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Guarding Against Wolves

I am taking a short break from the Psalm 119 posts as I prepare for Zambia and try to finish a couple classes (please pray for me!).

This morning during my reading and prayer time, my mind kept coming back to Acts 20. Paul tells the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28-29, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the flock of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.”

Have you ever considered how much of the NT is devoted to warning against false teaching and false teachers? We have one NT book wholly devoted to the Gospel-perverting error of the Judaizers, which is of course Galatians. We have two books devoted to exposing and warning against false teachers, 2 Peter and Jude. We also have numerous warnings, especially Paul, where Paul calls out false teachers by name (Hymenaeus and Alexander, Demas, Alexander the coppersmith, and even Peter when he strayed from the truth of the Gospel).

In our adult Sunday School, we have been spending time investigating the Word of Faith movement. I have been exposing false teaching. It is hardly one of my favorite things to do, but if we take the call to shepherd the flock seriously, we must guard the flock from wolves. Sometimes the sheep do not see the canis lupus nature of some of their favorite teachers. With the proliferation of books, radio and TV programs, podcasts, and websites, the danger is as great as ever. John Gill describes the wolves as “fleecing the flock, instead of feeding it, making merchandise of it… poisoning them with their errors and heresies…”

God gives pastors to the flock as watchmen (this is Paul’s imagery from Ezek. 3 and 33). Watchmen protected the walls of the city from invaders. Shepherds protected the flock from wolves. The metaphors are the same. God has called and equipped pastors to be able to spend time in the Word and doctrine so that they can better help protect the sheep. Thankfully, not all my time is spent studying error and heresy. Thankfully I can spend most of my time trying to feed the flock healthy food for their spiritual growth. But it is necessary at times to dig into the rubbish heaps because some of God’s people are going there to eat!

As one who will give an account to the Lord on the last day, I must fulfill my ministry and that means “guarding the flock.”

Light in the Darkness

Nun (n) Stanza (105-112)

In the dark things are deceiving. One morning, while it was still dark, I was getting ready to go to the gym. I looked down next to my bed and saw what looked like my iPod charger (this was a few years ago). In the dark I reached down to pick it up and realized that it was furry, mushy, and wet. I immediately let go! I turned on the light and saw a dead kangaroo rat, with its long stringy tail. One of our cats brought it in for a present. In the dark I couldn’t see what it really was, only what I thought it was. In the dark, things are deceiving.

In the dark we can lose our way. We can stumble. We can fall. The dark can be dangerous. There are hidden dangers in the dark. There are inaccurate perceptions in the dark, like power cords and dead rats with stringy tails! What we need in the darkness to protect us and guide is light. Light gives us perception, it gives us sight.

One of the Psalmist’s strengths is that he doesn’t trust himself or his own perceptions, instincts, or decisions. Far too many people have too high of an opinion of themselves and think they can trust their instincts for the important things of life. The reality is that there is darkness inside of us and outside of us and we dare not trust in our abilities to navigate the darkness. We need the light of God’s Word.

Guidance from and Obedience to the Word (105-106)

105 Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path.
106 I have sworn and I will confirm it,
That I will keep Your righteous ordinances.

The Word is a lamp and a light. The light of the Word gives knowledge, understanding and wisdom (Prov. 6:23). But it is not the kind of light that one gets just from reading a textbook. It is not the kind of light which is nothing more than a collection of wise sayings or principles. Rather the light of the Word comes to us because of our relationship with the One who is light (Psa. 27:1; Jn. 8:12). Through this relationship with Jesus, the Light of the World, His Word gives us the light we need to navigate the darkness.

In light of this Light, the Psalmist makes a commitment to determined obedience (106). He swears and will confirm it. Swearing an oath was an act of worship (Deut. 21:21-23). By this determined oath, he is going to obey all of God’s righteous rules. In the dark we don’t know how to obey. We may be like a pilot flying in the dark. We may feel like we are right-side up but are really upside down. The instrument panel may seem counterintuitive but going with your gut in the dark isn’t safe. The Word is the infallible instrument panel and wisdom dictates that we commit to following the light it gives.

Afflicted Yet Praising and Learning Still (107-108)

107 I am exceedingly afflicted;
Revive me, O Lord, according to Your word.
108 O accept the freewill offerings of my mouth, O Lord,
And teach me Your ordinances.

The Psalmist confesses that he is suffering terribly. He makes his desperate plea. “Oh God, sustain my life and revive my heart according to Your promises!” Matthew Henry says, “With humble boldness, he begs God to make good His Word to him.” Then without skipping a beat, he pleads that God would accept the praise of his mouth which he freely offers and then pleads that God would teach him. What should be remarkable to us is that the Psalmist, in the midst of terrible suffering, is so quick to praise God and ask for more light. He runs to God, with a praising heart and learning mind. How often do we settle in our suffering, asking for nothing more than deliverance? Suffering can be a dark place. Praise the God of life and light!

At Risk but Undaunted (109-110)

109 My life is continually in my hand,
Yet I do not forget Your law.
110 The wicked have laid a snare for me,
Yet I have not gone astray from Your precepts.

These two verses form two parallel thoughts. 109a corresponds with 110a, and 109b with 110b. The imagery of having one’s life in one’s hand is to be conscious of the danger of death (cf. 1 Sam. 19:5; 28:21). The NIV translates it, “Though I constantly take my life in my hands.” The parallel statement is in v. 110a, “the wicked have laid a snare for me.” The Psalmist risks his life and his life is at risk, but he remains undaunted in his obedience. The structure here emphasizes the truth that the Psalmist knows the danger but refuses to give up on the light of the Word.

Joy from and Obedience to the Word (111-112)

111 I have inherited Your testimonies forever,
For they are the joy of my heart.
112 I have inclined my heart to perform Your statutes
Forever, even to the end.

Usually in the OT the land was the inheritance. If we read Daniel here, he is in a strange land, under foreign control, separated from the inheritance of the land. The inheritance shifts from the land to the Law of God. The Psalmist sees that the joy of his heart is the Word of God. For exiles, they need to know the source of joy and drink from it often. With affection for the Word kindled, so is his affection for obedience. What is better for an exile than to know that the Word, the whole Word, is his, and there is no greater joy in a dark world than to live according to its light.

Application

There are times when the darkness encroaches upon us. We can easily be deceived in the dark. We can easily stumble and fall. But God has provided us with His Son-saturated Word. Knowing Christ as the Light of the world, knowing His Word is a light to our path and lamp to our feet, can give us the navigating skills in a dark world. With confidence in the light of the Word, we can be undaunted in our obedience and undeterred in our joy.

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.