He (h) Stanza (33-40)
How often do we pray for our spiritual growth? We legitimately pray for all kinds of needs and concerns, but how often do we pray that God would grow and change us from the inside out?
This stanza is a prayer for growth from a changed heart. There are many New Covenant themes in this prayer. It is interesting to muse on Daniel meditating on the New Covenant promises in Jer. 31:31-34 and 32:39-40, and then praying those promises back to God. We know Daniel had access to Jeremiah’s prophecy and prayed about what he read (Dan. 9:2-4). Regardless, this is a wonderful prayer for us to pray today.
O LORD, Teach Me (33-34)
33 Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes,
And I shall observe it to the end.
34 Give me understanding, that I may observe Your law
And keep it with all my heart.
The first petition in this stanza is for God to teach and give understanding to His child. He uses God’s covenant name (Yahweh) and is asking for “transcendent tutoring” (Zemek, 136). He knows that if he is taught of God, he will obey, every day, all the way. When God the Holy Spirit is our teacher the result is full heart obedience to the end.
Lord, Change My Heart (35-36)
35 Make me walk in the path of Your commandments,
For I delight in it.
36 Incline my heart to Your testimonies
And not to dishonest gain.
The next petition is for God to cause His child to march along in the path of God’s commandments. The path he desires is the beautiful path of God’s law, it is his delight. For the Psalmist, God’s commandments are not burdensome, but rather they are delightful. Immediately he prays that God would be inclining or turning his heart, sustaining that desire. The Psalmist knows himself well enough to know that every day is a battle over what we will take delight in. He knows the inner conflicts of remaining sin. So he looks to God to sustain him with a willing spirit and delighting heart.
We cannot fail to notice the last line of v. 36, “and not to material gain.” Do you remember the offers made to Daniel if he would interpret the dream (Dan. 5:13-17)? Daniel had already prospered (Dan. 2:48). In this petition, the Psalmist asks God to change his heart and to keep his heart from wanting the wrong things.
Lord, Protect My Eyes (37)
37 Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity,
And revive me in Your ways.
The Psalmist knows where he is prone to look. How about us? Do we know where our eyes are prone to wander? He wants God to keep his eyes away from “vanity,” this word means “a vapor, a breath,” and by extension, that which is morally valueless. This describes the things of this world, the lust of the eyes. The Psalmist pleads that God would turn his eyes away from the world and would revive him. God’s life-giving, reviving power can break the attraction of the nothingness of the world.
Lord, Confirm Your Word (38)
38 Establish Your word to Your servant,
As that which produces reverence for You.
To “establish, “ or “confirm,” may have the idea of fulfill. The Psalmist may have in mind a specific word or promise. The reason that word needs to be established or fulfilled is because it produces godly fear. Charles Bridges wonderfully paraphrases, “Whatsoever, therefore, thy covenant has provided for my sanctification, my humiliation, my chastisement, my present and everlasting consolation – ‘Stablish this word:’ let it be fulfilled in me; for I am ‘thy servant, devoted to thy fear’” (94).
Lord, Take Away My Disgrace (39)
39 Turn away my reproach which I dread,
For Your ordinances are good.
The reproach of the enemy is a common theme in the Psalms. The Psalmist dreads such reproaches, not because they hurt his feelings, but because his testimony is at stake. He did not want to bring dishonor to his God.
Lord, Revive Me (40)
40 Behold, I long for Your precepts;
Revive me through Your righteousness.
He concludes this stanza with familiar but vibrant words. He longs for God’s Word and he longs for God to renew his heart through His righteousness. The reason he appeals to revival through God’s righteousness is because God’s righteousness is not only judgment on the wicked, it is also deliverance or salvation for His people.
The New Covenant blessings have been secured for us by Christ and His blood. These blessings are a new heart, with new desires, empowered obedience and perseverance. To pray to God for what He has already promised has a wonderful power to it. Child of God, learn to plead the promises of the New Covenant!
Daleth (d) Stanza (25-32)
Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) memorably wrote in the hymn, “None Other Lamb, None Other Name,” these words:
My faith burns low, my hope burns low;
Only my heart’s desire cries out in me.
These lines capture the Psalmist’s emotions in this stanza. He is dealing with what is going on inside him. There is repetition in this stanza which gives it its coherence. The word “cleaves” in verses 25 and 31 is the same Hebrew word. “My soul” is repeated in verses 25 and 28 in lament and petition, setting the stage of the stanza. The repetition of “way” in verses 26, 27, 29, 30, and 32 give this stanza its rebar.
My Soul is Stuck to the Dirt (25-27)
25 My soul cleaves to the dust;
Revive me according to Your word.
26 I have told of my ways, and You have answered me;
Teach me Your statutes.
27 Make me understand the way of Your precepts,
So I will meditate on Your wonders.
This first lament is so vivid. The Psalmist cries out that his soul is glued to the dirt! The NET Bible translates this line, “I collapse in the dirt.” The picture is one who had sunk to the ground and is now stuck under the crushing weight of trouble. As the soul is now glued to the dust, it cannot raise itself up. Whether this is the result of external or internal trials, the Psalmist cannot get any lower. So, he cries out, “Revive me according to Your Word!” Charles Bridges paraphrases like this, “Breathe into me Thine own life, that I may rise from the dust and cleave to Thee.” He then says, “This cry for quickening grace is the exercise of faith” (57).
In verses 26-27, the Psalmist exercises his memory, thinking on God’s answered prayers. Laying prostrate in the dust is the posture for learning.
When the believer is down and almost out, he needs to look back to God’s past answered prayers and faithfulness, he needs to see the learning opportunity, and cry out so that his soul can at least behold God’s wonders, although stuck the ground.
I am dissolved in tears (28-29)
28 My soul weeps because of grief;
Strengthen me according to Your word.
29 Remove the false way from me,
And graciously grant me Your law.
This is the second lament and it is like the first. The glued soul is now the dissolving soul. The ESV says, “My soul melts away from sorrow.” The exile knows loneliness and fear, and the sorrow that ensues. He feels the weight of it, but he also feels it melting his very soul, sapping away his strength and his vitality. Indeed, “My faith burns low, my hope burns low.” The only thing to do is cry out, “Strengthen me according to Thy Word!” God’s child, in exile, needs spiritual strength, his faith needs to be reinforced, his soul needs to be revived.
He begs, in his second petition, “remove the false way from me.” The false way could be the way of the Babylonians, which would have been antithetical to God’s way. The Psalmist feels the pressure of the opposing worldview. He pleads for God, by His grace, to grant him His law. To receive God’s Torah, God’s instruction, is indeed an act of grace. Contrasted with the false way, the way which leads away from God, the Psalmist pleads for the gracious teaching of God’s law which would lead him in God’s way and to God.
I stick to Your Word (30-32)
30 I have chosen the faithful way;
I have placed Your ordinances before me.
31 I cling to Your testimonies;
O Lord, do not put me to shame!
32 I shall run the way of Your commandments,
For You will enlarge my heart.
God has answered once again! He has revived, He has strengthened His child. The evidence of answered prayer is the determination of the Psalmist here. He has determined in his own heart that the false way will not allure him, he will remain on the faithful way, the way of loyalty to God and His Word. Think of Daniel here. How many times was he tempted to the false way, either false worship or compromise of his own convictions, and yet God strengthened Daniel to be faithful and to stick to the Word.
The Psalmist, whose soul was stuck to the dirt, is now making the conscious commitment to keep the Word front and center in his own heart and mind. He says, “I stick to your Word!” (31a). The grace-empowered determination to say, ‘I am clinging to the Word, it is my life and I won’t let go,” is God’s answer for revival and strength.
The Psalmist is aware how much is at stake, “O Yahweh, do not put me to shame!” Throughout this Psalm we encounter again and again the Psalmist’s determination and then his immediate reliance on God’s grace. “Leave me not to myself, lest I become a shame to myself, and an offense to Thy Church” (Bridges, 75).
The final verse is triumphant confidence. The soul that starts out stuck to the dirt is now ready to run. God, in reviving grace, has given him his second wind. He knows he will run in the way of God’s commandments because God is going to enlarge his heart, that is energize his affections, deepen his love and loyalty. God loves to answer prayer in this way, He loves it when His children, though stuck to the dirt and dissolved in tears, look to Him with confidence and say, “Father, I am going to energetically purse You and a life of holiness and obedience because You are going to empower my heart for this pursuit!”
When the Psalmist was stuck, when he was melting, he remembered how God had heard him in the past, and then pled for life and strength in the present and committed to grace-empowered obedience for the future. Child of God, when you are glued to the ground, look up. When your soul is dissolving in tears, polish God’s monuments of faithfulness to you along your way. Cry out! Plead for life and strength. Voice your confidence in God’s grace to do for you what you cannot do for yourself. Cry out, as Christina Rossetti said,
Lord, thou art Life, though I be dead; love’s fire thou art, however cold I be:
nor heav’n have I, nor place to lay my head, nor home, but thee.
Gimmel (g) Stanza (17-24)
The aleph stanza (1-8) focused on the happiness of an obedient life. The beth stanza (9-16) showed how to live a pure life by the Word of God. The gimmel stanza (17-24) speaks to dealing with outside pressure and hostility. There is a progression. If we, by grace, live a life of obedience to God, seeking to order our lives according to His Word, then we will face pressure from the world. This stanza, which has Daniel written all over it, shows how to cope with hostility, insult, gossip, and opposition.
Petition for God’s Abundant Supply (17)
17 Deal bountifully with Your servant,
That I may live and keep Your word.
The Psalmist calls himself God’s “servant.” He is trying to live faithfully to God. He is trying to live a life dedicated to the Lord. But he is also convinced that unless God does something for him, he will not live (literally) and unless God does something for him, he will not be revived in his soul. Daniel in Daniel 1 is a good example of this. Daniel put his life on the line for the sake of his own conscience and refused to eat the delicacies from the king’s table. Instead he chose to eat vegetables, and opened himself up to severe punishment, even death. Daniel was utterly dependent on God to deal bountifully with him, preserve his life, so that Daniel could keep on living and obeying the Word of God.
Petition for illumination from the Word (18-20)
18 Open my eyes, that I may behold
Wonderful things from Your law.
19 I am a stranger in the earth;
Do not hide Your commandments from me.
20 My soul is crushed with longing
After Your ordinances at all times.
If God does not open our eyes, we will not see. But when He opens the eyes of our heart, we see the beauty and power of His Word and how His Word applies to our lives. This prayer is powerful because when we face pressures, as the Psalmist did, we need eyes to see, we need Spirit-enabled sight into the Word. That is where we are sustained.
The Psalmist says in verse 19 that is he an exile, a foreigner in the land. He is trying to walk with God, apart from the comfort and security of living in the promised land and access to the Temple. The distance and the circumstances could have made God seem hidden. Sometimes when the pressures of life cave in on us, there can be a sense of distance from the Lord, or even desertion. So, the Psalmist cries out, “Don’t hide your commandments from me!”
In verse 20 the Psalmist is consumed with a longing for God’s instruction. There is a sense of desperation. What a blessing to be desperate for God! Charles Bridges notes, “The longing of the soul can never over-reach its object. The cherished desire, therefore, will become habit – the element in which the child of God lives and thrives.” We can never hunger too much, we can never be desperate enough. Such longing, especially when it has become “the habit” of the soul, is where we thrive before God.
How God Deals with the Arrogant (21)
21 You rebuke the arrogant, the cursed,
Who wander from Your commandments.
If this is Daniel, the exile, then then Daniel is speaking of his fellow Jews in exiles, who were being assimilated into Babylonian culture and forsaking God’s ways and commandments. In Daniel’s prayer in Dan. 9, he said, “Righteousness belongs to You, O Lord, but to us open shame, as it is this day—to the men of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, those who are nearby and those who are far away in all the countries to which You have driven them, because of their unfaithful deeds which they have committed against You” (Dan. 9:7).
There is always a danger that when God’s people become to acclimated to culture that we can wander from God’s ways. The spirit of the age can creep in and erode our loyalty and obedience. This is of course arrogance and pride, going our own way. The Psalmist calls on God to rebuke the arrogant, those who are under the curse of law-breaking. This prayer for rebuke should instill in us the fear of the Lord.
Prayer for Deliverance from Hostile Opponents (22-23)
22 Take away reproach and contempt from me,
For I observe Your testimonies.
23 Even though princes sit and talk against me,
Your servant meditates on Your statutes.
The Psalmist feels the hostility of his opponents, who were insulting him and showing contempt for him. The prayer of verse 22 could be that the Psalmist is asking God to remove the hostility, which is a legitimate prayer. The other option may be something like this, “Let the taunt and abuse roll away from me because I keep Your testimonies.”
James Boice comments, “What is unique about these specific trials is that they seem to have come to the Psalmist because his determination to adhere to God’s Word.”
There is of course a price for holiness and obedience (2 Tim. 3:12). If you stand up for God, in the classroom or the boardroom, God’s enemies will unleash venom. What can we do?
The Psalmist says that “princes plot and speak against me.” This is parallels verse 161. The princes are probably the policy-makers of the foreign land, who were conspiring against Daniel (cf. Dan. 6:3-6). But in spite of this opposition – organized opposition at that – the Psalmist is committed to mediating on the Word. He finds strength in the Word. He meditates on the truth of the Word. The truth of the Word is armor to his soul against lies, accusations and opposition. Charles Bridges comments on this idea of meditation, “[meditation] is the digestive faculty of the soul, which converts the Word into real and proper nourishment.”
Declaration of Confidence in the Word (24)
24 Your testimonies also are my delight;
They are my counselors.
This oft repeated refrain, “Your testimonies are my delight” is so important. True delight in the Word gives ballast to the soul when we are tempted to fear and anxiety. It is the testimony of God that is the greatest counselor! Whatever the counsel and conspiracy of the godless is, the Psalmist looks to the truth of God for counsel.
The harsh reality is that in this world we should expect opposition and hostility because we belong to Jesus Christ. Jesus told us, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also” (John 15:19-20).
When we feel the antagonism of a culture at war with God, the hostility of those who hate holiness and despise the Word of God, we need to go to our source of strength and counsel, which is God’s holy Word.
College students, employees in the work place, and citizens of godless nations need to remember that when our faith is attacked, and we are attacked, that we must go, in dependence, to the Word, so that our souls can be provisioned and strengthened, and we can be reoriented to the Truth in the midst of pressure and even hostility.