Theme: Our Lack of Understanding
In this last section of Psalm 119, we are reminded of our own need as poor sheep, and learn how the Lord will answer our prayers to supply what we lack.
Scripture: Psalm 119:169-176
Do you remember how Luther began the Ninety-Five Theses that he posted on the door of the Castle church in Wittenberg at the commencement of the Protestant Reformation? He said, “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘repent,’ he meant that the entire life of believers should be one of repentance.” In other words, there is never a moment, even after we are saved, when we can stop thinking of ourselves as lost sheep. Therefore, as another writer says, “The highest flights of human devotion must end in confession of sin….The sincerest professions of human fidelity must give place to the acknowledgment of helplessness….The loftiest human declarations of love to God’s law must come down to the mournful acknowledgment that we have only not forgotten it.”1
In this last verse, then, the psalmist is speaking of himself as he really is. Because of this, it might have been good to have studied this verse first, followed by the others. As it is, it might be useful even now to go back and study Psalm 119 all over again with these last prayers and this most humble self-description in mind.
In Psalm 23, the Shepherd’s Psalm, David wrote of the many things he did not lack with God as his good shepherd. “I shall lack nothing,” he says at the beginning (v. 1). And then he spells it out, saying, as it were, “I shall not lack rest; I shall not lack life; I shall not lack guidance; I shall not lack safety; I shall not lack comfort; I shall not lack provision; I shall not lack heaven.”2 In these last verses of this psalm, by a helpful contrast, the writer lists what he does lack, unless God is his shepherd. He is lacking in five areas, the first of which we look at in today’s study.
1. Understanding (v. 169). We might think that the person who wrote this psalm, or any psalm, a man obviously blessed and inspired by the Holy Spirit, would be conscious of how much he knew of God and God’s ways, or at least of how much he was learning. But this is not how the psalmist is thinking. Instead of being aware of how much he knew, he is conscious of how little he knows and that if he is to understand anything at all about God and God’s ways, God must open his eyes and give him understanding as he studies the Bible. So he asks God for understanding as he begins this final stanza:
May my cry come before you, O LORD;give me understanding according to your word.
Do we think we are wise? If we do, we are the most foolish of all people. On the other hand, if we recognize our foolishness and come to God for his instruction, we can begin to gain wisdom.
That is how Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth, who thought they were wise but who were allowing their pseudo-wisdom and prejudices to divide the church:
Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength (1 Cor. 1:20-25).
The psalmist was writing before the birth of Jesus, of course. He did not know what we know about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, or even a whole lot about the gospel, though he probably looked for a Redeemer, the Messiah, to come. Nevertheless, he knew that all genuine understanding comes from God and that he needed to ask God for it. And so he does.
1C. A. Davis, cited in Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 3a, Psalms 111-119 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 479.
2See James Montgomery Boice, Psalms, vol. 1, Psalms 1-41 (Grand Rapids, Baker, 1994), pp. 206-212.
How did Martin Luther begin his theses? How does this relate to the final verse of Psalm 119?
Why does the psalmist ask for understanding? How do we get an understanding of the Bible? Why must we start there?
Identify the admonition Paul gave to the church at Corinth. Just as Jews and Greeks emphasized other priorities over the cross, what other substitutes might others be tempted to make today, even within the church?
Reflection: Is your entire life one of repentance?
Prayer: Ask God to enable you to develop a humbler spirit, and to rely on his wisdom.
Key Point: There is never a moment, even after we are saved, when we can stop thinking of ourselves as lost sheep.