Monday, March 8, 2010

Psalm 119 verses 1 to 8

On Sunday I finished teaching Psalm 119 at my church's adult Sunday School. I felt better about how this week's lesson came out: it got beyond the mechanics of analysis into interpretation and application.

Most surprising is how many tough issues a seemingly "peaceful" passage like this raises!

Once again both video and audio are available. I apologize that the video is rather blurry, I accidentally mis-focused it.

My teaching notes are below, including a lot of juicy quotes that I didn't have time to share.

Psalm 119 (week 2)

On board:

1 – They, present

2 – They, present

3 – They, present

4 – We, past

5 – Me, future

6 – Me, future

7 – Me, future

8 – Me, future





Verses 1 – 3

Use 5 W’s and H to interrogate the text.

  • After prayer, thinking of questions is the biggest key to growing in Scripture.
  • Jesus, age 12, listening and asking questions.

  1. What are some questions you have about v 1-3?
  2. Why are they blessed? Is this teaching works righteousness? Does their righteousness result in God blessing them, or does God blessing them result in their righteousness?
    1. The Psalmist “overturns the Protestant system of justification” (Du Hamel)
    2. Scripture teaches both.

i. Law: “do this, and you will live”. “Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness” (Rom 10:5) Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.” However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live by them.” (Gal 3:11-12)

ii. Gospel: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us” (Gal 3:13). Also 2 Cor. 5:21

iii. So the question becomes, which “covenant” is the Psalmist experiencing and teaching? Either way it does not “overturn” justification by faith. Is this an example of an unsaved man laboring under the burden of the law, trying to obey it, not yet realizing that he cannot be perfect? Or is this an example of a saved man, who has trusted by faith in the promised redeemer who will crush the serpent’s head and has been granted the righteousness which comes by faith?

    1. Clue # 1 – the author’s delight in God’s Law

Martin Luther, (Luther's Works, Saint Louis Edition, 11:81ff)

… For there is no one who would not rather have no Law at all, and everyone finds and feels within himself that while it is difficult to be pious and do good, it is easy to be wicked and to do evil. And this difficulty or this unwillingness to do what is good prevents us from keeping God's Law; for what is kept with dislike, difficulty, and unwillingness, rates before God as not having been kept at all...

Now from all this one of two things must follow: presumption or despair. Presumption follows when a man sets himself to fulfill the Law with works and diligently sees to it that he does what the letter of the Law asks him to do. He serves God, does not swear, honors father and mother, does not kill, does not commit adultery, and the like. Meanwhile, however, he does not observe his heart, does not note the reason why he is leading such a fine, good life, that he is merely covering the old hypocrite in his hear with such a beautiful life. For if he looked at himself aright, at his own heart, he would discover that he is doing all these things with dislike and out of compulsion; that he fears hell or seeks heaven, if not also far more insignificant matters, namely, honor, goods, health; and that he is motivated by the fear of shame or harm or diseases. In short, he would have to confess that he would rather lead a different life if the consequence of such a life did not deter him; for he would not do it merely for the sake of the Law.

But because he does not see this bad reason, he lives on in security, looks only at the works, not into the heart, and so assumes that he is keeping the Law of God well. The face of Moses is, therefore, covered for him, that is, he does not recognize the meaning of the Law-- that it was to be fulfilled with joyful, free, cheerful will. Just so an unchaste person, when asked why he commits the act, can only answer: Because of the pleasure I find in it. For he commits it for the sake of neither reward nor punishment, does not proposes to gain anything by it or to escape any evil through it.

Such pleasure the Law would also find in us, so that when you ask a chaste person why he is chaste, he should say: Not for the sake of heaven or hell, not for the sake of honor or shame, but simply because it appears to me to be very fine, and I heartily approve of it even if it were not commanded. See, a heart such as this really loves God's Law and keeps it with pleasure. Such people love God and righteousness, fear and hate nothing but unrighteousness. But no man is thus constituted by nature. The others, however, love the reward and the benefit, fear and hate the punishment and the pain. Therefore they hate God and righteousness, love themselves and unrighteousness; they are hypocrites, shams, deceivers, liars, and boasters. …. Yet the Law alone is of benefit to such presumptuous people, for it was given to work this knowledge and humiliation. This is it's (the Law's) proper work...

The other word of God is not Law or commandment, nor does it require anything of us; but after the first Word, that of the Law, has done this work and distressful misery an poverty have been produced in the heart, God comes and offers his lovely, living Word, and promises, pledges, and obligates himself to give grace and help, that we may get out of this misery and that all sins not only be forgiven but also blotted out and that love and delight to fulfill the law may be given besides. See, this divine promise of his grace and of the forgiveness of his is properly called Gospel. And I say again and yet again that you should never understand Gospel to mean anything but the divine promise of his grace and of the forgiveness of sin. For this is why hitherto St. Paul's epistles were not understood and cannot be understood by our adversaries even now; they do not know what Law and Gospel really are. For they consider Christ a Legislator and the Gospel nothing but the teaching of new laws. This is nothing else but locking up the gospel and obscuring everything. For "Gospel" is Greek and means "good news," because in it is proclaimed the saving doctrine of life, of the divine promise, and grace and the forgiveness of sins are offered.

Therefore works do not belong to the gospel; for it is not laws but faith alone, because it is nothing whatever but the promise and offer of divine grace. He, then, who believes the Gospel receives grace and the Holy Spirit. Thereby the heart becomes glad and joyful in God and then keeps the Law gladly and freely, without the fear of punishment and without the expectation of reward; for it is sated and satisfied with that grace of God by which the law has been satisfied.

    1. Clue #2 Verb tense of “are” (not ‘will be’)
    2. Clue # 3 – no “rewards” listed other than their obedience itself
    3. Can you think of any other Psalms that start out talking about how blessed a person is? 1, 32, 112, 128 (Also Beatitudes…)
  1. Who are the “those”?
    1. What do we know about them? (Look for lists.)

i. 2 sets of 3 characteristics. One set relates to their commitment to God’s word, the other set to how God’s word affects their lives.

    1. What are possible answers for who they could be?

i. Hypothetical

ii. Sinless in heaven

iii. Sinless on earth

iv. Regenerated but not sinless

    1. Are they sinless?

i. Job, Zechariah and Elizabeth, elders

ii. Catholic position: when the Bible talks about these people, it means they were actually sinless!

iii. Catholic commentator Worthington: “The psalmist evidently presupposes that some can and do keep the law.”

iv. Can you think of any verses that refute this? Ecclesiastes 7:20; Psalm 143:2

v. William Cowper quote below.

They also do no iniquity. If it be demanded here, How is it that they who walk in God's ways work no iniquity? Is there any man who lives, and sins not? And if they be not without sin, how then are they to be blessed? The answer is, as the apostle says of our knowledge, "We know but in part": so is it true of our felicity on earth, we are blessed but in a part. It is the happiness of angels that they never sinned; it is the happiness of triumphant saints, that albeit they have been sinners, yet now they sin no more; but the happiness of saints militant is, that our sins are forgiven us; and that albeit sin remains in us, yet it reigns not over us; it is done in us, but not by our allowance: "I do the evil which I would not." "Not I, but sin that dwells in me," Romans 7:17.

To the doing of iniquity, these three things must concur; first, a purpose to do it; next, a delight in doing it; thirdly, a continuance in it; which three in God's children never concur; for in sins done in them by the old man, the new man makes his exceptions and protestations against them. It is not I, says he; and so far is he from delighting in them, that rather his soul is grieved with them; even as Lot, dwelling among the Sodomites, was vexed by hearing and seeing their unrighteous deeds. In a word, the children of God are rather sufferers of sin against their wills than actors of it with their wills: like men spiritually oppressed by the power of their enemy; for which they sigh and cry unto God. "Miserable man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" And in this sense it is that the apostle saith, "He who is born of God sinneth not" (1 John 3:9). William Cowper.

    1. Does the author consider himself to be one of the “those”?

i. Is the author regenerated?

ii. But see v. 10, 22

iii. So what is the diff he sees between himself and them?

iv. Do you have anyone in your life that you “look up to” like this?

  1. Who is the author talking to here? Not God. Us? Or himself? I think himself, and letting us listen in on the thoughts of his own mind.

Verse 4

  1. Who? God!
  2. What? Ordained (commanded) precepts
  3. Why? That we should keep them!
  4. How? Diligently!

A marvel that God should reveal Himself to creation. Let us apply ourselves to this privilege!

The Psalmist began with the third person: he is now coming near home, and has already reached the first person plural, according to our version; we shall soon hear him crying out personally and for himself. As the heart glows with love to holiness, we long to have a personal interest in it. The word of God is a heart affecting book, and when we begin to sing its praises it soon comes home to us, and sets us praying to be ourselves conformed to its teachings. --CHS

Verses 5-8

  1. How does 5 relate to 1? He wants his “ways” to be like “their” ways in following God’s ways.
  2. “May be established” – who will do the establishing?
  3. What does the “then” in 6 refer to? Back to 5, when his ways are established.
  4. How do we ‘look upon’ God’s commandments?
  5. What would cause us to be ashamed when we look at God’s commandments?
  6. How would having ways established help prevent this?
  7. How does learning God’s judgments cause us to thank Him? (that He hasn’t rewarded us according to our iniquities, that His justice was fulfilled at Calvary, etc)
  8. Is the emphasis of v 7 on the giving of thanks or on the uprightness of heart?
  9. How does 8 compare with 5? Man’s responsibility, God’s sovereignty.
  10. Is he saying in 8, “I earn Your presence by keeping Your statutes”? Or “I need Your presence to keep Your statutes”?
  11. What does 8 teach about whether God is equally accessible by all people?
  12. Why does he think God would forsake him?
  13. Utterly – does this indicate he already felt mostly forsaken by God?
  14. Can mere prayer affect God’s nearness to us?

v.5 Divine commands should direct us in the subject of our prayers. We cannot of ourselves keep God's statutes as he would have them kept, and yet we long to do so: what resort have we but prayer? We must ask the Lord to work our works in us, or we shall never work out his commandments. (CHS)

In tracing the connection of this verse with the preceding, we cannot forbear to remark how accurately the middle path is preserved, as keeping us at an equal: distance from the idea of self sufficiency to keep the Lord's statutes, and self justification in neglecting them. The first attempt to render spiritual obedience will quickly convince us of our utter helplessness. We might as soon create a world as create m our hearts one pulse of spiritual life. And yet our inability does not cancel our obligation. Charles Bridges, 1849. (in CHS)

It is the use and duty of the people of God to turn precepts into prayers. (Thomas Manton, CHS)

v. 6 All Your commandments

Saul slew all the Amalekites but one; and that single exception in the path of universal obedience marked the unsoundness of his profession, cost him the loss of his throne, and brought him under the awful displeasure of his God. And thus the foot, or the hand, or the right eye, the corrupt unmortified members, bring the whole body to hell. Reserves are the canker of Christian sincerity. Charles Bridges. (CHS)

Allow that any of God's commandments may be transgressed, and we shall soon have the whole decalogue set aside. Adam Clarke, 1760-1832.

v. 7

Be sure that he who prays for holiness will one day praise for happiness… Mark how well he knows upon what head to set the crown. "I will praise thee." He would himself be praiseworthy, but he counts God alone worthy of praise. CHS

We praise those who can teach a dog, a horse, this or that; but for us ass colts to learn the will of God, how to walk pleasing before him, this should be acknowledged of us as a great mercy from God. Paul Bayne.

Both the matter and the grace of thankfulness are from God. As he did with Abraham, he commanded him to worship by sacrifice, and at the same time gave him the sacrifice: so doth he with all his children; for he gives not only good things, for which they should thank him, but in like manner grace by which they are able to thank him. William Cowper.

V 8

When praise calms down into solid resolution it is well with the soul. Zeal which spends itself in singing, and leaves no practical residuum of holy living, is little worth: "I will praise" should be coupled with "I will keep." CHS

This is a happy amalgam: resolution and dependence. We meet with those who to all appearance humbly pray, but there is no force of character, no decision in them, and consequently the pleading of the closet is not embodied in the life: on the other band, we meet with abundance of resolve attended with an entire absence of dependence upon God, and this makes as poor a character as the former. CHS

The two, "I wills" needed to be seasoned with some such lowly petition, or it might have been thought that the good man's dependence was in some degree fixed upon his own determination. He presents his resolutions like a sacrifice, but he cries to heaven for the fire. CHS

Elijah was forsaken, but not as Ahab: Peter was forsaken in part, but not as Judas, who was utterly forsaken, and made a prey to the Devil. David was forsaken to be humbled and bettered; but Saul was forsaken utterly to be destroyed. Saith Theophylact, God may forsake his people so as to shut out their prayers, (Ps 80:4), so as to interrupt the peace and joy of their heart, and abate their strength, so that their spiritual life may be much at a stand, and sin may break out, and they may fall foully; but they are not utterly forsaken. One way or other, God is still present; present in light sometimes when he is not present in strength, when he manifests the evil of their present condition, so as to make them mourn under it; and present in awakening their desires, though not in giving them enjoyment. Thomas Manton

Application: what are ways we can apply verses 1 to 8?

  • Cultivate friendships with people whose walk is more pure than ours.
  • Look upon all God’s commandments. (Take time to read and study the Pentateuch.)
  • When we sense our inability to keep God’s law, turn immediately to gospel-praying.
  • Journal our prayers.

Communication: if you can’t explain what you’ve learned to someone else, you haven’t learned it. Pick a verse (from 1 to 16) and:

  • Tell us what stands out to you in this verse
  • Pray this verse back to God in your own words
  • (if too shy to actually pray) “Test pray” it (ie, “if I was going to pray this verse, I would say something like…”)


Many superficial readers have imagined that it harps upon one string, and abounds in pious repetitions and redundancies; but this arises from the shallowness of the reader's own mind: those who have studied this divine hymn, and carefully noted each line of it, are amazed at the variety and profundity of the thought. Using only a few words, the writer has produced permutations and combinations of meaning which display his holy familiarity with his subject, and the sanctified ingenuity of his mind. He never repeats himself; for if the same sentiment recurs it is placed in a fresh connection, and so exhibits another interesting shade of meaning. The more one studies it the fresher it becomes… Placid on the surface as the sea of glass before the eternal throne, it yet contains within its depths an ocean of fire, and those who devoutly gaze into it shall not only see the brightness, but feel the glow of the sacred flame. It is loaded with holy sense, and is as weighty as it is bulky. Again and again have we cried while studying it, "Oh the depths!" Yet these depths are hidden beneath an apparent simplicity, as Augustine has well and wisely said, and this makes the exposition all the more difficult. Its obscurity is hidden beneath a veil of light, and hence only those discover it who are in thorough earnest, not only to look on the word, but, like the angels, to look into it. – Charles Spurgeon

In Matthew Henry's "Account of the Life and Death of his father, Philip Henry," he says: "Once, pressing the study of the Scriptures, he advised us to take a verse of this Psalm every morning to meditate upon, and so go over the Psalm twice in the year; and that, saith he, will bring you to be in love with all the rest of the Scriptures." He often said, "All grace grows as love to the word of God grows."

"He that shall read it considerately, it will either warm him or shame him.’’ (as quoted by MH)

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