Theme: The Preserving Word
In this week’s lessons from Psalm 119, we see the endurance of God’s Word and its saving power.
Scripture: Psalm 119:89-96
I have noted several times in these studies how practical the writer of Psalm 119 is, and this is a quality we see again here. His theme is the eternal or enduring character of God’s Word. But starting with that truth, he then reflects on what this eternal or indestructible Word has done for him. It has done three things, he says. First, it has rescued him in his affliction. Second, it has renewed his nearly extinguished life. Third, it has saved and, he is sure, will continue to save him from the wicked persons who were trying to destroy him.
1. Preservation by God’s Word (v. 92). This verse picks up on the theme of the last three stanzas, which is affliction. And it tells us that God heard and answered the prayer with which those stanzas end. What was it that got the psalmist through those extremely hard times? The answer is God, of course. But that is not the way the writer states the answer in this verse. He says, “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.” In other words, what got him through his afflictions was his life-long habit of reading, marking, learning, meditating upon, inwardly digesting and, above all, obeying God’s law. Thus, even in stanza eleven, the lowest point of all in this long psalm, he maintains:
I have put my hope in your word (v. 81).
I do not forget your decrees (v. 83).
I have not forsaken your precepts (v. 87).
I will obey the statutes of your mouth (v. 88).
When we get in trouble we usually go to God for help, which the writer did, too. But we often stop at that point, expecting God to intervene all by himself, miraculously without any work on our part. The psalmist was wiser than we are, for while he prayed for help, he also did what he was able and obliged to do. He studied and meditated on the Bible. He knew that although it is God who must work, God nevertheless works through means, and in the matter of lifting us out of our trouble and setting our feet upon a sure foundation, the great and only indispensable means of deliverance and growth is Bible study.
Martin Luther appreciated this point, for Psalm 119:92 meant a great deal to him. The words of this verse are written in his own hand in his own Bible, preserved in the Brandenburg Mark Museum, Berlin.
This is a good point at which to distinguish the four synonyms for Scripture occurring in verses 81, 83, 87 and 88. “Word” (dabar, v. 81) is the most general of these terms. It embraces everything that God has said in the Bible, whether it be law or gospel, commands or promises. “Decrees” (huqqim, sometimes rendered “statutes,” v. 83) refers to binding rules or laws, such as those inscribed on a stone tablet—the Ten Commandments, for instance. “Precepts” (piqqudim, v. 87) is like our word “regulations.” It is what a government official might issue after he has looked into a problem and figured out what detailed rules might resolve it. “Statutes” (hedot, sometimes rendered “testimonies,” v. 88) pictures the Bible as God’s faithful witness to his people, containing warnings of distress and judgment if the Word is disobeyed and promises of blessing and joy if it is heeded.
The point is that in his affliction the psalmist took the whole of the Bible as his and clung to it tenaciously. He knew, as the Apostle Paul also knew, that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17). We never know what portion of the Bible God will use to bless us and keep us steady in hard times.
Identify three things the eternal Word has done for the psalmist.
What action does the psalmist take when going through hard times?
Explain four synonyms for “Scripture” used here.
What portions of Scripture does the psalmist refer to in his affliction?
Application: What pattern do you fall into when you get into trouble? Do you have the same Bible study habits as the psalmist?
Key Point: Although it is God who must work, God nevertheless works through means, and in the matter of lifting us out of our trouble and setting our feet upon a sure foundation, the great and only indispensable means of deliverance and growth is Bible study.