Copyright © 2018 by Richard L. Routh, All Rights Reserved
Scripture quotations taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.
Note: When quoting the NIV text, the Hebrew Tetragrammaton, transliterated into English as YHWH, has been used instead of the words “O LORD” and “LORD.” When the NIV scholars came across the Hebrew Tetragrammaton in the original Hebrew text, they translated it “O LORD” or “LORD” as is the common and accepted practice in modern English translations. However, because this Psalm is considered a prayer of Jesus being prayed to His Father (YHWH), and since LORD is often used throughout the NIV to refer to any member of the God-head (Father, Son, Holy Spirit, or all three at one time), in order to help reduce ambiguity, this book has reinserted the original Hebrew in its transliterated form: YHWH. This only increases the accuracy of the English verses because YHWH is the transliterated word the Psalmist used.
Author’s convention: The author holds the Scriptures in very high regard, acknowledging it to be the spoken word of God. In recognition of this, he has chosen to capitalize the following words in the “Meditations and commentary” portions of this book: Command(s), Law(s), Precept(s), Statutes, Testimonies, Decrees, Judgments, and Ordinances, when they are referring to the written word of God as contained in the Scriptures. (The exception to this convention is that the word “word” is not capitalized, even when it is referring to the Scriptures, because the capital form, the “Word” of God, refers to Christ—a name used to refer to Him in the Gospel of John and other places in the Scriptures.) No particular meaning should be attached to this convention other than it is the author’s preference as a sign of high regard.
Dedication: For Edie, Daniel, Amber, Anne, Evan, Thomas Stephen, Heather, David, Gracely, Grace and ?, my God-Son Samuel Wood and his friend Jenny, and all of my grandchildren. I wrote this book mostly for you, but I don’t mind if everyone else reads it, also.
Acknowledgement and special thanks go to Dr. Steven D. Caldwell for his patient mentoring over the past several years and for directing me to many of the key thematic Scriptural cross references that appear throughout the commentary in this book.
I am old, so I’ve been around a long time. I’ve been ardently seeking and following the Lord for the past four and half decades. For many of those years I made it a daily habit in the mornings to rise early and pray through a psalm. I would start with Psalm 1, and about 150 days later, finally get to Psalm 150, and then I would start all over again. Since I usually prayed one line of a psalm at a time, followed by a discussion with God about what it meant and what it meant to me and what He wanted me to see there, it was not unusual that it might take me an hour or more to pray through a psalm. When I would get to Psalm 119, I would wince and usually hurry through it because it was so long, and frankly, (although I would not want to say this out loud so anyone could hear me) boring.
If I am speaking frankly and honestly, there was another bothering reason I tended to shy away from Psalm 119. I am a huge advocate of the doctrines of Grace. My favorite book in the Bible was Galatians. My most valued book outside the Bible is Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians (just right ahead of J.I. Packer’s book, Knowing God). Some verses that give me great comfort are passages such as Hebrews 8:13, “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear” and Colossians 2:14, “having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” And then there were the places where Paul made it clear that the Law of Moses kills us (like Second Corinthians 3:6). So, why would I want to spend much time focusing on Psalm 119 which is a very long section of the Old Testament that I assumed talked exclusively about the benefits of the Law/Commands/Precepts/Statutes of the Old Covenant (as given by Moses)? Why would I want to look intently into something that was obsolete and killed me? I didn’t. (Although I did not really know what to do with that nagging statement of Jesus in Matthew 5:18-19, where He says, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” I had various very theologically sound ways of explaining away this statement, or at least diminishing the obvious emphatic value Jesus placed on it, but it was still a nagging passage.)
And then a few years back, I was fervently praying to Jesus asking Him if He would reveal to me what His daily prayer life was like. I had learned that if you really want to know someone, study His prayer life when no one is listening. At least I knew that was the way it worked for me, and I had heard others say pretty much the same thing. So, the reason I was requesting this was to get to know Him better. (I was seeking to follow the “advice” in John 17:3.) I knew from New Testament passages that Jesus often would go to a secluded spot early in the morning and pray. So, my request was, “Lord, would you tell me what you prayed about during those times?”
The Holy Spirit clearly impressed me to delve deeper into Psalm 119 and I would find the answer to my question there. I have spent just about every day for the past few years prayerfully considering Psalm 119 with Christ, and asking Him a lot of questions about why He prayed each verse, one octet per day. Psalm 119 has 22 octets, so it would usually take me a little less than a month to get all the way through Psalm 119 like this, and then I would start it all over again. I estimate I have prayed all the way through Psalm 119 this way about 40 times. Each time, the Holy Spirit revealed new and deeper insights into the person of Jesus Christ and the person of YHWH. It never got old. Eventually, I had learned so much about Jesus from this exercise, that I felt compelled to share some of those insights with others. Hence, this book.
Many books allow the reader to read the first chapter, or sometimes the last chapter, to get most of the main points written about in the book. This book is not like that.
Nowhere in this book is there a summary of the main points of Psalm 119. The very nature of Psalm 119 does not allow for the constructing of such a list that would not be grossly misunderstood.
So, the reader may ask, why should I read this book? What is the value in this book to me?
Here are some of the at least 176 very good reasons to read this book:
You might guess at the answer to the above questions based on your understanding of other passages in Scripture, but a careful study of Psalm 119 unequivocally reveals the answers to all the above questions, as well as at least 100 more.
Additionally: If you struggle, as many do, with how to balance God’s Grace and God’s Law, then you need to read this book. After you have digested the insights Jesus gives us in Psalm 119, you will not struggle with that question again. You will clearly see how they fit together without contradicting each other. You will clearly see how each works to strengthen and exalt the other, as opposed to a common notion that they are in some sort of tension with each other.
Based on what I learned as I studied this psalm, I can now see a strong, compelling case based on many evidences contained in the Psalm 119, that this was indeed the daily prayer of Christ. In Chapter Three of this book, and scattered throughout the commentary in this book, are highlighted many evidences to support this conclusion. The reader does not have to take my word for this, but look at the evidence as we move through this Psalm 119 together and let the Lord convince you this.
How to Make Best Use of this Book: So, are you willing to spend 10 minutes per day getting to know Jesus Christ and His Father better? After reading the first three chapters, I challenge you to go through this book, as part of your daily devotional, one verse at a time. I recommend you follow this pattern:
1. Read a verse in both the NIV and the Hebrew Literal and try to identify any differences that might be there.
2. Say to Jesus, “Lord, why did you pray this verse?” Then recite the verse back to Jesus and wait for Him to guide your thoughts in answer to your question.
3. Then after spending a minute or two listening for the Holy Spirit to answer your question, read the “Meditations and commentary” section associated with that verse.
4. Beginning at verse 57, you will also be asked a question (or two) at the end of each commentary. Take a minute to write out your answer to that question in the space provided.
5. Some people progress at the rate of only one verse per day. Which is fine. Some people try to do four verses per day. Some people try to do eight verses per day if time allows. You probably don’t want to attempt more than 8 verses (an octet) in a single devotional time.
If you accept this challenge, and see it all the way to the end, I assure you that you will be glad you did! Thank you for taking this challenge!
In Genesis chapters one and two, we see God providing a world that was “very good” for people to enjoy and rule over. The emphasis in these two chapters is that “God provides good through His spoken word.” The good world God provided was characterized by glorious beauty, no death or disease, no sorrow, everything working in harmony, and people walking in close fellowship with God.
In Genesis 3:1-7, Satan brings a counter proposition to our first parents. He proposes that people, not God, should be the ones to decide what is good and what is not. When Adam and Eve chose to accept this proposition, the world fell—which is to say, the trajectory of history took a sharp left turn and left the path of light and life that God had originally intended for it through His decrees and provision. Death entered the world because of their decision (Romans 5:12). Sorrow, disease, dissention now became the norm and the close fellowship with God was rejected and set aside.
Jesus Christ came to redeem and restore this fallen world and its sinful people. To do so, one of the things He needed to do was to start back where the thread of history was broken. As the second Adam, He had to reverse the decision made by Adam and demonstrate the reasonableness and desirability of the plan originally intended by God, namely that God would be the one to decide what is good and what it not, and to reestablish that through God’s decrees of what is good, and what is not, God would be the one to provide goodness to people. Therefore, a big part of the redemption of people and their fallen world was to demonstrate the viability of a life lived according to God’s Plan A—which was consequently a repudiation of Satan’s Plan B.
Through this prayer of Christ, Psalm 119 chronicles the struggles Jesus Christ had with people committed to Plan B, while He was living a life according to Plan A. As we read Psalm 119, we see Christ frequently crying out against the beliefs and practices of people who are committed to deciding for themselves how they should live their lives, especially when those beliefs and practices conflict with His commitment to live His life completely dependent on, and in accordance with, the provisions of YHWH as declared in the Decrees of YHWH (as they appear in the written Scriptures).
This conflict between lives lived as people see best (ALL the people among whom Jesus lived) versus a life lived exclusively according to the Laws of YHWH was an epic struggle of enormous proportion and eternal consequence. Jesus’ life was the quintessential threat to the proposition that one could decide for himself or herself what was best, and it was so perceived, especially by the powerbrokers of the time, as such.
1. Satan said to Eve, “You will not die.” The implication of this statement was that the physical part of her existence was more important (valid) than the spiritual part of her existence. By rejecting God’s authority in favor of her own, she was rejecting the source of her spiritual life, and therefore, she was committing spiritual suicide.
2. Satan said to Eve, “Your eyes will be opened.” The implication of this statement was that: What YOU see is what counts. What YOU perceive to be true is more valid than what you might think God has said is true. Therefore, you should become reliant on what you observe (in the physical world) and what you can infer from those observations.
3. Satan said to Eve, “You will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The implication of this statement: It is not good for God to be in the place to dictate to you what is good and what is not. Instead of being dependent on God for all your perceptions and judgments, you will be better off if you are the one to be able to judge for yourself what is important and what is not. It will be better for you if you are the one to decide what is good (fair) and what is evil (not fair). Don’t you want to have the right to decide what is fair? Do you really want someone else, God in this case, to be able to dictate to you what it fair? Doesn’t your opinion count? Yes, you are important enough for your opinion to count. Assert your independence! Show them that you count for something and that you are important!
The temptation of Christ in the wilderness as recorded in Matthew 4:1-4 is a reassertion of Satan’s original proposition to Eve. If Satan could get Jesus to rely on Himself instead of on the provisions of YHWH as revealed in His word (which is a picture of YHWH’s very person), then all would be lost for us. If Satan could have gotten Jesus to use His own divine powers to satisfy his legitimate and extreme hunger needs, then the proposition that Satan made to Eve would have still stood, and God’s “proposition” to provide all our needs from His gracious generosity through His word would have continued to be repudiated. Jesus was the second/last Adam. And as such, Jesus, by choosing NOT to use His own divine powers to alleviate His suffering and satisfy His need (“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”), was effectively repudiating Satan’s proposition—and we are to take note of that!
This, then, is part of the motivation and mission of the incarnate Christ—to repudiate the proposition of Satan, namely: that we should be the ones to decide when and how to cause “good” to happen. Jesus was here, at least in part, to demonstrate that it is a reasonable, even preferred, path through life to rely exclusively on the provisions of YHWH as revealed to us through His word. Chronicling and demonstrating what that looks like is what Psalm 119 is all about.
*To read more about the author’s thoughts on Satan’s proposition to abandon God’s law and its implications, and Jesus’ rebuttal to this proposition and the reestablishment of God’s original proposition, see the Appendix A: “Musings of the Author on The Mission of the Christ.”
The psalms were written about 1000 years before the birth of Christ. Some psalms are clearly and widely accepted as being “messianic” psalms. This means they are either prophetic of some aspect of the life of the incarnate Christ, or they are (will be) the actual words that will be spoken by Christ.
An example (there are many) of where a psalm is prophetic of something about the life of Christ is, “YHWH has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek’” (Psalm 110:4), which is confirmed as being fulfilled by Christ in Hebrews 5:6, “And he says in another place, ‘You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek,’” and in Hebrews 6:20: “where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”
An example (there are many) of where a psalm records the actual words that will be spoken by Christ is in Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These same words were spoken by Jesus on the cross at His death as recorded in Matthew 27:46. In case one is tempted to think these words in Psalm 22 are being taken out of context, a thorough reading of the rest of Psalm 22 establishes this context by painting a vivid picture of several aspects of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ (which also makes this a messianic psalm).
It is commonly accepted that some psalms are messianic and contain the actual words of Christ, even though those words will not be spoken by Christ for another 1000 years after the writing of the psalm. The question here is, “Is Psalm 119 one of those messianic psalms?”
The authorship of this psalm is unknown, except that we believe it to be the words of the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Christ), as are all the psalms and all of Scripture. So why do we say that Psalm 119 is the prayer of Christ? There are several reasons. Some of the things claimed by the Psalmist could only be claimed by Christ. Some of the responsibility expressed by the Psalmist could only be shouldered by Christ. Many of the commitments expressed by the Psalmist could only be fulfilled by Christ. If the reader is skeptical about this assertion, then please keep an open mind about the possibility and by the end of this book, I suspect you will be solidly convinced that not only is this indeed a prayer of Christ, but it could not really be the prayer of anyone else.
The argument for this being the continual daily prayer of Christ is made in the commentary following verses 148 and 164.
There are very many claims made throughout this psalm that could only be made by Jesus Christ. Anyone else attempting to make these claims, especially in the face of the Thrice Holy Lord God Almighty who sees all things, would at best be delusional and completely self-deceived. For example, the Psalmist makes the following claims; claims that cannot be true of us if we are to be qualified to seek salvation through the blood of Christ, and claims that MUST be true of the One who’s blood provides that salvation:
There are many other such examples throughout this psalm. These are just four of them. In fact, there are so many such claims made throughout this psalm, and the claims often appear as the basis for which the help of YHWH is being claimed, that one must conclude the psalmist was either hopelessly delusional and arrogant, or the Psalmist must be Christ.
Some of the commitments made by the Psalmist in this psalm are extraordinary. They are promises the Psalmist makes to YHWH, and these promises are often made as the foundation upon which the blessings and deliverance that will come from YHWH are to be predicated. As such, the Psalmist is laying out the basis for the justification of the Church which is to be secured by His obedience.
Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible. It is a prayer to YHWH—all 176 verses. It is organized into 22 different 8-verse groupings. Each of these 8-verse groupings is commonly referred to as an “octet.”
Furthermore, this Psalm is an acrostic in the original Hebrew language. Specifically, the first octet is called the Aleph octet, because the first word of each of the eight verses in this octet begins with the letter Aleph (in the Hebrew). Aleph is also the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It is also the Hebrew symbol for the number one.
The second octet is called the Beth octet, because the first word of each of the eight verses in this octet begins with the letter Beth. And, yes, you guessed it, Beth is the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Beth is also the Hebrew symbol for the number two.
In the third octet, all the first words of each of the eight verses begin with Gimel, the third letter of the alphabet, and also the Hebrew symbol for the number 3. And so forth, all the way to last letter Taw, the 22nd letter of the 22-letter Hebrew alphabet. 22 octets makes for 176 verses.
The nature of an acrostic, by its very structure, tends to focus attention on the acrostic words. So the Hebrew student who was memorizing this Psalm, would tend to remember each verse based on the first word of each verse. Therefore, the first word of each verse would be of primary focus, or at least have extra emphasis for that verse. To help the reader be able to follow this emphasis, the Hebrew literal is provided along with each verse in the NIV. Hebrew grammar allows for the compounding and enhanced conjugation of words more so than English typically does. The result is that often one of these verses consists of only five or six Hebrew words, whereas its English translation may contain twice that many words, or more. In this book, each Hebrew word is underlined with a single underline. For example, the second verse in the English NIV is, “Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart.” This verse contains 14 English words. The Hebrew for this verse contains only six words. The first word in the Hebrew is “ ‘asre” which is translated into the English in the NIV as “Blessed are” and the second Hebrew word for this verse is “nosere” which is translated into the English in the NIV as “they who keep,” and so forth. The Hebrew literal shows the Hebrew word boundaries by the use of the underline. So, all three words “they who keep” are underlined with a single underline showing that they are all one word in the Hebrew.
Another structural characteristic is that each octet has its own theme. Some themes are quickly obvious. For example, most readers will notice that the Kaph octet is all about dealing with excruciating pain and suffering. Other octets have a more subtle theme that takes a good bit of study and cross referencing between verses to spot the theme of that octet. Understanding the theme of an octet helps to establish the context for better ferreting out the role each verse plays in establishing that theme and in providing a richer perspective on that theme.
In addition to each octet having its own theme, these themes, when they are connected in sequence, form a trajectory that tells the story of a relationship between a man and God. To see this story become the context for the relationship between the incarnate Christ and His Father is where there is enormous value in studying this psalm.
In the context of that trajectory, this psalm is a passionate prayer filled with crying out in pain, crying out in celebratory praise, petition, resolution, and the entire spectrum of human emotion. To see how Jesus Christ lived His life through these passions is the primary purpose of this book.
Jesus, in this His prayer to His Father, YHWH, is extolling blamelessness. He says it comes (to Him) through walking according to the word/Law of YHWH, but a lot of things come from walking according to the word of YHWH. That is, a lot of character claims can be made of anyone (although there has only ever been Jesus Christ) who consistently (without fail) walk according to the Law of YHWH. So, what does it mean to be blameless and why start this monumental psalm, this longest prayer in Scripture,--why start it off by focusing on blamelessness? Why such a big deal about being blameless?
I do not think Jesus, at least as an adult, ever lost a continual conscious awareness that the reason for His incarnation was to be the pure unblemished Lamb of God who would be the propitiatory sacrifice for our sin so that we, the Church His bride, would be redeemed (John 12:27).
For Jesus, achieving and maintaining blamelessness was missional. And in this verse, He proclaims the truth that being blameless is predicated on walking according to the Law of YHWH. He is saying (among other things) in this first verse, “Father (YHWH), in order for me to accomplish my mission, the mission for which You sent me, then I must remain blameless, which means I must continually walk in accordance with Your Law (as it was spoken by You in the Scriptures).”
In other words, Jesus is recognizing, proclaiming, and as we shall see more about this later in this psalm, pleading with His Father for His help in insuring Jesus is successful in His incarnate mission by constantly walking in accordance with the Law of YHWH. This is the theme of this entire psalm and Jesus begins by proclaiming it in this first verse.
Here Jesus continues to elaborate on the theme He began in v. 1. It was not enough to be “obedient” to the Law of YHWH by ensuring that His actions conform with the Laws of YHWH (as given in the Scriptures), but it was necessary that He seek the face of YHWH with all His heart. Jesus is recognizing here in v. 2 that walking in the Law of YHWH (v. 1), keeping the testimonies of YHWH (v. 2), are predicated on seeking YHWH with all His heart. It was not just a behavior thing, it was crucially a heart thing.
What is iniquity? (See the Hebrew Literal for this verse.) Its original meaning comes from the idea of inequality. An action/behavior is iniquitous when it stems from an errant understanding of what is right or just or fair in God’s sight. In other words, it is an unbalanced view, a twisting, a perversion of what should be good.
When we think about iniquity, we think about the ugly and unspeakable behaviors from the seamy and disturbing side of life. Iniquity is sordid and degrading to those who do it and to those who view it.
When we accept Satan’s proposition to determine what is good (see Genesis 3:1-7), when we reject God’s declaration of what good looks like in favor of figuring it out for ourselves, then iniquity is the inevitable, inescapable result.
Therefore, the proactive inoculation against iniquity, as well as its antidote and remedy once infected, is to reject Satan’s proposition that we can figure this out on our own, and instead, wholeheartedly and enthusiastically embrace the accurate understandings of what good looks like as they are laid out for us by God in His Testimonies and His Law (as He has done in the Scriptures).
As we shall see in greater detail later in this psalm, Jesus was deeply grieved and oppressed by the iniquity that pervaded the lives of those around Him. And for Jesus, the Testimonies of YHWH as contained in the Scriptures were a source of light in this darkness; they were a source of solid hope in this environment of despair; they were a source of comfort and celebration in the face of great perversion and pain.
As Jesus prays these words in v. 3 to His Father (YHWH), He is finding solace, hope, strength and light for His soul in the fact that iniquity is avoided when one walks in the ways of YHWH.
In this verse Jesus is declaring that the Precepts of YHWH are to be kept diligently. YHWH has ordained that they are to be kept with complete consistency—that is to say, YHWH’s Precepts are to be kept without ever slipping. Jesus is here declaring His intent to accept this requirement ordained by YHWH to always and completely keep the Precepts of YHWH. Jesus is committing Himself to this extreme standard.
This is an extraordinary declaration and commitment, especially in light of the four thousand year track record of all other people. But if Jesus is going to fulfill all the requirements of righteousness, this is a commitment He will have to keep. And we cheer Him on because His success, followed afterwards by His exchanging with us His righteousness for our sin (Second Corinthians 5:21), is our only hope. He is committing Himself to accomplishing our righteousness for us! This is one of the recurrent themes of Psalm 119.
This verse in the Hebrew is a little tricky to translate into English. The Hebrew word used in this verse and transliterated as “yikonu” can mean “may be ready” or “were established” or other such meanings as “were steadfast,” as it appears in the NIV. I think of this verse as being translated into English in the following sense: “I am focused on making sure My ways are ready to keep Your Statutes.” It is in this way that Jesus begins to express His intent and even longing for (the passionate embracing of) His commitment to consistently keep YHWH’s decrees. He will continue to elaborate on this passion throughout this psalm.
This concern Jesus has of not being put to shame occurs in four places in Psalm 119. It occurs here in v. 6, and vv. 31, 46, and 80. Jesus’ concern about not being put to shame has little (or nothing) to do with His own personal embarrassment. He is intensely concerned for the reputation of YHWH. Jesus is responsible for demonstrating that what God proposed to Adam and Eve was reasonable and desirable—specifically, that now this second Adam (Jesus) (see 1 Corinthians 15:45) was here to demonstrate that relying on YHWH to make all decisions regarding what is good and what is not, and relying on His provision to lead us through those decisions, is a reasonable and desirable course of action, contrary to the one chosen by our first parents. Jesus was praying to ask YHWH to keep Him from bringing shame on the reputation of YHWH that would occur if Jesus failed to validate YHWH’s original proposal to Adam. (Refer back to chapter two of this book for more discussion and background on this.)
Here is a metaphor I hope will help with understanding this verse: A long time ago, when I was in the Army, I was once given the task of designing and building an obstacle course for a company of infantry trainees. It consisted of maybe about twenty different physical obstacles. I designed each obstacle and supervised a small group of soldiers as each obstacle was built. When we were done, we had a diverse set of obstacle events that were spread out across a distance of about a mile. I knew the obstacle course quite well. I was its designer. I was the one who saw to and supervised all the details of its construction. I had personally tested and approved each different obstacle event as it was built. The day came when we were done and the brigade commander (a very much senior and older officer than I was) wanted to experience our new obstacle course for himself. The course was designed to be run not by an individual, but by a two-man team. (Some of the obstacles required two people working together to properly complete.) The brigade commander chose me as his teammate. So, we ran the entire course together, for time, as it was designed to be run.
Unknown to me before we started the course together, the brigade commander struggled daily with managing the minor, but sometimes painful, handicaps he endured from battle wounds he had received in the war. As we worked together to negotiate the various obstacles in the course, those handicaps and pain became evident. I remember feeling significant sorrow as I watched this older handicapped man put on a brave smile and endure the pain without ever a single complaint. But the entire experience made quite an impression on me. That experience was a new level of knowledge and understanding and insight about my obstacle course that I could not have known until I actually ran the course with that particular partner. So, even though I was the designer and builder of the course, some knowledge about the course could only be gained by experiencing it as a participant.
I think this metaphor is useful in helping me to grasp at least part of an understanding of how Jesus could be the designer and creator of the world and all its life, but at the same time, progressively increase in wisdom (Luke 2:52) as He experienced it as a participant the way it was designed to be experienced.
In the original plan of YHWH, rejected by Adam and now accepted by Christ, the Judgments/Laws of YHWH must be learned as life progresses. Not that the 613 Laws given by Moses couldn’t be quickly memorized, but that their implications in the everyday details of an incarnate life become increasingly evident as that life unfolds through time. This progressive acquisition and experiencing of the application of those Laws and their corresponding insights into the person of YHWH, are a cause for great praise and rejoicing as they are revealed. Jesus did experience this progressive unfolding of revelation (see Luke 2:52), and He rejoiced greatly in it and praised YHWH for the ever unfolding experiential revelation of His glory.
Someone said to me recently that Jesus was the most dependent person who ever lived. To give credibility to this statement he quoted John 5:30, “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but Him who sent me.” He also quoted part of John 8:28, “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.” And John 12:49, “For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken.” (See also John 5:19 and Matthew 4:1-4, 11.)
Adam and Eve were convinced by Satan to figure it out on their own. Such a concept is anathema to Jesus. He never figured it out on His own. He was unflinchingly reliant on the provision of the Father for every decision He acted on and every word He spoke.
I think a useful paraphrase of this v. 8 is to see that Jesus is proclaiming, “I will keep your statutes, but I completely rely on Your help to do that.” This underscores the distinct roles in the relationship between God the Father and God the Son that has been in operation from eternity before the world was created. This is the nature of the relationship God wanted to have with Adam and Eve, and this is the relationship that was so abhorrent to Satan.
Jesus was absolutely committed to living a life that was completely dependent on the spoken revelation of YHWH as written in the words of Scripture—and on YHWH continually guiding Him through the process of properly understanding and applying those words.
In Jesus’ prayer to His Father in this verse, He is acknowledging the means by which He will keep His way pure. What does it mean to be pure?
What does it mean to hide God’s word in our heart? For one thing, it means that Jesus’ heart was set on seeking the satisfaction of His soul from the word of YHWH, as opposed to seeking to have his satisfaction come from worldly things such as a full stomach full of good food, or lots of money in the bank, or a well-funded 401-K plan, or great health insurance, or lots of status in the community, or the unconstrained ability to do whatever pleases His flesh, or a sense of purpose that comes from His accomplishments, or [you fill in the blank here].
This verse raises the question: Do we sometimes sin because our heart is set on something other than the word of God? Or, is THAT the sin—that our heart is set on something other than the word of God? Maybe the behaviors and actions that we consider sinful are just the inevitable outward symptoms of wrong desires. If our heart is not constantly focused on storing up the word of God as though it were a treasure we were enthusiastically hiding away, then is THAT the sin? And all those wrong behaviors are only consequences of THAT sin?
If so, then is knowing God’s word better a way to get to know God better? Is it possible this is intended by God to be the primary way to get to know Him better? If so, what are the ramifications of this truth on the application of John 17:3 in our lives?
Does all this seem burdensome to you as you think about how hard it might be to change your thinking so that you always only desire to be satisfied by God’s word? If so, then you are not yet connecting with a primary theme of this book. Although it is true that this is a requirement of righteousness from God, it is not a requirement for YOU! It is required only of Christ, who satisfied the requirement for you. So, what do we do now with all this stuff that was so crucially important to our Lord? If it was important to Jesus, shouldn’t it be important to us if He is our Lord? Yes, of course it should. But the important thing to realize is that since Jesus has completely satisfied the full requirements of righteousness for us, we are no longer held responsible to do so. We are no longer judged or thought less of by God when we fail to walk as perfectly as Jesus walked (Romans 8:1). The pressure is off. We now have the privilege (as opposed to the responsibility) to dance in this new righteousness of the Law as Jesus danced in it, but now God is not criticizing us when we get a dance step wrong, or we get tired of dancing and want to take a rest, or in any other way we do it wrong. Jesus did it right, and His finished work is our claim before YHWH, not our efforts, or our heart, or our obedience, or whatever. So, just enjoy the dance and don’t feel guilty if you get it wrong, because if you are in Christ, you are NOT guilty (so, why would it make sense for you to feel otherwise?). But in all this new freedom, do not forget that God is your friend and sin is not. As Paul says in Galatians 5:1, “ It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
If the decrees of God reflect His person and His character, and if God is infinite, then isn’t it logical to expect that the full understanding of His decrees would require an infinite understanding? And if we have a finite mind, would it not stand to reason that it would be an overwhelming challenge for us to grapple with the proper understanding of His decrees for any given situation? The prayer Jesus is praying in this verse is a plea for YHWH to show Him the way, and then lead Him, through this infinite puzzle. God has designed life so that “Normal” for us is NOT knowing what to do. “Normal” for us requires us to constantly rely on divine provision to lead us to the appropriate understanding (from His decrees) for every situation.
If we want to know the mind and heart of Jesus, which is the purpose of this book, then we need to better understand and appreciate this dynamic of Jesus refusing to figure things out on His own, but instead, to continually rely on YHWH to give Him a proper understanding of how to apply the written Statutes of YHWH in every situation. To understand and appreciate this dynamic, we’ve got to CHANGE THE WAY WE THINK ABOUT righteousness. Specifically, we’ve got to NOT think about righteousness as something we accomplish, but instead, we must think about righteousness as something that God provides to us.
This “RETHINKING” about how righteousness happens is at the heart of the Gospel. The Greek word “metanoia,” which means to “change the way you think about,” appears in the New Testament 56 times and it is often cited as a precondition for salvation. It is NOT a word that directly addresses our behaviors and actions. It is a word that asks us to change the focus of our attention.
As a consequence of the Fall (see Genesis 3), our fallen nature is cut off from an intimate relationship with God in which God provides everything we need, and it confines us to experiencing reality only in the physical world. Our fallen nature requires us to figure everything out for ourselves. Our fallen nature requires us to want to work everything out for ourselves. Our fallen nature predisposes us to create some kind of system of “equitable exchange” whereby we trade our time, efforts and physical resources for outcomes that we want to see happen. This same fallen thinking (which the New Testament calls “carnal” or “fleshly” or “worldly” thinking) predisposes us to think about righteousness as something that we work for in accordance with some process of equitable exchange. In other words, it is the fallen thinking of our fallen nature that results in our assumption that righteousness is a result of our actions—a result of our “obedience” to the Law of God. This is an erroneous conclusion because it denies the fact that righteousness can only be provided to us by God. Jesus is the embodiment of our “new nature” which operates on the principle that God provides everything we need—including our righteousness. It is this new nature that we see in operation here in this verse when Jesus prays, “Teach me your Statutes.”
At the risk of losing the focus on the flow of these verses in Psalm 119, please allow me to write a little more about the application in our lives of this very important insight. So, here is a corollary to what we have discussed above.
When we come to God in the habits of our fallen nature, we are predisposed by this belief in “equitable exchange” to think that we need to obey God so He will bless us, because then we will “deserve” His blessing. But, in reality, because YHWH, operating through Jesus, has already done all (completed) the work to make us righteous (and justified) in God’s sight, our actions and behaviors are inconsequential (have no value) in making us more righteous (see Galatians 3-5). God does NOT see us as more righteous if we obey Him (versus disobeying Him). Jesus has provided us with ALL righteousness; it was His work, not ours.
Furthermore, if you are following this line of reasoning, I wouldn’t even want God to take my “good” behaviors into account. I don’t even want my actions to be brought to God’s attention for His consideration—especially in determining what I deserve. I ONLY want Him to see Jesus’ heart and actions. My “good” actions could only be an inferior distraction from Jesus’ actions. To desire that God should take into account my “good” behaviors is a heartfelt repudiation of the sufficiency of the finished work of Christ. God is willing to give me what Jesus deserves, so why would I want to substitute that with what I deserve?
This a theme that recurs throughout this psalm and we will explore it in more detail later. But for now, let me say, “I praise you, Lord Jesus, that You rejoiced in following the Statutes of YHWH, and for You, those were Your “great riches!” I praise You that this was Your heart, and that it is now credited to me and my brothers and sisters!”
Lord Jesus, why were You meditating on YHWH’s Precepts? What was the point? Since You are God, these were also Your Precepts, weren’t they? So, why would You need to meditate on them?
If You were “considering” His ways, then doesn’t that mean You were either trying to discover new things about them, or at least, be reminded of them? Either way, it wasn’t omniscience. It is clear that Your attitude was one of valuing the Precepts of YHWH and respecting His ways. Do I put Philippians 2:5-8 together with Luke 2:52 and conclude that Your incarnation meant that You were in a process, a gradual and continuing arriving at a deeper understanding? Is this what it means that you grew (advanced) in wisdom?
As we progress through the rest of this psalm, we will see that the answer to all three questions above is “yes.”
The “good” that is being asked for is “to open my eyes to see wonderful things in Your Law” (v. 18) so that He might know the truth for which He longs (v. 20) in contrast to all the strangeness (v. 19) that He finds around Him on this earth.
Back in v. 12, He acknowledged that YHWH teaches Him about YHWH’s Decrees. Hence, this flows into the next verse where Jesus prays, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.”
Jesus sees that YHWH’s goodness comes to Him through YHWH’s word, and that His (Jesus’) life is defined by His keeping the Law of YHWH.
Here is an ugly thought: Our sin nature predisposes us to see this verse as Jesus proposing a trade (a “fair exchange”). A very wrong and perverse interpretation of this verse would be to think that Jesus was saying, “If You do Your part and do good to Me, then I will do My part by obeying Your word.” Such a thought would be abhorrent to Jesus. The fact is that Jesus already has an extreme desire to keep the word of YHWH. In this verse Jesus is asking YHWH to provide the life and insight so that Jesus will be able to continue keeping the word of YHWH.
Jesus is expecting that the wonders of YHWH that will be revealed to Him in the Law will completely satisfy His soul. This is the bread that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 4:4 and John 4:31-38. This implies that part of that requested revelation comes through the obedience of Jesus to the will of the Father (as expressed through His Commands). Jesus understood that the Father’s role was to give Him understanding about the Law of YHWH. Even Jesus did not attempt to understand it on His own. As we will see in later verses, such an attempt would have been anathema to Jesus.
Question: Do we approach the Law of God with the attitude and practice that it is our responsibility, and that by our efforts, we should dig out the guidance we seek from the word of God? (If you would answer “yes” to this question, or even if you wish you could answer “yes” to this question, then at least please see that Jesus sees a “yes” answer to be a very wrong approach to keeping the Laws of YHWH.)
Those (everyone else—all the rest of us) who walk in the way of Satan’s proposition to Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:1-7) pursue the satisfaction of their souls’ needs in ways that are strange (and futile) to Jesus. He would have found no comfort and no satisfaction in the ways of fallen people who seek the satisfaction of their souls from their own efforts in the physical world.
When we talk here about the needs of our souls, we are talking about such things as our need for purpose and significance, our need for hope, our need for joy, our need for freedom, our need for esteem, and our need for a sense of belonging. These are all needs of our souls. Jesus gets His soul’s needs met exclusively by focusing only on the person of YHWH as He is revealed (as He reveals Himself) through His Law.
We get our soul’s needs legitimately met by letting Jesus do this for us—by looking unto Jesus as He gets His soul’s needs met by the person of YHWH—as YHWH reveals Himself to Jesus through His Law.
Please note: This opens the door for us to walk with Christ and to experience Him getting His soul’s needs met by the revelation of YHWH in His Law. As we experience Jesus getting His soul’s needs met, we share in those experiences which results in satisfying the needs of our souls.
This verse (v. 21) states a truth that is expounded on throughout Scripture (Romans 3, Galatians 2:16, Galatians 5:4, Second Corinthians 3, etc.), which is: All of us are continually arrogant as we resort to our own strength and minds to attempt to accomplish good (as our first parents chose to do in Genesis 3:1-7), and the curse of God is on us because in doing so (which is our nature—our fallen nature), we arrogantly choose to pursue what we think is the best way to accomplish good instead of resting in the testimonies of God as they appear in His Commands. In this way, we stray from relying exclusively on the Commands of YHWH to show us what good looks like and to fully, with all our heart, trust God to implement in our lives the truths contained in those Commands. But Jesus NEVER made this mistake. Jesus always desired with all his heart to trust the leading of YHWH as YHWH revealed to Jesus the truths contained in YHWH’s Commands, and as YHWH implemented those in Our Lord’s daily walk—moment by moment, for ALL the moments in Jesus’ incarnation. So, Jesus was never subject to the curse spoken about in this verse and therefore could make the claim and petition that appear in the next verse.
In order for the logical dependency between the first part and the second part of this verse to hold, it is logically necessary that the claim made in the second part (“for I kept your statutes”) have no exception. In other words, for this verse to mean anything at all, it requires Jesus to be making the claim in the second part that He ALWAYS kept the Statutes of YHWH, without ever failing to do so.
Jesus is making this claim before the Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God Almighty, Who was, and Who is, and Who is to come: that Jesus deserves for YHWH to remove from Jesus scorn and contempt. He is making this claim on the basis of His own righteous merit!!! If one of us ever tried to do that, it would not end well for us, because it would be the height of arrogance on our part in that it would be a complete and bold-faced denial of our sin before the throne of the thrice holy God. That is a pretty scary thought. But for Jesus, it was a statement of fact and a reasonable basis for this plea.
But why was Jesus so concerned about scorn and contempt being directed at Him? Scorn and contempt are sometimes directed at me, and for the most part, I just ignore it. It’s not a big deal for me. My internal response is to say to myself, “Consider the source,” and then I take solace in remembering that Jesus is in charge of my reputation and it’s not something I need to concern myself with. So, why was it such a big deal for Jesus? The reason this was a big deal for Jesus is that, because of Jesus’ mission, role and identity, when people slandered Jesus, they were slandering YHWH. I suspect Jesus would not have much cared if people slandered Him, but the continuation of all of creation hangs on the reputation of the holiness of YHWH. Because Jesus was the reflection on earth of the Father in heaven, then Jesus needed to have His own reputation protected so that His Father’s reputation would be protected. Without it, all of creation would come unraveled. Remember, he taught us that when we pray, we should pray first (and foremost) for the name of the Father to be hallowed (Matthew 6:9).
Regardless of the clamor of the false challenges to His reputation (see also v. 22) and all the negative fall-out that could entail, Jesus pledges Himself to not be distracted by all this noise, but to stay on mission. (In doing this, He is leaving this concern in the hands of YHWH.) His mission was, in part, to be the demonstration of the reasonableness of relying on the Statutes/Decrees of YHWH as the way to live an incarnate life. This was in contradiction to the proposition that Satan offered to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:1-7. In so repudiating that proposition, Jesus lays the foundation for the healing and redemption of creation. So, not losing focus on keeping His life aligned with the Statutes/Decrees of YHWH is of primary concern. This is His focus and He cannot allow Himself to be distracted from it!