Suffering Serves the Saints

Yodh (y) Stanza (73-80)

The Psalmist has taught us that affliction is part of God’s good plan for us (67, 71). We know that God is at work in the pain. But this stanza adds another dimension to understanding affliction: it is not only for our growth in faith and grace, but it is also for the benefit of other believers. This realization is transforming. What we go through, we go through not only for ourselves, but for others, serving as an example and encouragement to others. Suffering serves the saints.

This is what I was made for (73)

73 Your hands made me and fashioned me;

Give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments

The Psalmist acknowledges that he is the work of God’s hands. God made him, He created him, and fashioned him, that is, He made him what he was. God is the potter, we are the clay. He not only makes the lump of clay, but He molds it and shapes it. He fashions our lives according to His plan, and that includes His providential control over our suffering.

“Give me understanding,” that is, give me the ability to see my purpose in my creation and in the crucibles of life. The Psalmist wanted a clear view of the truth of God’s work in his life and affliction. But it wasn’t just for better understanding, it was for better obedience; it was so that he would learn God’s commandments. What a prayer. Spurgeon commented, “We may reasonably hope that the great Potter will complete his work and give the finishing touch to it by imparting to it sacred knowledge and holy practice.[1]

Let Me Be a Visual Testimony (74-75)

74 May those who fear You see me and be glad,

Because I wait for Your word.

75 I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are righteous,

And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.

Imagine Daniel and his fellow Jews in Babylon. So many had compromised. Some were trying to be faithful, but it was difficult The Psalmist asks the Lord that “those who fear You would see me and be glad.” He wanted the covenant community of faithful believers to look to him and see in his life a visual testimony that brings them joy. He wanted them to see him confident in the Word, steadfast in affliction, enduring under pressure.

The Psalmist knows that whatever God does is right. He knows God cannot wrong him or mistreat him. All that the Lord has brought into his life, He has brought with faithfulness. Having girded his mind with these truths, he earnestly desires to be an example to others who fear the Lord. He refused to think only of himself in affliction, he thought of his brothers and sisters. Charles Bridges exhorts us, “Oh! be animated to know more of Christ yourself; let your hope in him be strengthened, that you may cause gladness in the hearts of those that see you;”[2]

Your Grace is Sufficient for Me (76-77)

76 O may Your lovingkindness comfort me,

According to Your word to Your servant.

77 May Your compassion come to me that I may live,

For Your law is my delight.

Throughout this Psalm, the Psalmist never views himself as a spiritual Superman. He knew that such an attitude and perspective towards suffering would need to be sustained by God Himself. “Let Your loyal covenant love comfort me, according to the promise to Your servant.” If his suffering was going to serve the saints, God would need to serve Him with His covenant love and covenant promise. In addition, he needed God’s compassion to live. As Daniel prayed in Daniel 9:9, “To the Lord our God belong compassion and forgiveness.” Without God’s tender mercies there is no life; with God’s tender mercies there is constant renewal of life. “For Your law is my delight,” is the Psalmist’s declaration that fuels his desire for renewed life. His heart is not dead or dull, but alive with joy and dependence.

Take Care of the Insolent Liars (78)

78 May the arrogant be ashamed, for they subvert me with a lie;

But I shall meditate on Your precepts.

Although affliction may be lightened by the knowledge of God’s hand in it, and God’s fresh compassions and mercies, there are still real people who are bitter and arrogant and quick to assault God’s people with lies. The Psalmist prays that they may be ashamed, “That is, let them be brought to repentance or to ruin.”[3] Notice well believer, the Psalmist says, “But I shall meditate on Your precepts.” He refuses to be consumed with vindictive thoughts or vengeful feelings, rather, he focuses his mind on what God would have him do.

Let Me Be a Verbal Testimony (79)

79 May those who fear You turn to me,

Even those who know Your testimonies.

He returns to those whom he prayed for in v. 74, those who fear the Lord and know His Word. He keeps them ever close to his mind and affections. He desires to help them. He knows he needs them, but he also knows that they need him.

Help Me Live Above Reproach (80)

80 May my heart be blameless in Your statutes,

So that I will not be ashamed.

The final prayer brings into focus enduring affliction for the sake of God’s name and the good of His people. He prays for integrity of heart and through this he would not be ashamed, that is, he would not bring grief to his own conscience and reproach to his God and discouragement to his brothers.

Application

When I found out I had a brain tumor I started asking the Lord, “Father, let me suffer well for the sake of Your people.” I had an awareness that the way I went through this trial was bigger than just me, it could strengthen and encourage other believers as they faced trials. Having a big picture of suffering includes seeing God’s hand in it and seeing our brothers and sisters. Our faith, sustained by God and His Word, can help the faith of others. Our suffering serves the saints.

[1] C.H. Spurgeon, Psalms Volume II, Crossway Classic Commentaries (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1993), 212.

[2] Charles Bridges, Exposition of Psalm 119: As Illustrative of the Character and Exercises of Christian Experience, Seventeenth Edition (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1861), 121.

[3] Matthew Henry, A Commentary on the Whole Bible, Volume 3, 702.

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.