Theme: The Source of True Wisdom
In this week’s lessons, we see that to love God’s Word is also to hate sin.
Scripture: Psalm 119:97-104
The first of the psalmist’s reasons why he had learned to love God’s law is the one most emphasized, since it is repeated in parallel fashion three times in verses 98-100. It is that God’s Word is the source of true wisdom. This is repeated so often that many scholars regard wisdom, rather than love of God’s law, as the stanza’s actual theme.
Like many parallel statements in the psalms, these verses have several sets of parallel ideas. As far as God’s Word is concerned, the writer refers to it as “your commands” (v. 98), “your statutes” (v. 99), and “your precepts” (v. 100). As far as wisdom is concerned, he reflects on being “wiser” (v. 98), having “more insight” (v. 99), and possessing “more understanding” than other wise people (v. 100). As far as comparisons with others who might claim to be wise are concerned, he says that the Bible has made him wiser than his “enemies” (v. 98), his “teachers” (v. 99), and “the elders” of the people (v. 100).
How can this be? How can the writer claim to be wiser than these others, particularly his teachers and the elders? Is this only the boast of some smart young student who thinks he has all the answers when he actually hardly even knows the right questions? Is he a “sophomore” in God’s school, one whose initial learning has made him only a “wise moron,” which is what the word “sophomore” means? Of course not. In each of these comparisons the psalmist is thinking of those who appear wise by the world’s standards but who lack the deeper wisdom that comes from the law of God.
This is clearest in the matter of his enemies. He has a lot to say about enemies in this psalm (as other psalm writers, especially David, also do), but he is not thinking here of the particular danger his enemies may have for him personally. He is thinking of their skill in manipulating truth and circumstances to their own worldly advantage. In this they are indeed shrewd. Even Jesus said, “The people of this world are more shrewd [KJV, ‘wiser’) in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light” (Luke 16:18). But to provide for “old number one” in this way is not genuine wisdom, since at its best it is for this life only, and at its worse it is perverted and destructive. We remember how Jesus also asked, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matt. 16:26). It is that better, spiritual wisdom—the salvation of his soul—that the psalmist gains by love for and obeying God’s Word.
It is not that the psalmist is made wise enough to outsmart these worldly enemies on their own terms; that does not fit the tone of the psalm at all. It is rather that these people have set themselves against God’s law, considering themselves to be superior to it, and the psalmist finds that he is made wiser than they are by his submission to God’s commands.
How about his teachers and the elders? Again, it is not that there is nothing to be learned from one’s teachers. They have accumulated knowledge. Or elders. Elders have accumulated experience. He is not saying that in general terms he has outstripped those who have studied longer or lived longer than he has. There is always much to learn from other wise people. Rather he is comparing spiritual learning with mere worldly wisdom and experience, and he is saying that the wisdom of God goes beyond anything he can learn from mere secular instructors.
And there is this, too: worldly wisdom is transient. “Where there is knowledge, it will pass away,” wrote Paul (1 Cor. 13:8). The knowledge of one generation is constantly being outmoded, especially by the fast pace of modern life. But the knowledge gained from the Bible is eternal. It will be as true on the day of our deaths as when we first learned it.
List parallel statements used to describe God’s Word and God’s wisdom.
What does the psalmist have to say about those who appear wise by the world’s standards?
How has the psalmist grown by submitting to God’s commands?
Reflection: Do you pursue worldly wisdom or spiritual learning?
Prayer: If you have experienced true spiritual wisdom—the salvation of the soul—then pray for those around you who need it.
Application: Write down areas of struggle in your life for which you have yet to seek God’s wisdom. Pray through each one.