From Psalms 119.89-176
Today we finish looking at Psalm 119. I have chosen the last two sections. Like many Psalms, the Psalmist at times is under threat from various enemies. But in the midst of his trouble he focusses on the LORD and seeks strength in him.
This post is part of my bible in a year series.
Passage and Comments
SIN AND SHIN
161 Princes persecute me without cause,
but my heart stands in awe of your words.
162 I rejoice at your word
like one who finds great spoil.
163 I hate and abhor falsehood,
but I love your law.
164 Seven times a day I praise you
for your righteous rules.
165 Great peace have those who love your law;
nothing can make them stumble.
166 I hope for your salvation, O LORD,
and I do your commandments.
167 My soul keeps your testimonies;
I love them exceedingly.
168 I keep your precepts and testimonies,
for all my ways are before you. (Ps 119.161-168)
The Psalmist expresses dependence on the LORD. Despite his circumstances he still rejoices in the word of the LORD. Often in the Old Testament the word of the LORD is associated with a prophet’s sayings to the people. Here we see another aspect of God’s word. It is God breathed scripture. And not just any scripture the Law. God’s commands, rules and statutes. Trained by the law, the Psalmist hates falsehood and loves God’s commands. In his context of danger, the Psalmist hopes for salvation as he continues to live by the LORD’s commands.
169 Let my cry come before you, O LORD;
give me understanding according to your word!
170 Let my plea come before you;
deliver me according to your word.
171 My lips will pour forth praise,
for you teach me your statutes.
172 My tongue will sing of your word,
for all your commandments are right.
173 Let your hand be ready to help me,
for I have chosen your precepts.
174 I long for your salvation, O LORD,
and your law is my delight.
175 Let my soul live and praise you,
and let your rules help me.
176 I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant,
for I do not forget your commandments. (Ps 119.169-176)
Once again the Psalmist expresses dependence on the LORD. He recognises he cannot understand God’s word unless the LORD gives him understanding. So he prays for understanding. He switches to another form of God’s word – promise. He says deliver me according to your word. Is he speaking about danger from his enemies or is he referring to his fight with temptation and sin. His wording suggests he will be delivered according to God’s word when he is taught to live by the statutes of the law. When he is properly trained in the way of the LORD he will sing his praises.
Story of Israel
Psalm 119 is bereft of legalism. The Psalmist is keenly aware that the Law comes from God and God is the one who enables people to live by it. Hence the Psalmist expresses continued dependence of the LORD and gives a good example of how all people can relate to God’s commands.
But this was not always the case with Israel. Israel’s main sin throughout the Old Testament was idolatry. They kept turning away from the LORD. Normally they turned to foreign God’s. This is why they were punished and sent into exile. After they returned from exile, they still lived under foreign rule and still thought of themselves being punished and in need of redemption. Thus they were keen to obey the LORD in meticulous detail.
There is a passage in Ezekiel that describes the law in negative terms. Its helpful to realise that the law is portrayed by different people in different ways. Ezekiel recalls the golden calf incident after the LORD gave the law at Mount Sinai. He says;
“Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend my anger against them in the wilderness. 22 But I withheld my hand and acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I had brought them out [of Egypt]. 23 Moreover, I swore to them in the wilderness that I would scatter them among the nations and disperse them through the countries, 24 because they had not obeyed my rules, but had rejected my statutes and profaned my Sabbaths, and their eyes were set on their fathers’ idols. 25 Moreover, I gave them statutes that were not good and rules by which they could not have life, 26 and I defiled them through their very gifts win their offering up all their firstborn, that I might devastate them. I did it that they might know that I am the Lord. (Eze 20.18-26)
According to Ezekiel, some of the laws the LORD gave could not give life. They were a form of punishment. Perhaps even slavery.
Story of Jesus
During the time of Jesus, the Jews became obsessed with the law. The law became an idol to them. They became more and more legalistic. The Psalmist above loves the law. At the same time he always expresses humble dependence on the LORD as he seeks to understand, memorise and apply it to his life. Its possible to lose this attitude of humble dependence and focus only on the law, forgetting God. When this happens idolatry fills the void and legalism soon follows.
Remember I wrote yesterday the law has two aspects.
- The Story of the Jews,
- The Commands of the Jewish law recorded in the Story of the Jews.
Lets step through a series of passages from Paul which describe some negative aspects to the law.
Its always helpful to be mindful of the historical context. Generally Paul becomes very negative about the law when he is speaking to Gentile believers who are being pressured by Jews to adopt the ceremonial aspects of the law (e.g. Circumcision, Festivals and holidays, Worship and Sacrifice, Purity and Washings and perhaps even the food laws).
Such is the case in Galatians. Paul asks;
19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, (Gal 3.19a)
Paul has the story of the Jews in mind.
- Story: Israel was enslaved by the Egyptians (Ex 1)
- Story: God redeemed Israel from slavery in Egypt (Ex 12)
- Sin: Israel grumbles and sins on the way to Mount Sinai (Ex 16-17)
- Law: God gives Israel the law at Mount Sinai (Ex 20-23)
- Sin: Israel commits idolatry with the golden calf (Ex 32)
- Law: God gives Israel more commands (Ex 34,35)
During their Exodus story and wilderness wanderings Israel sinned. Paul is saying the law was given in consequence to their sins.
20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, (Rom 5.20a)
Giving the law to sinners only makes things worse. They sin more! Why give them the law then? For what purpose?
15 For the law brings wrath, (Rom 4.15)
When Israel started to sin the LORD gave them the law to increase their sinning which put him in a position to pour out his wrath. He put Israel in slavery. Not in slavery to Egypt, but to the law he gave them. Paul thinks of the law as a form of slavery.
5b Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. (Gal 5.1-3)
Much later afterward, God punished Israel and Judah by exile and foreign rule. There are better things to come however. When Jesus came he freed people from the law.
7 Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. 3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.
4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. (Rom 7.1-6)
Even better than that, Jesus frees people from the law of sin and death.
8 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.1 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you 2 free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin,3 he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Rom 8.1-4)
Jesus did what the law could not do. He saved us by offering up himself as a sin offering. He took the punishment we deserve and gave us his Spirit. His Spirit which enables us to walk as we ought and in the future to rise again to new life.
Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2014. All Rights Reserved.