Living By The Book | Psalm 119:1-8

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  • Living By The Book | Psalm 119:1-8
  • Psalm 119 is the longest psalm of the 150 Psalms. If considered chapters, Psalm 119 would be the longest chapter of the Bible – in both verses and words. It is longer than several books of the Bible. The psalm contains 176 verses that are divided into 22 stanzas.

    Each stanza is eight verses long. These sections are arranged into an acrostic poem using every letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In most Bible translations, you will find the word or symbol for Aleph above verse 1. Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Aleph begins each word that begins a line in verses 1-8. The pattern continues with Beth in verses 9-16, Gimel in verses 17-24, and so on. Legend claims David used Psalm 119 to teach his son, Solomon, the alphabet.

    These literary details are all most people know about Psalm 119. But there is a reason why you should make friends with this famous psalm that goes beyond its great length, intricate structure, and poetic beauty. Because of its surpassing theme, you should read, hear, study, meditate on, and memorize this psalm. This psalm is about the word of God. Nearly every verse contains a synonymous reference to the word of God. Psalm 119 celebrates the fact that God’s word is sufficient for every season of life.

    The Bible is inspired, inerrant, and infallible. 2 Timothy 3:16 asserts: “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” But Psalm 119 is not about the nature, power, or truthfulness of God’s word. It is about the sufficiency of scripture. Many affirm the sufficiency of scripture. Yet they betray its sufficiency by ignoring, neglecting, and rejecting its sufficiency to save, edify, comfort, guide, and bless.

    William Wilberforce, who led the British abolition of slavery, memorized Psalm 119. As he walked from Parliament home to Hyde Park, he recited the psalmist to himself. We definitely and desperately need Psalm 119 today. We need to be reminded that God’s word is sufficient to meet every need of the soul. We do not know the author, occasion, or background of this psalm. But the point of this psalm is absolutely clear: The word of God is sufficient for every season of life. This glorious theme is established in the opening stanza of Psalm 119, which teaches three aspects of living by the book.  

    The Delight of Living by the Book 

      Psalm 1:1-2 says: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, not stands in the way of sinners, not sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Psalm 119 may be considered an exposition of Psalm 1. What the first psalm affirms, this psalm explains: God blesses those who live by his word. 

      “Blessed” means true happiness, surpassing joy, total contentment, perfect peace, and complete satisfaction in God. Charles Bridges wrote: “All would secure themselves from the incursions of misery; but all do not consider that misery is the offspring of sin, from which therefore it is necessary to be delivered and preserved, in order to become happy or ‘blessed.’” Do you want to be blessed?

      God blesses sincere devotion to his word.  Verse 1 declares, “Blessed are those whose way is blameless.” “Blameless” does not mean sinless perfection. If perfection is the standard, no one could be blessed. The Lord Jesus Christ is the only person who ever lived. What does it mean to be blameless? The NKJV reads: “Blessed are the undefiled in the way.”That is a helpful translation. To be blameless is to be undefiled. The standard for blessedness is purity, not perfection. In Matthew 5:8, Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

        How is blamelessness manifested? Verse 1 says: “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord.” If your way is blameless, it will be evident in your walk. “Walk” is a metaphor for one’s consistent conduct. It is how you live. The blameless walk in the law of the Lord. This reference to the law is not limited to the Pentateuch – the first five books of the Old Testament – or any particular section of the Pentateuch.

        Here, and throughout this psalm, references to the law encompass all God teaches so that we may be right with him. Do not picture walking in the law as some negative, restrictive, or oppressive way of life. Picture it as the path that leads to blessings, happiness, joy, favor, and satisfaction. Warren Wiersbe wrote: “The law is not a weapon in the hand of an angry judge, but a tool in the hands of a loving Father, used by the Spirit to make us more like Christ.”

        God blesses steadfast devotion to his word.  Verse 1 goes from the internal to the external. Verse 2 goes from the external to the internal: “Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart.” Blessed people are not devoted to the Bible for its own sake. They keep God’s testimonies to seek God. Why live by the Book? Scripture will draw you closer to God. Through the word of God, we know, trust, and serve the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible is like a telescope. 

        • If you look at a telescope, all you will see is the telescope. 
        • If you look through a telescope, you can see worlds beyond. 

        To find God in scripture, seek him with your whole heart. Have no divided loyalties. Give God your full attention, affection, and adoration. Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” 

        Verse 3a describes the blessed life in negative terms: “who also do no wrong.” This is not so much about the blessed person as it is about the word of God. God’s word will always lead you into righteousness, never into sin. Verse 9 says: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.” Verse 11 says: “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Verse 105 says: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” God’s word will lead you to righteousness, away from sin, and through your storms. 

        The Duty of Living by the Book

          • Verses 1-3 teach that devotion to God’s word brings joy. 
          • Verses 4-6 teach that devotion to God’s word involves duty. 

           These verses give three ways to live obediently to God’s word. 

          Acknowledge God’s authority.  Verse 4 says, “You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.” This verse acknowledges God’s sovereign authority to bind responsibilities to our consciences. It is also a powerful statement of the authority of scripture. The psalmist says God has issued precepts. This synonym for scripture refers to God’s covenantal regulations for his people. It describes what a king may demand of his subjects or what a master may demand of his servants.

          In giving precepts, God binds our consciences to his word. The psalmist emphasizes the authority of scripture by saying, “You have commanded your precepts to be kept.” It is enough that God gives precepts. But then God commands his precepts to be kept. God does not give suggestions, recommendations, or helpful hints. Dwight L. Moody said: “God did not give us the scriptures to increase our knowledge, but to change our lives.”

             Verse 4 affirms the fact of God’s authority. It also affirms the scope of it. The psalmist says, “You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.” God commands us to obey his commands diligently, thoroughly, and completely. God is not pleased by careful, discreet, or respectful disobedience. It is still disobedience. God is pleased when we diligently obey his divine commands. In other words, God expects us to do what he commands, when he commands, the way he commands, in the place he commands, as long as he commands. 

            Confess your shortcomings. Verse 5 exclaims: “Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!” This verse reveals three elements of true confession. 

            Honesty. The anonymous psalmist was a godly man. Yet he admits he had not yet become steadfast in keeping God’s statutes. Godliness does not mean you never do wrong and always do right. True godliness heightens your sensitivity to sin in your life. Ungodly people are indifferent about their sins. They can sin without feeling a thing about it. When a godly person sins, he is honest with God about it. 

             Desire. Godly people are honest with God. But godly people do not stop at honesty with God. Cheap grace wants forgiveness without repentance. It was not like that with the psalmist. His honesty was subtle. His desire was explicit: “Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!” Christians are satisfied with who they are in Christ. Christians are not satisfied with where they are in Christ. They desire to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. 

              Petition. The psalmist was honest about his shortcomings and desire to obey God steadfastly. He recognized that he could not get there on his own. The same is true of you and me. 

            • We cannot change sinful attitudes on our own. 
            • We cannot overcome sinful habits on our own.
            • We cannot subdue sinful thoughts on our own.  
            • We cannot tame sinful tongues on our own. 
            • We cannot denounce sinful relationships on our own. 

               We need divine help to resist temptation, live obediently, and remain steadfast. 

            Remember the consequences. Humans are free moral agents who can choose between right and wrong, truth and error, good and evil. But our moral faculties have been pervasively marred by sin. Consequently, we are free to do what we want. But we are not free to do as we ought. We try to cover up the bondage of the will by ignoring the consequences of our choices. But to live in obedience to God’s word, you must remember the consequences of your choices. Verse 6 says, ‘Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.” 

             Disobedience produces shame. Jeremiah 6:15 and 8:12 read: “’Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown,’ says the Lord.”

            Obedience prevents shame. The psalmist says, “Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.” There is a way to avoid the shame of sin that tortures your mind, reddens your cheeks, hangs your head, burdens your heart, droops your shoulders, ruins your reputation, and troubles your steps. Fix your eyes and focus your steps on the word of God. 1 John 2:28 says: “And now, little children abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.”

            The Display of Living by the Book

              The vows in verses 7-8 teach two characteristics of true devotion to God’s word: 

              Devotion to God’s word is marked by praise. Verse 7 says, “I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules.” This is the first vow the psalmist makes in Psalm 119. It is a vow to praise the Lord. This vow reveals the nature of praise. Genuine praise is rooted in the will, not the emotions. The psalmist does not predict that he will feel like praising God. He promises that he will praise God. This vow does not suggest the psalmist had not offered praise in the past. It expresses his desire to offer God the highest praise. What is the highest praise? It is to praise with an “upright heart.” To praise with the lips is not necessarily to praise with the heart. The psalmist desired to praise with an upright heart and uplifted hands. The vow is future-focused, not based on the past. 

                • He does not promise to praise God when he receives God’s great blessings.  
                • He promises to praise God when he learns God’s righteous rules. 

                Let me paraphrase verse 7: “I cannot praise right, Lord, until I learn your word.” This is the position of the psalmist throughout this psalm. Verse 108 says, “Accept my freewill offerings of praise, O Lord, and teach me your rules.” Verse 164 says, “Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules.” Verse 171 says, “My lips will pour forth praise, for you teach me your statutes.” Praise is unacceptable to God if it depends on musical styles, charismatic leaders, emotional manipulation, or worldly entertainment. John 4:24 says, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” Sentimentalism divorced from revelation is not worship, no matter how sincere it may be. You can only praise God when you learn his righteous rules. 

                • Your doxology must be tied to your theology. 
                • Exalted praise flows from doctrinal truth. 
                • To go high in worship, go deep in scripture. 
                • Devotion to God’s word is marked by prayer.

                Devotion to God’s word is marked by prayer. Verse 8 says, “I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me.” The verse begins with a vow: “I will keep your statutes.” In verse 7, the psalmist vows to worship God’s name. In verse 8, the psalmist vows to obey God’s commands. He promised to keep God’s statutes, not just know them. James 1:22 says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Knowledge without obedience is self-deception. To know God’s word is to keep God’s word. In verse 7, the psalmist vowed to praise with an upright heart when he learned God’s righteous rules. There is no “when” statement in verse 8. The vow of obedience is unconditional. Situational ethics obeys when it is convenient. God is worthy of your obedience in every situation. 

                The first clause of verse 8 is a resolve. The second clause of verse 8 is a request: “Do not utterly forsake me.” The psalmist made a spiritual vow to keep God’s word no matter what. Then he acknowledged that he could not live obediently in his own wisdom, strength, or resources. Philippians 2:12-13 says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Spiritual devotion requires divine enablement. Thus, the psalmist pleads, “Do not utterly forsake me.” There is no reason to fear the Lord will abandon us. Philippians 1:6 says, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

                • God can be trusted to complete the work of salvation he has begun in you. 
                • God can be trusted to complete the work of sanctification he has begun in you. 

                Praise with dependence and confidence in God to help you keep his statutes. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 says, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” 


                H.B. Charles Jr.

                Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida.