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.