I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant;
For I do not forget thy commandments.
Imagine a silly sheep that somehow has gotten separated from the flock and has even, for the moment, escaped the shepherd’s watchful eye. Now this one sheep is alone and vulnerable to predators. Suddenly he realizes that something is wrong and begins to bleat pitifully. He has turned aside but still has the nature of a sheep, uneasy in isolation. He has a weak memory and little sense of direction, so all he can do is cry out and wait for the shepherd. He has become familiar with that warm voice and will follow him when it is heard once again, but that will very probably not prevent similar distresses in the future.
Let my soul live, and it shall praise thee;
And let thy judgments help me.
Without the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scripture we cannot possibly fulfill the holy end for which we were created in the first place, namely, to glorify God as his worshipers. A spiritually-minded man knows this and prays earnestly for the indispensable divine gifts, as the psalmist does in this verse.
I have longed for thy salvation, O LORD;
And thy law is my delight (Psa 119.174).
Biblically speaking, hope is not wishful thinking but the joyful and confident expectation of blessedness yet to be fully experienced. This hope has an intimate relationship to Holy Scripture. People without Scripture have no hope in the true sense. People with Scripture but without faith are also completely devoid of hope. Hope is essentially faith with respect to the future based on God’s verbal promises in Scripture, and so only believers possess it. The same Bible which promises future blessedness also awakens a desire and craving for that blessedness. Apart from Scripture’s revelation of God’s glorious plan for his beloved ones, we would have never dreamt of such things. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit” (1 Cor 2.9-10), and the Spirit reveals them by the
Let thine hand help me;
For I have chosen thy precepts (Psa 119.173).
A proper interpretation of even the simplest words of Scripture often requires an appreciation of its grand message of the law and the gospel. At every point the sinner devoid of the Spirit would wrest the sacred words from their biblical context and their divinely-intended sense to make use of them for the gratification of human pride. Such is the case with the verse before us now.
My tongue shall speak of thy word:
For all thy commandments are righteousness (Psa 119.172).
When was the last time you had a conversation with anyone, a real exchange of ideas with thoughtful reflection, upon any particular passage of Scripture? I am not asking when you last heard someone else present a Scripture text with an interpretation, but when you and a friend sat for more than one minute and turned a text over and over to examine it this way and that, and to help each other come to a better understanding of it, with its application to life.
My lips shall utter praise,
When thou hast taught me thy statutes (Psa 119.171).
Have you ever stopped to consider why God gave you lips? Seriously, our lips are great blessings to us and a stewardship from the Lord, for lips can do wonderful things. We can move our lips into different shapes to express our emotions non-verbally, with smiles and frowns, and by pursing them. Lips keep foods and liquids from falling out of our mouths when we eat and drink. It takes lips to spit, and lips to kiss. We recall with amusement a certain animated vegetable character exulting in this gift with the exclamation, “I love my lips!”1
Let my cry come near before thee, O LORD:
Give me understanding according to thy word.
Let my supplication come before thee:
Deliver me according to thy word (Psa 119.169-170).
This verse begins the last of 22 eight-verse sections in Psalm 119’s 176 verses, with the verses of each section all beginning with the same letter, the next in the Hebrew alphabet, here, “tau” or “taw.” Besides being stylistically elegant, this arrangement facilitated memorization and meditation upon the text. While an English translation loses the alliteration advantage, one could choose to memorize a good rhyming version like the Scottish Metrical Psalter (1650) which is extremely accurate, or the Trinity Psalter (1994, Crown and Covenant Publications), modern and also very good. These have the advantage of being set to music, and singing can be a great help to memorization. I say to my middle-aged and older friends, isn’t it amazing how you can still remember the lyrics of songs you heard on the radio forty or more years ago?
I have kept thy precepts and thy testimonies:
For all my ways are before thee (Psa 119.168).
The doctrine of God’s omniscience is a fundamental element of our orthodox Christian faith with the most practical implications for our godly Christian conduct. In the simplest way, David confesses his faith and shows its outworking in his life. This illustrates the truth that doctrine matters.
Speaking to the Lord, David says, “All my ways are before thee.” Here he uses anthropomorphic language, speaking of God as if he were a man. The original language has a literal sense like this, “All my ways are in your plain view, right in front of you.” Of course a human being has eyes in the front of his head, not the back, so that to say something is right in front of us amounts to saying we behold it and therefore have knowledge of it. If we say of someone, “She has eyes in the back of her head,” we mean that she has an uncanny awareness of what is happening around her even when she is not looking.
My soul hath kept thy testimonies;
And I love them exceedingly (Psa 119.167).
A defiant little four year old girl was only barely subdued by her father who ordered her to sit, threatening a spanking if she didn’t. “I may be sitting down on the outside,” she said, “but I am standing up on the inside!” Now that was not true obedience at all, though attended with outward conformity to the letter of the law. A wise parent would most likely spank her anyway for this plain violation of the Fifth Commandment, and tenderly urge her to contrition and repentance from her grievous sin.1
LORD, I have hoped for thy salvation,
And done thy commandments (Psa 119.166).
This is excellent summary of the godly life provides us rich matter for meditation.
First, we should rid ourselves of any notion that the godly life is a pinnacle reserved for the most mature Christians. Yes, some real Christians are far more godly than others, but they all live godly lives as a whole, and have turned definitively from their ungodly lives before conversion. Paul used the phrase, “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus,” as an apt label for true believers who are subject to persecution for that very reason, and contrasted these godly ones with “evil men and seducers” who “shall wax worse and worse” (2 Tim 3.12-13). Scripture always regards “the ungodly” as unbelievers under God’s wrath and doomed to perish except they repent (e.g., 2 Chron 19.2; Job 16.11; Psa 1.1, 4-6; 1 Tim 1.9; 1 Pet 4.18; 2 Pet 2.5), and “the godly” as those who are justified (2 Pet 2.9). The popular “life on the highest plane”1 theology is unscriptural and positively discouraging to sincere believers who remain painfully aware of their remaining sin, because this imaginary pinnacle always proves so elusive in their experience, and they are honest enough to admit it.