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.
Beth (b) Stanza (9-16)
When a young person and the world intersect, it can be an overwhelming experience. How many times does the world win! The author of Psalm 119 (Daniel, as I have proposed) either finds himself, or in later reflection found himself, bombarded by the allurements of the world. With few exceptions, the Jews who were deported, were acclimating to their new life and being enculturated into their new world, not unlike a young person who goes off to university. Far from Jerusalem, far from mother and father, far from Torah’s presence and thus God’s presence, the temptations were all around.
After the opening stanza, which focused on the importance of dependent obedience, the Psalmist begins this stanza with a related and all-important question: How can a young man keep his way pure? The remainder of the stanza deals with that question one way or another. “All the basics of personal sanctification are variously integrated into the curriculum of real life: God, the gracious Teacher; the psalmist, the dependent disciple; and the Textbook, the sufficient Word” (Zemek).
The Question and Answer Framework (9)
9 How can a young man keep his way pure?
By keeping it according to Your word.
The question relates to living a pure life. Can you imagine Daniel asking this question, living in Babylon? But the question is rhetorical, he knows the answer, “By keeping it according to Your Word.” The standard of a pure life is the Word of God.
Seek the Lord (10)
10 With all my heart I have sought You;
Do not let me wander from Your commandments.
“With all my heart” means “with all that I am, with all sincerity.” J.J. Perowne said, “It is to me no merely outward rule of conduct: it is a power and a life within.”
His humility is striking, “this is my heart, this is my pursuit, but O God, I do not trust myself!” He knows what he is, but he also knows what he is capable of. He needs the Lord to tether him to Himself.
“The man of God exerts himself, but he does not trust himself. His heart is in his walking with God; but he knows that even his whole strength is not enough to keep him right unless his King shall be his keeper, and he who made the commands shall make him constant in obeying them” (Spurgeon).
All I have to do is stop listening for a minute and the spirit of the age is right there to have my ear! A passion for God one minute, a passion for the world the next! How vulnerable we are!
Treasure and Store His Word (11)
11 Your word I have treasured in my heart,
That I may not sin against You.
When the Word is treasured and stored, it provides a great armory against wrong thinking, wrong feeling and wrong actions. To keep our life pure according to God’s Word, we must seek God in His Word and store His Word up in our hearts. The Word is ammunition, threats and promises, to keep us from sinning. The Word shapes our minds and our life. It is the great antidote to sinning against God.
Worship and learn (12)
12 Blessed are You, O LORD;
Teach me Your statutes.
The Psalmist, for all his commitment and dedication, is the learner, the disciple and God, through His Word, is the Great Teacher. God is the source of truth, knowledge and wisdom. Here is the great pattern for our worship services: Sing His praise and then cry out, “teach me.”
Proclaim what is learned (13)
13 With my lips I have told of
All the ordinances of Your mouth.
This is not only worship and praise, but also proclamation. Think of Daniel, taking it upon himself to proclaim what he had been learning to his fellow exiles. Proclaiming what we have learned strengthens us. By the way, he is not merely sharing his own personal insights, he is telling God’s words from God’s own mouth.
John Goldingay notes, “Proclaiming them is another indication of my commitment to them. . . When we take things on our lips they become part of us; when other people have heard us say these things, it becomes shameful to do something other than what our lips have said.”
Rejoice in the Word Lifestyle (14)
14 I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies,
As much as in all riches.
The NET puts it like this, “I rejoice in the lifestyle prescribed by your rules as if they were riches of all kinds.” He “rejoices (which is an emotion), he exults, takes pleasure in,” these feelings for God’s Word influence his behavior. He rejoices as “in all riches” (cf. Dan. 2:46-48; 5:16-17, 29). He knows what the Word does in him and for him. The more convinced we are of Scripture’s effectual power, the more we will love it and rejoice in it.
Meditate on the Word (15)
15 I will meditate on Your precepts
And regard Your ways.
What fills our minds moves the emotions; what moves the emotions, motivates the will. Meditation and “fixing our eyes” on God’s ways is necessary every day.
Delight in the Word (16)
16 I shall delight in Your statutes;
I shall not forget Your word.
“I will delight myself” reflects the use of a strong Hebrew term. Most English translations go with “delight.” The verb stem is reflexive and indicates it is repeated. Once again, if one is to keep one’s way pure, there must be deliberate, disciplined delighting in the Word.
Not forgetting the Word underscores the importance of this. Forgetfulness is the open door of sin which can lead to apostasy. To not forget, in the OT, is an ethical matter. To remember is an ethical matter. Delighting in the Word requires that we remember the Word, not forget it or neglect it.
Young people, become immersed in the Word. In an age not unlike Daniel’s in terms of sensuality and worldliness, he found that abiding in the Word was key to keeping his life pure.
How do we keep our lives according to the Word? We seek Him, we treasure and store the Word, we worship, we learn, we proclaim, we rejoice, we meditate and delight ourselves in His Word.
The Word has awesome purifying power!