It is good for me that I have been afflicted (see the comment on Psalms 119:67 ). That I might learn thy statutes . The whole nation "learnt God's statutes" by the affliction of the Babylonish Captivity. Individuals "learnt" them equally by their special chastisements.
Comfort in affliction.
Those who construct a philosophy of human life, or who criticize any religious creed that claims their attention, are bound to recognize—
I. THE SERIOUS FACT OF AFFLICTION . For it is a very large element in our life, and powerfully affects our character. There is not one that has not occasion again and again to say, "in my affliction" ( Psalms 119:50 ). Most of us have, at times, to go much beyond this, and speak of being "afflicted very much" ( Psalms 119:107 ), or are even constrained to say, "Trouble and anguish have taken hold on me "( Psalms 119:43 ).
1. Sometimes, often indeed, it is due to the injustice, or the cruelty, or the inconsiderateness of men ( Psalms 119:51 , Psalms 119:61 , Psalms 119:69 , Psalms 119:78 ). The very worst suffering is the consequence of the betrayal and the hostility of those we once trusted and loved ( Psalms 41:9 ).
2. Affliction may spring from our religious earnestness ( Psalms 119:53 , Psalms 119:136 ). The unbelief, indifference, impiety, immorality, and violence we see or read of constitute a heavy burden upon our soul.
3. God's apparent delay is another source of trial ( Psalms 119:82 ). "How long, O Lord, how long?" has been the painful cry of all generations of the persecuted and troubled children of God. Beside these are the common, everyday afflictions of sickness, loss, straitness, disappointment, bereavement. Then comes—
II. THE APPEAL TO GOD . ( Psalms 119:58 , Psalms 119:107 .) While prosperity abounds we may forget God, but as soon as adversity comes we remember him. And those who walk with God in health and joy instantly and naturally look to him when they enter the dark shadows. "Remember me, my God, for good!" "Deliver me!"—these are the instinctive cries of the burdened heart. We may, as the psalmist does here, plead our close, spiritual relationship to him as a ground of appeal ( Psalms 119:153 ).
III. OUR REFUGE IN TIME OF TROUBLE .
1. We rest in God's promise—the "word on which he has caused us to hope" ( Psalms 119:49 ; see Psalms 41:1 ; Psalms 46:1 ; Psalms 90:15 ; Isaiah 43:2 ; John 14:18 ; Hebrews 13:5 , Hebrews 13:6 , Hebrews 13:8 ).
3. We find great comfort in the knowledge we have of God's character, assured that One so kind ( Psalms 119:68 ) and so faithful ( Psalms 119:75 ) must be leading us by the right and wise way, however strange the path may seem to us.
4. Whatever be taken from us, we always have left to us our God, our Savior himself; and he is our portion ( Psalms 119:57 ); he himself is "our exceeding great reward." No loss, no discomfiture, no betrayal, can take away from us the inestimable treasure of the favor and the friendship of Jesus Christ.
IV. ITS ISSUE . ( Psalms 119:67 , Psalms 119:71 .) There are some lessons which we cannot learn in the light, but can learn in the darkness. When all other means fail to affect us, the strong rod of affliction arouses us, and awakens us to the neglected truth. Then we see that to which we had been strangely blind; then we turn from the evil track and the fatal precipice, and enter once more the way of wisdom, the path of life. Instead of a dangerous indulgence is a wise self-restraint; instead of an increasing worldliness is a deepening joy in devotion; instead of questionable companionships is the society of the holy; instead of slackness in service is the steady flame of zeal; instead of half-heartedness is whole-heartedness in our Christian life.
Meditation: its place in Christian culture.
In these days and in this country we may speak of meditation as a lost art, if not, indeed, as a lost faculty. We have become incapable of sustained thought, of prolonged consideration of Divine truth. Even with the aid of a well-studied and well-spoken discourse, and the presence of sympathetic fellow-listeners, it is found difficult to maintain continuous attention for more than half an hour once or twice a week. The psalmist again and again recurs to this sacred duty; he speaks of it as a much-prized privilege. The best men of Old and New Testament times were men of meditation as well as of action—Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Samuel, David, Elijah, Nehemiah, John Baptist, St. Paul, John the apostle—all of these illustrate the truth. Our Lord himself sought the mountain fold for solitude and communion with his own heart and with his Father. The best men that have lived and wrought during this Christian era have been men that found time for contemplation, and for the devotion in which that reaches its highest point. In a time and a land where action is felt to be everything; where there is a multitude of distractions; where every hour may easily be occupied with some lawful or even laudable activity; where a positive effort has to be made to secure a quiet hour;—there is serious danger lest our Christian character suffer from want of earnest and devout meditation.
I. THE TWO THINGS ON WHICH TO DWELL . These are God's Word and our own "ways." We should meditate on God's statutes or precepts; we should "think on our ways." What a field for thought is here ] The nature and the character and the work of God as revealed in sacred history and in Jesus Christ; the truth spoken to us by our Lord, and written for our learning by inspired men; the ways in which Divine truth has been illustrated and enforced in human history; the path along which God has led us; the witness we have borne, and the work we have done; the failure to become and to effect what we might have been and have done; the lessening distance before us this side the grave; the immortal life beyond, etc.
II. THE STATE OR ACT IN WHICH IT CULMINATES . In prayer. Meditation is the best friend of devotion; it is its source and safeguard. There is much that passes for prayer which, in the absence of meditation, is only mechanical repetition; there is no real meditation which does not pass into genuine, acceptable, fruitful prayer.
III. ITS PRACTICAL ISSUE . "I turned my feet," etc. (verse 59). To be nothing at all but a thinker, or even a student, is a sad mistake. We must come forth from the chamber of communion to the field of conflict. But there is little danger now of too much seclusion. Much serious consideration, passing into prayer, is the best preparation for the "world's broad field of battle," for the dangers to be dared and the duties to be done.
God's Word and shame.
I. THE THREE KINDS OF SHAME .
1. The shame of which we need not be ashamed; of which we may be proud—the " reproaches of Christ;" being disregarded and even despised because we are loyal to our Lord, and true to the convictions we have learnt of him; the reproach which purity sometimes suffers at the hands of laxity, and integrity from the lips of dishonesty, and devotion from the ribaldry of ungodliness. This is all to our credit, and does us honor. But then there is:
2. Self-reproach, the accusation of our own conscience. There is also:
3. The condemnation of the good; that strong and sometimes stern reprobation with which an instructed society visits the crime, the vice, the cruelty, the selfishness, the wrong-doing which comes before its tribunal, and calls for its verdict.
II. OUR TRUE SUPPORT IN HONORABLE SHAME . This is found in what God's Word tells us of:
1. Our Lord's esteem add strong approval ( Matthew 5:10-12 ).
2. His own example. He "suffered the contradiction of sinners against himself," and stooped to the lowliest shame, "even to the death of the cross."
3. Our hope. "Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness."
III. THE TRUE PRESERVATIVE FROM THE SHAME WE SHOULD FEAR . This also God's Word affords us, for it supplies:
1. The constant, the eternal principles which save from sin and wrong—truth, probity, purity, temperance, faithfulness, etc.
2. The strongest inducements to integrity—that fear of God and love of Jesus Christ which will make us shrink sensitively from all that grieves his Spirit, and which will lead us to pursue that path which ends in his large reward.
The way of life: the young.
Our attention is called to—
I. THE WAY OF LIFE ; especially as it presents itself to the young. It is interesting to look forward to a long journey; to anticipate the scenes that will be witnessed, the companionships that will be formed, the memories that will be gathered for years to come, etc. But how much more interesting to look forward to the journey of life still in prospect; to anticipate its joys, it successes, its triumphs; to hope for its friendships and achievements; to guard against its dangers and its mistakes! The uncertainties of the future in the case of the young, the possibilities of failure or of victory, make the earlier years of life to be fraught with the deepest interest.
II. THE SECRET OF SUCCESS . This is twofold.
1. It is found in manly thoughtfulness . How shall a young man make his course sweet and clean and pure? "By taking heed thereto; ' by refusing to treat his life with levity, to let things take their own course, to make his "way" nothing but a "chapter of accidents;" by determining that it shall be a matter of intelligent, deliberate choice; by devoting to that most serious subject his most earnest consideration, and bridging to bear upon it the full faculties of his nature.
2. It is found in Divine guidance—"according to thy Word." And this "Word"
(a) Rejection of some—the resolute refusal to admit to our confidence those who are unworthy of it. I hate "vain thoughts," or "doubters, skeptics, double-minded men" ( Psalms 119:113 ); the peremptory dismissal from friendship of those who are unprincipled ( Psalms 119:115 ).
(b) Admission of others . ( Psalms 119:63 , Psalms 119:74 .) Very few things go so far to decide the way of life as the choice of companions. Associate with the frivolous or the skeptical, and the path of life leads downward to folly, unbelief, ruin; walk with the wise, the earnest, the godly, and that path leads upward to wisdom, virtue, usefulness, heaven.
The false way and the false word.
The love of Divine truth cannot coexist with the tolerance of any kind of falsity; they are mutually exclusive. We have—
I. THE FALSE WAY AND THE FALSE WORD .
1. The false way . This may be the way of
2. The false word . This may be either
II. THE HOLY AND WISE HATRED OF EVIL . "I hate;" "I hate and abhor." These strong words are not too strong. We are "to abhor that which is evil;" to turn towards it a spirit of uttermost aversion. This is:
1. Holy ; for it is God-like. "Lying lips are an abomination" to him. It is Christ-like. We know what he thought of the pretentiousness of an unreal and worldly pietism (see Matthew 23:1-39 .).
2. It is wise ; for falsity of thought and speech undermines character, dissociates from the true and good, leads down to spiritual and eternal death.
III. THE RIGHT AFFECTION . It is well, indeed, for those who can say, "Now love I thy Law;" it is everything to delight in the loving, cleansing, upholding truth of God; and, more especially, to love and therefore follow him who himself is the Truth and the Wisdom of God ( John 14:6 ; 1 Corinthians 1:24 ).
Introductory to whole psalm.
I. WHOM WAS IT WRITTEN BY ?
1. Some assert that it is David ' s work . They profess to be able to find proofs of his style and manner, and there is no limit to the laudations they pass on this psalm; but extravagant rhetoric proves nothing.
2. But all the chief and most reliable of expositors refuse to admit the Davidic authorship . The style is far later than that of David. In the Lamentations of Jeremiah there is a similar alphabetical composition. It is altogether an artificial and didactic composition, widely different from that which we have most reason to assign to the age and pen of David. Moreover, so far as we know, that general reading of the Law, which this psalm presupposes, could not have been without the wide circulation of copies of the Law. But of such circulation we have no evidence until the time of Ezra. Moreover, the life of David, as it is portrayed in the Scriptures, seems quite out of keeping with the tone, spirit, and allusions of this psalm.
3. It is not possible to name any individual person as the author . But we gather from the psalm that it was written by a devoted servant of God, whoever be may have been; that he was probably a young man—one of those of whom St. John would say, "I have written unto you young men, because ye are strong, and have overcome the wicked one." Verses 9, 99, 100, warrant the supposition that he was young. But, nevertheless, deeply taught of God to love the Word of God, and to continually feed upon it. Very lowly minded and humble before God. See the general tone of the psalm, and especially the last eight verses. He seems to have been much tried (verses 21, 23, 36, 37). His one fear being lest he should prove unworthy, and be ashamed (verses 6, 7, 22, 31), If we were to look for one in whom the various conditions of authorship meet, we should turn to the Book of Daniel; either he himself, or one of those three noble Hebrew youths his book tells of, might well have been the writer of this psalm.
II. WHEREFORE IT WAS WRITTEN .
1. Perhaps as a memoir of the writer ' s own experience , and for his own help.
2. But yet more probably for the instruction of others . Hence the alphabetic, acrostic style, which was adopted as an aid to memory; just as preachers now divide their sermons into various heads.
3. And for the glory of God— that his grace might be praised.
4. For the commendation of the Word of God . The psalmist would bear his emphatic testimony to the preciousness of that Word.
5. And for the stirring up of those who should read the psalm to diligent search for the treasures of that Word . Personal testimony such as is so largely given in this psalm has ever great power over the minds of others.
III. ITS GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS .
1. It is from a believer to believers . The infidel and scoffer are not contemplated in the design of the psalm.
2. It is for the edification and growth in holiness of the people of God .
3. It is intensely spiritual . Rites and ceremonies and appeals to the mere reason are absent from it; it speaks to the soul.
4. It is universal in character . Limited to no one period, to no one land, to no one nation, but for all.
5. Its spiritual force and power are witnessed to by the God-fearing of all ages . — S.C.
Characteristics of the Word of God as declared by the various names given to it in this psalm.
There are eight such names.
I. IT IS CALLED THE " LAW ." ( Psalms 119:1 , Psalms 119:18 , Psalms 119:34 , etc.) The word implies that which rules guides, directs, therefore a rule of conduct. And this was evidently the psalmist's meaning, God's Word was not something to be merely talked about, praised, or argued over, but it was to order a man's life, and be his constant guide.
II. " TESTIMONIES ." The word signifies that which bears witness to. And the Word of God is this.
1. It bears witness to us of God , and of his will concerning us; and:
2. It bears witness to our hearts of the acceptableness or wrong of our lives and conduct in the sight of God. It will ever bear true testimony, which it is at our peril if we neglect. By it God's sentence upon us will be determined.
III. " PRECEPTS ." This expression comes from a word which signifies "that which is entrusted to us." And so God's Word is the deposit of faith, which we are to keep and guard. St. Paul declared, at the end of his career, "I have kept the faith;" and he exhorted Timothy to "keep that which was committed unto" him. We shall be asked at the last what we have done with this precious entrustment. God's words to us are the talents which, whilst he is absent from our sight, we are to "occupy," that is, trade with, until the Lord comes.
IV. " STATUTES ." The term is derived from a word which tells of that which is engraved, definitely and clearly drawn, as a chart, a map, and so prescribes the way that is to be taken. And is not this true of the Word of God? Is it not ever saying to us, "This is the way, walk ye in it "? How clear and plain is the course it marks out for us! And, perhaps, the psalmist thought also of the depth and clearness with which this word is written on the human heart, and especially on the believing heart. There God has engraved deeply and definitely his will for us. Christ, the Word, is the Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
V. " COMMANDMENTS ." That which is ordained, as the commander of an army orders what is to be done. God's people are the army of the living God, and in this holy war success is only to be gained by strict and diligent obedience to his commands.
VI. " JUDGMENTS ." This expression is used of the verdict in a court of law, that which has legal sanction, and which governs the sentence of the judge. And so the Word of God is the Divine sentence, and is in accordance with the law of nature, of reason, and of righteousness. Who are we to set up our flimsy ideas against the precedents, principles, and judgments of the righteous Judge?
VII. " WORD ." ( Psalms 119:9 , Psalms 119:11 , Psalms 119:17 , etc.) This answers to that sacred name of Christ, who is the Word of God. It tells, not of a written letter, a series of documents drawn up by men; but it is that inner word of God which the spirit of man hears—it may be through the written or spoken Word, but it may be also independently of either. It is that Word which, if not heard, no preaching or teaching of man is of any avail. This is the Word we need to hear.
VIII. " WAY ." The road, the course, the path, along which God himself walks, and that in which he would have us walk. And that the Word of God is. It is the way of holiness, the King's highway, and blessed are they that walk therein.—S.C.
The blessed effects of affliction.
I. THEY ARE CONFESSED . ( Psalms 119:65 .) Did not the following verses tell us, we should hesitate to say that the frank confession, "Thou hast dealt well with thy servant," referred to afflictions that he had suffered. But such is the reference. Many a child of God has made the confession here on earth; all will make it in heaven.
II. WE NEED THE TEACHING OF GOD ERE WE SEE THEM . ( Psalms 119:66 .) This is what is implied; it is as if he had said, "Unless thou dost teach me, I shall never be able to see that it is good for me that I have been afflicted." He would have the teaching, that he may yet more clearly see how well God hath dealt with him. But it is so; for—
III. AFFLICTION OFTEN RESTORES AND RESTRAINS THE SOUL . ( Psalms 119:67 , Psalms 119:71 . See history of Manasseh, 2 Chronicles 33:1-25 .) The burnt child dreads the fire. "Lord, with what care thou hast begirt us round!" If the way of transgressors was not hard, we should all go that way. The meaning and intent of affliction is to keep us near and to draw us nearer to God. Happy are they who, when the storm of life beats heavily, hide the more closely within the sure shelter of the love of God! And this is what God would have us do. And what a holy restraint the memory of past affliction exercises upon us! The sin which before was very attractive has now, because branded with the dread marks of God's displeasure, lost most, if not all, of its attraction. And this is another end God designs.
IV. RIGHTLY READ , IT PROVES THE GOODNESS OF GOD . ( Psalms 119:68 .) It is because it is so often wrongly read that unbelief, pessimism, and atheism so largely prevail. But submission, prayer, trust, will ever lead to the right reading.
V. THEY RENDER THE PRACTICES OF THE PROUD POWERLESS TO DO US HARM . ( Psalms 119:69 , Psalms 119:70 .) They would shrink from no falsehood to injure the godly, but they cannot separate him from the God in whom he trusts and delights.
VI. THEY MAKE GOD AND HIS WORD VERY PRECIOUS . ( Psalms 119:72 .) We say, "A friend in need is a friend indeed." But if when in deep affliction God came to our help, and sustained us under it, and sanctified us through it, and comforted us continually, must not that God be precious to our soul? Assuredly yes!—S.C.
1. TORAH , "the Law" itself; but not merely the Law given on Mount Sinai; rather, God's law in the widest sense, all whereby he has intimated his will to man.
2. ' EDVOTH , or ' EDOTH , "testimonies." God's commands, considered as witnesses to his character, and as attesting his will.
3. MISHPATIM , "judgments." Judicial pronouncements by act or word against particular lines of conduct.
4. KHUQQIM , "statutes"—once translated "ordinances" ( Psalms 119:91 ). Enactments of God as Legislator, but not confined to the written Law.
5. DABAR or DEBARIM , "God's Word" or "Words." His actual spoken or written utterances.
6. PIQQUDIM , "precepts." Instructions given to men to direct their conduct.
7. MITSROTH , "commandments." Only slightly differing from piqqudim—rather wider.
8. IMRAH , properly "promise," but used rather as a variant, instead of dabar , and extending to all God's utterances.
9. DAREK or DEEAKIM , "way" Or "ways." Prescribed lines of conduct (very seldom used).
The synonyms from 1 to 8 occur, each of them twenty times, or oftener, in the psalm. Darek ( derakim ) occurs only four times. Emunah , which has been called a synonym (Kay), scarcely deserves to be so considered. It is only wanted as a synonym once ( Psalms 119:90 ). The excellence of "the Law" is considered in almost every possible aspect.
א ALEPH .