Theme: Trusting in God’s Promise
This stanza of Psalm 119 tells us that studying God’s Word will bring delight in his decrees.
Scripture: Psalm 119:33-40
Faced by temptations and the dangers of life, the psalmist is aware that he needs help. But where is help to be found?
The only help is from God, and the only reason he can hope for God’s help is that God has promised to help him. That is the point of verse 38: “Fulfill your promise to your servant, so that you may be feared.”
What promise is this? There is no reason to think he is singling out any one promise. Rather he is thinking of the entire Word of God, as he has been doing all along. The noun translated “promise” here is actually one of the Hebrew terms for “word” (‘mra), sometimes translated a “saying” since it comes from the verb “to say.” The King James Bible and the Revised Version translate it as “word” throughout. The Jerusalem and New English Bibles use “promise.” The Revised Standard Version has a combination of the two. The reason for the choice of ‘mra here is that the psalmist knows that if he is to complete his course of study he will have to live by God’s Word constantly and in all its parts, not picking and choosing, as it were. This verse is a perfect Old Testament expression of what Jesus said to Satan when he was tempted by him to turn stones into bread. He told him, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4, quoting Deut. 8:3).
Why, then, does the verse speak of God fulfilling his word of promise to the psalmist? It is because, in a sense, all God’s Word is promise—a promise of life to those who repent of sin and determine to go in God’s way, and a promise of death and judgment for those who reject the gospel message. The psalmist is clinging to the promise of life because he fears or stands in awe of God. If we are to profit from his example, we must do the same. Do we? Do you fear God? Do you live by every word from his mouth?
The last two verses of this section of the psalm bring in a new idea that, since I am developing this stanza in terms of attending God’s school, I can relate to the mistake of dropping out of an academic program. Dropouts are a major problem today, particularly at the high school level. When young people drop out of high school, as many do today, especially from city schools, there is very little future for them. They can labor at unskilled, low paying jobs. Or they can sell drugs. It was because of the acute nature of this problem in Philadelphia that Tenth Presbyterian Church began City Center Academy.
The problem the psalmist says might cause him to drop out is “disgrace” (“reproach,” as some of the versions have it). “Take away the disgrace I dread, for your laws are good,” he implores.
Disgrace in verse 39 can be thought of in either of two ways. On the one hand, it could be the disgrace brought on by God because of the writer’s sin. That is, he could disgrace himself by his disobedience. On the other hand, it could be disgrace heaped on him by sinners because of his faithful adherence to God’s law. Franz Delitzsch argues that “the reproach which the poet fears in verse 39 is not the reproach of confessing, but of denying God.”1 Alexander Maclaren interprets the verse as describing reproach before God too, because it gives a better meaning to the words “for your laws are good.”3 However, H. C. Leupold chooses the second interpretation, that it is referring to reproach heaped on the psalmist by sinful men, for exactly the same reason, that it gives a better sense to the second half of verse 39: “God’s ordinances should be confessed and upheld, and whatever reproach we may suffer in upholding them God is readily able to turn away from us.”3 Thomas Manton, the great Puritan, thinks it is the reproach of enemies too: “the reproach which was like to be his lot and portion in the world, through the malice of his enemies.”4
This disagreement probably cannot be resolved with certainty, at least at this stage of our scholarship. But, in either case, the danger is the same: the danger of dropping out of God’s school either due to personal failure or because of other people’s scorn. Are you tempted to drop out? Because of your own failures? Or because of other people’s scorn? Do not do it. Keep on! Remember Jesus’ words: “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matt. 10:22).
1Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Psalms, trans. Francis Bolton (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, n.d.), vol. 3, p. 249.
2Alexander Maclaren, The Psalms, vol. 3, Psalms 90-150 (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1894), p. 256.
3H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1969), p. 831.
4Thomas Manton, Psalm 119 (Edinburgh and Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1990), vol. 1, pp. 380, 381. Original edition 1680. He works this out at length on pages 380-392.
What does the psalmist seem to refer to when he uses the word “promise” in verse 38?
Why does the psalmist use the particular Hebrew word ‘mra here?
What are the ways “disgrace” can be understood?
Reflection: Are there any areas in your life that cause you to lag in your walk with Christ? How can you strengthen your steadfastness?
Key Point: The only help is from God, and the only reason he can hope for God’s help is that God has promised to help him.
For Further Study: To help you in your study of the Psalms, the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is offering James Boice’s three-volume commentary covering all 150 psalms at 25% off the regular price.