Psalm 119 is an amazing Psalm. Not only is it the longest Psalm (176 verses!), but it is also the Psalm that deals the most directly with the topic of Scripture. Virtually every verse, in one way or another, refers to God’s Word.
David (who is most likely the author) uses a variety of terminology to describe God’s Word: commandments, law, statutes, precepts, ordinances, rules, words, testimonies, etc. These all refer to the Scriptures as they existed in David’s day (essentially the Pentateuch).
Thus, Psalm 119 is one of the best examples of Scripture speaking about Scripture. It is the Word about the Word.
And in it, we find David interacting with the Word of God in five ways that should be paradigmatic for all believers:
1. Trusting the Word of God. Time and time again, David expresses his belief that the Scriptures are true (v.151). He believes in them (v.66). He trusts in their reliability (v.42). He states: “The sum of your word is truth” (v.160).
This first step is key. If a believer doesn’t really regard the Word of God as being fully and entirely trustworthy, then none of the other steps below will follow. This is why the church needs to be quick to deal with the repeated criticisms of the Bible that so often permeate our culture.
2. Studying the Word of God. David doesn’t just believe the Word, he is a student of the Word. He learns it (v.73), he seeks it (v.155), he has memorized it (v.153), and regularly meditates on it.
This step ought to naturally for the follow the first one. If God’s Word really is true, then we ought to commit ourselves to being diligent studiers of the Word. We need to embrace it with our minds, as well as our hearts.
3. Using the Word of God. It’s one thing to believe and know the Word. It is another thing to rely on it. To look to it as a guide during the difficulties and challenges of life. To lean on it for encouragement and hope.
David repeatedly affirms that he uses the Word of God as a “counselor” (v.24), to give “strength” (v.28), and to bring “comfort in affliction” (v.50). He states, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (v.105). In short, the Word of God is the very source of life for David (v.156).
This reminds us a very important attribute of God’s Word: it is alive. It is powerful and active. When we talk about the attributes of Scripture we must remember that it is more than just a true book (encyclopedias can be true). It is also a living book. It is the place where the God of the universe meets us and manifests himself.
4. Delighting in the Word of God. What is amazing is that David takes things one step further than we might expect. It’s not just that he trusts, studies, and uses the Word of God. He actually has affection for it. He has a deep emotional affinity towards it.
He “loves” God’s Word (v.159), he “rejoices” at his Word (v.162), the Word is “wondrous” (v.18), it is “better than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (v.72), and “sweeter than honey to my mouth” (v.103).
I am convinced that this is the missing piece for most believers today. For many, the Bible is viewed almost in a utilitarian fashion–it is a mechanical, sterile tool that Christians are supposed to use. It’s like taking your medicine.
In contrast, David has passion, zeal, and excitement for the law and commandments of God. And the reason for this is not hard to find. David loves God’s law not because he is a closet legalist. He loves God’s law because the law reflects God’s own nature and character. He loves God’s law because he loves God–and who God is and what he is like.
Any Christian who says they love God but then despises God’s law is living a life of contradiction. Indeed, they are living a life that is the opposite of Psalm 119. To love God is to love his law.
5. Obeying the Word of God. Not surprisingly, the prior four characteristics naturally lead to this last one. David repeatedly expresses his desire to actually obey God’s law. He wants to follow it, keep it, and fulfill it.
In our world today, the concept of “obeying the law” is not a popular one. Many see this as contrary to grace. However, two things should be kept in mind. One, David is not keeping the law in order to earn salvation–he is obeying out of love for God. He is obeying out of a heart of faith.
Second, we should remember that Jesus himself was very much about “obeying the law.” Before we too quickly despise the concept of law-keeping, we should remember that Jesus delighted in keeping his Father’s law. And he kept it absolutely perfectly–for us. He obeyed on our behalf, and his righteous status is imputed to us by faith.
Indeed, Jesus embodies all five of these characteristics. He trusted, studied, used, delighted in, and obeyed God’s Word. In fact, he did all these things even more than the first David. While David certainly serves as an example of what to do with God’s word, Jesus is the ultimate example. One greater than David has come. And he loved God’s Word.
Thanks for this! Just a quick question I’ve always pondered. Which of God’s laws are we to follow as Christians? Although Jesus was Jewish, he didn’t follow the law to the letter: he healed on the sabbath and let his followers pick grain on the Sabbath, using David’s lawbreaking actions of eating the showbread as justification. We accept that Jesus was blameless but how should we understand this? I initially thought that perhaps following the spirit of the law as Jesus arguably did, rather than the letter, might be a good framework but it seems so vulnerable to a person’s whim and manipulation. How else can we look at this? And more broadly, as Christians many statutes and ordinance of the old covenant do not apply to us many would argue. If that’s true, why should a Christian bother meditating on and studying the law of Moses? My hunch is that our energies should be focused on the words of Jesus, the Word of God incarnate. But I imagine some old testament scripture better place Jesus in context. Ahhhh! I don’t know. I’m confused. Lol. Help me understand. Thanks again for your post!
A quick question? Funny. I don’t know the theological words for it but something changed when the temple curtain was torn in two. Lk 23:45. & Peters vision in Acts 10:9-23.
A lot happens when the OT church converges with the coming of the Messiah & there is confusion there too until God provides instruction for the situation through the Apostles, the Levitical Priesthood is gone along with the sacrifices & offerings, a most radical time with so much controversy.
All Scripture is God breathed. 2 Tim 3:16. But it is in the promised Christ where the rubber now hits the road. The old is gone & the new has come but God’s call to holiness & our love for Him as our redeemer does not change. So in this sense the OT is still consistent with the NT, especially as we are warned to learn from Israel’s history. 1 Cor 10:1-13.
I dont know if this helps…it swirls around at times for me too, particularly the canon at the moment with all that goes on there & who says what & why. We need not be in a hurry but we need to devote ourselves to putting it altogether. I reckon its a good post too, we are saved for a reason, just as Israel was from Egypt, not just to please ourselves.To me it is very consitant with the NT. The 3rd & 2nd last paragraphs nails it.
Hey Cordaro, check out Brian Rosner’s new book “Paul and the Law” for how Paul uses the Law of Moses in the Christian life. He shows how the Law was never binding as legal covenant-regulation on Gentiles and isn’t on any Christians at all, but is still immensely necessary and useful for Christian living. It’s really helpful! I think you will be encouraged to meditate on Moses’ words even more by reading it.
Barb Pagel says
I think this will help you..http://www.gotquestions.org/Lord-of-the-Sabbath.html
I think the issue is whether Jesus disobeyed the Law or whether he ignored hundreds of years of tradition that had grown up around the Law. The Sabbath was given as rest from labor for sustenance and after 400+ years of slavery, was a reminder to the Israelites of Who was really sustaining them.
The story you refer to in Matthew 12 would seem to have several purposes: 1) The priests/teachers/Pharisees/whomever had broadened the Law (out of reverence initially) meant for rest, ultimately twisting it into an oppressive system. 2) Verse 6 points out that “one greater” had come.
Jesus quoted from every book of the Law (except I believe Numbers) on numerous occasions. “Love your neighbor” is a quote from Leviticus 19 right in the midst of the Holiness Code. While studying the NT is important, Jesus displayed the highest view of the Law so meditating on it is also very important for Christians.
Ken McMullen says
The best book to explore this Psalm more deeply is the classic by Charles Bridges, An Exposition on Psalm 119 – it is a true devotional gem. http://www.amazon.com/Psalm-119-Charles-Bridges/dp/0851511767/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1432126600&sr=8-1&keywords=psalm+119+bridges
We can attempt to “do” all five things suggested above here, and yet still miss the Gospel in the Word. Any suggested purpose of God’s Word that does not lead us first and always to the cross, is not only sub-evangelical, but sub-biblical as well. The Hebrew Roots Cult is a subtle but dangerous work of the enemy in our midst.
I would refer readers to the article link posted below for a more gospel centered understanding of Psalm 119:
Michael Kruger says
Thanks, Pete. But, I think you have seriously misread my article. You cannot do all five things listed above and miss the gospel (as you claim), if you understand what I mean by these five things. I mention explicitly the gospel at the end of my article and talk about how Christ kept the law for us and we have his righteousness imputed to us by faith. Moreover, under the “using God’s Word” point, I argue that God’s word comforts and lifts us up. And that comes primarily from the good news of Christ.
In addition, I suggest that your pursuit of a “gospel-centered” reading of Ps 119 is too narrow. Rather than just a “gospel-centered” understanding of something, I suggest you pursue a “Christ-centered” understanding. If you go with the latter, that certainly includes the message of grace and forgiveness. But it also includes the fact that Christ is King and Lord and calls for our obedience.
As for your reference to Schreiner’s TGC article, I agree with it 100%. In fact, I see no conflict between my article and his article.
“The New Testament is concealed in the Old Testament and through the New Testament, the Old Testament stands revealed.” (I cannot attribute the saying, best guess is Spurgeon)
I find the Old Testament and the New Testament to be an incredible tapestry that is neatly woven together and as such, need to be studied as a whole.
Dr. Kruger, thanks for your compelling post. I have a question though. If we assume that all of us believers do, and have done, these 5 things, how are we supposed to deal with the innumerable divisions within the body of Christ? We all read the same Word, so how are we to decide who is right? If we say we rely on the Holy Spirit’s guidance, are we implying those who interpret the Word differently from us are not doing so? But then they can say the same about us. My point is: who is to decide?
Troy H says
There’s no reason to go beyond the Bible for the answer to this assertion by Rosner. To say it is not binding is beyond anything Paul ever taught on the Law. Christians are not under the Law for SALVATION. That is the complete and finished work of Jesus Christ and that was the condemnation nailed to the cross. There is no longer a death sentence associated with breaking a law for those in Christ Jesus. However, even in OT times, it was a matter of faith and grace, not sacrifice that saved men. And anything binding to the Jewish people is in fact binding to God’s children…
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” -Matt.5:17-19. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” – 1Jn.5:3. “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.” – Rev.22:14. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” -1Pet.1:13-16. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness. -Jude1:4. (licentious: unrestrained by law or general morality. Beyond customary bounds or limits; disregarding rules.)
Romans 1:18,24-32, 2:7-9,12,13, 3:20, 3:31, 4:13, 6:1-4, 6:12, 6:15, 6:18,19, 6:20-22, 6:23 , 7:7, 7:12, 7:12,25, 8:1, 8:4, 8:5(*Col.3:1).
All believers, in all nations, whether Israelite or gentile, are grafted into spiritual Israel:
“God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew.”-Rom. 11:2. “if the root is holy, the branches are too.”-Rom. 11:16. Believing Gentiles as “branches … were grafted in among them and became partaker with them” -Rom. 11:17. Grafted into “the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises… it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.”-Rom. 9:4,8. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” -Gal. 3:28-29.
frank reich says
Dr. Kruger, very helpful summary – thank you!
Michael Kruger says