Why Should I Trust the Bible?

 

Week of February 9, 2014

 

Bible Verses:  Psalm 119:1-8, 137-144.

 

The Point:  The only safe place to build your life is on God’s Word.

 

God’s Word Is Righteous:  Psalm 119:137-144.

 

[137]  Righteous are you, O LORD, and right are your rules. [138]  You have appointed your testimonies in righteousness and in all faithfulness. [139]  My zeal consumes me, because my foes forget your words. [140]  Your promise is well tried, and your servant loves it. [141]  I am small and despised, yet I do not forget your precepts. [142]  Your righteousness is righteous forever, and your law is true. [143]  Trouble and anguish have found me out, but your commandments are my delight. [144]  Your testimonies are righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live.  [ESV]

 

“The theme of this stanza of Psalm 119 is righteousness, doubtless because the Hebrew word for “righteous” begins with the letter starting each verse in this section and was the obvious word to begin with. It is found in verses 137, 138, 142, and 144. The fifth reason why the psalmist knew that God’s words are wonderful is because they are altogether righteous. (Note that the first four reasons why God’s words are wonderful are found in the previous stanza, verses 129-136. (1) Because they give understanding [130-131]; (2) Because we find mercy in them [132]; (3) Because they give direction for life [133-134]; and (4) Because God is in them [135]).” [Boice, pp. 1044-1045].

 

[137] “Here the psalmist uses the sacred name, Lord (Yahweh), in worship. He praises God by ascribing to Him perfect righteousness. God is always right, and He is always actively righteous. This quality is bound up in our very idea of God. We cannot imagine an unrighteous God. Here God’s righteousness refers to the infinite rectitude and perfection of His nature. There is nothing wanting, nothing amiss, in God; His will is the eternal rule of equity, and everything He does is in agreement with His righteous character. He rules the world by His providence, according to the principles of justice. Every word of God is pure, and He will be true to it. He perfectly knows the merits of every cause and will judge accordingly. [138]  All His testimonies which He has appointed are righteous and very faithful. All that God has testified in His word is right and truthful. It is righteous, and may be relied upon for the present; it is faithful, and may be trusted in for the future. About every portion of the inspired testimonies there is a divine authority. They are issued and published by God’s command, and they bear the impress of the royal style which carries omnipotence about it. Not only the precepts but the promises also are commanded of the Lord, and so are all the teachings of Scripture. It is not left to our choice whether we will accept them or not. They are issued by royal command, and are not to be questioned. Their characteristic is that they are like the Lord who has proclaimed them, they are the essence of justice and the soul of truth. God’s word is righteous and cannot be impeached; it is faithful and cannot be questioned. It is true from the beginning, and it will be true unto the end. Meditate upon the words all faithfulness. What a mercy that we have a God to deal with who is scrupulously faithful, true to all the items and details of His promises, punctual to time, steadfast during all time. Well may we risk all of life upon a word that is forever faithful, forever true. [139]  In the previous two verses David spoke concerning his God and His law; here he speaks of himself concerning his zeal for God and His Word. David’s zeal consumes him because my foes forget your words. This zeal was no doubt occasioned by his having so clear a sense of the admirable character of God’s Word. His zeal was like a fire burning within his soul. The sight of man’s forgetfulness of God acted as a fierce blast to excite the fire to a more vehement flame, and it blazed until it was ready to consume him. David could not bear that men should forget God’s words. The ungodly were David’s enemies: his enemies because they hated him for his godliness; his enemies because he abhorred them for their ungodliness. These men had gone so far in iniquity that they not only violated and neglected the commands of God, but they appeared actually to have forgotten them. This incited David’s passion; he burned with indignation. How dare they trample on sacred things. How could they utterly ignore the commands of God Himself. He was astonished and filled with holy anger. [140]  God’s Word is very pure. It is truth distilled, holiness in its quintessence. In the Word of God there is no admixture of error or sin. It is pure in its sense, pure in its language, pure in its spirit, pure in its influence, and all this to the very highest degree. Your servant loves it indicates that the psalmist is pure in heart, for only those who are pure love God’s word because of its purity. His heart was knit to the word because of its glorious holiness and truth. He admired it, delighted in it, sought to practice it, and longed to come under its purifying power. [141]  The charge of forgetfulness which he condemned in others [139] could not be charged to himself. His enemies made no account of him, regarded him as a man without power or ability, and therefore looked down upon him. He appears to accept the situation and humbly takes the lowest room, but he carries God’s Word with him. How many a man has been driven to do some ill action in order to reply to the contempt of his enemies: to make himself conspicuous he has either spoken or acted in a manner which he could not justify. The beauty of the psalmist’s piety was that it was calm and well balanced, and as he was not carried away by flattery, so was he not overcome by shame. If small, he the more jealously attended to the smaller duties; and if despised, he was the more in earnest to keep the despised commandments of God. [142]  Having in a previous verse [137] ascribed righteousness to God, the psalmist now goes on to declare that that righteousness is unchanging and endures from age to age. This is the joy and glory of the saints, that what God is He always will be, and His mode of procedure towards the sons of men is immutable: having kept His promise, and dealt out justice among His people, He will do so world without end. Both the righteousness and the unrighteousness of men come to an end, but the righteousness of God is without end. As God is love, so His law is the truth, the very essence of truth: truth applied to ethics, truth in action, truth upon the judgment seat. We hear great disputes about “What is truth?”. The holy Scriptures are the only answer to that question. Note that His law is not only true, but truth itself. We may not say of them that they contain the truth, but that they are the truth. There is nothing false about the law of God. Those who are obedient thereto shall find that they are walking in a way consistent with fact, while those who act contrary thereto are walking in a vain show. [143]  Trouble and anguish have taken hold of the psalmist. This affliction may have arisen from his circumstances, or from the cruelty of his enemies, or from his own internal conflicts, but certain it is that he was the subject of much distress, a distress which apprehended him, and carried him away a captive to its power. His griefs, like fierce dogs, had taken hold upon him; he felt their teeth. He had double trouble: trouble without and anguish within. [144]  First David said that God’s testimonies were righteous, then that they were everlasting, and now that their righteousness is everlasting. Thus he gives us a larger and more detailed account of the word of God the longer he is engaged in writing upon it. The more we say in praise of holy writ, the more we may say and the more we can say. God’s testimonies to man cannot be assailed, they are righteous from beginning to end; and though ungodly men have opposed the divine justice, especially in the plan of salvation, they have always failed to establish any charge against the Most High. Long as the earth shall stand, long as there shall be a single intelligent creature in the universe, it will be confessed that God’s plans of mercy are in all respects marvelous proofs of His love of justice.” [Spurgeon, pp. 660-662].

 

Sufficiency of God’s Word:  Psalm 119:1-8.

 

[1]  Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD! [2]  Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, [3]  who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways! [4]  You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently. [5]  Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! [6]  Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments. [7]  I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules. [8]  I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me!

 

Introduction. “The longest psalm in the Psalter, Psalm 119, is well known for its teaching on God’s law. Yet the beauty of this psalm lies not only in the recitation of devotion to the law but also in the psalmist’s absolute devotion to the Lord. The psalmist knows firsthand the oppression of evil. He has been surrounded by wickedness, pursued by the arrogant and proud, and humbled by sorrow and disgrace; yet his refuge is in God. He constantly cries out to God, retreats into His shadow, and finds solace in His strength. This is a psalm not only of law but also of life, not only of statute but also of spiritual strength, not only of devotion to precept but also of loyalty to the way of the Lord. The beauty in this psalm resounds from the relationship of the psalmist and his God. Psalm 119 is an alphabetic, acrostic psalm consisting of twenty-two stanzas of eight verses each. The first Hebrew word of each stanza begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which consists of twenty-two letters. The psalmist uses eight words for God’s law. (1) Law occurs twenty-five times. The word law has both a broad and a narrow meaning. In the broad sense it refers to any instruction flowing from the revelation of God as the basis for life and action. In the narrow sense it denotes the Torah of Moses, whether the Pentateuch, the priestly law, or the Deuteronomic law. The former meaning is often supposed in the Wisdom writings but also in Deuteronomy and the prophets. God Himself is the source of that revelation, and His instruction comes through His various servants. (2) Word occurs twenty-four times. Any word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord is word, whether it pertains to the Decalogue, the law of Moses, or the word revealed through the prophets. It is a most general designation for divine revelation, whether of expectation or promise. (3) Laws (or “righteous rules”) occurs twenty-three times. The laws denote cases or legal decisions pertaining to particular legal issues. The laws of God are those case laws that form the basis of Israel’s legal system. In Psalm 119 the word “laws” often denotes the revelation given by the supreme Judge, God Himself. He is the Great Judge, and the verdicts rendered by Him are authoritative and liberating. (4) Statutes (or “testimony”) occurs twenty-three times, only once in the singular. The Hebrew word is derived from the word meaning “witness, testify,” and is used idiomatically in the two tablets of the testimony [Ex. 31:18] and the ark of the testimony [Ex. 25:22]. The tablets and the ark were symbols of the covenantal relationship; hence “testimony” is often synonymous with covenant. The observance of the “statutes” of the Lord signifies a loyalty to the terms of the covenant made between the Lord and Israel [see Ps. 99:7]. (5) Command occurs twenty-two times. The word “command” is a frequent designation for anything that the Lord, the covenantal God, has ordered. It is a synonym of “law” as well as of “decrees” and “laws.” (6) Decrees occurs twenty-one times. The noun is derived from the Hebrew root word for “engrave” or “inscribe.” God, being the Author of His decrees, reveals His royal sovereignty by establishing His divine will in nature and in the covenantal community. (7) Precepts occurs twenty-one times. The word occurs only in the book of Psalms and appears to be synonymous with covenant [103:18] and with the revelation of God [111:7]. Precepts has a similar significance as “command” in that both connote authority to determine the relationship between the speaker and the object. The Lord commanded precepts, and the response of the psalmist is that of “keeping” [63,134], “loving” [159], “choosing” [173], “longing for” [40], “seeking” [45,94], “meditating on” [15,78], and “gaining understanding” [104] from the precepts of the Lord so as never to forget [93,141], forsake [87], or stray from [110] them. Essentially, the God who orders human beings to respond to His revelation expects an appropriate response of submission and loyalty to and love of His commands. (8) Word or promise occurs nineteen times. God’s word or promise may denote anything God has spoken, commanded, or promised [see 140].” [VanGemeren, pp. 858-860].

 

[1-8]  “Psalm 119 begins like Psalm 1 by pronouncing a blessing on the one who forms his or her life according to the Word of God. Many writers acknowledge that to be happy is a universal goal of men and women. The only people who do not want to be happy are abnormal. Apart from being instructed by God, human beings do not know how to achieve happiness. They think they will be happy if they can earn enough money, be respected by those with whom they work, acquire enough power to do whatever they like or to be free from all restraints, or discover someone who will love them without conditions. But these pursuits do not ensure happiness, and sin always warps and destroys even the best achievements. How can a person find happiness? The Bible tells us that the path to a happy life – the Bible’s word for it is blessed – is conforming to the law of God. Generally when the Bible speaks of the law (Torah) of God, it is referring to the whole of God’s spoken and written revelation, containing all the various elements that the other words for law in this psalm suggest. The blessedness that the opening verses speak of is for those who walk according to God’s Law and keep His statutes. In other words, from the beginning we are to understand that this keeping of the law is a practical matter, a way of life and not merely a course of academic study. On the other hand, it is also clear that we cannot live by the Bible unless we know it well. As Psalm 1:2 says, it must be our meditation day and night. If we are to meditate on the Bible day and night, we must have at least some of it committed to memory. Sometimes when we read the Bible we get the idea that its characters were special people very unlike ourselves. We are only beginning our study of this psalm, but already we are reading about those happy people who are so because they live blamelessly according to the Law of the Lord, keep His statues, and seek Him with their whole heart. The psalmist must be one of these very blessed people, we think, otherwise he would not be writing as he does. However, we do not get very far into the psalm before we discover that he is very much like ourselves, at least in the respect that he has not yet gotten to be like the happy, blessed ones he is describing. He wants to be, but he is not yet. Therefore, he cries. Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statues! There is something that rings true and is commendably honest about this heartfelt cry of the psalmist. He is a very godly man, but he is acutely aware of how ungodly he still is. Honesty is not the whole story. The psalmist is like us in that he has not yet attained the obedience for which he yearns. He admits this openly. But it is possible to admit many things honestly and never go beyond the honesty, never making any progress toward a better or more obedient way of life. By contrast, the psalmist does want to make progress. So the question for us is: “Are we like him in his desire to seek God, know the Bible, and actually obey God’s commands?” How determined was he? Verse 8 shows us his determined resolution: I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me! This verse is a strong resolution, a sincere confession, and an urgent plea. What the psalmist is asking is for God to stick by him in his determination to live according to God’s Law. This first stanza has moved from statements about the Bible as a source of blessing for all persons to a very personal resolution. If the psalm is to be helpful to us, it must become personal in our lives too.” [Boice, pp. 970-975].

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.         What are the five reasons why God’s Word is wonderful?

 

2.         Why was the psalmist consumed by zeal for God’s Word? We live in a world where God’s Word is increasingly misinterpreted and neglected. Pray that God will give you a zeal for His Word like He gave the psalmist.

 

3.         What does 119:137-144 teach us about God’s Word?

 

4.         What are the eight words the psalmist uses to describe God’s Word? What do we learn concerning the nature of God’s Word from these eight terms?

 

5.         How does 119:1-8 answer the question: “How can a person find happiness?”.

 

6.         Make 119:5 your prayer this week.

 

References:

Psalms, volume 3, James Boice, Baker.

Psalms, volume 3, John Goldingay, Baker.

Psalms, William VanGemeren, EBC, Zondervan.

Parallel Classic Commentary on the Psalms, Spurgeon, Calvin, Henry, AMG Publishers.