Sustaining Grace in God’s Word | Psalm 119:17-24

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  • Sustaining Grace in God’s Word | Psalm 119:17-24
  • Psalm 119 celebrates the sufficiency of God’s word for every season of life. 

    • Verses 1-8 affirm the sufficiency of God’s word to bless us. 
    • Verses 9-16 affirm the sufficiency of God’s word to cleanse us. 
    • Verses 17-24 affirm the sufficiency of God’s word to sustain us. 

    This third stanza marks a transition in Psalm 119. It is the first time the psalmist acknowledges devotion to God’s word does not vaccinate you from difficult circumstances.

    In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus says, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” 

    If you build on the rock, you will still endure severe storms. But those who build on the rock of God’s word will stand the storms of life. That is the message of Psalm 119:17-24. 

    • Devotion to God’s word may result in strong opposition from ungodly people. 
    • But the word of God will hold you up when people pull you down.

    God’s Word Sustains Servants. 

      Up to this point, the author of Psalm 119 has referred to himself in the first person. In verses 17 and 23, he gives himself a title: “your servant.” What a noble distinction! In Mark 10:45, Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

      • Christ-followers are not celebrities who enjoy health, wealth, prominence, success, and happiness. 
      • Christ-followers are servants who live to hear the Master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” 

      Are you a servant of God? 

      Servants live the word of God. The psalmist was a faithful servant. But he did not ask God to deal with him on the merits of his service. He prayed, “Deal bountifully with your servant.” This request of the servant is a statement about the master. We have a benevolent master to whom we can bring large petitions with great expectations. 

      Charles Bridges wrote: “We may, indeed, be too bold in our manner of approach to God; but we cannot be too bold in our expectation from him. Standing as we do upon such a high and sure ground, it is equally dishonorable to him, and impoverishing to ourselves, to ask only a little of him.”

        You cannot pray with great expectations if you do not pray with godly motivations. The psalmist did not pray wrongly, selfishly, or foolishly. He prayed for divine favor for two reasons: “that I may live and keep your word.” This is not a request for abundant spiritual life. It is a confession of total dependence upon divine help. We cannot live without God. 

        Acts 17:25 says God “gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”Acts 17:28 says, “In him we live and move and have our being.” We need the Lord to deal bountifully with us so that we may live. Likewise, the psalmist prayed for divine favor to “keep your word.” The psalmist desired to live obediently. But he was wise enough to know his holy desires, sincere motives, and willpower were insufficient. He needed God to deal bountifully with him so that he could keep the word. You cannot keep the word of God on your own. 

        • You are sinful. 
        • Satan is busy. 
        • The world is wicked. 
        • Temptation is strong. 
        • Evil is always present. 

        You need God to deal bountifully with you to keep God’s word. If you are a new believer, ask God to deal bountifully with you so that you may live and keep his word. If you are a seasoned saint, ask God to deal bountifully with you so that you may live and keep your word. 

        Servants learn the word of God. Verse 18 says, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” The MacArthur Study Bible notes: “Perhaps this is the supreme prayer that a student of scripture could speak since it confesses the student’s inadequacy and the divine author’s sufficiency.” This verse is a prayer for illumination. There are “wondrous things” in God’s word. 

        Psalm 19:7-10 says, “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure; enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are truth, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.” 

        There are wonderful things in God’s word. But closed eyes cannot see divine truth. Without illumination, we cannot understand God’s word any more than a blind man can see the sunshine. We believe in the perspicuity of scripture. The Bible is clear enough for any literate person to understand its basic message. The clarity of scripture is not the problem. The problem is that sin, Satan, and suffering close our eyes. Charles Bridges wrote: “What then is the prayer? Not – give me a plainer Bible – but open my eyes to know my Bible. Not – show me some new revelations besides the law – but make me to behold the wonders of the law.”

        Psalm 119:18 should be your prayer every time you hear, read, or study God’s word: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” “Open” is also used in Numbers 22:23. King Balak hired the prophet Balaam to curse Israel. On his way, Balaam’s donkey stopped on the road. Balaam beat the donkey. The donkey stopped on the road again. This happened several times. In Numbers 22:28, the donkey asked Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times.” Numbers 22:31 says, “Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand.” As God opened Balaam’s eyes to see a terrible thing in the read, ask God to open your eyes to see wonderful things in his word. 

        God’s Word Sustains Sojourners. 

          Verses 17-18 say, “I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not your commandments from me! My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times.”

          The Sojourner’s Pilgrimage. In verse 17, the psalmist describes himself as a servant. In verse 19, he describes himself as a sojourner – a pilgrim traveling through a foreign land on his way home. This is a word about the nature of life. Life on earth is fleeting, passing, temporary. We are not here to stay. Each of us will soon leave this world to go to our eternal home.

          This is also a statement about our relationship with the world. Philippians 3:20 says, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” The image of a pilgrimage is about more than our destination beyond this world. It is also about our alienation from this world. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” We must not try to reach out by fitting in. Fruitful evangelism and faithful discipleship require something different about how we think and live. 

          The Sojourner’s Plea. What does this sojourner pray? 

            • He did not pray for safety on his pilgrimage. 
            • He did not pray for success in this world. 
            • He did not pray for a speedy arrival home. 

            The psalmist prayed for a good map, a true compass, a sure path. Verse 19 says, “Hide not your commandments from me!” This is another prayer for illumination. The psalmist was not concerned about the commandments being hidden from him. He was concerned about the understanding of being hidden. What good is a map home in a language you do understand? The psalmist recognized that his finite heart and mind needed understanding of God’s word. The same is true of us. Cry out for it! John Wesley said, “I want to know one thing – the way to heaven. God himself has condescended to teach the way. He hath written it down in a book. Oh, give me that Book! At any price, give me the Book of God!”

            The Sojourner’s Passion. Verse 20 says, “My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times.” The sojourner fervently desired the only roadmap that could lead him safely home. It was a consuming passion. “Consumed” is used twice in the Old Testament. It is used in Lamentation 3:16 to speak of having one’s teeth broken with gravel. It is used here to speak of having one’s heart broken with longing for God’s word. Nothing could heal, comfort, or satisfy his heart but the word of God. Job 23:12 says, “I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.” It is also a continual passion. Verse 20 says, “My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times.”

            • It is not sincere if you only long for God’s word in the fickle excitement of shifting emotions. 
            • It is not sincere if you only long for God’s word when there is some blessing you want. 
            • It is not sincere if you only long for God’s word when all other options have been used. 

             Passion for the word is continual. When it is absent, there is a longing for it to return. 

            God’s Word Sustains Sufferers. 

              In the first four verses of this stanza, we see one who struggles for God’s word. In the last four verses of this stanza, we see those who struggle against God’s word. Every person is on one side or the other. Which side are you on? If you are on the Lord’s side, he will sustain you as you suffer at the hands of those on the other side. 

              God punishes the rebellious. Verse 21 says, “You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones, who wander from your commandments.” The verse gives a threefold description of those who invoke divine rebuke. Their character: They are insolent – proud or arrogant. Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”There is no sin God punishes more quickly or severely than pride. Their condition: They are “accursed.”

              Galatians 6:7-8 says, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” Their conduct: They “wander from your commandments.” Psalm 1:4-6describes those who wander away from God’s word: “The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous; but the way of the wicked shall perish.” 

                God protects the faithful. The psalmist had enemies who drove him to God in prayer. What did they do to cause him such distress? He was not physically threatened. He was verbally and emotionally abused. Verse 22 says, “Take away from me scorn and contempt.” This prayer request addressed the actions and motives of his enemies. They scorned, mocked, and insulted him. People do not have to hit you to hurt you. They can hurt you with lies, taunts, and insults.

                Some people are Sunday morning Christians because that is the only place they feel safe to be a Christian. They fear the scorn they may face if they go public with their faith. The psalmist also suffered “contempt” – disdain, hatred, and animosity. The psalmist did not take matters into his own hands. He prayed the Lord would take it away. If you want to pray the first part of this verse with power, pray the second part with sincerity: “For I have kept your statutes.” Do not let people make you act like you do not know the Lord. Keep his statutes. Obey his word. Do what he says. And God will take care of you. 

                God’s Word Sustains Seekers. 

                  In Finding God, Larry Crabb wrote, “We should not use God to solve our problems. We should see our problems as an opportunity to find God.” The psalmist did not seek a solution to his problems. He sought God. Verses 23-24 give three marks of a God-seeker.

                  The Devotion of God-seekers. In verse 22, the psalmist faces scorn and contempt. Verse 23 tells us the source of this mistreatment: “Princes sit plotting against me.” We do not know if these plotters were pagan lords or Jewish rulers. Either way, the psalmist had enemies in high places. Most of us will never know what it is like to have someone work maliciously to ruin your life. Men of status, power, and influence conspired to bring down the psalmist. What would you do in this predicament? 

                  Verse 23 says, “Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes.” Note two types of meditation here. There is the ungodly meditation of princes who plot against him. There is the godly meditation of the psalmist who sets his mind on the word of God. Psalm 1:2 describes the blessed life: “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”

                    The Delight of God-Seekers. Verse 14 says, “In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches.” Verse 16 says, “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.” Verse 24 says, “Your testimonies are my delight.” The psalmist did not base his joy on the worldly, material, or temporary things of this world. He based his joy on the living, powerful, and unfailing word of God. Consequently, he maintained his joy even in the midst of his suffering. You can, too, if you delight in the truth, wisdom, and promises of God’s word. 

                    James 1:2-4 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

                    The Direction of God-Seekers. Finally, the psalmist says of the testimonies of God, “They are my counselors.” God’s word will be your counselor, guide, and direction. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Do you need counseling? The word of God is sufficient to lead, guide, and direct you. God’s word will be your counselor. And it will not lead you wrong. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”


                    H.B. Charles Jr.

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