Theme: Turning toward God
This stanza of Psalm 119 tells us that studying God’s Word will bring delight in his decrees.
Scripture: Psalm 119:33-40
As we have previously noted, the best way to achieve a well-rounded education in God’s school is by keeping God’s Word before one’s mind, feet, heart and eyes.
3. The heart: “Turn my heart toward your statutes” (v. 36). In order to make progress in God’s school we have to understand what the way of God is and have strength to walk in it, directing our feet along the old established path. We also have to want to walk it, which is what the author prays for next when he implores, “Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain.”
This is the first time in this stanza that the writer has mentioned a negative alternative to what he is asking God to help him do. He is asking God to turn his heart toward the Bible rather than allowing him to pursue selfish gain. This means that, for the first time, he is confessing to a potentially divided mind. He wants to pursue God’s law, but he knows his heart and is aware that he could very well also decline into covetousness, which is the ruin of the soul. Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and money” (Matt. 6:24). The psalmist knew that. Moreover, he knew the appeal riches have and his inclination to pursue them. So he asks God to incline his heart away from riches toward God and his law instead.
4. The eyes: “Turn my eyes away from worthless things” (v. 37). The fourth part of the body that we need to have under control in order to pursue God and his commandments are the eyes. Eyes are needed for the study of God’s Word. But here the author does not even speak of what the eyes should be turned toward, only what he wants them to be turned from. He wants to be delivered from “worthless things” or “vanities.”
This verse follows naturally from the one before it, for once the writer has begun to consider what might keep him from a profitable study of the Bible, he realizes that he is tempted by more than mere riches. There are many worthless things, and they are all alluring. If we are to advance in God’s school, we must fix our eyes on the things of God, which are lasting, rather than on the things of this world, which are passing away.
Verse 37 occurs in Pilgrim’s Progress at a well-known point in the narrative. It is when Christian and Faithful come to Vanity Fair on their way to the Celestial City. Here all the merchandise of the world is for sale, but those who are on their way to the Celestial City do not fit in with these people. When they are asked to stop and buy, they put their hands to their ears and run away crying, “Turn away mine eyes from beholding Vanity,” and look toward heaven to show that the business of their lives is in that place.1 That sentence—”Turn away mine eyes from beholding Vanity”—is Psalm 119:37, of course, in the version available to Bunyan. It is the Christian’s only wise response to the vanities of this world.2
1John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress in vol. 15 of The Harvard Classics (Norwalk, CT: The Easton Press, 1993), p. 95.
2This four-part outline for verses 34-37 is in Spurgeon (from Marchant, one of the tutors at the Pastors’ College), but I have handled it somewhat differently, basing it on verses 34-37, rather than verses 33-36 as Marchant did. This changes the order of the points. See Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 3a, Psalms 88-119 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), p. 213.
Why is it critical to pray for the condition of the heart?
From what does the psalmist turn his eyes?
Application: What is your heart inclined to follow instead of God? What steps do you need to take to avoid these temptations?
Prayer: Confess your own dividedness. Ask to have your heart turned toward God.
Key Point: If we are to advance in God’s school, we must fix our eyes on the things of God, which are lasting, rather than the things of this world, which are passing away.