Tag Archives: Psalms

Adventure with God to the holy city

Deal bountifully with your servant,
That I may live and keep your word.
Open my eyes, that I may behold
Wonderful things from your law.
I am a stranger in the earth;
Do not hide your commandments
         From me.
My soul is crushed with longing
After your ordinances at all times.
You rebuke the arrogant, the cursed,
Who wander from your commandments.
(Psalms 119:17-21)

Studying the word of God is a wonderful adventure. It is a journey of exploration. The journey is not unlike the kind portrayed in Indian Jones movies. It is life-long profession that is often perilous. Overcoming the terrible obstacles means getting to and possessing the treasure. The Lost Ark is the treasure. The Ark represented the presence of God. The journey is thus both with and to God. It is a progressive relationship with our creator-redeemer-king. Inside the Ark was deposited the covenant and testimony God gave to Israel and the world. Thus the treasure deposited inside the Ark is God’s word.

As Psalms 119: 17-18 states, the treasure is more than something to gain for personal profit. It is something learned and lived while on the adventurous journey called life. It is life lived by the bounteous provision of the divine King in His kingdom. God’s kingdom encompasses our world as well as the entire universe. Nevertheless, those invited chose to enter by choice not by coercion.

The Psalmist expressed his emotional attachment to God. As above, the Psalmist’s emotional bonds to God are mediated through God’s concrete laws, testimonies, and judgments–in other words, God’s covenantal word.

As we are on the journey, we too may keenly feel like a stranger in a secular world. The secular world does not know God. Even many religious communities or nations, do not seem to know God. At least not as we experience the living God. You, I, or the Psalmist are not alone in this sense of being in a foreign land. The gospels express in great detail how Jesus not only felt this but, according to Christian teaching, he was literally from another world–from heaven. Like other acclaimed prophets, the feeling of not being of the present world is typical. The 11th chapter of Hebrews gives us a list of how many of them were treated as aliens as well. A more contemporary version of such a list is the Book of Martyrs.

As for the Psalmist, the people of God living in a world of biological and social necessities often experience periods of distraction in which they feel like souls disconnected from the life-giving Spirit. This is often described as weariness but not necessarily physiological. It can be spiritual affecting our mental state. Spiritual fatigue can create an intense longing for the renewed vitality experienced by communing with God mediated through meditation on His word. It is a moving meditation because the time spent contemplating the word results in mutual human-divine acts along the journey. Genuine relationships are always lived through mutual acts of communication and support.

That is meaning of verses 19 and 20.

However, the Psalmist is right to remember the consequences for erring from the commandments of God. Is it any different in secular society? Does breaking the law not result in suffering the penalty for doing so? Can mates violate their sacred vows of trust and loyalty without doing harm to their once mutual trust, love, and future life together? The end result is best defined as death. Death is the severance of morally bonded relationships. Can there be any worse curse than such a death? (v.21)

One reason for believing Psalm 119 was authored by King David is found in verses 22-24. Here again we read expressions of one who must have experienced injustices similar to those suffered by king David. Although anointed as king by the prophet Samuel, the same prophets who had also anointed Saul, David’s ascent to the throne was met with violent attempts to kill him. His rival was then King Saul, who had both ordered others to kill him as well as attempted it himself many times. After divine providence saw fit to end the evil reign of Saul, David was finally made king over Israel. Yet, his son, Absalom, was later to counsel with others about taking over the kingdom. Even David’s son attempted to kill the anointed one. There were leaders of other tribes and kingdoms who schemed against David as well. Yet, God’s chosen one overcame them all.

It is reasonable to conclude that these verses were part of very intensely felt prayer for help from God by David. For consider their content:

Take away reproach and contempt from me,
For I observe your testimonies.
Even though princes sit and talk against me,
Your servant meditates on your statutes.
Your testimonies are also my delight;
They are my counselors.
(Psalms 119:22-24)

Our Lord Jesus seconded David’s prayer when he proclaimed:

Blessed are you when people insult you and
Persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of
evil against you because of me. Rejoice and
be glad, for your reward in heaven is great;
for in the same way they persecuted the
prophets who were before you.

This is the last in a list of beatitudes and part of a summary of messages delivered by Jesus during his prophetic and redemptive ministry in ancient Israel. It is called a be-attitude for obvious reasons.

Because the Lord claims the sole right to vengeance for evils done against His people, we who are members of His kingdom must follow the righteous example David and Jesus. History has evidenced that both were victorious by doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God. (Micah 6:8). Whereas David was a victorious king in his time, Jesus remains victorious for all times. His victory is eternal because he perfectly and fully accomplished God will and redemptive plan without violating the moral law of God. Because the redemptive justice of God was fully satisfied through the sinless life, death and resurrection of Jesus, Jesus resign over God’s kingdom is the prize of the adventure and treacherous journey to the eternal city of God.

Unlike David, Jesus was killed but God raised him from death and made him Lord over all. God made Jesus a winner of the prize of a sinless life that accomplished redemptive justice for all humanity, or, should I say, for whomsoever will humbly accept the divine terms.

Purity in an impure world

Last week I discussed Psalms 119:1-8. If in fact it is a psalm of David, this helps understand his inner tensions with his own impurity and his pursuit of living such a life. For David, the key to achieving a blameless life is by obeying God’s law. It is the same key to achieving and maintaining moral purity.

In verses 9-16 of this Psalm, how to maintain the moral purity of a legally blameless life is the question answered.

How can a young man keep his way pure?
By keeping it according to Your word.

As we saw last week, the key to achieving a blameless life begins with seeking to know God. It is a genuine relationship with God that results in true holiness. That is, no human can become like God with knowing, learning from, and emulating God. Just as kids emulate parents attitudes and behaviors, so it is by imitating God.

David repeats it in verse 10:

With all my heart I have sought you;
Do not let me wander from Your commandments.

How in the world can anyone seriously expect to emulate God who they can not see? The answer to that question was answered by Jesus of Nazareth. As you have seen me you have seen the Father. (Jo. 12:45; 14:7-15) Jesus also said what he saw the Father doing, he did likewise. What God his Father taught him, that was what he taught others. The life of Jesus demonstrated was the holiness and everlasting of God. Therefore, we should emulate it too.

There remains a problem. After his resurrection, Jesus ascended to the throne of God. Since then, no one has seen or heard Jesus emulating God. The good news is the problem of no visible example of God-likeness is resolved by the succession of followers of Jesus. Apostle Paul told the followers of Christ to “[b]e imitators of me, just as I am of Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1) Dr. Jon Young, pastor of Dayton Avenue Baptist Church, extends this is all followers of Christ. As we obey and live out the word of God, our lives will be living translations of the likeness of God and His way.

The point here is that Jesus did not come into the world to abolish the law (word) of God. He came to fulfill it. (Mt. 5:14-20) This was repeated by John, who put it this way: “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.” (1 Jo. 5:3) Paul expressed essentially the same thing when he wrote: “The whole law is fulfilled in one word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Gal. 5:14)

That is how purity once achieved is maintained.

As David answers the question in verse 1, purity is maintained by:

Seeking God and his righteousness with all your heart, soul, and strength; (v.10; Mat. 6:33; Deut. 6:5)
Safe guarding the treasures of God’s word in your heart; (v. 11; Mat. 6:19-21)
Speaking about how God has made the law and promises a reality; (v. 12-13; Dt. 6:5-7; Mat. 10:31-32)
Rejoicing in the rich adventure and process of the word made life; (v. 14; Mat. 13: 45-46; Prov. 3:13-24)
Meditating on the word in order to continue learning and to remember. (v. 15-16; Deut. 6:8-9; Jo. 7-11)

The underlying current of the above is religious or ritual practices; it is love. Those who love God commit to seeking God, learning of God, treasuring shared experiences with God, and the rejoicing with God in them. It is a personal life shared with God and Jesus. It is shared because it is the loving relationship initiated by God (1 Jo 4:10) and continued by our response and continued commitment to that God who first loved us.

Psalms 119: 1-16 is the expression of love towards God. The life of Israel and the Jews began as an expression of God’s love leading to freedom. David is here returning that love through his desire to live faithfully in that relationship. Prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah spoke of the failure of Israel to do likewise. They envisioned the day of a New Covenant in which love and faithfulness would be the enduring reality of God’s chosen people. Jesus has furthered that new covenant to all peoples of all races, languages, and nations. For he is that covenant spoken of by the prophet Isaiah. (Isa. 49:6; 53:1-12) Now, all who keep the commandments of God and Christ show their abiding love for the true and living God.

The blessing of faith’s law

Psalm 119 is my favorite Psalm. This Psalm is intimately connected to the beginning of my relationship with God and Jesus Christ. This Psalm is full of precious gems of great value to life in both the present and the eternal future. Our marketing saturated culture should find this Psalm interesting. That is because it begins by extolling those benefits of the product being extolled. For teachers of grammar, this Psalms exemplifies methods of learning still effective today. It gives each letter of the Hebrew alphabet a lesson of moral and social value certain to impact the lives of those choose to live those lessons.

In this post, my observation will be limited to the first alphabet … sales pitch … and life lesson:

1How blessed are those whose way is blameless,
  Who walk in the law of the Lord.
2How blessed are those who observe His testimonies,
  Who seek Him with all of their heart.
3They also do no unrighteousness;
  They walk in His ways.
4You have ordained Your precepts,
  That we should obey them diligently.
5Oh that my ways may be established
  To keep Your statutes!
6Then I shall not be ashamed
  When I look upon Your commandments,
7I shall give thanks to You with uprightness of heart,
  When I learn Your righteous judgments.
8I shall keep Your statutes;
  Do not forsake me utterly!

If David the Shepherd-King of Bethlehem wrote this Psalm, the last verse makes a lot of sense. His life story was one of being alone, betrayed, and forsaken, but not by God. As a boy, he was often alone in the fields with the family sheep. He learned to conquer his fear though his faith in God. He developed great courage and fighting skills through his trust in God. God revealed His powers as David learned to practice the law by faith. The same was true later in life when King Saul betrayed David’s loyalty with jealous attempts on his life, and when his son Absalom did the same.

Whether David is its author or not, the above verses explicates different angles the benefits of a vital relationship with God. Poetic parallelism is the structural form of the first two verses, which means they present very similar concepts. The blameless are those who observe the testimonies of God. They are blameless because they do no unrighteousness. They do no unrighteousness because they obey all of the God’s word–commandments, precepts, statutes. Thus they live a life exemplifying law of the Lord, which also means to live God’s way.

This is what the author wants more than anything.

The key to understanding the above verses is in the phrase: “who seek Him with all of their heart.” The greatest benefit of all that is implied in these verses is being able to know God. If a genuine relationship is not the end result of whole-hearted seeking, then the rest is meaningless. In a society governed by laws defined as originating from God, obeying them would beneficial to one’s freedom and health. However, God would be merely a synonym for the state, which the reality of secular states. Secular states like Russia and China did exactly that they made the state the god of all people. The politics of evolution seeks to erect a similar society.
To those who seek God with all of their heart, the Bible is a means of making history concrete reality in the present. It is the physical soul’s connection to the divine King who is spirit. Another related benefit is through the same process through which humans begin to learn about themselves, their whole nature, their disconnected purpose, and the empirical support of their eternal future. For such, the shame and baseness of past alienation and moral destitution fades out of existence.

That is why the Bible is a dangerous book in a secular society whose governing authorities have vaunted themselves to the position of everyman’s god. It is a vital threat because while looking into the word of God its creator looks back and speaks into the soul and spirit. The Supreme Judge calls the reader to justice while pointing to His provision of forgiveness and a new start. The desired end is a life blessed and blameless before gaze of God.

The first century writer, John, called Jesus the Word of God (Jo. 1:1-18). This perspective originated in two different experiences. The first was John’s relationship with Jesus. He witnessed Jesus life, his teaching, his works, his death, and his resurrection. (Jo. 18:24-25) More important perhaps was his continued relationship with Jesus as Lord after he ascended to the heavenly throne of God. (1 Jo. 1:1-10; 5:1-5) Jesus is the embodiment of God’s word because he witnessed its literal fulfillment. Moreover, John was given additional treasures when God gave him a cinematic overview of the world’s future. As recorded in Revelation, Jesus is called the word of God coming to destroy the enemies of God. (Rev. 19:11-16)

The significance of Jesus as word of God is this: He is the means to the blessing of a blameless life. God was in him reconciling the world to Himself. (2 Co. 5:19) God thus raised up for us all the way, the truth, and the life to follow into the blessing of blameless living with God. (Jo. 14:6) The law of faith in Jesus is the way. (Ro. 3:21-31)

By Daniel Downs