remember His promise, and the promised act is as good as done.”

And yet we are the ones with short-term and long-term spiritual memory loss. Remembering and not forgetting is an ethical issue in the Bible.

The Psalmist does not hesitate to remind God of His promise. This is an act of faith. He also knows that he too must remember. This memory exercise is so poignantly put into practice when we come to the Lord’s Table. We can point to the bread and the wine and say, “Father, remember Your Son’s sacrifice for my sins! Forgive me for Christ’s sake. You have promised that if I confess my sins You will forgive me of my sins and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. You promised.” But the Supper also says, “Child, do this in remembrance of Me. Eat this bread and drink this cup because you remember My great love and sacrifice for your sins. Remember it. Believe it. Act on it!” How such blessed remembrance should stir our hearts to observing the Word of the Lord.