Theme: God’s Purposes
This week’s lessons from Psalm 119 show that suffering can bring us closer to God and his Word.
Scripture: Psalm 119:65-88
Psalm 119, verses 65-88, explore the second of five uses of affliction in the believer’s life—that is, suffering that is corrective—because this is what the writer says God did with him. God sent affliction into his life as a divine corrective to direct him into right paths so that he might know and obey God’s Word. As the writer explores in stanza nine, this answer to the purpose of God in suffering has two parts.
1. Obedience (v. 67). The first thing the writer says God did by sending suffering into his life was to teach him obedience: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.”
The Hebrew of this verse does not suggest that the writer had plunged into deliberate and willful sin and was then reproved by God and returned to the path of righteousness. Going astray has to do mostly with ignorance. It means that before God brought affliction into his life he trusted to his own judgment and wandered into vain and harmful paths but that, when things did not go well for him, he turned to God’s Word and discovered the right way to live and began to obey the Bible’s teachings.
We can gain solace here by remembering that the Bible says even of Jesus, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered” (Heb. 5:8).
2. Greater understanding of God’s ways (v. 71). The second blessing the psalmist says he got from suffering was greater understanding of God’s decrees in Scripture: “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn from your decrees.”
We might think that the order of these two verses is reversed, since knowing God’s decrees should precede obeying them. That is true, but it is not what the psalmist means here. When he read God’s law he knew it well enough to obey it then, and did. But as he was continually driven to the study of the Word by continuing afflictions, he came to understand the Bible more fully and at deeper and deeper levels.
This is what Martin Luther meant when he confessed, “I never knew the meaning of God’s word, until I came into affliction. I have always found it one of my best schoolmasters.”1 Luther already understood God’s Word; he had been teaching it. But he came to understand it more deeply when God led him through the deep waters of affliction.
1Charles Bridges, Psalm 119: An Exposition (Edinburgh, Scotland, and Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1977), pp. 181, 182. Original edition 1827.
What was the purpose of affliction in the psalmist’s life?
Identify what the psalmist means when he talks about going astray.
What two purposes can there be for suffering due to God’s correction?
Why is obedience to God’s decrees listed before understanding them in this passage?
Reflection: Are you driven to study God’s Word more during good times or during bad?
Application: If you are suffering now, start by obeying what you know God would have you do and then recommit yourself to regular prayer and Bible study.