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Savoring the Sweetness and Getting Smarter

Mem (m) Stanza (97-104)

This stanza shouts, “Daniel!” We will see why shortly. This stanza also distinguishes itself as an all-out celebration of the Word. There is no plea or petition in this stanza, which is a major contrast with the others. It is an explosion of love for the Word of God and what it does in our lives.

Declaration of Love and Dedication to the Law (97)

97 O how I love Your law!
It is my meditation all the day.

The Psalmist’s emotions are fully engaged. For those who think the emotions are unimportant in the Christian life, the Psalmist contradicts such a notion. To be sure, this is more than sentiment, it is deep love and devotion. The believer loves the Word of God because it is his life. We cannot miss the explosive exclamation, “O how I love Your Law!” But not only is there deep love and devotion, but there is serious dedication. The Psalmist is committed to meditating on the Law, that is musing on and memorizing it. This is no occasional hobby, it is day and night, which is a figure of speech for constantly, regularly. Spurgeon said, “When thy law and my meditation are together all the day, the day grows holy, devout, and happy, and the heart lives with God.”1

The Word’s Comparative Power (98-100)

98 Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies,
For they are ever mine.
99 I have more insight than all my teachers,
For Your testimonies are my meditation.
100 I understand more than the aged,
Because I have observed Your precepts.

Seeing Daniel here, instead of David, makes sense. This stanza links together adversity, academics, and age. The Psalmist recognizes that he is wiser, has more insight, and understanding than all those around him because he possesses God’s Law, meditates on it, and obeys it.

For the Psalmist, possession of God’s commandments certainly makes him wiser than his enemies, that is, his unbelieving opponents. He has internalized the Word, he has God’s commandments in his heart, and this gives him a superior advantage over his enemies. He also has more insight than his teachers. Who would have been David’s teachers in Israel? Priests and prophets, for sure. But for Daniel, pressed into the Babylonian university system, he would have had the professors of Babylon. The Psalmist’s preoccupation with the Word gives him a worldview advantage over the PhDs of his day.

He also claims more understanding than the aged. Again, a problem if David is the author. But if it is Daniel, it could be referring to the supposed wise-men of Babylon or even the backslidden priests and elders of the exile (Ezek. 7:26). Either way, obedience to the Word gives understanding. Disobedience makes us dumber and dumber. Obedience gives us spiritual insight (e.g., John 7:17). Immorality hampers our ability to reason correctly (e.g., Eph. 4:17-19). The more a person indulges in sin, the less he or she understands. The corollary is true, the more one walks in obedience to the Law of God, the more understanding he has.

The Word’s Sanctifying Power (101-102)

101 I have restrained my feet from every evil way,
That I may keep Your word.
102 I have not turned aside from Your ordinances,
For You Yourself have taught me.

The Word not only gives insight and understanding, but it also sanctifies. Jesus prays, “Sanctify them in Truth, Thy Word is Truth” (John 17:17). The Psalmist, because he loves and mediates on the Word, maintains a strong commitment to stay away from evil and walk in God’s ways. The Psalmist sees his obedience as a result of being taught by God. As he meditates, God teaches, as God teaches, he grows in holiness. “But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day” (Prov. 4:18).

Tasting the Word’s Sweetness (103)

103 How sweet are Your words to my taste!
Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

The whole of Psalm 119 is filled with language of enjoyment, delight, pleasure. The Psalmist loves the Word so much that it is sweeter to him than honey! (See also Psa. 19:11; Prov. 16:24; Jer. 15:16; Ezek. 3:3). The Word electrifies the Psalmist’s spiritual taste-buds. Matthew Henry says, “There is such a thing as a spiritual taste, an inward savor and relish of divine things, such an evidence of them to ourselves, by experience, we cannot give to others… To this Scripture-taste the Word of God is sweet, very sweet, sweeter than any of the gratifications of sense, even those that are most delicious.”2

Tasting the Word’s Repulsing Power (104)

104 From Your precepts I get understanding;
Therefore I hate every false way.

The Word certainly informs our minds, it teaches us, and there is a sweet delight. But the Word also stirs up hatred. We could call this, “Word-inspired loathing.” There is emotion and morality. The Word’s sweetness creates a repulsion for evil and sin. When the Psalmist says, “I hate every false way,” he means everything false, from heresy to moral falsehood. Delitzsch notes, “From God’s Law he acquires the capacity for proving the spirits, therefore he hates every path of falsehood.”3

Application

This stanza celebrates the sweetness and sufficiency of the Word. If we possess the Word, are preoccupied with the Word, marinate in the Word, practice the Word, our spiritual joy will increase and so will our insight and wisdom. We will grow in sanctification, sin less and obey more.

There is, of course, a wonderful application to those who are in secular colleges (and even some so-called Christian colleges). The Word of God can keep you, morally and mentally. Savoring the sweetness of the Word will make you smarter and wiser than your unbelieving teachers. Depart from the path of the Word and you will become gullible and denser like an unreasoning animal. Immorality will erode understanding. Savor the Word’s sweetness and walk in obedience to it.

1 Spurgeon, Psalms, 221.
2 Matthew Henry, Vol. 3, 708.
3 Delitzsch, 256.

How Firm a Foundation!

Lamed (l) Stanza (89-96)

My wife and I recently watched a movie based on a true story of some young adventurers who went deep into the Amazon jungle. At one point, the party of four split up; two going out on foot, the other two built a raft and were going out by way of the river. The two who took the raft were unable to get off at a little beach before they hit vicious rapids, which threatened to take them into a canyon. The canyon promised certain death. In desperation they jumped out of the raft into the dangerous rushing waters, where they were pummeled by the violent waves. Drowning seemed imminent. But one adventurer was smashed into a rock. Upon contact, he held on for dear life. The rock was his salvation and enabled him to get safely to shore.

Spurgeon captures the contrast between the previous stanza (81-88) and this one (89-96), “After tossing about on a sea of trouble the psalmist here leaps to shore and stands upon a rock.”[1] Sometimes in God’s providence, the Christian is thrown against the rock of God’s Word and clings for dear life. But once to safety he often needs to return to that rock and remind himself of its properties which made it a firm, stable, and safe place in his time of trouble. The Psalmist does exactly that.

The Firm Foundation (89-91)

89 Forever, O Lord,

Your word is settled in heaven.

90 Your faithfulness continues throughout all generations;

You established the earth, and it stands.

91 They stand this day according to Your ordinances,

For all things are Your servants.

God’s Word is an eternal Word, just as God Himself is eternal. God’s Word is settled, it stands firm, in heaven. Delitzsch notes, “It has heaven as its standing place and therefore also has the qualities of heaven, and before all others, heaven-like stability.”[2] What a contrast to the temporary and unstable things of earth.

We can have such incredible confidence in the eternal, sure, steadfast and faithful Word because God Himself is faithful. God’s faithfulness continues to all generations, that is, it is permanent. The Psalmist points to the establishment of the earth as proof. God made the earth and it stands because of His faithfulness; God gave His Word and it stands because of His faithfulness. There is no distinction between the character of God and the nature of His Word.

All things created by God stand according to His Word. “The heavens were made by the Word of the LORD, and all the stars, by the breath of His mouth… He spoke, and it came into being; He commanded, and it came into existence… The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation” (Psalm 33:6, 9, 11, HCSB). Everything exists to serve the Creator. It is this faithful God who has given us His Word.

The Word is our Delight and our Life (92-93)

92 If Your law had not been my delight,

Then I would have perished in my affliction.

93 I will never forget Your precepts,

For by them You have revived me.

There is strength when we delight it the Word. There is weakness, indeed, powerlessness, when we don’t. The Psalmist looks back on the tumult of his trials and he is certain that he would have been shattered into pieces but delight in the Word gave ballast to his soul on the stormy sea. He then confesses he will never forget God’s Word. Matthew Henry said, “The best evidence of our love to the Word of God is never to forget it.”[3]

The Word revived him, it gave him life. You can’t forget what has saved you. I know this firsthand. The day after my brain surgery my heart stopped. I sensed the presence and peace of God. “Lord, my life in Your hands,” was my constant refrain. My nurse, a man named Jeff, was among those who revived me and saved my life. This year, on the second anniversary of my surgery, Ariel and I went to UCSF Hospital and found Jeff. With tears I told him, “You may not remember me, but I will never forget you.”

How can a Christian forget the Word which has saved him? Which has given her comfort and hope? Which has brought correction and repentance? May we say to the Word of God, “I will never forget you.”

Salvation and Destruction (94-95)

94 I am Yours, save me;

For I have sought Your precepts.

95 The wicked wait for me to destroy me;

I shall diligently consider Your testimonies.

The Psalmist has confidence that he belongs to the Lord, therefore, with urgency he pleads, “save me.” He sees a powerful connection between the reality that he belongs to God and the direction of his life. That connection, relationship and direction, gives him a sense of anticipation of what God will do for him.

The next verse reminds us of his perpetual suffering. But instead of an imprecation at this point, he reorients himself to the Word and commits himself to its consideration. The wicked are there. They are always there. But they won’t get me to get my gaze off God’s Word.

The Perfection of the Word (96)

96 I have seen a limit to all perfection;

Your commandment is exceedingly broad.

Everything on earth is limited. This is the Psalmist’s empirical observation about creation. It all has limits. But not so with the Word of God. God’s Word extends beyond the bounds of so-called perfection here on earth. It gives perspective on eternity, it is true in every part, nothing in it is tainted or corrupted. The Psalmist ends this stanza right where he began, the faithful reliability of God’s Word.

Application

The Word of God reflects the very character of God. It is eternal, it is perfect, it is settled, firm, and reliable. Like the God who gave it, it is faithful. In our times of crisis, we cling to the rock of God’s Word. When we are stabilized, we can step back and marvel at the beauty and wonder of the rock. We can explore the places where our fingers dug in, in desperation. We can examine the contours which provided safety. Spurgeon, in his wonderful way, said, “I have learned to kiss the waves that throw me up against the Rock of Ages.” The waves force on us the experiential reminder, “How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent Word.”

[1] Spurgeon, II. 218.

[2] Delitzsch, 254.

[3] Henry, 705.

Facing the Breaking Point

Kaf (k) Stanza (81-88)

Exhausted. Spent. Done. Languishing. Brittle and about to shatter. Sometimes this is what life feels like. We want to love the Lord and walk in obedience with vibrant faith, but we feel like we are at the breaking point. The Psalmist was there in this stanza.

The observant reader notices that the moods change between stanzas, there is no emotional symmetry. There is a pretty good possibility that the Psalmist composed these stanzas over time, and not all at once. This would account for the varying moods. This stanza uses a Hebrew word which begins with the letter Kaf, three times. The word means “to bring to an end, to languish, to pine, to be done, spent.” The Psalmist was at his breaking point. Maybe you are at yours. May the Lord bless this exposition to the reviving of your soul.

My Soul and My Eyes are at their Breaking Point (81-82)

81 My soul languishes for Your salvation;

I wait for Your word.

82 My eyes fail with longing for Your word,

While I say, “When will You comfort me?”

These first four lines express the believer’s weariness, not just in body, but in soul. Soul weary. He pictures his own soul as languishing for God’s saving intervention. This is not merely longing, as some translations have it, but it is the soul wearing thin while it waits for God. Then he says his eyes “fail,” that is, they grow weary, they are worn out, as they strain to see God’s promises come true. The Psalmist is waiting for God’s deliverance, His comfort, and yet as he waits, he is exhausted and near the breaking point. This is not patiently waiting, it is just waiting, knowing every minute God does not act, he gets closer to giving up.

Judge Soon before I Break (83-84)

83 Though I have become like a wineskin in the smoke,

I do not forget Your statutes.

84 How many are the days of Your servant?

When will You execute judgment on those who persecute me?

The image of the wineskin in the smoke is vivid. The wineskin, exposed to the smoke, has dried out, become brittle, cracked, and useless. The smoke of the trials is ruining this believer, sapping away his vitality, his usefulness, his very life. And yet, as we have seen so many times, he remains committed to the Word. This is not bravado, it is desperation. He knows he is coming to the end of his rope. He wants to know, “how long do I have to do this?” God please hurry, my grip is slipping! His persecutors are the smoke. He wants to know when God is going to do something before it is too late.

Calvin captures the sense of these lines, “As if he should have said, Alas, my good God, wilt thou help me after I am dead? For thou seest that I have already endured so much, as it is not possible to endure more: thou seest me even at the grave’s brink: It is now time, or else never to help. But yet I perceive no succor [help] come from thee.”[1]

Hunted and Pursued to the Breaking Point (85-86)

85 The arrogant have dug pits for me,

Men who are not in accord with Your law.

86 All Your commandments are faithful;

They have persecuted me with a lie; help me!

His enemies laid traps for him. These are unprincipled men, unethical men, men who are not in accord with God’s Word. They wanted to make him miserable and do him in. They lie about the Psalmist. They seek to destroy him. Thank God that there is something true in the midst of lying enemies and that is God’s Word, God’s commandments. The contrast is powerful: Lying enemies vs. the faithful reliability of God’s Word.

The cry is “help me!” Please act before it is too late. “We are best able to resist our enemy upon our knees; and even such a short prayer as this, ‘Help thou me,’ will bring down the strength of Omnipotence on our side.”[2] Short prayers are desperate prayers, but they are also often powerful prayers.

Almost Broken, but Not Destroyed (87-88)

87 They almost destroyed me on earth,

But as for me, I did not forsake Your precepts.

88 Revive me according to Your lovingkindness,

So that I may keep the testimony of Your mouth.

The Hebrew word, “brought to an end, languish, done” is used here for the last time. “They almost destroyed me on earth.” They almost succeeded in breaking me, they almost brought me past my breaking point. They came close, but they were not victorious. The pressure to compromise, to capitulate, to give up, was all around, and yet the Psalmist could say, “But as for me, I did not forsake Your precepts.” This note of humble triumph may be in retrospect or it may be a statement of confidence for the future. Regardless, this has taken a tremendous toll on him. Things appeared so dim, there was so little rope left, so little strength, he knows he needs God’s reviving, refreshing grace.

He won the skirmish, he walks off this battlefield, bloodied, yet sword still in hand. He knows there will be another battle, so he prays for God’s covenant love to come and revive his soul so that he may keep walking in obedience to the testimony of God’s mouth. Charles Bridges says of this expression, “The title here given to the directory of our duty—’the testimony of God’s mouth’—adds strength to our obligations. Thus let every word we read or hear be regarded, as coming directly from the ‘mouth of God.’ What reverence, what implicit submission does it demand! May it ever find us in the posture of attention, humility, and faith, each one of us ready to say—’Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth!’”[3]

Application

Sometimes we don’t feel like we can go on. Things appear dim. God is nowhere in sight. The breaking point is near. But where else shall we go? Jesus alone has the words of eternal life (John 6:68). So we cry. We tell God. We go to the Mighty Sufferer of Golgotha, who really was forsaken (Psa. 22:1). We fall on our knees in weakness. We cling to the Word. We refuse to let go. We realize that no matter how thin we might wear, underneath is the covenant love of God which will not let the bruised reed be broken.

[1] Calvin, 221-222.

[2] Charles Bridges, 141.

[3] Charles Bridges, 144.