Theme: Right and Wrong Paths
In this week’s lessons, this portion of Psalm 119 shows that there are absolutes by which believers must live, which are contrary to what the world puts forth.
Scripture: Psalm 119:113-128
Choosing the right path and avoiding wrong ones brings us to the first of our two stanzas (vv. 113-120), in which the writer speaks particularly about right and wrong paths. The point of the last stanza was that the Bible alone enables us to see the right way clearly. The point of this stanza is that if we are to walk as God wants us to walk, we must determine to do it, since there are many contrary paths and much opposition.
Alexander Maclaren wrote that “this section is mainly the expression of firm resolve to cleave to the Law.” But he also saw a meaningful outline in it. Verses 113-115 “breathe love and determination.” This passes in verses 116 and 117 into “prayer in view of the psalmist’s weakness and the strength of temptation.” Finally, in verses 118-120 “the fate of the despisers of the Law intensifies the psalmist’s clinging grasp of awestruck love.”1 It will be helpful to follow Maclaren’s outline.
1. Determination to obey God’s law. How are you and I ever going to keep on obeying God’s law in a sinfully enticing world like ours? There are several answers to that question. The psalm itself elaborates on quite a few of them. But one thing is certain: We are never going to obey God’s law unless from the very beginning we determine to do it. That is our starting point. If we are to live for God, we must determine to obey him regardless of any enticing siren calls to sin.
What is our chief problem in this area? The biggest problem we face is suggested in verse 113, where the writer declares, “I hate double-minded men.” The adjective “double-minded” is from the same root as the word that is translated “two opinions” in 1 Kings 18:21. In that chapter, Elijah is on Mount Carmel challenging the people of Israel to follow Jehovah rather than the false god Baal. “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him,” he says. Double-minded people are people who know about God but are not fully determined to worship and serve him only. Or to put it in other words, they are those who want both God and the world. They want the benefits of true religion, but they want their sin, too.
The psalmist says that he hates people who are like this. He hates people halting between two opinions as much as he loves God’s law. But isn’t it also true that he is saying that he hates this same double-mindedness when he finds it in himself? Otherwise, why does he continue by asking God to “sustain” him, according to his promise, and “uphold” him so that he might be kept from sin? These verses “breathe” love of God’s law and determination to avoid double-mindedness, as Maclaren says. But it is only against the dark background of his tendency to be lukewarm that this strong fixing of his mind and will to obey God’s law makes sense.
How about ourselves? If the psalmist needed to fix his mind on obeying God, don’t we need to fix our minds on obeying God’s law too? James thought all Christians do, because he urged his readers to pray in faith, not wavering through any kind of weak indecision and doubt. The one who does waver “should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does,” is what he says (James 1:8). Unfortunately, we often do not pray in faith. We do waver, and the love of the world and its pleasures draws us away from God’s Word.
Yet the situation is not hopeless. In fact, there is great ground for confidence. Why? Obviously, because of God, who is not double-minded and who is on the believer’s side. Two points call for special notice. First, the writer calls God “my refuge and my shield” (v. 114). God is our refuge from those who would harm us, and our shield against temptations.
Second, he refers to “my God” (v. 115). This is the only place in the psalm where these words occur, but they are even more striking for that fact. They are important because they highlight a double gripping: on the one hand, the writer’s grip on God and, on the other, God’s grip on him. It is a case of what we are more likely to call the perseverance of the saints. This has to do with a double persevering. The saints must persevere, and will. But the reason they do so is that God first of all perseveres with them.
1Alexander Maclaren, The Psalms, vol. 3, Psalms 90-150 (New York: A.C. Armstrong and Son, 1894), p. 275.
What is Maclaren’s outline of this stanza?
Define the part that we play in walking on God’s path.
Who are the double-minded people? Does this characterize the psalmist?
Is the double-minded person’s condition hopeless? Why or why not?
What is meant by double persevering?
Reflection: Examine your own actions. In what ways are you double-minded?
Key Point: We are never going to obey God’s law unless from the very beginning we determine to do it.
Application: Resolve to obey God’s law no matter the cost or temptation to do the opposite.
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