Psalm 119: 129-136 (NIV)
129 Your statutes are wonderful; therefore I obey them.
130 The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.
131 I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands.
132 Turn to me and have mercy on me, as you always do to those who love your name.
133 Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me.
134 Redeem me from the oppression of men, that I may obey your precepts.
135 Make your face shine upon your servant and teach me your decrees.
136 Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed.
This passage is but one stanza from that long and beautiful psalm where almost every verse (exceptions are verses 84 and 122) refers, directly or indirectly, to God’s word. Throughout Psalm 119, God’s word is described, in the main, using a selection from eight synonyms. This stanza contains six of them: “statutes”, “words”, “commands”, (“word” again), “precepts”, “decrees” and “law”. Additionally “those who love your name” (verse 132) indirectly describes obedience to what God has ordained.
We must guard against reading Psalm 119 as if it is a repetitive presentation of the one continuous simple message. It is not. Beauty and a sense of awe await the conscientious reader as nuances are brought to light and the many dimensions of delight in obedience spill from its verses. Here we can only hint at a few of them:
- The binding force and enduring relevance of God’s word as recorded in holy Scripture are sources of wonder, rendering inevitable the desire to obey (verse 129).
- The way meaning unfolds and the way God progressively reveals his will reminds us, for example, of that passage in Luke’s Gospel (24: 45) when Jesus opened the minds of Cleopas and his companion to understand the Scriptures (verse 130).
- Appreciating this delight in gaining understanding, the Psalmist thirsts for more with the eagerness of a panting animal (verse 131).
- Is this plea for mercy because, in the light of Scripture, the unworthiness of the Psalmist becomes evident? Even so, devotion to God and love for his holy name prevails (verse 132).
- Perfect obedience, possible only through the indwelling of God which determines where the foot is to be placed for each new step, forbids the intrusion of sin into one’s life (verse 133).
- Here is a “reality check”: in the Psalmist’s own community are those who, at best, are sceptical towards God and at worst ignore God and treat him with derision (verse 134).
- The desire to learn more of God’s nature, of his ways and of his commands for his creatures is a natural consequence of being in the light of God’s countenance and of receiving his blessings (verse 135).
- God’s revelation of himself through holy Scripture and his revelation of his will for humankind is not simply to provide information or to add colour to the background of life; God has revealed himself to commend obedience. The Psalmist has realised this and, distraught at the opposition in the community to God’s decrees, the Psalmist (indwelt, we believe, by the spirit of God) weeps (verse 136).
As we review our own situations, wherever we live in the world, do we feel compelled also to weep?
*Hymn: original lyrics by John Marriott, 1780-1825