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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments
Psalms 119

 

 

Verses 1-176

That David was the author of this psalm, no one ever doubted. It is divided into twenty two octo-distichs, having a letter of the Hebrew alphabet at the head of each distich; and the couplets are mostly metaboles. The letter was the title of each stanza, as aleph, beth, gimel.

The spirit and design of the psalm is a eulogy on the law of the Lord, that men might chant it with piety, aided by melodious airs. Such exercises warmed the heart, diverted the mind from gloom, and elevated the soul to heaven. So David employed his leisure in exile. “Thy statutes have been my delight in the house of my pilgrimage:” Psalms 119:54.

In this psalm he uses eleven words, each expressive of some particular characteristic of the divine law; and these words being of constant occurrence in every verse excepting two, it is better to explain them now, that this beautiful poem may be read and contemplated with more enlightened satisfaction.

I. תורה TORAH, the law, the doctrine or teaching of God, an emanation of the moral glory of God, shining out in his revealed word.

II. דרךְ DERECH, the way of the Lord, as prescribed in his word, and revealed in his providence, for our imitation; the paths in which the just have walked.

III. עדותי EDUTHEY, the testimonies, which God has attested to his people in his covenant, and confirmed in his ordinances and providences.

IV. פקודים PEKUDIM, the commandments, the injunctions of God; properly, his commissions, not to be altered but performed.

V. מצות MITZAVOTH, the precepts, the institutions prescribed of God in regard of instruction, forms of worship, and modes of obedience.

VI. אמרה IMRAH, a saying, a dictate, a divine maxim.

VII. דבר DABAR, a word, a speech, a promise from the Lord.

VIII. משׁפשׂים MISHPÄTIM, judgments, decrees, edicts and laws of God. They are designed to guide the magistrate, and regulate the intercourse of society in just and fair dealings: to enlighten the conscience, and to hallow the heart.

IX. צדק TSEDEKAH, righteousness, all the covenant favours which the Lord confers on man: Psalms 119:142. Psalms 85:10; Psalms 85:13. The everlasting righteousness which the Messiah confers on his church, in the justification and sanctification of them that believe.

X. חקים CHUKIM, statutes, laws unalterable, standing decrees, as in Psalms 81:4-5. They are as the mountains which cannot be moved.

XI. אמונה EMUNAH, truth. Every divine word has its origin and existence in the Lord; faith is the subsistence of things hoped for, and God’s truth the foundation of our faith.

Psalms 119:1. Blessed are the undefiled. Hebrews תמימי tememey, the perfect, the immaculate, the true Israelites, in whom is no guile. Who, like Zachariah and Elizabeth, walk in all the ordinances of the Lord blameless. This psalm opens like the first, with the blessedness of the man who delights day and night in the law of the Lord. From this stanza we gather, that David did not set before him a maimed and temporising standard of religion, but the perfect model of one who loved the Lord, and delighted greatly in his commandments, a felicity to which Asaph had attained, as in Psalms 73.

Psalms 119:3. They also do no iniquity. How remarkably does this agree with the gospel salvation. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil. 1 John 3:9-10.

Psalms 119:9. Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? When young men follow their foolish companions, and the dictates of a depraved nature, they greatly err; but when guided by the Lord’s counsel they do well. David followed his bible, and it made him wiser than his teachers. Rehoboam his grandson followed the counsel of his companions, and lost more than half his kingdom; and those who act like him are in danger of losing their souls. And how can youth, as the original will bear, “order their way aright,” without counsel from above? Oh what a glory follows in old age, when young men have been kept from the corruptions of the world through lust.

Psalms 119:11. Thy word have I hid in my heart, and harrowed it deep by meditation and prayer, lest I should forget it and sin; and that all the fruits of righteousness might spring up and encrease a hundredfold. The bible, not the world, supplies the soul with arguments and examples against vice. The ten commandments are designed as barriers against crimes.

Psalms 119:18. Open thou mine eyes. Enlighten my understanding by thy Holy Spirit. The scriptures should be read with prayer; for a good frame prepares us to see and to feel good things. There are ten thousand beauties in the sacred scriptures, and ten thousand glories in the redemption of man, and in the economy of providence, which we have overlooked in the first reading of the bible. Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

Psalms 119:20. My soul breaketh. Worldly sorrow and disappointment are sometimes said to break the heart; but David’s soul was broken in longings after God and his righteousness. This is the true broken heart, which every sinner must feel, and which the Lord will not despise. Psalms 34:18; Psalms 51:17. Isaiah 57:15.

Psalms 119:25. My soul cleaveth to the dust; quicken thou me. In moments of depression, the promises of God greatly comfort and revive the soul with the hope of heaven. They yield divine support and consolation to the fainting mind, and are felt to be exceeding rich and precious.

Psalms 119:29. Remove from me the way of lying. In Psalms 119:69, the psalmist says, the proud have forged a lie against me, a court lie, pretending that I had sought the life of Saul. Psalm 63:12. A lie is a lie, however disguised or palliated, and it is a daring affront to the holy and omniscient God. Heathen writers have defended a lie, to save the life of the innocent; but this plea has been well examined by the great Fenelon, archbishop of Cambray.

While the tyrant Pygmalion reigned in Tyre, Telemachus was suspected of being a spy; and the life of Narbal, in whose ship he came, was also in danger. Narbal advised him to say that he was a native of Amathonta, a city of Cyprus, and son of a statuary of Venus. “I see no other way to save your life and mine.” Telemachus rejoined, allow an unfortunate man to perish, whom the destinies wish to destroy. I know how to die, and I am under too high an obligation to you, to involve you in my calamity. I cannot assume the hardiness to lie. I am not a Cyprian, and I cannot say that I am.

Narbal answered; “This lie, Telemachus, has nothing in it but what is innocent. The gods themselves would not condemn it: it does wrong to no one, it would save the lives of two innocent men: it merely deceives the king, to prevent his committing a crime. You carry too far the love of virtue, and the fear to wound religion.”

“It suffices,” said I to him, “that a lie is a lie, and cannot be worthy of a man who speaks in presence of the gods, and who owes every thing to truth. He who wounds the truth offends the gods, and wounds himself; for he speaks against his conscience. Cease, Narbal, to propose a thing unworthy of you, and of myself. If the gods have compassion upon us, they can indeed deliver us. If they allow us to perish, we shall in dying be the victims of truth, and leave the world an example of the preference of unspotted virtue to a protracted life.” Telem. 54. 3.

Psalms 119:31. I have stuck unto thy testimonies: oh Lord put me not to shame. David professing a sincere and hearty adherence to the law of God, is aware that the Lord could readily put him to shame; for there is none righteous before Him. He therefore prays, Psalms 119:39, Turn away my reproach which I fear. Let all my sins be blotted out, to be remembered against me no more for ever.

Psalms 119:37. Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity. The term denotes idolatry in all its beguiling forms. In Solomon’s eyes all was vanity. What else are the gay and giddy circles of life? What else are theatres, and public resorts? Here myriads of immortal souls would fain wring a happiness from pleasures which endure but for a moment.

Psalms 119:46. I will speak of thy testimonies before kings, doctors, philosophers, princes. Isaiah 52:14. Thus the apostles were enabled to speak boldly before kings and governors in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Psalms 119:51. The proud have had me greatly in derision, as stated in Psalms 118:22. Yet this holy man did not decline and draw back in religion on that account. How many stony-ground hearers fall away in time of temptation! Alas, this is the way to lose, and not to win the crown of life.

Psalms 119:61. Robbed me. David having made haste to keep God’s word, found a support from it when he was robbed of his wives and substance in Ziklag. Hence God’s word is better than worldly wealth; it opens resources of comfort when every earthly stream is dried up. In that crisis of danger and distress, he forgot not the law, but enquired of the oracle.

Psalms 119:62. At midnight I will rise to give thanks. David was captain of his own watch. He joined duty and devotion in the silence of the night; an exercise he often mentions in the psalms.

Psalms 119:66. Teach me good judgment and knowledge. Inspire me with sound judgment, and true discrimination. Give me a right and true discernment in all things. How many have failed here, whose zeal has been above their knowledge.

Psalms 119:67. Before I was afflicted I went astray. Youth, knowing life merely by health and prosperity, is too much captivated by its charms; but when the consumption wastes the flesh, when adversity embitters every cup, then we see the world with new eyes; then we feel its emptiness, and learn that last and best of lessons, to say, Father, not as I will, but as thou wilt.

Psalms 119:82. Mine eyes fail for thy word. As a man strains his eyes in the twilight to realize an indistinct object, so David looked out for the fulfilment of the promises;—”when wilt thou comfort me?”

Psalms 119:83. Like a bottle in the smoke. Some Versions read pruina; that is, girbashes, as our Bruce calls them, made of leather; and when not wanted they are hung out in the sun, or by the fire to dry. So my constitution is exhausted with fatigue, with hunger and thirst.

Psalms 119:85. The proud have digged pits for me, in allusion to the practice of catching wild beasts and cattle, by digging a pit in a narrow defile, into which the animals are guided by an artificial paling of trees. But the LXX, and the Vulgate read, “They have related to me unhallowed fables, which are not according to thy law.” All the reasonings of idolatry and infidelity are ensnaring pits to the soul.

Psalms 119:92. Unless that law had been my delights, I should have perished. I had fainted, he says, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. From which we gather, that the promises and the comforts of religion are sufficient to support the mind under the severest strokes of adversity.

Psalms 119:94. I am thine, save me. Being the Lord’s by solemn covenant and communion, supplies a man with a thousand arguments in the day of trouble.

Psalms 119:96. I have seen an end of all perfection. Every new religious system, every finespun moral code, however admired for awhile, sinks into neglect and disrepute; but thy commandments are exceeding broad. Revealed religion is always, like nature renovated by the spring, disclosing new beauties to the eye, and myriads of charms to the enquiring soul.

Psalms 119:99. I have more understanding than all my teachers. David excelled in the law of his God, all the priests and prophets of his day. Even Samuel was not privileged to edify the church as David has done in these psalms.

Psalms 119:103. How sweet are thy words unto my taste. At midnight he would rise and praise God; at midnight God satisfied his soul as with marrow and fatness; and in the sanctuary, his word was sweeter than honey or the honeycomb. There is a blessed reality in religion; the faith of a good man is not dry opinions, but the substance of things hoped for. Hebrews 11:1.

Psalms 119:105. Thy word is a lamp. This is a poor dark world; man is lost in the wilderness, and the multitude stray in the broad way which leadeth to destruction; but Christ in his word is the true light; he is the Sun of righteousness, breaking with welcome lustre on the bewildered soul. He shines out of darkness, to give us the knowledge of God. He is our pattern, for we should walk as he also walked. He is the light of life, and his word shows us every devious path.

Psalms 119:109. My soul is continually in my hands. Hebrews נפשׁיnepheshi, my life. I am continually exposed to danger and death.

Psalms 119:113. I hate vain thoughts. They are the seeds of sin; and God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ. Those who cherish carnal and wicked reveries may so grieve the Spirit of God as to be suffered to fall in the hour of temptation: and we should equally hate men who imagine wickedness. Vain thoughts are a loss of time; and what is worse, a moral connection is formed between the heart and the object with which it converses. The remedy lies in all the sweet habitudes of piety and holiness.

Psalms 119:118. Thou hast trodden down all them that err from thy statutes. Perhaps he had in his eye the Hebrew families who receded from the law to idolatry, and who became extinct during the time of the judges. Solomon says, the backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways.

Psalms 119:129. Thy testimonies are wonderful, in all the promises made to Abraham, in the mystical significancy of the ritual law, in all the glorious things spoken of Christ, in the calling of the gentiles, and the glory of the latter day. The prophets strove to decipher the swelling import of the Spirit which spake in their hearts, and which things the angels also desire to look or pry into.

Psalms 119:136. Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law. When the heart is warm with the love of God, it is animated with the purest zeal for his glory; and when it cannot prevail with the ungodly to love him too, it will weep for their obstinacy on account of the insults they offer to God, and the contempt they show to his holy law. But good men weep for the wicked, because of the accumulating miseries they bring upon themselves. So Moses, Jeremiah, and St. Paul; and so our blessed Lord wept over the wicked. Not in human tears merely; but says the apostle, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. Good men weep for the wicked because of the miseries they often bring upon their children, their country, and sometimes much temporal affliction on the church. Here is a subject worthy of tears; and this temper is a high mark of a prophetic spirit. Our tears may soften their hard hearts, when all our sermons have failed of effect,

Psalms 119:139. My zeal hath consumed me. True zeal arises from an enlightened mind, a strong conviction of the truth of revealed religion, from unfeigned love to God and to the souls of men. Then the prophet cries on the walls of Jerusalem, then Paul counts all losses for Christ but as dung, then the martyr dares the lion and braves the fire, then the missionary forgets his parents to seek and save the heathen world; then David, though indistinctly, sees the zeal of the Saviour in driving robbers from his Father’s house. Quicken thou me, oh God, according to thy word.

Psalms 119:147. I prevented the dawning of the morning, and cried. I rose before the twilight and cried, in earnest prayer.

Psalms 119:148. Mine eyes prevent the night-watches. When we examine the character of David’s piety, in early and nocturnal devotion, as stated in Psalms 5:3; Psalms 63:1; how can we doubt that he was on some occasions highly favoured with the prophetic spirit, and “saw the Lord always before him.”

Psalms 119:164. Seven times a day do I praise thee, Great indeed was the piety of David: he talked and he walked with God. He carried heaven as it were in his breast, and the shield of Abraham covered his head in the day of battle: his enemies were permitted to try him for awhile, but not to do him harm. Happy also is that man who prays three times a day in his family, and four times in his closet: the peace of God which passeth all understanding shall flow with a copious and constant stream in his heart and mind. What is more, this is a peace which the world cannot take away. The trials of life, the defection of friends, and the apostasy of high professors, which cause many to stumble and fall, shall not be able to offend and stumble those who are rooted and grounded in love. They know in whom they have believed; they have done with lo here, and lo there; and they continue with Christ and his church in their temptations.

 


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Bibliography Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Psalms 119:4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jsc/psalms-119.html. 1835.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, August 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20
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