Theme: Living according to God’s Word
In this week’s lessons from Psalm 119, we learn from the Word of God how to live a pure life.
Scripture: Psalm 119:9-16
In the last study I pointed out that Psalm 119 is an acrostic poem in which the first words of each eight-verse stanza begin with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Thus the first word of each of the first eight verses began with the letter aleph, the first word of each verse of the stanza we are to study now begins with beth, and so on all the way to taw, the last of the twenty-two letters. The interesting thing about beth is that the word also means “a house,” and the importance of this point, as Herbert Lockyer notes, is that the underlying thought of the stanza is that of “making our heart a home for the Word of God.”1
What is the condition of your heart, your home? Apart from the grace of God in your life it will always be occupied by such filthy evil spirits as lust, greed, pride and self-love. If you try to drive these demons out by yourself, they will only return in greater numbers and your latter state will be worse than at the first (Luke 11:24-26). God alone can cleanse the heart, and he does it through the agency of his Word, the Bible.
“How can a young man keep his way pure?” The psalm answers: “By living according to your word.” This is the important theme of the second stanza.
How can a young man keep his way pure?
By living according to your word. I will seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
So then, in order to live a holy life we must give ourselves to God’s Word, learning it and living by it. But when? When should we start to do this? The world has its answer. It says, Have your fling when you are young and settle down to being religious when you get old, if then. God’s answer is quite different. God says, If you are going to live for me, you must begin at the earliest possible moment, without delay, preferably when you are very young (v. 9). If you do not live for me when you are young, you will probably not live for me when you are older either, and the end of your life will be ruinous.2
It does not require a great deal of wisdom to see why this is such good advice and so necessary. It is because the decisions of youth form habits that guide us from that point forward and are hard to break. If we form good habits when we are young—reading the Bible, spending time in prayer, enjoying the company of God’s people, going to church, rejecting sin and practicing to be honest and do good—these habits will go with us through life and make choices for good later in life easier. If on the contrary, we make bad choices, later we will find good choices harder to make and the bad habits nearly impossible to break.
This point is so important that the Bible gives us numerous examples of young men who decided for God early and were blessed for it.
1Herbert Lockyer, Sr., Psalms: A Devotional Commentary (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1993), p. 542. It would be far-fetched to argue that each letter gives a theme to its particular stanza. However, aleph, the theme letter of verses 1-8, means “ox” in Hebrew, a useful beast of burden and hence a blessing to those who possess one, and blessing is the theme of that stanza: “Blessed are they whose ways are blameless” (v. 1).
2This is not the only place in the psalm where the young are mentioned. The psalmist speaks as a young man again in verses 99 and 100, though without the use of that specific word. Does this mean that the writer of the psalm was himself a young man? Franz Delitzsch argued that he was, but this is not demanded by the language of the psalm. There is a good discussion of whether the psalmist is young or old in J. J. Stewart Perowne, who thinks the writer was neither young nor old but rather in middle life. See J. J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1989), vol. 2, p. 349, 350, and Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Psalms, trans. Francis Bolton (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, n.d.), vol. 3, p. 243.
What is the natural condition of the heart? What can God do? How?
When is the right time to start living for God? Why?
Contrast the world’s philosophy with God’s teaching about youth.
Reflection: When did you come to know the Lord? Have you used your years to learn his Word? How can you instill in others the need to serve God and study his Word while still young?
Key Point: God alone can cleanse the heart, and he does it through the agency of his Word, the Bible.