The precious Word of God. Psalm 119.105-112
Psalm 119 is the giant among the
Psalms. It has 176 verses.
It is also the longest chapter in the Bible.
It is very personal. It doesn’t claim to be a Psalm of David, but the Psalmist gives praise to God for his word
v118: ‘Accept my offerings of praise, O Lord, and teach me your ordinances’
It has a unique structure. It is divided into 22 sections, and every verse in each section begins with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
Today, we are looking at verses 105-112, and each verse here begins with the Hebrew letter nun
1. The Psalmist speaks of his delight in the Word of God
v105: ‘Your word is lamp to my feet and a light to my path’.
What is he saying?
When he speaks of the Word of God, he is speaking primarily of what we know as the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.
The Jews know these books as Torah, God’s law
For many the idea of law is negative, restrictive.
But for the psalmist the law is glorious, liberating and life giving
He realised it was given in love, for the benefit of those to whom it was given, that it was good - a precious gift.
It enabled individuals to flourish together, a society to flourish.
It offers us the way of wisdom
But more than that, he realised that the law was a token from God, given to his people, of his love and presence.
Notice, for example, how the ten commandments begin. Not with a ‘thou shalt’ or ‘thou shalt not’, but with a story, a statement, about God’s love and choice: ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of slavery … you shall have no other god than me’.
[But the word of which the Psalmist delights in is more than just law.
The first five books of the Bible also tell us a story of God’s:
Choice, election – how Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, were called to be the fathers and mothers of his chosen people. It was not an obvious choice. Abraham was a nobody, a nomadic traveller. Isaac and Jacob both had older brothers who would have been the more natural choice. But God says that this people would be his people and he would be their God
Ways – how God works through weak and foolish people, through a slave people, who make many mistakes, who doubt God (on one occasion Sarah, the mother of God’s people, laughs at God’s promise), but the word shows how God can work through people who are prepared to trust him.
Judgements – his judgements on Egypt for enslaving his people, and his judgements on his own people when they rebelled against him, grumbled against him and did not trust him.
Provision and mercy – how he provided them with a leader, Moses, and brought them out of slavery; how he gave them water from a rock, and food in the form of miraculous manna and quail; and in the end he provided them with a land, a home.
Promise - that he would bring them into a promised land and that, if they remained faithful to him, he would bless them and that he would bless all people through them. And God promises that one day a person will come who will speak his words and establish his kingdom.]
And the Psalmist delights in this word of God: He uses many different words to describe this word. In these verses alone he speaks of God’s word, ordinances, law, precepts, decrees and statutes.
And for Christians, we have an added reason for delighting in the Word of God.
Not only are they, correctly understood, still good guidelines for a well-functioning society
Not only do they offer us the way of wisdom
But we believe that Jesus Christ is the one who is spoken of, promised in the Torah; that he is the one embodies the words of the whole Old Testament (if we want to know how the Old Testament should be lived in the right way, we look at how Jesus lived); and it is Jesus who not only speaks the words of God but who is the embodiment of the Word of God.
So when we say that God’s word is our lamp and our light, we are saying that the word of God shows us, especially when we are confused or lost or in the dark place, the right way to live.
It does not usually tell us the specific day to day decisions we have to make (we need to grow up and take responsibility for ourselves), but it does show us the sort of people we are called to be and how we can become those people.
It does not tell us, for instance, what job we should do, but it tells us how we should do our job.
It does not tell us specifically whether we should marry or who we should marry (although certain principles are laid down), but it does tell us how to be someone who lives a godly fruitful single life, or how to be a godly husband or wife.
It does not tell us where we should live, but it does tell us how we should live.
And through his word God gives us his warnings, and encouragements and his promises: of his constant forgiveness, his presence with us, his transforming power at work changing us, of his strength in our weakness, and of the wonderful hope that he gives us.
When we say that God’s word is our lamp and our light, we are saying that Jesus is our lamp and our light.
He is the one who said, ‘I am the light of the world’.
And when we say with the Psalmist in v111: “Your decrees are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart”, we are not just saying that the Old Testament promises of God are our hope, but that the person of Jesus is our hope.
2. The Psalmist also declares his commitment to the Word of God
v106: “I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to observe your righteous ordinances.”
And he pledges that even though he is severely afflicted, his ‘life is in his hand’ (v109) - that is a way of saying that his life is at risk - and even though his enemies are out to trap him (v110) - he will stick with God’s word, he will not forget God’s word and he will keep God’s word.
Some of us will have pledged allegiance to a flag, or we have vowed on a bible to tell the truth, or we have made commitments to the person we have married, but usually vows are something that we shy away from.
That is understandable, because we know how often, when we vow something, we cannot keep our good intentions, and we let ourselves and let others down.
Think of Peter, one of the first followers of Jesus. He swears to Jesus that he will never let him down, and then – only 24 hours later – he is denying that he knows Jesus to a slave girl.
But this Psalm shows that is OK, and more than OK – it is right to make a vow or commitment to God: not because we can keep it, but because God can keep us.
Preachers sometimes invite people to make what is called ‘a decision for Christ’, to choose to receive his love, and pledge that, with his help, we will follow him for the rest of our lives.
That can be helpful for some because they need to be brought to that point of decision.
Others need to go away and seriously work out whether this is something that they are prepared to do, and not be persuaded by the emotion of the moment.
I read of one man, Michael Harper, who has subsequently become an Orthodox Priest, who at Oxford went away after one such meeting, sat down with a piece of paper, listed the fors and against of following Christ, and made a decision to follow him.
The Anglican Church, of course, is more measured(!) but we still call people to make a declaration of commitment.
The Baptism and confirmation service includes a commission.
The minister asks the newly baptised or confirmed:
Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin,
repent and return to the Lord?
Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?
There are two other
And we are invited to say after each, ‘with the help of God we will’
We are not asking anyone to make a declaration out of arrogance or pride, thinking that they can do it in their strength. Rather we are asking people who have become aware both of the love of God, of their own weakness, and of the new life that God has given us, to declare that they are prepared to trust God and his word, and to commit themselves – with his help - to doing what he says for the rest of their lives.
v112: “I incline my heart (or we would say, ‘set my will’) to perform your statutes forever (notice that second ‘forever’), to the end.”
3. The Psalmist prays: that God will teach him his word and give him life according to his word.
v108 again: “Accept my offerings of praise, O Lord, and teach me your ordinances”.
That is a prayer that we can pray.
Teach me your word – help me to read the bible and to rightly understand it and apply it.
Help me to understand your laws and your ways, not that I might stand over them and judge them, but that I might humble myself before them and do them.
And the Psalmist asks God to give him life (v107) – because he is afflicted, crushed, because feels like one who is sentenced to death, who is already dead.
Sometimes it is hard to pray the Psalms because we are not in the same situation as the Psalmist, or it seems that the Psalmist is asking for things that we find difficult to ask.
But Psalm 119 is one of those Psalms that we can pray, and the closer we walk with God – or perhaps more truly, the closer we want to walk with God - the more we can pray it.
I do pray that you have discovered this:
That you are praying that God in his mercy will teach you his word and give you life – not just a better physical life, but real life, eternal life.
That you have made that commitment to follow Jesus and his word – and that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, you will stick with it even when it gets tough
And that God’s word, that Jesus Christ, is a lamp to your feet and light to your path; that it is, that he is, your heritage, your hope and your future.