117 Hold me up, that I may be safe
and have regard for your statutes* continually!
118 You spurn all who go astray from your statutes,
for their cunning is in vain.
119 All the wicked of the earth you discard like dross,
therefore I love your testimonies.
120 My flesh trembles for fear of you,
and I am afraid of your judgments.
* Through these reflections, those phrases that identify God’s word, revelation, or law will be highlighted in the text in the hopes of accentuating the many and varied ways we can visualize what God has given to us for our good.
As the world continues to deal with and address the ramifications of a global pandemic, the words of Psalm 119 seem particularly useful. The uncertainty of the innumerable variables can cause us to feel unsteady in the world.
When we find ourselves being buffeted by the waves of life, we need to find a fixed point that can guide us home, to safety. That north star is God’s word for those of us who claim the name of Jesus. God’s word is the guiding light in the darkness and uncertainty of world trying to make sense what is happening.
The Christian faith points to an eternal reality beyond the shores of life on this world. This perspective can and should give us comfort. It is the constant reminder that we are passing through. We do not need to take a morbid posture to the uncertainties of life. We should take the attitude that what happens here and now does not have the power to rob us of what is to come.
This is the part of the eschatological hope of the Christian faith. We live today, enjoy today, and embrace today while we seek others to join us on this journey. Through it all we do everything we can to keep our eyes pointed to Jesus. In him we have hope. Not in the things of this world. At least that is the way it should be.
Verse 117: Once we have experienced the grace of God, it is difficult to live without it. The beauty of God’s love is that we are not cast away when we falter and fail. God’s goodness draws us back when we are sincere in our remorse. There are some who would say that this is taking advantage of God’s grace. That might be true, if the person’s heart was to do as they wished. However, knowing that we will sin and wanting to continue doing it are not the same. This difference matters and it matters to God. He is the one who knows the heart of the one who comes to him seeking to be restored and reconciled.
Verse 118: To adhere to God’s statutes is to declare a trust in God’s wisdom. To reject God’s commands is to expose a lack of trust in God’s care. As a result, when those who obey God’s word experience blessings in can make those who do not to feel as if they have been rejected by God. This is not necessarily an intentional act by God, but the natural consequence of going one’s own way, apart from God.
Verse 119: One of the characteristics of many of the psalms is the personal and intimate tone they take. We see expressions of anger and desires for revenge in those places where the writer feels under attack. These emotions should be interpreted in ways that diminish the human experience. However, they should not be understood as endorsements by God about what the author should expect. One of the simpler ways of understanding this kind of language is as an awareness by God of the difficulties that emerge in the human experience. In this light, the speaker in the psalm can describe when they perceive is happening, or even hope would happen, without imposing upon God some obligation foreign to his character.
Verse 120: When we find the word “fear” in the scriptures, it has become common to speak of a reverence and honoring of God. While in many cases the context would justify this understanding of the word, this is not one of those cases. There is a real sense in which the reality of God’s “judgments” must be understood a terror inducing. The reason for this is an acknowledgement of the power and authority which God has to adjudicate sin. While it is proper to say that God desires to dispense grace and mercy, God must also uphold his righteousness in the face of sin. Therefore, to fear God, in this context, is to recognize how bad it could be for us, if it were not for God’s grace.