Psalm 119:17-32 – Examine the Wonders of God’s Instructions

Psalm 119:17-24, Common English Bible

ג Gimel

Be good to your servant while I live,
    that I may obey your word.
Open my eyes that I may see
    wonderful things in your law.
I am a stranger on earth;
    do not hide your commands from me.
My soul is consumed with longing
    for your laws at all times.
You rebuke the arrogant, who are accursed,
    those who stray from your commands.
Remove from me their scorn and contempt,
    for I keep your statutes.
Though rulers sit together and slander me,
    your servant will meditate on your decrees.
Your statutes are my delight;
    they are my counselors.

ד Daleth

I am laid low in the dust;
    preserve my life according to your word.
I gave an account of my ways and you answered me;
    teach me your decrees.
Cause me to understand the way of your precepts,
    that I may meditate on your wonderful deeds.
My soul is weary with sorrow;
    strengthen me according to your word.
Keep me from deceitful ways;
    be gracious to me and teach me your law.
I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
    I have set my heart on your laws.
I hold fast to your statutes, Lord;
    do not let me be put to shame.
I run in the path of your commands,
    for you have broadened my understanding. (New International Version)

The biblical psalms are one of my favorite places in the whole of Holy Scripture. I especially like Psalm 119 because it reminds me that I am not only saved from something, but I am also saved to something.

Genuine and real deliverance comes so that we can be free to love and serve God with our whole being. And Psalm 119 is there to help us know how to do just that.

Psalm 119 stretches for 176 verses as an acrostic to the Hebrew alphabet. Each Hebrew letter has its own 8 verse stanza, with each of those verses beginning with that letter. Unfortunately, of course, we lose this insight through translation.

One of the reasons the psalm was organized this way is because it was meant to be learned and memorized. In fact, the entire psalter was meant for public consumption – to be engrafted into the soul and hidden in the heart.

The wonders of Psalm 119 are, overall, a paeon of reverence and praise of God’s law. That’s because the Lord’s commands and instructions are an extension of the divine character. Laws of mercy and holiness are given to the people because God is merciful and holy.

Grace and law are not antithetical. They go together like a hand in a glove and rely upon each other. The hand of grace is what fills the glove of the law, and together, they extend divine help and direction to people in this fallen world of ours.

The heartfelt prayer of the psalmist is that the Lord would open his eyes so that he could see the wonders contained within God’s divine instructions for humanity.

“Open my eyes so I can truly see
the marvelous things in your law.”

Psalm 119:18, NET

This is a prayer for us, as well. Those who desire to please the Lord and walk in the way of God are continually seeking awareness of the divine all around them, insight into others, and understanding of self.

It is one thing to read the Bible, but it’s another thing altogether to understand it. The psalmist is asking for God to intervene on his behalf and remove anything and everything that would inhibit his ability to understand and discern God’s words and actions.

Insight, understanding, and application to life comes from dwelling in the Word. It is a process. A daily crumb will neither do to satiate our physical hunger nor our spiritual appetite.

Going days, even weeks, without ingesting God’s instructions will only lead to spiritual emaciation. It harms us and helps no one. Instead, we need to feed on Holy Scripture and savor every bite. Like the cow, we need to slowly chew and ruminate on Scripture so that it can be fully digested and become part of us.

I have memorized large chunks of the Bible over the years. The main reason my memory can call up so much Scripture is that I have read it, and continue to read it, over and over again. Even though I’ve read the Old Testament about one-hundred times and the New Testament in the neighborhood of three-hundred times, I still gain insight and understanding, seeing new and wondrous things.

I truly believe the Bible is an inexhaustible source of sage instruction and a continual fountain of wisdom. I’ll spend an eternity in heaven examining God’s Word and will never reach the height, depth, length, and breadth of it’s incredible, massive, and glorious precepts.

I am a strong advocate of straightforward readings of Scripture, over and over again. Although I encourage looking at devotionals, commentaries, and reflections (like this blog!) to help and encourage us, nothing can replace our constant and continual reading of the Bible.

The biblical Book of Psalms is the Church’s prayerbook. All 150 of them are meant to be used for every sort of life circumstance. Whether discouraged or anxious, joyful or confident, the psalms encompass the full range of the human condition – and Psalm 119 lets us know how central God’s instructions are to the life of God’s people.

So, read today’s psalm… several times. Let Scripture do it’s marvelous and wondrous work within you.

Blessed Lord, you caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning. Help us so to wisely hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them so that by our patient reading of your holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.

Psalm 67 – Make Your Face Shine Upon Us

May God be gracious to us and bless us
    and make his face to shine upon us,
that your way may be known upon earth,
    your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
    let all the peoples praise you.

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
    for you judge the peoples with equity
    and guide the nations upon earth.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
    let all the peoples praise you.

The earth has yielded its increase;
    God, our God, has blessed us.
May God continue to bless us;
    let all the ends of the earth revere him. (New Revised Standard Version)

One of the many reasons I like using the Revised Common Lectionary daily readings is that a psalm is read every day.

This is important because, slowly and over time, the reader moves to becoming a worshiper and a faithful person of prayer. What’s more, the psalms help us become familiar with the human range of emotion, various life situations, and sound theology. 

In an era when so many believers are “too busy” for basic Bible reading, daily prayer, and connection with God, this creates a dearth of sage spiritual direction from others. The “advice” which many well-meaning Christians give to each other is many times nothing more than microwaved leftovers of common foolishness in the guise of wisdom.

We’re devouring the innards of roadkill when we could be eating a choice meal of select and juicy psalms.

The psalms are the Church’s prayer book. We need the biblical psalter, just as much as we need the air we breathe. We also live in a time in which many people can access Holy Scripture (for free) via their smart phones, tablets, and computers. One can even add the voice function so that the believer can pray along with particular psalms.

An advantage to becoming conversant in the psalms is the ability to use them for all kinds of situations. Today’s psalm meets a particular need for prayer: How ought to politics and religion meet in our prayers to God?

In the USA, just say the word “politics” and many people get a visceral response before there is even a discussion about it. Feelings and opinions run high. Negativity is rampant. Mudslinging and name-calling are rife.

Psalm 67 offers a different path. It is the way of blessing the nations, the nation’s blessing God, and all of us together as a community of God’s people inviting God to work divine grace among us. 

The prayers to be offered are for the nations of this earth to know the Lord and bless God as Savior and Sovereign; for the Lord’s true identity and character to be revealed as Shepherd and Supreme to all; and for God’s people to be blessed so that the Lord will be revealed as the salvation of the nations.

Rather than become mucked in worry or despair over present circumstances and the unknown future, the psalmist orients our minds, hearts, and voices toward the sovereign God.

The psalms are meant to be used – repeatedly. One cannot overuse them. So, give this a try: Today set your phone, watch, or other device to alarm at two or three hour intervals. Whatever you are doing (if you are able) stop and pray Psalm 67. It will take less than a minute.

Let the positive approach to blessing others and seeing God’s control shape how you go about the rest of your day. Who knows? Maybe the psalter will eventually alter how you view the world, as well as yourself.

Lord, the light of your love is shining
In the midst of the darkness, shining
Jesus, Light of the world, shine upon us
Set us free by the truth you now bring us

Shine on me, shine on me

Shine, Jesus, shine
Fill this land with the Father’s glory
Blaze, Spirit, blaze
Set our hearts on fire
Flow, river, flow
Flood the nations with grace and mercy
Send forth your word
Lord, and let there be light

Lord, I come to your awesome presence
From the shadows into your radiance
By the blood I may enter your brightness
Search me, try me, consume all my darkness
Shine on me, shine on me

Shine, Jesus, shine
Fill this land with the Father’s glory
Blaze, Spirit, blaze
Set our hearts on fire
Flow, river, flow
Flood the nations with grace and mercy
Send forth your word
Lord, and let there be light

As we gaze on your kingly brightness
So our faces display your likeness
Ever changing from glory to glory
Mirrored here may our lives tell your story
Shine on me, shine on me

Shine, Jesus, shine
Fill this land with the Father’s glory
Blaze, Spirit, blaze
Set our hearts on fire
Flow, river, flow
Flood the nations with grace and mercy
Send forth your word
Lord, and let there be

Send forth
Send forth your word
Lord, and let there be
Send forth your word
Send forth your word
Lord, and let there be light – Graham Kendrick

Leviticus 19:9-18 – Be a Good Neighbor

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.

Do not steal.

Do not lie.

Do not deceive one another.

Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.

Do not defraud or rob your neighbor.

Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.

Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind but fear your God. I am the Lord.

Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great but judge your neighbor fairly.

Do not go about spreading slander among your people.

Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord.

Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. (New International Version)

All of these Old Testaments commands to the ancient Israelites are a development and expansion upon the basic core Ten Commands or Words given by God to Moses.

Those core commands are based in the character of God. That same character is to be the normal daily lived experience of God’s people.

The Levitical instructions are a fleshing-out of God’s basic commands for a specific people in their particular social, economic, and historical situation.

Although we need not, as modern folk, strictly observe the commands, as they are culturally constructed, we very much need to fulfill the ethics and morality which are behind the specific instructions.

Today’s Old Testament lesson has to do with being a good neighbor – a person who conscientiously lives in community with others and pays attention to the collective needs and wants of everyone. It is to live into God’s overarching ethic for the common good of all persons.

A commitment to community life needs good neighbors. They are characterized by the following virtues:

Sacrifice

Israel was chiefly an agrarian society. So, when the season of harvest came, the workers gleaning the fields were to only go over it once. That way, the poor and less fortunate could come behind and pick up what the workers missed or dropped.

Any landowner who instructed the workers to keep working until they got every scrap of grain or fruit was being cruel to the poor. Merciful and generous owners would, conversely, instruct the workers to leave a bit behind and not get everything.

Since God sacrifices on behalf of humanity, so we, too, are to make sacrifices which benefit the common good of all persons in the community.

Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. (Ephesians 5:2, NLT)

A sacrificial spirit, not a self-indulgent one, is what God is looking for in a good neighbor.

Honesty

Cheating, lying, stealing, and deceit have absolutely no place in the kingdom of God. Instead, honest dealings with others, always being above board in all matters, is of upmost importance to God.

Witnesses in court are expected to speak the truth without falsehood. Business dealings are to have accurate weights and measures. Integrity and trustworthiness are the building blocks of any good society.

Since God is truth, so we, too, are to live into truth through being honest in all we say and do.

Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent. (Exodus 23:7-8, NIV)

An honest spirit, not a thieving one, is what God is looking for in a good neighbor.

Fairness

In the ancient world, and still in many parts of the world today, workers were paid at the end of the day for their day’s work. Bosses who withheld expected wages till the next day were quite literally depriving a family of their supper.

For those who are not able to do a solid day’s work, such as the blind and the handicapped, it’s bad enough to simply ignore them, because God is attentive to their plight. That situation is exacerbated exponentially, whenever someone or a group of people, decide to make such persons’ lives even harder than they already are.

Since God is fair in all dealings, so we, too, are to extend fairness to all without any prejudice or favoritism.

The Lord watches to see if we are fair or if we cheat others. (Proverbs 16:11, CEV)

A fair spirit, not an exploitive one, is what God is looking for in a good neighbor.

Justice

Unequal treatment is about as far from God as one can get. Being concerned only about those with similar political views, economic interests, or spiritual inclinations is a gross practice of injustice. It denies the ethic of the common good of all in favor of the common good of some.

Since God is just in all things, so we, too, are to uphold biblical justice for our fellow humanity, no matter who they are or where they come from.

Never deprive foreigners and orphans of justice. And never take widows’ clothes to guarantee a loan. (Deuteronomy 24:17, GW)

A spirit of justice, not injustice, is what God is looking for in a good neighbor.

Love

Hate is the inevitable result of holding onto anger through nursing a grudge and holding onto bitterness. It fails to speak up and speak out.

Love, however, assertively addresses anger and seeks to make things right in a calm and concerned way. Love attacks problems, not people.

Since God is love, so we, too are to love one another.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. (1 John 4:7, NIV)

Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good. (Romans 12:21, MSG)

A spirit of love, not a hateful vengeful one, is what God is looking for in a good neighbor.

A good neighbor is one who seeks the common good of all persons because God is good, all the time, and always does what is right, just, and fair.

Gracious God and Father, in a world of fear and suspicion, teach us that love is the only means to conquer fear.

Loving Lord Jesus, Son of God, in a world full of anger and frustration, teach to overturn the tables and tear down the fences which turn away the hungry and homeless; and to practice hospitality without prejudice.

Blessed Holy Spirit of God, in a world of indifference and ignorance, teach us wisdom, to be caring of one another, and to protect one another.

Blessed Holy Trinity, the God whom we serve, help us to know the peace that steals gently in through quiet acts of kindness, just as peace is always within you as one God, now and forever. Amen.

Psalm 51:1-12 – Sin, Sinners, and God

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
    and blameless when you pass judgment.
Indeed, I was born guilty,
    a sinner when my mother conceived me.

You desire truth in the inward being
    therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
    and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in me a willing spirit.
(New Revised Standard Version)

Sin. The word is rarely used anymore in places outside of churches. And when it is used within the church, sometimes it is grossly misrepresented, as if humanity’s identity is sin.

Although everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, our inherent personhood is not sinful. Every human is made in the image and likeness of God. Sin is like a permanent putrid abscess which never seems to go away.

Sin is everywhere – in our hearts, in our world, in our institutions, and in our families. It is on television, the internet, social media, and moves in and out of smartphones. Sin, apparently, is even in our desserts (oh, the decadence of chocolate!). If it takes one to know one, we are all experts on being sinners.

From a biblical vantage, sin is serious business. It is both the things we do (1 John 3:4), as well as the things we leave undone (James 4:17). Sin is both the breaking of God’s commands, and the lack of conforming to the teachings of Jesus.

Christians throughout the ages have generally understood that the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) and Christ’s law of love (Luke 10:27) constitute a brief summary of God’s holy and moral instruction for humanity.  This is all based in the character of God as both holy and loving. 

Sin, then, might be defined as anything present within a person which does not express, or is contrary to, the basic character of God.

All sin, whether in actions or inactions, has at its root an attitude and activity of self-centeredness. It is a selfish bent of thinking, feeling, and acting. And, oh my, the consequences!

Sinful attitudes bring about an obsession with lust (1 John 8:34; Galatians 5:16); a broken relationship with God (Romans 3:23; Galatians 5:17); bondage to Satan (1 Timothy 3:6-7; 2 Timothy 2:26); death (Romans 6:23; 8:6); hardening of the heart (Hebrews 3:13); and deception (1 Corinthians 3:18; James 1:22, 26) just to a name a few.

Sin lurks in the shadows of the heart, drips from the tongue of the wicked, and lingers in the actions of the selfish and proud. Sin is not something to trifle with, dabble in, or even manage. No, sin, at its core, is a rebellion against God, a stiff-arm to the Lord that claims we know better than God about how to run our lives. 

Sin will eventually break us.  It may initially look good and meet a quick emotional need, but in the end it is like a poisonous snake bite that will kill unless treated.

People are guilty of transgressing basic morality, as well as failing to be ethically virtuous people on any on-going consistent basis. 

Well, that sounds like a total Debbie-Downer. Actually, it’s total depravity. Being depraved people does not mean we are never capable of doing good; it just means that sin has profoundly touched everything in our lives, without exception.

God is faithful and reliable. If we confess our sins, he forgives them and cleanses us from everything we’ve done wrong.

1 John 1:9, GW

When we come to the realization that we are in dire straits, then it is high time we blurt out a prayer of confession along with David. The book of Psalms is the Christian’s prayer book, and there is no better prayer to pray when we come to the end of ourselves than the psalmist’s plea for mercy, based in the steadfast love of God.

The ironic paradox of all this is that experiencing true joy and comfort comes through knowing how great our sin is. 

We can live above sin by being set free from it by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. If a person is to be redeemed from sin, then a provision must be made. Sin has been dealt with once for all through the person and work of Jesus. Christ is our representative, taking our place with the punishment we deserved (Galatians 4:4-5; Ephesians 2:5-6; Colossians 2:9-15; Hebrews 2:17-18; 1 John 2:1).

Jesus Christ is our ultimate substitute (Romans 5:8) which resulted in: our redemption (Galatians 5:13); satisfying all justice (Romans 3:25); and reconciliation to God (Romans 5:10). 

Therefore, the person who believes in Jesus is forgiven of sin because Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient to deal with all the effects of sin.  The Christian is complete in Christ (Colossians 2:10).

A genuine prayer of confession asks for mercy based upon God’s character and ability to heal, rather than trusting in the attempted quality of our petition. In other words, neither the eloquence nor the sheer word structure itself is the proper basis for confession; utterances of a broken and contrite heart, submitted to God, trusting solely in his grace to transform, are the only kind of words appropriate for approaching God with our sin. 

Such prayers are not to be few and far between; they are to be a regular regimen, engaged on a daily basis. Just as we take pills each day for all that ails us, so we need to take in the mercy of God through prayers of confession that link us to the true healing power which brings spiritual health and life.

Create a clean heart for me, God; put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me! Please don’t throw me out of your presence; please don’t take your holy spirit away from me. Return the joy of your salvation to me and sustain me with a willing spirit. Amen.