Obey God’s Word

Explore the Bible Series

November 29, 2009


Background Passage: Psalm 119:1-176

Lesson Passage: Psalm 119:1-16




Our recent studies in the Psalms have proven a real challenge for me.  Though I have preached often from this wonderful collection of hymns, this study has forced me to construct a better, more mature understanding of Hebrew poetry.  In particular, these lessons have convinced me of the following convictions.

  1. The authors wrote to give expression to universal concerns, concerns common to the human condition.  Most of the time, these chapters do not give specific historical setting to the composition.  At best, scholars take educated guesses at the historical context.  For a biblical interpreter, this universal nature of the Psalms may prove very frustrating, especially someone trained as a historian.  I have concluded, after some meditation, that the psalmists wrote this way quite deliberately in order to emphasize the universal application of their wisdom.
  2. The Psalms give vent to the deepest, most profound emotions common to the Lord’s people of every time and circumstance.  Some aspects of evangelicalism promote a view of the emotional life that I regard as unhealthy.  This point of view implies a denial of the normal sentiments all people experience.  For instance, much contemporary religious music gives the impression that the only valid Christian emotion is joy.  This modern musical expression, while legitimate, fails to give expression to the full range of human feelings.  The Psalms avoid that terrible error. 
  3. These matchless hymns are not theological essays.  Yes, they reflect sound theological understanding, but they defy precise theological analysis and structure.  In other words, we should not expect the kind of doctrinal precision that one finds, for example, in the epistles of the New Testament.  Therefore, I have often found it difficult to outline the contents of these Psalms.  The material centers on the struggles and triumphs of the heart, experiences that evoke deep, profound passions that one must express.  But, like the intense experiences of life, most people, in response, do not deliver a well-designed oration: rather, their passions erupt in lament or exaltation.  These responses do not emerge from the heart as carefully crafted sermons. They pour from the heart like lava from the mouth of a volcano.
  4. Perhaps it goes without saying, but please remember that these Psalms are hymns; songs of praise, repentance, lament, grief, fear, doubt, and joy.  Again, this feature of the Psalms make them very difficult to analyze and outline.  Frankly, I find this one of the most charming and delightful of the characteristics of these hymns.  The Bible is a remarkable collection of writings, not all of them alike in expression and content.  This glorious book provides one particular kind of insight into the religious life of the ancient Hebrews, an insight that proves invaluable to modern readers.


Our current study focuses on Psalm 119, an acrostic hymn (each stanza begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet).  This is the longest chapter in the Bible, and its epic proportions reflect the weighty message it contains.  The hymn centers on the word of God, expressed in a series of closely related words: law, testimonies, ways, precepts, statutes, commandments, judgments, word, counselors, way of truth.  Indeed, every verse, except verse 122, contains some synonym for the word of God.  But what did the psalmist mean by “the word of God”?  It appears that this poetry was written after the time of Ezra.  If so, much of the Old Testament had been completed and collected into an identifiable body of writings.  Certainly, the Jews recognized the Torah (Pentateuch) as divine revelation and perhaps this author saw the books of Moses as the source of his exaltation and comfort (thus the emphasis on the law). 


We can know this much about the historical setting of the hymn.  The author experienced a terrible trial, an experience that brought the poor man oppression (See vv.28, 50, 67, 83, 92, 95, 107, 134, 143, 153), derision (See vv. 22, 39, 42, 51, 78, 141), persecution (See vv. 53, 69, 84, 85, 86, 157, 161), and bondage (See vv.61, 110).  In his affliction, the author took great confidence and comfort in the word of God.


Lesson Outline:


      Stanza One (vv. 1-8)


I.       Salutation of Blessing (vv. 1-3) The noun “blessed” is used, the Old Testament more than forty times, and it describes a state of joyous happiness. This joy transcends the hardships of life, and it attends a heart submissive to the precepts of God. These verses describe the character of the blessed person.

A.    “the undefiled in the way” (v. 1a): “Undefiled” translates a word that means “unalloyed.”  Blessed people allow no distraction or division of the heart; that is, they remain fixed in determination to seek the mind of God.

B.     “who walk in the law of the Lord” (vv. 1b and 3): The life of the blessed people progress in obedience, moving toward holiness as the unchanging goal of life.  “Walk” reflects this progression.  Verse Three does not imply the sinlessness of perfection; rather, it notes the general direction and character of life. 

C.     “who keep his testimonies” (v. 2a): They regard God’s word as a precious gift that they must treasure, and they observe diligently what they treasure.  God’s precepts, to these believers, do not seem tedious or irksome.

D.    “who seek him with the whole heart” (v. 2b): Blessed ones allow no lethargy, sloth, or distraction to deter them from the pursuit of the Lord.


II.    The Humility of a Sinner (vv. 4-8)

A.    The Lord’s command (v. 4): Divine precepts do not condone half-hearted compliance.  Godly obedience calls for diligent obedience, a diligence that arises from the heart.  In both the Old and New Testaments, biblical obedience requires more than mere acquiescence to an external code of conduct.  I demands a loving obedience fueled by a heart infatuated with the beauty and glory of the Lord.

B.     The psalmist’s lament and hope (vv. 5-8): The author, aware of the blessedness of the undefiled man, nonetheless realized his own sinfulness.  His path, at times, had departed from the ways of the Lord, and he longed for a greater passion for God’s glory.  Moreover, he realized that he had much to learn (See v. 7). Above all, our writer understood that he had no hope if God abandoned him; so, he prayed earnestly that the God would not forsake him utterly.


III. The Aspirations of Godly Young Man (vv. 9-16): Having rehearsed his own failures, the psalmist asked a poignant question, “How shall a young man cleanse his way?”  During youthful years, the passions run high and wisdom has not yet been acquired; so, this young man sought understanding that would guide him through the perils of immaturity.  He knew the answer to his dilemma, taking heed to the word of God, and he pledged himself to these spiritual disciplines.”

A.    “Oh, let me not wander from your commandment” (v. 10): He threw himself on the mercy of the Lord so that grace might preserve him from the sin of apostasy. Following the Lord is more than carnal resolve to obey commandments.  It involves a heart dependent on the preserving mercies of Christ. 

B.     “Your word have I hidden in my heart” (v. 11): Matthew Poole wrote, “I have not contented myself with bare hearing or reading thy word. But have received it in the love of it, have diligently pondered it, and laid it up in mind and memory like a choice treasure, to be ready upon all occasions, to counsel, or comfort, or quicken, or caution me, as need requires; that by a diligent and affectionate consideration of thy precepts, and promises, and threatenings, I might be kept from sinful courses, against which these are my best antidotes.”

C.     “Teach me your statutes” (v. 12): We thank God for those mortal teachers who invest their lives and energies to advance our understanding of the things of God; however, there are some things only God can teach us, and this young psalmist understood that important principle.

D.    “With my lips I have declared all the judgments of your mouth (v. 13): As God taught him, the psalmist promised to teach others.

E.     “I have rejoiced in the way of your testimonies, as much as in all riches” (v. 14): God’s word brought this man great joy, a joy he deemed greater than the treasures of the world.

F.      “I will meditate on your precepts and contemplate your ways” (v. 15):  Meditate” translates a word that means “to groan” or “to moan.”  It denotes the almost inaudible sounds that may accompany deep reflection on the things of God, and it mitigates against cursory and frivolous consideration of holy things. 

C.     “I will delight myself in your statutes; I will not forget your word” (v. 16): Young men may delight themselves in many things: power, women, or popular approval. This particular young man, however, delighted himself in God’s statutes.  Please understand that this phrase does not merely reflect some kind of academic infatuation with an ancient text; instead, it reveals this man’s affection for the person of the Lord.  We do not worship God’s word.  We treasure it because the word reveals the one in whom we delight.