Theme: Persecuted for Righteousness’ Sake
In this week’s lessons, we look at various trials that befall Christians when we try to live a godly life, and also what our response ought to be as we come before God in prayer.
Scripture: Psalm 119:17-32
M. Blaiklock is a well-known Bible scholar from Australia and a former professor of classics at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. He has written a book about the influence of the Bible on his life, called The Bible & I.1 At one point in this book he thinks back over the weeks he once spent lecturing on Psalm 119 and how, as he studied and lectured, he came to appreciate the suffering the writer seems to have gone through:
He had known persecution, that most hideous of man’s sins (22, 23); he had suffered under the heavy or the ruthless hand of authority, as Christians (and Jews) still do in the lands where the blanket of the dark has fallen (61, 69). His faith had staggered under the load of it all (6, 22, 31). He had known pressure to give in and conform… The third section (which we are to study now, along with the fourth) seems to be particularly autobiographical. The writer had known deprivation and fear for his life (17), the dryness of soul of which Cowper wrote (“where is the blessedness I knew…”) when the word itself seems to lose its savor (18) under the stress of life. He had known loneliness and rejection (19) [and] the agony of seeming abandonment (20).
As Blaiklock worked through these prayers and expressions, a man seemed to emerge through the mist of words whom, he said, he seemed both “to know and understand.”2 I want to suggest that the psalmist is a person we too should know and understand, simply because he is so much like us—at least in these experiences.
There are many references to the trials the writer had gone through throughout the psalm, as Blaiklock’s overview indicates. We will see more of them in the three sections comprising verses 65-88 (teth, yodh and kaph). But there are also examples at this point (verses 17-32), and what is unique about these specific trials is that they seem to have come to the psalmist because of his determination to adhere to God’s Word. In other words, it is not just trials and tribulations that we are looking at in the stanzas marked gimel and daleth, but rather his being persecuted for righteousness’ sake (see Matt. 5:10).
Which fits together well with what the writer has been saying thus far in the psalm. He began, in the first stanza, by speaking of the blessedness that comes to the person who determines to live according to the law of God. In the second stanza he suggests that the time to start living by God’s law is when a person is young. Now, in stanzas three and four, he speaks of the trials that will come to one who is walking in that way.
1. Alienation (v. 19). He refers to this difficulty by calling himself “a stranger on earth.” There are two ideas here. First, it suggests that we are only passing through this world for a short while with but little time to know and live by God’s Word. Therefore, we should devote ourselves to getting to know the Bible well. The verses around this phrase seems to suggest this, for the thought would be, “I am a stranger on earth”; therefore, “do not hide your commands from me,” and “My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times.” The idea would be similar to that bit of doggerel we sometimes hear:
Only one life, it will soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
In this case the concern of the psalmist is getting to know and actually living by God’s Word.
1E. M. Blaiklock, The Bible & I (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1983).
2Blaiklock, The Bible & I, p. 91.
How did E. M. Blaiklock describe the psalmist?
Describe the tenor of this stanza of Psalm 119.
What is unique about the trials the psalmist is undergoing?
Why does the psalmist call himself a stranger on earth?
Observation: Take note of the language of the text to understand better what the author is going through.
For Further Study: Every Christian goes through trials, and the Psalms can help us face them in a way that pleases the Lord. Order your copy of James Boice’s three-volume set of his sermons on the Psalms, and receive 25% off the regular price.