Theme: Wonder and Obedience
In this section of Psalm 119, we learn of the wonder of God’s Word, and of the obedience that is a proper response to it.
Scripture: Psalm 119:129-144
Many good things from the past are disappearing in today’s modern and postmodern society, and one of them is wonder. People used to have their sense of awe incited by some new or unexpected thing. They had expressions like “wonder worker,” “seven-day wonder” and “wonders never cease.” They read books like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or watched movies like It’s a Wonderful Life. Nothing seems wonderful any more. There is no mystery in anything. Everything seems commonplace, predictable and dull.
One reason is technology, which gives the impression that all reality is explicable and everything we can imagine can be done. Another cause is television, whose insatiable appetite for material means that everything that can possibly be analyzed, discussed or exploited is—and at every hour of the day or night. About fifteen years ago, Neil Postman wrote a book titled The Disappearance of Childhood, which argued that television more than anything else robs childhood of its lovely and appealing qualities, including, we assume, a sense of wonder at the unexpected, unexplained and surprising beauties of life.1
Yet the real cause is not technology or television. It is loss of an awareness of God, who alone is truly wonderful and the source of every other “wonder.” If God goes, that which is genuinely wonderful goes with him.
I noticed, for example, that when I was preparing for this study by looking in dictionaries of quotations for what people over time have said about wonder, wonders or things wonderful, that a large percentage of the quotations came from the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, or from writers who were intentionally echoing the Bible’s language. The Bible speaks of “signs and wonders” (2 Cor. 12:12). It says that one of the great names for Jesus is “Wonderful Counselor” (Isa. 9:6). It notes that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and that all God’s “works are wonderful” (Ps. 139:14). The Psalms contain this idea especially. In the New International Version the words “wonder,” “wonderful” and their derivatives occur thirty two times in the Psalter.
How about the English writers? Many of them use the word “wonder” in reference to God, the Bible and God’s works. Here is a favorite of mine by Richard Crashaw (1612-1648). It is from “Hymn to the Nativity”:
Welcome, all wonders in one sight!
Eternity shut in a span,
Summer in winter, day in night,
Heaven in earth, and God in man.
Blest little one, whose all embracing birth
Lifts earth to heaven, stoops heaven to earth.
The author of Psalm 119 had not lost his sense of wonder, because he had found the Bible to be wonderful. Early in the psalm he prayed, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law” (v. 18). Further along he spoke of “meditating on your wonders” (v. 27). Now he asserts, “Your statutes are wonderful; therefore I obey them” (v. 129). This is the theme of the pe and tsadhe stanzas (vv. 129-144), specifically the wonder of God’s Law, and the obedience that follows from a proper appreciation of it. Wonder and obedience are linked throughout the stanzas, the word “obey” being repeated three times in verses 129, 134 and 136.
1Neil Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood (New York: Vintage Books, 1994). Original edition 1982.
What is the cause of the loss of wonder? How is a sense of wonder linked to God?
How is the word “wonder” used in the Bible?
How does the psalmist use “wonder”?
Application: What can you do to recapture your sense of the wonder of who God is and how he is at work both in the world and in the church?