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Psalm 119:169-174

169. ת Let my cry come near b, to thy presence, O Jehovah! Give me understanding according to thy word. 170. ת Let my prayer come into thy presence: deliver me according to thy word. 171. ת My lips shall speak praise, when thou shalt have taught me thy statutes. 172. ת My tongue shall speak of thy word; for all thy commandments are righteousness. 173. ת Let thy hand be to succor me; for I have chosen thy commandments. 174. ת I have longed for thy salvation, O Jehovah and thy law has been my delight. 175. ת Let my soul live, and let it praise thee; and let thy judgments succor me. 176. ת I have wandered like a lost sheep: seek thy servant, for I have not forgotten thy statutes.

 

169. Let my cry come 3838     As has been observed by some critics, the Psalmist’s cry for deliverance is here personified. He represents it as if an intelligent being, and as sent up by him to heaven, there to plead his cause in the presence of God. The same elegant poetical figure is used in the following verse, and it is of frequent occurrence in the Book of Psalms. near into thy presence. The Psalmist repeats the same sentiment which has already come under our notice — that his chief desire, and what he, most of all pressed after, regarding everything else as of secondary importance, was to make progress in the study of the divine law. By the word cry he denotes earnestness. I am anxious, as if he had said, above all things, and am chiefly inflamed with this desire, (even as it is just and reasonable,) that the light of understanding by which we excel the lower animals, and approach very near to God, may be preferred by me to all earthly advantages. The expression, according to thy word, may be understood in two ways. It may denote that David besought God to impart to him understanding according to his promise; or, as some explain it, it may intimate that he desired to have his mind framed according to the rule of God’s word, so that he might not be wise otherwise than according to the doctrine of the law. This last sense would not be inappropriate, did not these words in the following verse, Deliver me according to thy word, present an objection to such an interpretation. Having no doubt that these two sentences have a corresponding meaning — though at first sight it is more specious to understand David as praying to be made wise according to the rule of the law — I rather incline to the other sense, That he beseeches God to endue him with understanding, in fulfillment of his promise. And whilst God liberally promises all blessings to his people, to enlighten them by his Spirit, that they may excel in true and sound wisdom, is justly entitled to be ranked among the chief of his promises. This doctrine is profitable to us in many ways. In the first place we are taught that nothing is more to be desired than to have God guiding us by his light, that we may not be like brute beasts. In the second place we are taught that this is the peculiar gift of the Holy Spirit; for it would have been in vain for David to have besought. God to bestow upon him that which he had naturally in himself, or which he might have attained by his own painstaking. In the third place, what I have said concerning the promise is to be attended to, to the end the faithful may not hesitate to offer themselves to God to be enlightened by Him, who declares that he will be the guide of the blind, and who refuses not to be a master and teacher of little ones and of the humble.

170. Let my prayer come into thy presence. After having made supplication that the gift of right understanding might be imparted to him, the Psalmist now implores God for deliverance, by which he acknowledges that he was continually involved in multiplied dangers from which he found it impossible to escape, unless God stretched forth his hand from heaven to his aid. We know, indeed, that whenever any distress was pressing hard behind him, he called upon God for succor; but as he does not here specify any particular distress, I have no doubt that, in commending his life in general terms to the protection of God, he thought again and again how he was shut up on every side by innumerable deaths, from which he could not escape if God did not prove his continual deliverer. But this is an inestimable comfort to us, that God assures us that in all dangers he will be ready and prepared to help us.

171. My lips shall speak praise. David now shows in another way than in the preceding verse, how high a privilege he accounted it to be admitted by God among the number of His disciples, and to profit aright in His school, by declaring that, if so privileged, he will hasten forward to render thanks to him with fluent tongue. The word נבע, naba, which he employs, is a metaphor taken from the bubbling up of fountains, and accordingly it signifies not simply to speak, but to pour forth speech copiously. As therefore he a little before showed the earnestness of his desire by praying, so now he affirms that his rejoicing will bear testimony that he desires nothing more than to be thoroughly imbued with heavenly truth. He again confirms the doctrine, That the way by which we become truly wise is, first by submitting ourselves to the Word of God, and not following our own imaginations; and, secondly, by God’s opening our understanding and subduing it to the obedience of his will. He here joins together both these truths — namely, that when God has set before us His law, from which we are to learn what, ever is profitable for our welfare, He, at the same time, teaches us inwardly. It were not enough to have our ears stricken with the outward sound, did not God illuminate our minds by the Spirit of understanding, and correct our obduracy by the Spirit of docility. As the labor of teachers is to no purpose until virtue and efficacy has been given to it, so it is also to be noticed that such as are truly taught of God, are not led away from the law and the Scriptures by secret revelations, like some fanatics, who think that they linger still at their A B C, unless disdainfully trampling under foot the Word of God, they fly away after their own foolish fancies.

172. My tongue shall speak of thy word. Here the Psalmist says, that when he shall have profited in God’s law he will also employ himself in teaching it to others. This order is undoubtedly to be observed, That divine truth take root in our hearts before we engage in the work of teaching it to others. Yet every man, according to the measure of his faith, ought to communicate to his brethren what he has received, that the doctrine, whose use and fruit God ‘would have to be displayed for the common edification of the Church, may not be buried. There is added the reason which ought to stir up all the godly to declare the law of God — namely, because by this means righteousness is spread abroad through the whole world. When the Prophet honors the commandments of God with the title of righteousness, he does not simply express his approbation of them, but he indirectly shows, that, until this rule bear sway in governing mankind, the whole world is one scene of sad and horrible confusion. Yet, let my readers judge whether the word answer or witness, which the Hebrew verb ענה, anah, properly signifies, is not more suitable in this place than speak; bringing out this sense — “My tongue shall bear witness or answer to thy word; because the true knowledge of righteousness is to be sought only in the word;” but in that case, it will be necessary to supply the letter ל, lamed, in the word אמרתך, imrathecha, that it may read — to thy word.

173. Let thy hand be to succor me. As he had devoted himself to the doctrine of the law, David requests that the hand of God may be stretched forth for his aid. Farther, by these words he declares, that those who yield themselves to God to be governed by His word have continually need of His help. The more sincerely any individual studies to be a good man, so much the more numerous are the ways in which Satan troubles him, and so much the more are the enemies multiplied who molest him on all sides. But when God sees those who once embraced the truth of his word remaining steadfast in their resolution, he is so much the more inclined to aid them. By the word choose in the second clause, the Psalmist has expressed that nothing had hindered him from devoting himself to the law of God. No man will apply this mind to the love of the law without a great struggle, since the thoughts of every man are drawn away to a variety of objects, by the depraved affections of the flesh. This choosing then spoken of shows that it is not through ignorance or an inconsiderate zeal that the children of God desire above all things heavenly doctrine; but as they partake of the flexibility or pliancy of mind common to men, and feel the various impulses of the flesh, they purposely subdue their minds to the obedience of God.

174. I have longed for thy salvation, O Jehovah! Although all men desire to be in happy circumstances, and no man avowedly repudiates God’s favor; yet so confused and uncertain are the ideas which they entertain of that in which a life of happiness or propriety consists, that very few are to be found directing their aspirations to God. Some are carried away by their own ambition, some are wholly possessed with avarice, and others burn with lust, all imagining, that the farther they recede from God, everything will prosper so much the better with them. In short, in proportion as each man is desirous to be safe, in the same proportion does he provoke the anger of God, by seeking the means of his safety in all directions. The construction in the Hebrew text denotes steadfastness, or constancy of desire; for literally it is, that He Had longed for the salvation of God, and not that he only at the present time began to long for it. He next expresses the manner in which we are patiently to long for salvation; which is, by seeking consolation and relief in all our calamities from the word of God; for whoever does not comfort himself by a reliance on the grace promised in the word, will quail at the slightest assault made upon him. The Prophet then wisely kept his thoughts close upon the divine word, that he might not be turned away from hoping for the salvation of God.

175. Let my soul live and let it praise thee. As the verbs are in the future tense, shall live, shall praise, this sentence may be expounded thus: Lord, when thou shalt have bestowed life upon me, I will endeavor, by celebrating thy praises, to show that I am not ungrateful. If this sense is approved, the sentence will be a kind of rejoicing, in which the Prophet, depending upon the divine promises, confidently proclaims, that his life will continue in safety. And, certainly, although our life is hidden under the shadow of death, we may, nevertheless, boast that it is safe, because God is its faithful guardian; and this assured confidence proceeds from his quickening grace, which is offered to us in his word. Yet, as the majority of Commentators translate these words in the optative mood, let us follow the more generally received interpretation, which is, that David in asking to have his life prolonged, shows, at the same time, that the end for which he desired to live was, that he might exercise himself in singing the praises of God, even as it is said in Psalm 115:18, “We who shall remain in life shall praise Jehovah.” In the second clause it would be harsh to understand the word judgments of the commandments, to which it does not properly belong to give help. It seems then, that the Prophet, perceiving himself liable to numberless calamities — even as the faithful, by reason of the unbridled license of the wicked, dwell in this world as sheep among wolves, — calls upon God to protect him in the way of restraining, by his secret providence, the wicked from doing him harm. It is a very profitable doctrine, when things in the world are in a state of great confusion, and when our safety is in danger amidst so many and varied storms, to lift up our eyes to the judgments of God, and to seek a remedy in them. As, however, in this Psalm the word judgments is commonly referred to God’s commandments, we may also fitly interpret it of them in this place, so that the Prophet attributes to the word of God the office and charge of giving succor; for God does not feed us with delusive promises, but, whenever an emergency arises, confirms and ratifies his word by giving some palpable manifestation of the operation of his hand. Thus, when the Prophet calls the divine law to his help, he pronounces a singular encomium upon the efficacy of the divine word. If any would prefer expounding the sentence of the keeping of the law, I offer no objections. In this sense it is as if the Prophet had said, — O Lord, let the uprightness which I have practiced, and the zeal with which I have employed myself in keeping thy commandments, be a defense to me.

176. I have wandered like a lost sheep. He is not to be understood as here confessing his sins, — an opinion erroneously held by many, — as if he had been drawn into the trails of Satan; for this is inconsistent with the second clause, in which he denies that he had forgotten God’s law. It is a poor solution of this difficulty to say, that:, previous to the time of his calling, he was a wandering sheep, but that from the time of his calling he was devoted to godliness — or that in straying he was withheld by some godly affection from utterly casting off the fear of God; for the same time is undoubtedly referred to in both clauses. Again it is easy to gather, that the two clauses of this verse ought to be connected together by although, or notwithstanding, or some other such particle, as the Latins call adversative, 3939     “En apres, il est facile de recueillir, que les deux membres de ce propos se doyvent lier ensemble par Combien, ou Ja soit, ou quelque autre telle partieule que les Latins appellent adversative.” — Fr. as if the Prophet had said, Although I have wandered about like a lost sheep, yet I have not forgotten the law of God. His meaning, I conceive, is, that he wandered, because, being chased by the force and violence of his enemies, he transported himself from place to place in great fear, in quest of retreats in which he might hide himself. We know for certain, that David was so hunted that in his exile he could nowhere find a secure place. This similitude would therefore very properly apply to him, because, although driven away and hunted after by his persecutors, he yet never turned aside from the law of God. Moreover, as the wolves pursued him everywhere, he prays God to bring him back and give him a place of safety and tranquillity, that he may at length cease from any longer wandering hither and thither, and being as a vagabond. 4040     “A ce qu’a la fin il cesse de plus tracasser ca et la et estre comme vagabond.” — Fr. He had a very good ground for believing that he would be heard in the fact, that although provoked by manifold wrongs he yet never swerved from the fear of God — a statement which, however, ought to be referred rather to the general course of his life than to particular acts. Although when he fell into adultery he continued for a time in a state of insensibility, yet it cannot be denied that in his adversities he was restrained by a holy patience, so as to persevere in following after righteousness. 4141     Before leaving this divine poem, to the close of which we halve now arrived, there are a few remarks which may be suggested upon a review of the whole. In the first place, it is worthy of observation, that its alphabetical structure has been so completely preserved, that not one of the initial letters in it has been lost, notwithstanding its length and great antiquity, being older by many ages than any of the celebrated writings of Greece and Rome. In the second place, the wonderful perfection and yet connection of its various parts is also deserving of attention. Wherever we begin we seem to be at the commencement, and wherever we stop the sense is complete; and yet the poem does not consist of detached sentences, but is a whole consisting of many parts, all of which seem necessary to its perfection. In the third place, the numerous apparent repetitions which occur in it ought not to excite the prejudice of the reader. Although the frequent recurrence of the same words may not have an effect altogether agreeable upon fastidious ears, yet these words are so connected with others, as to bring out new meanings and to suggest new trains of thought. Hence the intelligent and pious student, instead of finding the sentences tautological, will discover new sentiments welling out to preserve his attention and to keep alive the flame of devotion. Walford, after observing that some readers may think this poem singularly marked by frequent repetitions, adds — “It is not my intention to write an essay on this theme; and I shall therefore briefly say, that the implicitly of ancient writings is one of their greatest charms. If the repetitions of Psalm 119 create in it a blemish, it is one which the royal author of it shares in common with the most illustrious poet of Pagan antiquity; and that if simplicity and repetition are to be objected against David’s Ode, the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey will hardly escape condemnation.” In fine, the attentive reader must have observed the striking manner in which this composition exhibits the workings of genuine godliness in the regenerated soul. “I know of no part of the Holy Scriptures,” remarks that eminent man, Jonathan Edwards, “where the nature and evidences of true and sincere godliness are so fully and largely insisted on and delineated as in Psalm 119. The Psalmist declares his design in the first verses of the Psalm, keeps his eye on it all along, and pursues it to the end. The excellency of holiness is represented as the immediate object of a spiritual taste and delight. God’s law — that grand expression and emanation of the holiness of God’s nature and prescription of holiness to the creature — is all along represented as the great object of the love, the complacence, and the rejoicing of the gracious nature, which prizes God’s commands ‘above gold, yea, the finest gold,’ and to which they are ‘sweeter than honey and the honey-comb.’” — Edwards on the Religious Affections, part 3 section 3.


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