The fulfilment of life of the Word of God
The final stanza of psalm 119 (verses 169–76) is a fitting finale.
Let my joyful shout draw near you Lord; grant me insight according to your Word.
Let my supplication come before you; according to your promise deliver me!
My lips shall pour forth praise, when you teach me your statutes.
My tongue shall sing of your promise, for all your commands are right.
Let your hand come to my aid, for I have chosen your precepts.
I yearn for your salvation Lord; and your law is my delight.
Let my soul live and I will praise you, and your commands will be my help.
I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek out your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands!
The first two lines of this stanza are in many ways a summary of how the psalmist sees the entire psalm: it is a joyful shout, and it is a supplication. It is a hymn of praise and it is a prayer for help. And it is a prayer above all for two things: for deeper insight, “give me understanding”; and for deliverance.
The next two lines sum up the psalmist’s hope arising from his prayer: his hope is that when God does deliver and teach him, he will praise God more and more fully and deeply.
At the end, though, we return to the psalmist’s situation of waiting, waiting for the promise of God to materialise. The life of the Word of God we have seen looked at from every angle: a life of difficulty, opposition, joy, longing, darkness and light, struggle to understand, and above all, hope. The psalmist looks forward, he longs for God’s salvation and asks again for his aid.
But then the psalm finishes on a very striking note. I have strayed like a lost sheep. This is a strong sentence. The word for lost is literally “perishing”. The psalm has not been without moments of humility (e.g. verse 71), but this is a striking moment. And we suddenly realise that the psalmist is not at all and has never been confident in his ability to obey God’s Word. He knows he loves it. He knows it is good. It really is his delight. He also has had, as we have also seen, moments of triumph, successes he can point to and appeal to (e.g. verses 121–28). And yet, his great success is not in doing God’s Word but in loving it, not forgetting it. This is why it still stands apart from him, something alien he longs to understand more fully, get inside, inhabit.
I think at the end of this psalm we get a hint of a troubling ambiguity in the psalmist’s experience of God’s commands. And it points us forward to the fulfilment of this psalm, this hope, this prayer, in the obedience and sacrifice of Jesus. Speaking of his experience of life of the Word of God, the apostle Paul wrote, drawing, I think, on language from this psalm, “I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind…”
The irony and beauty of psalm 119 is that its prayer is answered not in simply a deeper appreciation of and ability to obey God’s commandments, but through the knowledge of the One who is Himself the Word of God. This is God’s salvation. This is his deeper insight. The Lord Jesus Christ. The prayers and hopes of psalm 119 could not be answered so long as God’s Word was only his written law, good and beautiful though it was: they were, finally, prayers and hopes for the revelation of the Word of God in the flesh of Jesus Christ. And they are prayers and hopes that have been answered.
I have been working through this psalm for a very long time now. Some of the posts are better than others and in some ways, I’m not quite sure what I have discovered. But I’m thankful for it, and I want to express my thanks to my patient readers who have stayed with this blog throughout. I will post a set of links to all the posts at some stage, along, perhaps, with some further reflections. but until then, let me pray, Accept my offerings of praise, O Lord, and teach me your ordinances.