Theme: The Need for God’s Illumination and Teaching
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
In each of the stanzas we have studied thus far we have found the writer’s confession that although he was determined to study God’s Word and live by it, he nevertheless could not do this by himself. In the first stanza he cried out, “I will obey your decrees; do not utterly forsake me” (v. 8). In the second stanza he prayed, “Teach me your decrees” (v. 12). It is the same in stanzas three and four. Here he is reflecting on his many trials because of wanting to live by God’s law. But if he is to live by it, God will have to open it up to him, teach him, give him understanding and keep him from other, false ways. He prays for four things.
1. “Open my eyes” (vv. 18, 19). The verb “open” in verse 18 is used in the Balaam story in Numbers where the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes so he could see the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn (Num. 22:31). It has to do with removing a veil or covering. Here it does not mean that the Word itself is covered, as if it were somehow unclear. The Bible is perfectly clear. That is what we mean when we speak of the clarity or perspicuity of Scripture. There is nothing dull about it. Rather the dullness is in us. Therefore, what we need is the removing of the veil from our eyes so we can see those “wonderful things” that are in the Bible.
Howard Carter was the world-renowned Egyptologist who discovered the marvelous gold artifacts of the tomb of King Tutankhamen in 1922. When he exposed the steps leading down to the burial chamber, Carter summoned Lord Carnarvon, the expedition’s sponsor, to be present when the tomb was opened. The two men made their way to the tomb and had the workmen push back the last covering to the door of the entrance chamber.
Lord Carnarvon asked impatiently, “Do you see anything?”
“Yes, wonderful things” was Carter’s memorable answer
And memorable they were! The most lavish, most beautiful objects ever found in any ancient tomb. Still they were pale compared with the far more wonderful things to be found in Scripture by anyone when God opens his or her spiritually blind eyes to perceive them. These treasures are wonderful in themselves, wonderful because their source is in God, wonderful because of what they do in us and for us, and wonderful because they are everlasting when everything else we know is rapidly passing away.
Do you remember the two Emmaus disciples? Jesus opened their eyes to see how he had to suffer and then enter into his glory. Afterward they testified, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).
It is important that God open our eyes then. But that is not the whole story. For while he was praying, the psalmist was nevertheless also doing his part, which he describes in verses 20 and following as, first, “longing for your laws” (v. 20); second, “meditat[ing] on your decrees” (v. 23); and third, “delight[ing]” in your statutes (v. 24).
In The Treasury of David Charles Haddon Spurgeon cites John Kerr as writing, “A man will never grow into the knowledge of God’s word by idly waiting for some new gift of discernment, but by diligently using that which God has already bestowed upon him, and using at the same time all other helps that lie within his reach.”1 In other words, if we want to see wonderful things in the Scriptures, it is not enough for us merely to ask God to open our eyes that we might see them. We must also study the Bible carefully. The Holy Spirit is given not to make our study unnecessary but to make it effective.
2. “Teach me your decrees” (v. 26). The second thing the psalmist prays for is that God would teach him his decrees. This is the same request he made in stanza two, verse 12. When we were looking at that verse I called attention to the way the Protestant Reformers always stressed that the written Word of God and the activity of the Spirit of God go together. The Spirit speaks through the Word. So if we desire to grow in grace, we need both to study the Bible and also to ask God through his Holy Spirit to be our teacher.
1Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 3a, Psalms 88-119 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), pp. 177, 178.
What is another meaning for the word “open” as used in v. 18?
Explain our part in the prayer to ask God to open our eyes.
What is the second thing the psalmist prays for?
Key Point: The Holy Spirit is given not to make our study unnecessary but to make it effective.