This reflection was addressed to the Bailieborough Group by Rev. John O’Donnell on the Sunday the 29th of March 2020. This was the second Sunday we could not meet together for worship due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first time I read Psalm 119 I was only a baby Christian. I became a Christian at the age 22 and I had a great desire to read the Bible and read Christian books that explain the faith. I read Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis, I read the Screwtape Letters also by Lewis, I read What’s So Amazing About Grace by Philip Yancey, I read Basic Christianity by John Stott, I tore through books and committed to reading through the Bible as well. In those early days I would read a chapter from the New Testament in the morning and before I went to sleep at night, I would read a psalm. And that routine was going great with a nice short bit of reading before bed at night with the psalms. That was until the night I met Psalm 119, not knowing what I was in for. Psalm 119 is huge. It’s an acrostic poem there is a stanza for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet and in the original Hebrew each verse within a given stanza also begins with that letter. 176 verses in all. This is a masterpiece. I started reading thinking that I would just have another short psalm to read before sleeping that night but ended up reading all 176 verses od Psalm 119. I was not prepared. But I still couldn’t fail to notice just how much love there was in this psalm for the word of God. This psalm, which we’re only reading a portion of today, is a celebration of the word of God. Let’s read Psalm 119:9-16 now.
One of the most important theological concepts that Christians hold to is the concept of revelation. God reveals himself to us. God reaches out to us, allows us to know things about him. We believe that if we know anything about God it’s because he has shown us. It makes sense really. If there is an all-knowing, all-powerful Being it’s not like we’re going to be able to get one up on him and find out something he doesn’t want us to know.
So, we believe God has revealed things about himself to us. God reveals himself in some way to all people everywhere. Psalm 19 tells us about how God’s creation is constantly declaring his glory whether we listen or not.
“The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.”
We are surrounded by God’s self-revelation.
The very fact that there is something (anything!) rather than nothing should be a sign to us that Someone made this, Someone is in charge here. And we get these signs because God wants us to get them.
That kind of revelation we call “general revelation”. It’s general — everyone gets it and you get the general idea that we are very small and something bigger than us is going on, there is a Creator, there is a Lord. But it won’t tell you all that a human being needs to know. We need a more direct, more specific type of revelation in order to truly know our Creator and know what it is that we need to know in order to be the kind of creatures he created us to be.
So, God reached out to specific people, giving them instructions and guidance and revealing more about who he is, what he is like and why he created us, to them. We call that kind of revelation “special revelation. God directed this special revelation towards one particular person in a tribe of pagan people, a man named Abram:
“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’”
The man believed and obeyed, and God made a nation from him. That nation in turn God revealed himself to, so that they could show the world what God is like and bless all the families of the earth. God revealed himself, in direct speech, by inspiring prophets and dreamers, musicians and poets. And the highest point of this revelation is when God himself came among them. The fulfilment of God reaching out to us, by coming among us as one of us, as Jesus Christ, to live, die and rise again for us so that we can have fellowship with him. Jesus is the high point of God’s self-revelation.
God reveals himself to us, shows us who he is and what he wants of us, because he loves us. He is always reaching out. Always seeking the lost. And the people of God, your brothers and sisters long ago, took these stories and treasured them and wrote them out. These stories of God’s interaction with them. God inspired them, guided their thoughts by his Spirit, to reflect on it and write about it. And it’s collected here in the Bible, the word of God.
We must treasure it. Because in the Bible God shows us who he is, what he is like, who we are and what we are for. Because God loves us. When you hold the Bible or look at it, even just then, I want you to know that it is evidence of the great love that God has for you. Because everything we know about God, we know it because he wants us to know it, because he loves us.
Because God created us and is always reaching out to us in love we must listen to what he says. There are so many voices that we will encounter in life but the most important voice we must listen to is the voice of God, our Creator, who loves us and wants us to know him.
So, our text begins with the rhetorical question and answer:
“How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
By living according to your word.”
This psalm is there to teach the reader. The “young person” here is the student, the disciple, the one who is eager to study God’s word and learn about him. This isn’t just for young people. The student wishes to keep their way pure and so the teacher instructs them to obey the word of God. What does it mean here to keep your way pure?
Let’s look at some nearby parallels. Purity is paralleled with seeking God and not sinning against him:
“I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.”
“I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.”
A pure life is a life directed towards God. A life of seeking God, listening to him and obeying him. It’s the life of one who desires to be what God created them to be, who desires fellowship with God. Our Creator has spoken, he has reached out to us in love to tell us who he is, who we are and what we should do with the life he has given us. We must listen and obey.
The psalmist loves God’s word, treasures it in his heart, declares it with his mouth, delights in it as much as in all riches. Look at the things this person asks of God:
- Verse 10: “do not let me stray from your commands.”
- Verse 12: “teach me your decrees.”
They long to obey and learn more! Because they have found in God’s word a way to live the life that they were made for. They have found in God’s self-revelation, the love of God, a true relationship with God through his living word. And they rejoice in it, they praise God and his word!
Praise be to you, Lord;
teach me your decrees.
With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth.
I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.
Do you think it’s a bit unusual to delight this much in the law, the ordinances, the decrees?We might think some rules are very important, we might agree with them. But when was the last time you rejoiced over the speed limit? Or when your software updates and you have to agree to the new terms and conditions. Do you read those and celebrate? Of course not!
The difference is this is God’s law. God speaking into our lives to teach us and correct and call us on to something better, to that godly life where we walk closely with our Creator. That’s why these ordinances are treasured.
Have you ever had an amazing teacher? Perhaps someone who taught you about something you were really interested in. They would teach you the right way to do things. They’d give you exercises to practice. They’d correct you and tell you when you were wrong. And you were grateful for it! You celebrate their instruction, the rules they placed on you, because they were wise and they helped you to do this thing that you love.
So, the psalmist is glad of God’s decrees and statutes. He rejoices in the law of God, because it teaches him how to live the life that he was created for.
We need this. We need to see God’s instruction as an act of God’s love for us, his little creatures. God cares enough about us to tell us the right way to be human. God’s instructions are not meant to put you down, but to put you on the right path.
So what should we do? Verses 15-16:
I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.
Get into the habit of the word. Read it, meditate on it, delight in it, do not neglect it. Here’s the practical advice: Decide you are going to read the Bible every day. Read every day. Not just your favourite passages either, and don’t jump about reading one verse from here, a couple of verses from there. Remember these are books, read them like books. If it helps you, get a reading plan and stick to it. For most of the history of Christianity most Christians couldn’t even dream of being able to read the Bible every day. So if you miss a few days don’t beat yourself up. But at the same time, since we have such great access to this amazing treasure, let’s make use of it.