By now, I trust it is abundantly clear what the theme of of the 119th Psalm is — that being, the glory and grandeur of God’s Word and how central it is (and should be) in the life of every follower of God. The divinely inspired psalmist has penned words so especially designed and crafted for the personal and practical instruction, encouragement, and consolation of every Christian that regardless of the circumstance, it contains solace for every storm, refuge for every torrent.
Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments. Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice, because I have hoped in your word. I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant. Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight. Let the insolent be put to shame, because they have wronged me with falsehood; as for me, I will meditate on your precepts. Let those who fear you turn to me, that they may know your testimonies. May my heart be blameless in your statutes, that I may not be put to shame! (Ps 119:73–80)
The heavenly pharmacy.
The Psalms delineate the heavenly sympathy and compassion the Father has for his children and the comfort they can find in the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibenevolent Godhead. They are, in fact, the most vibrant reflection of Christ and his followers, for, “no one will discover for himself a single feeling whereof the image is not reflected in this mirror.”1 God’s Word is like a pharmacy, wherein there is found no wound without a ready remedy. Whatever calamity you’re enduring, you will no doubt find the relief you crave right here amongst the Psalms, in which are found the deep lamentations and aggravations of the soul. Indeed, ancient Ambrose states:
Although all divine Scripture breathes the grace of God, yet sweet beyond all others is the book of Psalms . . . [which is] a kind of medicine for the salvation of man . . . It is the benediction of the people, the praise of God, the thanksgiving of the multitude, . . . the voice of the Church, the harmonious confession of our faith.2
The portion for today’s consideration, then, concerns the psalmist’s empirical encounter with sorrow and affliction, and his prayer to be delivered as a blessing and testament of grace. As the psalmist commences this 10th section, you’ll notice that each stanza begins with the Hebrew letter yodh (or, jod), the smallest in the Hebrew alphabet, which will no doubt call to mind the words of Christ in Matthew’s Gospel, “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot [‘one jot or one tittle,’ KJV], will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Mt 5:18) Thus, it’s no stretch of interpretation or imagination to conclude that the assurances found amongst these lines are as steadfast and fixed for all eternity as is the whole counsel of God.
The veracity of divine goodness.
The psalmist, therefore, recalls the veracity of his creation, musing on his divine forming and fashioning. (Ps 119:73) It is unequivocally true that the divine hand never moves apart from divine thought. Therefore, we might praise the Triune God along with the psalmist for our creation had its genesis in the heavenly wisdom and foreknowledge of the Trinity. (Eph 1:3-10) Before you were born, God was thinking of you and working all things out for your rescue and redemption. This truth alone should break the legs of every self-dependent, self-saved mortal, propelling them to recognize their shear insignificance juxtaposed against God’s vast greatness. We are wholly dependent upon God for everything. We have no resources of ourselves, no power, ability, strength on our own to offer heavenward. All that we are we owe to the sovereign hand of the Creator, which sustains all life. “In is hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.” (Job 12:10)
It is right to reckon, then, that since no real power for life lies within man that no man can, therefore, save himself from eternal death. Salvation is unto holiness — it is the redemption of sinners to the likeness of the Son, and this is accomplished solely by the forbearance, mercy, and grace of the Father, not in the least by works. And surely, no human can justly pursue the goodness and holiness of God until he first considers what good Jesus has already done in and for him. This is the inference of the psalmist’s plea, “give me understanding,” that is, “Remind me and help me to understand all that You’ve done, so that I might know how Your greatness has condescended to my littleness.” It is this gracious condescension of God that forms the bulwark of all Christian hope. Even today, notwithstanding the troubles and tribulations you’re suffering, you can be sure of the goodness of God.
An unparalleled religion.
What makes Christianity the most remarkable of all the religions of the world is that Christians can know, beyond all doubt, that every adversity will work for their good, even when all around them seems immutably bad, for the sole fact that their God is good. (Rom 8:28; Pss 100:5; 119:68; 136:1) Though we’re yet blind to the intent and consequence of the storm, we can be assured that in faithfulness God has afflicted us. (Ps 119:75) As perplexing as the heartache may be, as long as you may have been required to suffer it, as numerous as the trials may be, have no reluctance in declaring with the psalmist, “God, You are good, ‘Your rules are righteous.’”
It may be that your affliction stems from something God wishes to extinguish from your heart and life, some pervading, persevering vice that ever clings to your soul, a reminder of the guilt and shame Christ came to relieve you of. It is then that you must remember that God’s love for you is too intense to suffer sin without rebuke. God will not have his Son’s cross spit upon by his children wishing to live in grace and iniquity simultaneously. The two roads can’t coexist — indeed, they are on opposite planes and lead to divergent ends. But those whom grace has saved will be chastised in love to remove such stubborn sins. God says as much when he declares, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent” (Rv 3:19) — “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” (Prv 3:11–12; cf. Heb 12:6; Pss 94:12; 119:67, 75) Certainly, the Christian can call God’s faithful afflictions his blessings in disguise, his veiled mercies, divine gifts clothed in the robes of mourning. It is through these faithful afflictions that we are safe. The Heavenly Father keeps his children secure by bringing them through the valley of humility and keeping them on the path of dependence.
Mercy in the mess.
The striking fact about this stanza — and many others like it throughout the rest of the Psalms — is that the psalmist doesn’t pray for the removal of the affliction. His prayer is not for an escape out of adversity, but for greater awareness of God’s mercy during it! “Let your steadfast love comfort me . . . Let your mercy come to me, that I may live.” (Ps 119:76–77) As Thomas Adam implores, “Descend more willingly into the valley of humiliation, and you will find comfort in Christ, and strength against sin, to abound more freely.”3 It’s through mercy alone that we have joy of any kind, life of any sort, even amidst immense sorrow. I would venture to say that we don’t know what life is until we know grace, for it is grace that gives us life in the first place — it is mercy that comes to us. (Ps 119:77)
The gospel defibrillator.
In truth, grace “is not a crutch for weak people,” as Paul Dunk says, which props them up in their own semblance and sense of piety and religiosity — “it’s a defibrillator for dead people,” raising the defeated and resurrecting the deceased to “newness of life” (Rom. 6:4) by the “breath of life.” (Job 33:4) You’re completely incapable of clawing your way to the place of comfort and peace and rest; those are gifts imparted only by the gospel of grace, which we receive from the Word. Thus, for the believer, hope lives on even when death surrounds him, for his hope is not derived out of anything in himself, but is solely fixed on the lone object, the one anchor which is fit for his confidence and trust: the gospel of God. (Heb 6:19)
Crying out for mercy and grace, as the psalmist does, isn’t a vain wish upon some groundless truth; it’s a plea for greater reliance upon the assured comforts of the gospel promised in the Word of God. Without a doubt, the mercies of Christ are our highest confidence, our surest foundation. They are the common portion for all of God’s children, bearing them up when darkness shrouds them and trouble follows them. Indeed, we might say God’s Word contains a gospel of camouflaged grace, grace that’s sometimes accompanied by severe hardship and anguish. Yet, this same gospel promises that “there never was a night so long that the day did not overtake it. There never was a morning without its morning star. There never was a day without its sun.”4 Your resolve, then, must be to endeavor, like the psalmist, to “meditate on [God’s] precepts” (Ps 119:78), to reflect on his “exceeding great and precious promises” (2 Pt 1:4) — for, the doctrines of grace and the truths of the gospel are your armor in the fight.
The world can’t contain all the volumes which could be written on meditating on Christ. Nor can any event surprise or exceed his merciful faculties. Reflect on Jesus and rest in his camouflaged grace, and know that he “is there to nourish the faith that droops, to quench the temptation that assails, to dissipate the cloud that darkens, to remove the guilt that distresses, to quell the fear that agitates, and to cheer the solitude and loneliness of the valley with gracious manifestations of himself, and to breathe words of kindness, comfort, and love, [in] the soul.”5
John Calvin, quoted in J. J. S. Perone, The Book of Psalms: A New Translation, with Introductions and Notes, Vol. 1 (London: Bell & Daldy, 1870), 29.
Ambrose, quoted in Perone, 26.
Thomas Adam, Private Thoughts on Religion and Other Subjects Connected With It (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1843), 43.
John Angell James, Christian Hope (London: Hamilton, Adams, & Co., 1858), 161.
Octavius Winslow, The Precious Things of God (New York: Robert Carter & Bros., 1867), 402.