Theme: What We Learn about God
This week’s lessons from Psalm 119 show that suffering can bring us closer to God and his Word.
Scripture: Psalm 119:65-88
The tenth stanza of Psalm 119 is the yodh stanza, the Hebrew letter Jesus referred to when he said, “Until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matt. 5:18). The yodh is a mere dash of a letter. But we must see that in Psalm 119 the yodh section does not deal with trifles. On the contrary, like the stanza before it and the stanza following, it deals with the afflictions that come into the life of the trusting child of God.
What does this second stanza add to the study of affliction? It adds explicitly what was only assumed earlier, namely, that God is the ultimate source of the affliction.
I know, O LORD, that your laws are righteous,and in faithfulness you have afflicted me (v. 75).
This is an important insight for any believer to possess, which is why the stanza begins as it does. It is about the source of affliction. But it begins, not by mentioning the psalmist’s suffering but by confessing that he was “made” and “formed” by God (v. 73). What is the point of that? The reference to God’s forming him is a deliberate echo of Genesis 2, where God is said to have “formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life,” (Gen. 2:7). The point of the reference is that God did not make man as the beasts, which have no understanding. He was made to know and understand the ways of God. Hence, the psalmist in the second half of verse 73 prays for the gift of understanding God’s commands.
So now we ask: What does he come to understand? Quite a few things, it would seem, and all are important.
1. That God is faithful even in the affliction (v. 75). Faithful to what or whom? If the affliction were occasioned by the poet’s sin, faithful might refer to God being faithful to his own righteousness and justice. The judge of all the earth must punish sin. Yet we have had no reason to think of the writer’s afflictions in this light, and for that reason the faithfulness mentioned here probably refers to God’s faithfulness to the psalmist, a proof that he continues to love him and is working to have him grow and mature by means of the affliction. We need to see that ourselves when things are not going exactly as we would wish.
2. That God’s unfailing love is a comfort (v. 76). It is God’s unfailing love that caused him to send afflictions to the psalmist. But if this is so, if that is suffering’s source and reason, then the psalmist can be comforted even while going through them. And he does need comfort. He had asked God for understanding so far as his afflictions were concerned, and God gave it to him. These stanzas are a proof. Even so, suffering is bitter and the afflicted one needs comfort. The psalmist needed to remember that God loved him in spite of and even through what he was suffering.
3. That God is compassionate (v. 77). God does not need to be. The word signifies “mercy,” and mercy by definition is grace shown to those who are undeserving, those who, in fact, merit the exact opposite. But God is merciful. His very name is mercy (see Exod. 33:6, 7). Thus, regardless of what we are going through and whether it is the result of our sin or not and whether we have brought it on ourselves or not, we can appeal to God’s mercy and be assured that we will find it.
4. That one’s handling of suffering can be an encouragement to other believers (v. 79; also v. 74). For the most part the poet has been thinking about and praying for himself. But he realizes here that what happens to him and how he reacts to it can be either a source of discouragement or a source of encouragement to others. He wants to be an encouragement. Hence, his two prayers: “May they who fear you rejoice when they see me” (v. 74) and “May those who fear you turn to me, those who understand your statutes” (v. 79). Are other believers happy when they see you?
In the latter half of this stanza the writer voices three prayers: for the arrogant, that they might be put to shame (v. 78); for other believers, that they might be encouraged by his example (v. 79); and for himself, that he might be enabled to live in a blameless manner so far as God’s decrees are concerned (v. 80). The heathen used to wish for “a sound mind in a sound body.” But the psalmist wants more. He wants “a sound heart,” blameless because it is grounded in the Word of God.
How can you reconcile God as the source of affliction with God’s love for the sufferer?
For what does the psalmist pray in verse 73?
List four things the psalmist comes to understand.
What are the psalmist’s three prayers in the second half of stanza 10?
Application: How can your suffering be a source of encouragement for others?
Prayer: Pray for an opportunity to serve and encourage others who are suffering in ways that you have in the past.