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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Psalms 119

 

 

Verses 1-176

Psalms 119:1-176

IT is lost labour to seek for close continuity or progress in this psalm. One thought pervades it-the surpassing excellence of the Law; and the beauty and power of the psalm lie in the unwearied reiteration of that single idea. There is music in its monotony, which is subtilely varied. Its verses are like the ripples on a sunny sea, alike and impressive in their continual march, and yet each catching the light with a difference, and breaking on the shore in a tone of its own. A few elements are combined into these hundred and seventy-six gnomic sentences. One or other of the usual synonyms for the Law-viz., word, saying, statutes, commandments, testimonies, judgments-occurs in every verse, except Psalms 119:122 and Psalms 119:132. The prayers "Teach me, revive me, preserve me-according to Thy word," and the vows "I will keep, observe, meditate on, delight in-Thy law," are frequently repeated. There are but few pieces in the psalmist’s kaleidoscope, but they fall into many shapes of beauty; and though all his sentences are moulded after the same general plan, the variety within such narrow limits is equally a witness of poetic power which turns the fetters of the acrostic structure into helps, and of devout heartfelt love for the Law of Jehovah.

The psalm is probably of late date; but its allusions to the singer’s circumstances, whether they are taken as autobiographical or as having reference to the nation, are too vague to be used as clues to the period of its composition. An early poet is not likely to have adopted such an elaborate acrostic plan, and the praises of the Law naturally suggest a time when it was familiar in an approximately complete form. It may be that the rulers referred to in Psalms 119:23, Psalms 119:46, were foreigners, but the expression is too general to draw a conclusion from. It may be that the double-minded (Psalms 119:113), who err from God’s statutes (Psalms 119:118), and forsake His law (Psalms 119:53), are Israelites who have yielded to the temptations to apostatise, which came with the early Greek period, to which Baethgen, Cheyne, and others would assign the psalm. But these expressions, too, are of so general a nature that they do not give clear testimony of date.

The first three verses are closely connected. They set forth in general terms the elements of the blessedness of the doers of the Law. To walk in it-i.e., to order the active life in conformity with its requirements-ensures perfectness. To keep God’s testimonies is at once the consequence and the proof of seeking Him with whole-hearted devotion and determination. To walk in His ways is the preservative from evil doing. And such men cannot but be blessed with a deep sacred blessedness, which puts to shame coarse and turbulent delights, and feeds its pure fires from God Himself. Whether these verses are taken as exclamation or declaration, they lead up naturally to Psalms 119:4, which reverently gazes upon the loving act of God in the revelation of His will in the Law, and bethinks itself of the obligations bound on us by that act. It is of God’s mercy that He has commanded, and His words are meant to sway our wills, since He has broken the awful silence, not merely to instruct us, but to command; and nothing short of practical obedience will discharge our duties to his revelation. So the psalmist betakes himself to prayer, that he may be helped to realise the purpose of God in giving the Law. His contemplation of the blessedness of obedience and of the Divine act of declaring His will moves him to longing, and his consciousness of weakness and wavering makes the longing into prayer that his wavering may be consolidated into fixity of purpose and continuity of obedience. When a man’s ways are established to observe, they will be established by observing, God’s statutes. For nothing can put to the blush one whose eye is directed to these.

"Whatever record leap to light,

He never shall be shamed."

Nor will he cherish hopes that fail, nor desires that, when accomplished, are bitter of taste. To give heed to the commandments is the condition of learning them and recognising how righteous they are; and such learning makes the learner’s hear righteous like them, and causes it to run over in thankfulness for the boon of knowledge of God’s will. By all these thoughts the psalmist is brought to his fixed resolve in Psalms 119:8, to do what God meant him to do when He gave the Law; and what the singer had just longed that he might be able to do-namely, to observe the statutes. But in his resolve he remembers his weakness, and therefore he glides into prayer for that Presence without which resolves are transient and abortive.

The inference drawn from Psalms 119:9, that the psalmist was a young man, is precarious. The language would be quite as appropriate to an aged teacher desirous of guiding impetuous youth to sober self-control. While some verses favour the hypothesis of the author’s youth (Psalms 119:141, and perhaps Psalms 119:99-100), the tone of the whole, its rich experience and comprehensive grasp of the manifold relations of the Law to life imply maturity of years and length of meditation. The psalm is the ripe fruit of a life which is surely past its spring. But it is extremely questionable whether these apparently personal traits are really so. Much rather is the poet "thinking of the individuals of different ages and spiritual attainments who may use his works" (Cheyne, in loc.).

The word rendered "By taking heed" has already occurred in Psalms 119:4-5 ("observe’). The careful study of the Word must be accompanied with as careful study of self. The object observed there was the Law; here, it is the man himself. Study God’s law, says the psalmist, and study Thyself in its light; so shall youthful impulses be bridled, and the life’s path be kept pure. That does not sound so like a young man’s thought as an old man’s maxim, in which are crystallised many experiences. The rest of the section intermingles petitions, professions, and vows, and is purely personal. The psalmist claims that he is one of those whom he has pronounced blessed, inasmuch as he has "sought" God with his "whole heart." "Such longing is no mere idle aspiration, but must be manifested in obedience, as Psalms 119:2 has declared. If a man longs for God, he will best find Him by doing His will. But no heart desire is so rooted as to guarantee that it shall not die, nor is past obedience a certain pledge of a like future. Wherefore the psalmist prays, not in reliance on his past, but in dread that he may falsify it, "Let me not wander." He had not only sought God in his heart, but had there hid God’s law, as its best treasure, and as an inward power controlling and stimulating. Evil cannot flow from a heart in which God’s law is lodged. That is the tree which sweetens the waters of the fountain. But the cry "Teach me Thy statutes" would be but faltering, if the singer could not rise above himself, and take heart by gazing upon God, whose own great character is the guarantee that He will not leave a seeking soul in ignorance.

Professions and vows now take the place of petitions. "From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh," and the word hid in it will certainly not be concealed. It is buried deep, that it may grow high. It is hidden, that it may come abroad. Therefore Psalms 119:13 tells of bold utterance, which is as incumbent on men as obedient deeds.

A sane estimate of earthly good will put it decisively below the knowledge of God and of His will. Lives which despise what the world calls riches, because they are smitten with the desire of any sort of wisdom, are ever nobler than those which keep the low levels. And highest of all is the life which gives effect to its conviction that man’s true treasure is to know God’s mind and will to rejoice in His testimonies is to have wealth that cannot be lost and pleasures that cannot wither. That glad estimate will surely lead to happy meditation on them, by which their worth shall be disclosed and their sweep made plain. The miser loves to tell his gold; the saint, to ponder his wealth in God. The same double direction of the mind, already noted, reappears in Psalms 119:15, where quiet meditation on God’s statutes is associated with attention to the ways which are called His, as being pointed out by, and pleasing to, Him, but are ours, as being walked in by us. Inward delight in, and practical remembrance of, the Law are vowed in Psalms 119:16, which covers the whole field of contemplative and active life.

In Psalms 119:17 the psalmist desires continued life, mainly because it affords the opportunity of continued obedience. He will "observe Thy Word," not only in token of gratitude, but because to him life is precious chiefly because in its activities he can serve God. Such a reason for wishing to live may easily change to a willingness to die, as it did with Paul, who had learned that a better obedience was possible when he had passed through the dark gates, and therefore could say, "To die is gain." Psalms 119:18-19 are connected in so far as the former desires subjective illumination and the latter objective revelation. Opened eyes are useless, if commandments are hidden; and the disclosure of the latter is in vain unless there are eyes to see them. Two great truths lie in the former petition-namely, that scales cover our spiritual vision which only God can take away, and that His revelation has in its depths truths and treasures which can only be discerned by His help. The cognate petition in Psalms 119:19 is based upon the pathetic thought that man is a stranger on earth, and therefore needs what will take away his sense of homelessness and unrest. All other creatures are adapted to their environments, but he has a consciousness that he is an exile here, a haunting, stinging sense, which vaguely feels after repose in his native land. "Thy commandments" can still it. To know God’s will, with knowledge which is acceptance and love, gives rest, and makes every place a mansion in the Father’s house.

There may possibly be a connection between Psalms 119:20 and Psalms 119:21 -the terrible fate of those who wander from the commandments, as described in the latter verse, being the motive for the psalmist’s longing expressed in the former. The "judgments" for which he longed, with a yearning which seemed to bruise his soul, are not, as might be supposed, God’s judicial acts, but the word is a synonym for "commandments," as throughout the psalm.

The last three verses of the section appear to be linked together. They relate to the persecutions of the psalmist for his faithfulness to God’s law. In Psalms 119:22 he prays that reproach and shame, which wrapped him like a covering, may be lifted from him; and his plea in Psalms 119:22 b declares that he lay under these because he was true to God’s statutes. In Psalms 119:23 we see the source of the reproach and shame, in the conclave of men in authority, whether foreign princes or Jewish rulers, who were busy slandering him and plotting his ruin; while, with wonderful beauty, the contrasted picture in b shows the object of that busy talk, sitting silently absorbed in meditation on the higher things of God’s statutes. As long as a man can do that, he has a magic circle drawn round him, across which fears and cares cannot step. Psalms 119:24 heightens the impression of the psalmist’s rest. Also Thy testimonies are my delight"-not only the subjects of his meditation, but bringing inward sweetness, though earth is in arms against him; and not only are they his delights, but "the men of his counsel," in whom he, solitary as he is, finds companionship that arms him with resources against that knot of whispering enemies.

The exigencies of the acrostic plan are very obvious in this section, five of the verses of which begin with "way" or "ways," and two of the remaining three with "cleaves." The variety secured under such conditions is remarkable. The psalmist’s soul cleaves to the dust-i.e., is bowed in mourning; {cf. Psalms 44:25} but still, though thus darkened by sorrow and weeping itself away for grief (Psalms 119:28), it cleaves to "Thy testimonies" (Psalms 119:31). Happy in their sorrow are they who, by reason of the force which bows their sensitive nature to the dust, cling the more closely in their true selves to the declared will of God! Their sorrow appeals to God’s heart, and is blessed if it dictates the prayer for His quickening (Psalms 119:25). Their cleaving to His law warrants their hope that He will not put them to shame.

The first pair of verses in which "way" is the acrostic word (Psalms 119:26-27) sets "my ways" over against "the way of Thy precepts." The psalmist has made God his confidant, telling Him all his life’s story, and has found continual answers, in gifts of mercy and inward whispers. He asks, therefore, for further illumination, which will be in accordance with these past mutual communications. Tell God thy ways and He will teach thee His statutes. The franker our confession, the more fervent our longing for fuller knowledge of His will. "The way of Thy precepts" is the practical life according to these, the ideal which shall rebuke and transform "my ways." The singer’s crooked course is spread before God, and he longs to see clearly the straight path of duty, on which he vows that he will meditate, and find wonders in the revelation of God’s will. Many a sunbeam is wasted for want of intent eyes. The prayer for understanding is vain without the vow of pondering. The next pair of "way-" verses (Psalms 119:29-30) contrasts ways of "lying" and of "faithfulness"-i.e., sinful life which is false towards God and erroneous in its foundation maxims, and life which is true in practice to Him and to man’s obligations. The psalmist prays that the former may be put far from him; for he feels that it is only too near, and his unhelped feet too ready to enter on it. He recognises the inmost meaning of the Law as an outcome of God’s favour. It is not harsh, but glowing with love, God’s best gift. The prayer in Psalms 119:29 has the psalmist’s deliberate choice in Psalms 119:30 as its plea. That choice does not lift him above the need of God’s help, and it gives him a claim thereon. Our wills may seem fixed, but the gap between choice and practice is wide, and our feebleness will not bridge it, unless He strengthens us. So the last verse of this section humbly vows to transform meditation and choice into action, and to "run the way of God’s commandments," in thanksgiving for the joy with which, while the psalmist prays, he feels that his heart swells.

Psalms 119:33 and Psalms 119:34 are substantially identical in their prayer for enlightenment and their vow of obedience. Both are based on the conviction that outward revelation is incomplete without inward illumination. Both recognise the necessary priority of enlightened reason as condition of obedient action, and such action as the test and issue of enlightenment. Both vow that knowledge shall not remain barren. They differ in that the former verse pledges the psalmist to obedience unlimited in time and the latter to obedience without reservation. But even in uttering his vow the singer remembers his need of God’s help to keep it, and turns it, in Psalms 119:35, into petition, which he very significantly grounds on his heart’s delight in the Law. Warm as that delight may be, circumstances and flesh will cool it, and it is ever a struggle to translate desires into deeds. Therefore we need the sweet constraint of our Divine Helper to make us walk in the right way. Again, in Psalms 119:36 the preceding profession is caught up and modulated into petition. "Incline my heart" stands to "In it I delight," just as "Make me walk" does to "I will observe it." Our purest joys in God and in His Will depend on Him for their permanence and increase. Our hearts are apt to spill their affection on the earth, even while we would bear the cup filled to God. And one chief rival of "Thy testimonies" is worldly gain, from which there must be forcible detachment in order to, and as accompaniment of, attachment to God. All possessions which come between us and Him are "plunder," unjust gain.

The heart is often led astray by the eyes. The senses bring fuel to its unholy flames. Therefore, the next petition (Psalms 119:37) asks that they may be made, as it were, to pass on one side of tempting things, which are branded as being "vanity," without real substance or worth, however they may glitter and solicit the gaze. To look longingly on earth’s good makes us torpid in God’s ways; and to be earnest in the latter makes us dead to the former. There is but one real life for men, the life of union with God and of obedience to His commandments. Therefore, the singer prays to be revived in God’s ways. Experience of God’s faithfulness to His plighted word will do much to deliver from earth’s glamour, as Psalms 119:38 implies. The second clause is elliptical in Hebrew, and is now usually taken as above, meaning that God’s promise fulfilled leads men to reverence Him. But the rendering "who is [devoted] to Thy fear" is tenable and perhaps better. The "reproach" in Psalms 119:39 is probably that which would fall on the psalmist if he were unfaithful to God’s law. This interpretation gives the best meaning to Psalms 119:39 b, which would then contain the reason for his desire to keep the "judgments"-i.e., the commandments, not the judicial acts-which he feels to be good. The section ends with a constantly recurring strain. God’s righteousness, His strict discharge of all obligations, guarantees that no longing, turned to Him, can be left unsatisfied. The languishing desire will be changed into fuller joy of more vigorous life. The necessary precursor of deeper draughts from the Fountain of Life is thirst for it, which faithfully turns aside from earth’s sparkling but drugged potions.

There are practically no Hebrew words beginning with the letter required as the initial in this section, except the copula "and." Each verse begins with it, and it is best to retain it in translation, so as to reproduce in some measure the original impression of uniformity. The verses are aggregated rather than linked. "And" sometimes introduces a consequence, as probably in Psalms 119:42, and sometimes is "superfluous in regard to the sense. A predominant reference to the duty of bearing witness to the Truth runs through the section. The prayer in Psalms 119:41 for the visits of God’s lovingkindnesses which, in their sum, make salvation, and are guaranteed by His word of promise, is urged on the ground that, by experience of these, the psalmist will have his answer ready for all carpers who scoff at him and his patient faith. Such a prayer is entirely accordant with the hypothesis that the speaker is the collective Israel, but not less so with the supposition that he is an individual. "Whereas I was blind, now I see" is an argument that silences sarcasm. Psalms 119:43 carries on the thought of witnessing and asks that "the word of truth"-i.e., the Law considered as disclosure of truth rather than of duty-may not be snatched from the witness’s mouth, as it would be if God’s promised lovingkindnesses failed him. The condition of free utterance is rich experience. If prayers had gone up in vain from the psalmist’s lips, no glad proclamation could come from them.

The verbs at the beginnings of Psalms 119:44-46 are best taken as optatives, expressing what the psalmist would fain do, and, to some extent, has done. There is no true religion without that longing for unbroken conformity with the manifest will of God. Whoever makes that his deepest desire, and seeks after God’s precepts, will "walk at liberty," or at large, for restraints that are loved are not bonds, and freedom consists not in doing as I would, but in willing to do as I ought. Strong in such emancipation from the hindrances of one’s own passions, and triumphant over external circumstances which may mould, but not dominate, a God-obeying life, the psalmist would fain open his mouth unabashed before rulers. The "kings" spoken of in Psalms 119:46 may be foreign rulers, possibly the representatives of the Persian monarch, or later alien sovereigns, or the expression may be quite general and the speaker be a private person, who feels his courage rising as he enters into the liberty of perfect submission.

Psalms 119:47-48 are general expressions of delight in the Law. Lifting the hands towards the commandments seems to be a figure for reverent regard, or longing, as one wistfully stretches them out towards some dear person or thing that one would fain draw closer. The phrase "which I love" in Psalms 119:48 overweights the clause, and is probably a scribe’s erroneous repetition of Psalms 119:47 b.

This section has only one verse of petition, the others being mainly avowals of adherence to the Law in the face of various trials. The single petition (Psalms 119:49) pleads the relation of servant, as giving a claim on the great Lord of the household, and adduces God’s having encouraged hope as imposing on Him an obligation to fulfil it. Expectations fairly deduced from His word are prophets of their own realisation. In Psalms 119:50, "This" points to the fact stated in b-namely, that the Word had already proved its power in the past by quickening the psalmist to new courage and hope-and declares that that remembered experience solaces his present sorrow. A heart that has been revived by life-giving contact with the Word has a hidden warmth beneath the deepest snows, and cleaves the more to that Word.

Psalms 119:51-53 describe the attitude of the lover of the Law in presence of the ungodly. He is as unmoved by shafts of ridicule as by the heavier artillery of slander and plots (Psalms 119:23). To be laughed out of one’s faith is even worse than to be terrified out of it. The lesson is not needless in a day when adherence and obedience to the Word are smiled at in so many quarters as indicating inferior intelligence. The psalmist held fast by it, and while laughter, with more than a trace of bitterness, rung about him, threw himself back on God’s ancient and enduring words, which made the scoffs sound very hollow and transient (Psalms 119:52). Righteous indignation, too, rises in a devout soul at sight of men’s departure from God’s law (Psalms 119:53). The word rendered "fiery anger" is found in Psalms 11:6 ("a wind of burning"), and is best taken as above, though some would render horror. The wrath was not unmingled with compassion (Psalms 119:136), and, whilst it is clearly an emotion belonging to the Old Testament rather than to the Christian type of devotion, it should be present, in softened form, in our feelings towards evil.

In Psalms 119:54 the psalmist turns from gainsayers. He strikes again the note of Psalms 119:19, calling earth his place of transitory abode, or, as we might say, his inn. The brevity of life would be crushing, if God had not spoken to us. Since He has, the pilgrims can march "with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads," and all about their moving camp the sound of song may echo. To its lovers, God’s law is not "harsh and crabbed but musical as is Apollo’s lute." This psalm is one of the poet’s songs. Even those of us who are not singers can and should meditate on God’s law, till its melodious beauty is disclosed and its commandments, that sometimes sound stern, set themselves to rhythm and harmony. As God’s words took bitterness out of the thought of mortality, so His name remembered in the night brought light into darkness, whether physical or other. We often lose our memory of God and our hold of His hand when in sorrow, and grief sometimes thinks that it has a dispensation from obedience. So we shall be the better for remembering the psalmist’s experience, and should, like him, cling to the Name in the dark, and then we shall have light enough to "observe Thy law." Psalms 119:56 looks back on the mingled life of good and evil, of which some of the sorrows have just been touched, and speaks deep contentment with its portion. Whatever else is withheld or withdrawn, that lot is blessed which has been helped by God to keep His precepts, and they are happy and wise who deliberately prefer that good to all beside.

Psalms 119:57 goes to the root of the matter in setting forth the resolve of obedience as the result of the consciousness of possessing God. He who feels, in his own happy heart, that Jehovah is his portion will be moved thereby to vow to keep His words. This psalmist had learned the evangelical lesson that he did not win God by keeping the Law, but that he was moved to keep the Law because he had won God; and he had also learned the companion truth, that the way to retain that possession is obedience.

Psalms 119:58 corresponds in some measure to Psalms 119:57, but the order of clauses is inverted, a stating the psalmist’s prayer, as Psalms 119:57 b did his resolve, and b building on his cry the hope that God would be truly his portion and bestow His favour on him. But the true ground of our hope is not our most whole-hearted prayers, but God’s promise. The following five verses change from the key of petition into that of profession of obedience to, and delight in, the Law. The fruit of wise consideration of one’s conduct is willing acceptance of God’s law as His witness of what is right for us. The only "ways" which sober consideration will approve are those marked out in mercy by Him, and meditation on conduct is worthless if it does not issue in turning our feet into these. Without such meditation we shall wander on byways and lose ourselves. Want of thought ruins men (Psalms 119:59). But such turning of our feet to the right road has many foes, and chief among them is lingering delay. Therefore resolve must never be let cool, but be swiftly carried into action (Psalms 119:60). The world is full of snares, and they lie thick round our feet whenever these are turned towards God’s ways. The only means of keeping clear of them is to fix heart and mind on God’s law. Then we shall be able to pick our steps among traps and pits (Psalms 119:61). Physical weariness limits obedience, and needful sleep relaxes nervous tension, so that many a strenuous worker and noble aspirant fails beneath his daylight self in wakeful night seasons. Blessed they who in the night see visions of God and meditate on His law, not on earthly vanities or aims (Psalms 119:62). Society has its temptations as solitude has. The man whose heart has fed in secret on God and His law will naturally gravitate towards like minded people. Our relation to God and His uttered will should determine our affinities with men, and it is a bad sign when natural impulses do not draw us to those who fear God. Two men who have that fear in common are liker each other in their deepest selves, however different they may be in other respects, than either of them is to those to whom he is likest in surface characteristics and unlike in this supreme trait. (Psalms 119:63). One pathetic petition closes the section. In Psalms 119:19 the psalmist had based his prayer for illumination on his being a stranger on earth; here he grounds it on the plentitude of God’s lovingkindness, which floods the world. It is the same plea in another form. All creatures bask in the light of God’s love, which fails on each in a manner appropriate to its needs. Man’s supreme need is the knowledge of God’s statutes; therefore, the same all-embracing Mercy, which cares for these happy, careless creatures, will not be implored in vain, to satisfy his nobler and more pressing want. All beings get their respective boons unasked; but the preeminence of ours is partly seen in this, that it cannot be given without the cooperation of our desire. It will be given wherever that condition is fulfilled (Psalms 119:64).

The restrictions of the acrostic structure are very obvious in this section, five of the eight verses of which begin with "Good." The epithet is first applied in Psalms 119:65 to the whole of God’s dealings with the psalmist. To the devout soul all life is of one piece, and its submission and faith exercise transmuting power on pains and sorrows, so that the psalmist can say-

"Let one more attest,

I have lived, seen God’s hand through a lifetime,

And all was for best."

The epithet is next applied (Psalms 119:66) to the perception (lit. taste) or faculty of discernment of good and evil, for which the psalmist prays, basing his petition on his belief of God’s word. Swift, sure, and delicate apprehension of right and wrong comes from such belief. The heart in which it reigns is sensitive as a goldsmith’s scales or a thermometer which visibly sinks when a cloud passes before the sun. The instincts of faith work surely and rapidly. The settled judgment that life had been good includes apparent evil (Psalms 119:67), which is real evil in so far as it pains, but is, in a deeper view, good, inasmuch as it scourges a wandering heart back to true obedience and therefore to well-being. The words of Psalms 119:67 are specially appropriate as the utterance of the Israel purified from idolatrous tendencies by captivity, but may also be the expression of individual experience. The epithet is next applied to God Himself (Psalms 119:68). How steadfast a gaze into the depths of the Divine nature and over the broad field of the Divine activity is in that short, all-including clause, containing but three words in the Hebrew, "Good art Thou and doing good"! The prayer built on it is the one which continually recurs in this psalm, and is reached by many paths. Every view of man’s condition, whether it is bright or dark, and every thought of God, bring the psalmist to the same desire. Here God’s character and beneficence, widespread and continual, prompt to the prayer, both because the knowledge of His will is our highest good, and because a good God cannot but wish His servants to be like Himself, in loving righteousness and hating iniquity.

Psalms 119:69 and Psalms 119:70 are a pair, setting forth the antithesis, frequent in the psalm, between evil men’s conduct to the psalmist and his tranquil contemplation of, and delight in, God’s precepts. False slanders buzz about him, but he cleaves to God’s Law, and is conscious of innocence. Men are dull and insensible, as if their hearts were waterproofed with a layer of grease, through which no gentle rain from heaven could steal; but the psalmist is all the more led to open his heart to the gracious influences of that law, because others close theirs. If a bad man is not made worse by surrounding evil, he is made better by it.

Just as in Psalms 119:65 and Psalms 119:68 the same thought of God’s goodness is expressed, Psalms 119:71 repeats the thought of Psalms 119:67, with a slight deepening. There the beneficent influence of sorrow was simply declared as a fact; here it is thankfully accepted, with full submission and consent of the will. "Good for me" means not only good in fact, but in my estimate. The repetition of the phrase at the beginning of the next verse throws light on its meaning in Psalms 119:71. The singer thinks that he has two real goods, preeminent among the uniform sequence of such, and these are, first, his sorrows, which he reckons to be blessings, because they have helped him to a firmer grasp of the other, the real good for every man, the Law which is sacred and venerable, because it has come from the very lips of Deity. That is our true wealth. Happy they whose estimate of it corresponds to its real worth, and who have learned, by affliction or anyhow, that material riches are dross, compared with its solid preciousness!

Prayer for illumination is confined to the first: and last verses of this section, the rest of which is mainly occupied with petitions for gracious providences, based upon the grounds of the psalmist’s love of the Law, and of the encouragement to others to trust, derivable from his experience. Psalms 119:73 puts forcibly the thought that man is evidently an incomplete fragment, unless the gift of understanding is infused into his material frame. God has begun by shaping it, and therefore is pledged to go on to bestow spiritual discernment, when His creature asks it. But that prayer wilt only be answered if the suppliant intends to use the gift for its right purpose of learning God’s statutes. Psalms 119:74 prays that the psalmist may be a witness that hope in His word is never vain, and so that his deliverances may be occasions of widespread gladness. God’s honour is involved in answering His servant’s trust. Psalms 119:75-77 are linked together. "Judgments" (Psalms 119:75) seem to mean here providential acts, not, as generally in this Psalm, the Law. The acknowledgment of the justice and faithfulness which send sorrows precedes the two verses of petition for "lovingkindness" and "compassions." Sorrows stilt sting and burn, though recognised as sent in love, and the tried heart yearns for these other messengers to come from God to sustain and soothe. God’s promise and the psalmist’s delight in God’s law are the double ground of the twin petitions. Then follow three verses which are discernibly connected, as expressing desires in regard to "the proud," the devout, and the psalmist himself. He prays that the first may be shamed-i.e., that their deceitful or causeless hostility may be balked-and, as in several other verses, contrasts his own peaceful absorption in the Law with their machinations. He repeats the prayer of Psalms 119:74 with a slight difference, asking that his deliverance may draw attention to him, and that others may, from contemplating his security, come to know the worth of God’s testimonies. In Psalms 119:79 b the text reads they shall know (as the result of observing the psalmist), which the Hebrew margin needlessly alters into "those who know." For himself he prays that his heart may be sound, or thoroughly devoted to keep the law, and then he is sure that nothing shall ever put him to shame. "Who is he who will harm you, if ye be zealous for that which is good?"

This section has more than usual continuity. The psalmist is persecuted, and in these eight verses pours out his heart to God. Taken as a whole, they make a lovely picture of patient endurance and submissive longing. Intense and protracted yearning for deliverance has wasted his very soul, but has not merged in impatience or unbelief, for he has "waited for Thy word." His eyes have ached with straining for the signs of approaching comfort, the coming of which he has not doubted, but the delay of which has tried his faith. This longing has been quickened by troubles, which have wrapped him round like pungent smoke wreaths eddying among the rafters, where disused wine skins hang and get blackened and wrinkled. So has it been with him, but, through all, he has kept hold of God’s statutes. So he plaintively reminds God of the brevity of his life, which has so short a tale of days that judgment on his persecutors must be swift, if it is to be of use. Psalms 119:85-87 describe the busy hostility of his foes. It is truculently contrary to God’s law, and therefore, as is implied, worthy of God’s counter working. Psalms 119:85 b is best taken as a further description of the "proud," which is spread before God as a reason for His judicial action. The antithesis in Psalms 119:86 between the "faithfulness" of the Law and the "lying" persecutors, is the ground of the prayer, "Help Thou me." Even in extremest peril, when he was all but made away with, the psalmist still clung to God’s precepts (Psalms 119:87), and therefore he is heartened to pray for reviving, and to vow that then, bound by new chains of gratitude, he will, more than ever, observe God’s testimonies. The measure of the new "wine poured into the shrivelled wine skin is nothing less than the measureless lovingkindness of God; and nothing but experience of His benefits melts to obedience.

The stability of nature witnesses to the steadfastness of the Word which sustains it. The Universe began and continues, because God puts forth His will. The heavens with their pure depths would collapse, and all their stars would flicker into darkness, if that uttered Will did not echo through their overwhelming spaces. The solid earth would not be solid, but for God’s power immanent in it. Heaven and earth are thus His servants. Psalms 119:91 a may possibly picture them as standing waiting "for Thine ordinances," but the indefinite preposition is probably better regarded as equivalent to in accordance with. The psalmist has reached the grand conceptions of the universal reign of God’s law, and of the continuous forth-putting of God’s will as the sustaining energy of all things. He seeks to link himself to that great band of God’s servants, to be in harmony with stars and storms, with earth and ocean, as their fellow servant; but yet he feels that his relation to God’s law is closer than theirs, for he can delight in that which they unconsciously obey. Such delight in God’s uttered will changes affliction from a foe, threatening life, to a friend, ministering strength (Psalms 119:92). Nor does that Law when loved only avert destruction; it also increases vital power (Psalms 119:93) and reinvigorates the better self. There is a sense in which the law can give life, [Galatians 3:21] but it must be welcomed and enshrined in the heart, in order to do so. The frequently recurring prayer for "salvation" has a double plea in Psalms 119:94. The soul that has yielded itself to God in joyful obedience thereby establishes a claim on Him. He cannot but protect His own possession. Ownership has its obligations, which He recognises. The second plea is drawn from the psalmist’s seeking after God’s precepts, without which seeking there would be no reality in his profession of being God’s. To seek them is the sure way to find both them and salvation (Psalms 119:94). Whom God saves, enemies will vainly try to destroy, and, while they lurk in waiting to spring on the psalmist, his eyes are directed, not towards them, but to God’s testimonies. To give heed to these is the sure way to escape snares (Psalms 119:95). Lifelong experience has taught the psalmist that there is a flaw in every human excellence, a limit soon reached and never passed to all that is noblest in man; but high above all achievements, and stretching beyond present vision, is the fair ideal bodied forth in the Law. Since it is God’s commandment, it will not always be an unreached ideal, but may be indefinitely approximated to; and to contemplate it will be joy, when we learn that it is prophecy because it is commandment.

One thought pervades this section, that the Law is the fountain of sweetest wisdom. The rapture of love with which it opens is sustained throughout. The psalmist knows that he has not merely more wisdom of the same sort as his enemies, his teachers, and the aged have, but wisdom of a better kind. His foes were wise in craft, and his teachers drew their instructions from earthly springs, and the elders had learned that bitter, worldly wisdom, which has been disillusioned of youth’s unsuspectingness and dreams, without being thereby led to grasp that which is no illusion. But a heart which simply keeps to the Law reaches, in its simplicity, a higher truth than these know, and has instinctive discernment of good and evil. Worldly wisdom is transient. "Whether there be knowledge, it shall be done away," but the wisdom that comes with the commandment is enduring as it (Psalms 119:98). Meditation must be accompanied with practice, in order to make the true wisdom one’s own. The depths of the testimonies must be sounded by patient brooding on them, and then the knowledge thus won must be carried into act. To do what we know is the sure way to know it better, and to know more (Psalms 119:99-100). And that positive obedience has to be accompanied by abstinence from evil ways; for in such a world as this "Thou shalt not" is the necessary preliminary to "Thou shalt." The psalmist has a better teacher than those whom he has outgrown, even God Himself, and His instruction has a graciously constraining power, which keeps its conscious scholars in the right path (Psalms 119:102). These thoughts draw another exclamation from the poet, who feels, as he reflects on his blessings, that the law beloved ceases to be harsh and is delightsome as well as health giving. It is promise as well as law, for God will help us to be what He commands us to be. They who love the Lawgiver find sweetness in the law (Psalms 119:103). And this is the blessed effect of the wisdom which it gives, that it makes us quick to detect sophistries which tempt into forbidden paths, and fills us with wholesome detestation.

A lamp is for night; light shines in the day. The Word is both, to the psalmist. His antithesis may be equivalent to a comprehensive declaration that the Law is light of every sort, or it may intend to lay stress on the varying phases of experience, and turn our thoughts to that Word which will gleam guidance in darkness, and shine, a better sun, on bright hours. The psalmist’s choice, not merely the inherent power of the Law, is expressed in Psalms 119:105. He has taken it for his guide, or, as Psalms 119:106 says, has sworn and kept his oath, that he would observe the righteous decisions, which would point to his foot the true path. The affliction bemoaned in Psalms 119:107 is probably the direct result of the conduct professed in Psalms 119:106. The prayer for reviving, which means deliverance from outward evils rather than spiritual quickening, is, therefore, presented with confidence, and based upon the many promises in the Word of help to sufferers for righteousness. Whatever our afflictions, there is ease in telling God of them, and if our desires for His help are "according to Thy word," they will be as willing to accept help to bear as help which removes the sorrow and thus will not be offered unanswered. That cry for reviving is best understood as being "the free-will offerings" which the psalmist prays may be accepted. Happy in their afflictions are they whose chief desire even then is to learn more of God’s statutes! They will find that their sorrows are their best teachers. If we wish most to make advances in His school, we shall not complain of the guides to whom He commits us. Continual alarms and dangers tend to foster disregard of Duty, as truly as does the opposite state of unbroken security. A man absorbed in keeping himself alive is apt to think he has no attention to spare for God’s law (Psalms 119:109), and one ringed about by traps is apt to take a circuit to avoid them, even at the cost of divergence from the path marked out by God (Psalms 119:110). But, even in such circumstances, the psalmist did what all good men have to do, deliberately chose his portion, and found God’s law better than any outward good, as being able to diffuse deep, sacred, and perpetual joy through all his inner nature. The heart thus filled with serene gladness is thereby drawn to perform God’s statutes with lifelong persistency, and the heart thus inclined to obedience has tapped the sources of equally enduring joy.

This section is mainly the expression of firm resolve to cleave to the Law. Continuity may be traced in it, since Psalms 119:113-115 breathe love and determination, which pass in Psalms 119:116-117, into prayer, in view of the psalmist’s weakness and the strength of temptation, while in Psalms 119:118-120 the fate of the despisers of the Law intensifies the psalmist’s clinging grasp of awe-struck love. Hatred of "double minded" who waver between God and idols, and are weak accordingly, rests upon, and in its turn increases, whole-hearted adherence to the Law.

It is a tepid devotion to it which does not strongly recoil from lives that water down its precepts and try to walk on both sides of the way at once. Whoever has taken God for his defence can afford to bide God’s time for fulfilment of His promises (Psalms 119:114). And the natural results of such love to, and waiting for, His word are resolved separation from the society of those whose lives are moulded on opposite principles, and the ordering of external relations in accordance with the supreme purpose of keeping the commandments of Him whom love and waiting claim as "my God" (Psalms 119:115). But resolves melt in the fire of temptation, and the psalmist knows life and himself too well to trust himself. So he betakes himself to prayer for God’s upholding, without which he cannot live. A hope built on God’s promise has a claim on Him, and its being put to shame in disappointment would be dishonour to God (Psalms 119:116). The psalmist knows that his wavering will can only be fixed by God, and that experience of His sustaining hand will make a stronger bond between God and him than anything besides. The consciousness of salvation must precede steadfast regard to the precepts of the God who saves (Psalms 119:117). To stray from the Law is ruin, as is described in Psalms 119:118-119. They who wander are despised or made light of, "for their deceit is a lie"-i.e., the hopes and plans with which they deceive themselves are false. It is a gnarled way of saying that all godless life is a blunder as well as a sin, and is fed with unrealisable promises. Dross is flung away when the metal is extracted. Slag from a furnace is hopelessly useless, and this psalmist thinks that the wicked of the earth are "thrown as rubbish to the void." He is not contemplating a future life, but God’s judgments as manifested here in providence, and his faith is assured that, even here, that process is visible. Therefore, gazing upon the fate of evil-doers, his flesh creeps and every particular hair stands on end (as the word means). His dread is full of love, and love is full of dread. Profoundly are the two emotions yoked together in Psalms 119:119 b and Psalms 119:120 b, " I love Thy testimonies of Thy judgments I am afraid."

Another explanation fixes on the literal meaning of the word-i.e., "goings up"-and points to its use in the singular for the Return from Babylon, [Ezra 7:9] as supporting the view that these were psalms sung by the returning exiles. There is much in the group of songs to favour this view; but against it is the fact that Psalms 122:1-9; Psalms 134:1-3, imply the existence of the Temple, and the fully organised ceremonial worship.

A third solution is that the name refers to the structure of these psalms, which have a "step-like, progressive rhythm." This is Gesenius’ explanation, adopted by Delitzsch. But the peculiar structure in question, though very obvious in several of these psalms, is scarcely perceptible in others, and is entirely absent from Psalms 132:1-18.

The remaining explanation of the title is the most probable-that the "goings up" were those of the worshippers travelling to Jerusalem for the feasts. This little collection is, then, "The Song Book of the Pilgrims," a designation to which its contents well correspond.

The thought of evil-doers tinges most of this section. It opens with a triplet of verses, occasioned by their oppressions of the psalmist, and closes with a triplet occasioned by their breaches of the Law. In the former, he is conscious that he has followed the "judgment" or law of God, and hence hopes that he will not be abandoned to his foes. The consciousness and the hope equally need limitation, to correspond with true estimates of ourselves and with facts; for there is no absolute fulfilment of the Law, and good men are often left to be footballs for had ones. But in its depths the confidence is true. Precisely because he has it, the psalmist prays that it may be Vindicated by facts. "Be surety for Thy servant"-a profound image, drawn from legal procedure, in which one man becomes security for another and makes good his deficiencies. Thus God will stand between the hunted man and his foes, undertaking for him. "Thou shalt answer, Lord, for me." How much the fulfilment in Christ has exceeded the desire of the psalmist! "The oppressors’ wrong" had lasted long, and the singer’s weary eyes had been strained in looking for the help which seemed to tarry (compare Psalms 119:82), and that fainting gaze humbly appeals to God. Will He not end the wistful watching speedily? Psalms 119:124-125 are a pair, the psalmist’s relation of servant being adduced in both as the ground of his prayer for teaching. But they differ, in that the former verse lays stress on the consonance of such instruction with God’s lovingkindness, and the latter, on its congruity with the psalmist’s position and character as His servant. God’s best gift is the knowledge of His will, which He surely will not withhold from spirits willing to serve, if they only knew how. Psalms 119:126-128 are closely linked. The psalmist’s personal wrongs melt into the wider thought of wickedness which does its little best to make void that sovereign, steadfast law. Delitzsch would render "It is time to work for Jehovah"; and the meaning thus obtained is a worthy one. But that given above is more in accordance with the context. It is bold-and would be audacious if a prayer did not underlie the statement-to undertake to determine when evil has reached such height as to demand God’s punitive action. But, however slow we should be to prescribe to Him the when or the how of His intervention, we may learn from the psalmist’s emphatic "Therefores," which stand coordinately at the beginnings of Psalms 119:127-128, that the more men make void the Law, the more should God’s servants prize it, and the more should they bind its precepts on their moral judgment, and heartily loathe all paths which, specious as they may be, are "paths of falsehood," though all the world may avow that they are true.

Devout souls do not take offence at the depths and difficulties of God’s word, but are thereby drawn to intenser contemplation of them. We weary of the Trivial and Obvious. That which tasks and outstrips our powers attracts. But the obscurity must not be arbitrary, but inherent, a clear obscure, like the depths of a pure sea. These wonderful testimonies give light, notwithstanding, or rather because of, their wonderfulness, and it is the simple heart, not the sharpened intellect, that penetrates furthest into them and finds light most surely (Psalms 119:130). Therefore the psalmist longs for God’s commandments, like a "wild creature panting open mouthed for water. He puts to shame our indifference. If his longing was not excessive, how defective is ours! Psalms 119:132, like Psalms 119:122, has no distinct allusion to the Law, though the word rendered in it "right" is that used in the psalm for the Law considered as "judgments." The prayer is a bold one, pleading what is justly, due to the lovers of God’s name. Kay appropriately quotes "God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have showed towards His name". [Hebrews 6:10] One would have expected "Law" instead of "name “in the last word of the verse, and possibly the conception of Law may be, as it were, latent in "name," for the latter does carry in it imperative commandments and plain revelations of duty. God’s Name holds the Law in germ. The Law is but the expansion of the meaning of the Name. "Promise" in Psalms 119:133 (lit. saying) must be taken in a widened sense, as including all God’s revealed will. The only escape from the tyranny of sin is to have our steps established by God’s word, and His help is needed for such establishment. Rebellion against sin’s dominion is already victory over it, if the rebel summons God’s heavenly reinforcements to his help. It is a high attainment to desire deliverance from men, chiefly in order to observe, unhindered, God’s commandments (Psalms 119:134). And it is as high a desire to seek the light of God’s face mainly as the means of seeing His will more clearly. The psalmist did not merely wish for outward prosperity or inward cheer and comfort, but that these might contribute to fulfilling his deepest wish of learning better what God would have him to do (Psalms 119:135). The moods of indignation (Psalms 119:53) and of hatred (Psalms 119:104, Psalms 119:113, Psalms 119:128) have given place to softer emotions, as they ever should (Psalms 119:136). Tears and dewy pity should mingle with righteous anger, as when Jesus "looked round about on them with anger, being with the anger grieved at the hardening of their heart". [Mark 3:5]

The first word suggested to the psalmist under this letter is Righteousness. That august conception was grasped by devout Israelites with a tenacity, and assumed a prominence in their thoughts, unparalleled elsewhere. It is no mere yielding to the requirements of the acrostic scheme which sets that great word in four of the eight. verses of this section (Psalms 119:137, Psalms 119:138, Psalms 119:142, Psalms 119:144). Two thoughts are common to them all, that Righteousness has its seat in the bosom of God, and that the Law is a true transcript of that Divine righteousness. These things being so, it follows that the Law is given to men in accordance with the Divine "faithfulness"-i.e., in remembrance and discharge of the obligations which God has undertaken towards them. Nor less certainly does it follow that that Law, which is the "eradiation" of God’s righteousness, is eternal as its fontal source (Psalms 119:142, Psalms 119:144). The beam must last as long as the sun. No doubt, there are transient elements in the Law which the psalmist loved, but its essence is everlasting, because its origin is God’s everlasting Righteousness. So absorbed is he in adoring contemplation of it, that he even forgets to pray for help to keep it, and not till Psalms 119:144 does he ask for understanding that he may live. True life is in the knowledge of the Law by which God is known, as Jesus has taught us that to know the only true God is life eternal. A faint gleam of immortal hope perhaps shines in that prayer, for if the "testimonies" are forever, and the knowledge of them is life, it cannot be that they shall outlast the soul that knows and lives by them. One more characteristic of God’s righteous testimonies is celebrated in Psalms 119:140 -namely, that they have stood sharp tests, and, like metal in the furnace, have not been dissolved but brightened by the heat. They have been tested, when the psalmist was afflicted and found them to hold true. The same fire tried him and them, and he does not glorify his own endurance, but the promise which enabled him to stand firm. The remaining verses of the section describe the psalmist’s afflictions and clinging to the Law. Psalms 119:139 recurs to his emotions on seeing men’s neglect of it. "Zeal" here takes the place of grief (Psalms 119:136) and of indignation and hatred. Friction against widespread godlessness generates a flame of zeal. as it should always do. "Small and despised" was Israel among the great powers of the ancient world, but he who meditates on the Law is armed against contempt and contented in insignificance (Psalms 119:141). "Distress and anguish" may surround him, but hidden springs of "delight" well up in the heart that cleaves to the Law, like outbursts of fresh water rising to the surface of a salt sea (Psalms 119:144).

The first two verses are a pair, in which former prayers for deliverance and vows of obedience are recalled and repeated. The tone of supplication prevails through the section. The cries now presented are no new things. The psalmist’s habit has been prayer, whole hearted, continued, and accompanied with the resolve to keep by obedience and to observe with sharpened watchfulness the utterances of God’s will. Another pair of verses follows (Psalms 119:147-148), which recall the singer’s wakeful devotion. His voice rose to God ere the dim morning broke, and his heart kept itself in submissive expectance. His eyes saw God’s promises shining in the nightly darkness, and making meditation better than sleep. The petitions in Psalms 119:149 may be taken as based upon the preceding pairs. The psalmist’s patient continuance gives him ground to expect an answer. But the true ground is God’s character, as witnessed by His deeds of lovingkindness and His revelation of His "judgments" in the Law.

Another pair of verses follows (Psalms 119:150-151), in which the hostile nearness of the psalmist’s foes, gathering round him with malignant purpose, is significantly contrasted, both with their remoteness in temper from the character enjoined in the Law, and with the yet closer proximity of the assailed man’s defender. He who has God near him, and who realises that His "commandments are truth," can look untrembling on mustering masses of enemies. This singer had learned that before danger threatened. The last verse of the section breathes the same tone of long-continued and habitual acquaintance with God and His Law as the earlier pairs of verses do. The convictions of a lifetime were too deeply rooted to be disturbed by such a passing storm. There is, as it were, a calm smile of triumphant certitude in that "Long ago." Experience teaches that the foundation, laid for trust as well as for conduct in the Law, is too stable to be moved, and that we need not fear to build our all on it. Let us build rock on that rock, and answer God’s everlasting testimonies with our unwavering reliance and submission.

The prayer "revive me" occurs thrice in this section. It is not a petition for spiritual quickening so much as for removal of calamities, which restrained free, joyous life. Its repetition accords with other characteristics of this section, which is markedly a cry from a burdened heart. The psalmist is in affliction; he is, as it were, the defendant in a suit, a captive needing a strong avenger (Psalms 119:154), compassed about by a swarm of enemies (Psalms 119:157), forced to endure the sight of the faithless and to recoil from them (Psalms 119:158). His thoughts vibrate between his needs and God’s compassions, between his own cleaving to the Law and its grand comprehensiveness and perpetuity. His prayer now is not for fuller knowledge of the Law, but for rescue from his troubles. It is worth while to follow his swift turns of thought, which, in their windings, are shaped by the double sense of need and of Divine fulness. First come two plaintive cries for rescue, based in one case on his adherence to the Law, and in the other on God’s promise. Then his eye turns on those who do not, like him, seek God’s statutes, and these he pronounces, with solemn depth of insight, to be far from the salvation which he feels is his, because they have no desire to know God’s will. That is a pregnant word. Swiftly he turns from these unhappy ones to gaze on the multitude of God’s compassions, which hearten him to repeat his prayer for revival, according to God’s "judgments"-i.e., His decisions contained in the Law. But, again, his critical position among enemies forces itself into remembrance, and he can only plead that, in spite of them, he has held fast by the Law, and, when compelled to see apostates, has felt no temptation to join them, but a wholesome loathing of all departure from God’s word. That loathing was the other side of his love. The more closely we cleave to God’s precepts, the more shall we recoil from modes of thought and life which flout them. And then the psalmist looks wistfully up once more and asks that his love may receive what God’s lovingkindness emboldens it to look for as its result-namely, the reviving, which he thus once more craves. That love or the Law has led him into the depths of understanding God’s Word, and so his lowly petitions swell into the declaration, which he has verified in life, that its sum-total is truth, and a perpetual possession for loving hearts, however ringed round by enemies and "weighed upon by sore distress."

The tone of this section is in striking contrast with that of the preceding. Here, with the exception of the first clause of the first verse, all is sunny, and the thunderclouds are hull down on the horizon. Joy, peace, and hope breathe through the song. Beautifully are reverential awe and exuberant gladness blended as contemporaneous results of listening to God’s word. There is rapture in that awe; there is awe in that bounding gladness. To possess that law is better than to win rich booty. The spoils of the conflict, which we wage with our own negligence or disobedience, are our best wealth. The familiar connection between love of the Law and hatred of lives which depart from it, and are therefore lies and built on lies, reappears, yet not as the ground of prayer for help, but as part of the blessed treasures which the psalmist is recounting. His life is accompanied by music of perpetual praise. Seven times a day-i.e., unceasingly-his glad heart breaks into song, and "the o’er come of his song" is ever God’s righteous judgments. His own experience gives assurance of the universal truth that the love of God’s law secures peace, inasmuch as such love brings the heart into contact with absolute good, inasmuch as submission to God’s will is always peace, inasmuch as the fountain of unrest is dried up, inasmuch as all outward things are allies of such a heart and serve the soul that serves God. Such love saves from falling over stumbling blocks, and enables a man "to walk firmly and safely on the clear path of duty." Like the dying Jacob, such a man waits for God’s salvation, patiently expecting that each day will bring its own form of help and deliverance, and his waiting is no idle anticipation, but full of strenuous obedience (Psalms 119:166), and of watchful observance, such as the eyes of a servant direct to his master (Psalms 119:167 a). Love makes such a man keen to note the slightest indications of God’s will, and eager to obey them all (Psalms 119:167 b, Psalms 119:168 a). All this joyous profession of the psalmist’s happy experience he spreads humbly before God, appealing to Him whether it is true. He is not flaunting his self-righteousness in God’s face, but gladly recounting to God’s honour all the "spoil" that he has found. as he penetrated into the Law and it penetrated into his inmost being.

The threads that have run through the psalm are knotted firmly together in this closing section, which falls into four pairs of verses. In the first, the manifold preceding petitions are concentrated into two for understanding and deliverance, the twin needs of man, of which the one covers the whole ground of inward illumination, and the other comprises all good for outward life, while both are in accordance with the large confidence warranted by God’s faithful words. Petition passes into praise. The psalmist instinctively obeys the command, "By prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known." His lips give forth not only shrill cries of need, but well up songs of thanks; and, while a thousand mercies impel the sparkling flood of praise, the chief of these is God’s teaching him His righteous statutes (Psalms 119:171-172). In the next pair of verses, the emphasis lies, not on the prayer for help so much as on its grounds in the psalmist’s deliberate choice of God’s precepts, his patient yearning for God’s salvation, and his delight in the Law, all of which characteristics have been over and over again professed in the psalm. Here, once more, they are massed together, not in self-righteousness, but as making it incredible that, God being the faithful and merciful God which He is, His hand should hang idle when His servant cries for help (Psalms 119:173-174). The final pair of verses sets forth the relations of the devout soul with God in their widest and most permanent forms. The true life of the soul must come from Him, the Fountain of Life. A soul thus made to live by communion with, and derivation of life from, God lives to praise, and all its motions are worship. To it the Law is no menace nor unwelcome restriction, but a helper. Life drawn from God, turned to God in continual praise, and invigorated by unfailing helps ministered through His uttered will, is the only life worth living. It is granted to all who ask for it. But a lower, sadder note must ever mingle in our prayers. Aspiration and trust must be intertwined with consciousness of weakness and distrust of one’s self. Only those who are ignorant of the steps of the soul’s pilgrimage to God can wonder that the psalmist’s last thoughts about himself blend confession of wandering like a straying sheep, and profession of not forgetting God’s commandments. Both phases of consciousness coexist in the true servant of God, as, alas! both have grounds in his experience. But our sense of having wandered should ever be accompanied with the tender thought that the lost sheep is a sheep, beloved and sought for by the great Shepherd, in whose search not in our own docile following of His footsteps lies our firmest hope. The psalmist prayed "Seek Thy servant," for he knew how continually he would be tempted to stray. But we know better than he did how wonderfully the answer has surpassed his petition. "The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost."

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Psalms 119:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/psalms-119.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, August 24th, 2019
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20
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