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Exploring Psalm 119:17-24

17 Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word.
18 Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.
19 I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not your commandments from me!
20 My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times.
21 You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones, who wander from your commandments.
22 Take away from me scorn and contempt, for I have kept your testimonies.
23 Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes.
24 Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.
Psalm 119:17-24

Psalm 119:17-24 continues to search deep into the heart of the matter, regarding a desperate desire to pursue the Word of the Lord. The follower of Christ has a passion to run after Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of his faith (Hebrews 12:1-2), and he can do this by meditating on Scripture day and night (Joshua 1:8-9). Through this stanza, we can once again see that “keeping the Word of the Lord” comes from a heart of love as opposed to a result of obligation. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep me commandments” (John 14:15), and we see a genuine love for God from the psalmist.

17 Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word.

There is a petition from the psalmist that the Lord his God would “deal bountifully” with him. The request from the psalmist is that God would sanctify his life in accordance with His Word. To “deal bountifully” is to cause growth in the life of the believer, and this is done often times through storms and trials. The psalmist is asking God to do what is necessary to help him rid himself of the world and look more like a child of the King. Note that his request is not timid, but a full request in the most trusting sense. He does not say, “take it slow and easy at my pace.” But instead, the psalmist says, “sanctify my life to the fullest degree,” which would insinuate that the Lord would do this on His timetable.

The reason that the psalmist gives for wanting to be made more in the image of God is so that he “may live and keep” the Word of the Lord. The only way that it is possible for us to live is if we are first “made alive in Christ” (Ephesians 2:1-10, Romans 5:1-17). But based upon the previous texts leading into this stanza, we can state with confidence that the psalmist has already been Justified by the grace of God. Therefore, his request that he “may live” is in regards to his manner of walking in accordance with the Word of God. So, we can see that “live” and “keep” join hand in hand for this petition. In other words, to live for Christ is to keep His commandments.

Ultimately, we can see that this stanza begins with a plea to be “conformed into the image of the Son of God” (Romans 8:29), even though the psalmist is looking ahead to the coming Messiah. And our desire, as believers today, should be no different. We should petition that God would “deal bountifully” with us, so that we might “walk in His ways and keep His commandments.” God “deals bountifully” with His servants in many capacities. We can see this through hardship, pain, struggle, sickness. We can also see this in victory, rejoicing, prosperity and success. After the new birth, the believer is being sanctified to one day be glorified (Romans 8:28-31). And in this sanctification process, we understand that it is only possible by being “washed in the Word” (Ephesians 5:26-27) consistently.

18 Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.

What an amazing request this is from the psalmist! We can see that he has a desperate desire to see and understand the Law of the Lord. He desires that his eyes would be opened to “behold wondrous things” from Scripture. He is following the instructions that we can now see in Proverbs, which is to search for wisdom as if it is hidden treasure (Proverbs 2:1-5).

Amazingly, the psalmist is not requesting that God speak to him audibly. He understands the sufficiency of Scripture, even in the days when “God spoke to our fathers by the prophets” (Hebrews 1:1). He grasps the reality that the Word of the Lord is magnificently written down for His people to see and understand. And not only that, but there are “wondrous things” that we can “behold” by seeking Christ through Scripture. Our desire should be no different than this single petition in this stanza. We should want God to reveal Himself to us through His Word. And Scripture is sufficient to do this.

19 I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not your commandments from me!

The psalmist now reminds us that the children of God are just traveling through this world, but the earth is not our home. “For we know that if the tent that is our earth home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). And because of this, the psalmist does not want to live like the world. He doesn’t want to be consumed with the culture. He doesn’t want to follow the patterns of society. Instead, he desires to understands the commands of God, so that he can pattern his life after the culture that he was made to be a part of. In other words, because he is a new creation, he no longer fits into the cultural norms, nor does he desire to live like the world around him. Now, because he has been Justified by God’s Grace, he understands that this world is not his home, and so he is desperate to be made Holy, as His father in Heaven is Holy (Matthew 5:48).

Ultimately, this request points back to verse 17. The psalmist has a desire to be sanctified — to be made more like Christ. And in this petition, he understands that the only way that this is possible is if he knows and understands Scripture. He cries out unto the Lord, “Hide not your commandments from me!” And in saying this, we can learn that the Word of the Lord is sufficient for our sanctification. Our continuous prayer to God should be that He would “enlighten the eyes of our hearts, so that we might know what is the hope to which he has called us” (Ephesians 1:18).

20 My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times.

This has a interesting correlation with Psalm 42:1-2, which says, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” This is referring to the satisfaction that we have in who God is for our lives. In the same way that the water quenched the thirst of the deer who was desperate, so Christ satisfies our soul as nothing else in this world can do.

The psalmist here says that his “soul is consumed with longing for” the precepts of the Lord. In other words, he is desperate to quench his spiritual thirst, and he knows that the only way that this is possible is for more of God Himself. He is “longing for” more of a relationship with the Lord. You can almost sense the anguish in these words, as the psalmist is crying out for more of God!

Note, once again, the sufficiency of the Word of God. The psalmist is not crying out for God to speak a direct new revelation to him in order to be given more of Jehovah. He knows that Scripture, and specifically the precepts of Scripture, are a sufficient source for knowing God more deeply than ever before. And also take note that he desires the Word “at all times” because this is what a follower of Christ realizes, once he has tasted the water. “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8). Just as the deer tastes the water and recognizes that there is nothing else in the forest that can quench its thirst like the water does, so the believer tastes the goodness of the Word of God, and no longer searches after anything else. This is because “at all times” Scripture is satisfying to the soul of the Christian.

21 You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones, who wander from your commandments.

The psalmist recognizes the reality that the commands from Leviticus 26 are still in effect. Essentially, when reading this passage, what you will find is that God tells His people if they obey the Law of the Lord, then there will be much blessing. But if they choose to disobey the commands of God, then there will be consequences to their decisions and actions.

Throughout the entire Bible, we can understand that following the commands of God and obeying His Laws will result in blessing for the Christian. Now, defining “blessing” has often been an issue in Christianity, because most people want this to mean financial or earthly prosperity. But the reality of the situation is that “blessing” is an eternal joy that we find in Christ. He is the sufficient blessing for the true follower. We are blessed with Christ, when we obey the commands of God.

As we read verse 21, the psalmist gives us clear understanding that the Lord does, in fact, “rebuke” those who “wander from” the commands of God. Not only is this from an eternal standpoint, where those who reject God will experience His wrath in everlasting torment. But also on this temporary earth, there is “rebuke” by God withholding His blessing from their lives. Again, this blessing is Christ. Oh, what greater rebuke could one experience, but to be without the Hope of Jesus?

22 Take away from me scorn and contempt, for I have kept your testimonies.

In contrast to those who “wander from” the commands of God, the psalmist makes an appeal for the Lord to show grace to the life of a child of the King, because he has “kept” the testimonies. In other words, the writer is asking God to be true to His Word. Because of his obedience, the result of the believer should be much blessing from God. And as mentioned in the previous verse, the blessing is Christ Himself.

Note the plea from the psalmist. He makes a petition that God would remove something from his life. It appears that the writer has been wronged and is asking the Lord to help him to heal past the hurt. All things are in the hands of the Lord, because He is Sovereignly supreme over His entire creation. Therefore, it is rightful that the believer would request that God would protect him.

One of the blessings that we find in obeying the Law of the Lord is that God would be a “shield,” “fortress,” and a “very present help in time of trouble.” It is important to recognize that God did not prevent this “scorn” from happening, because it is apart of the sanctification process. The believer will keep the testimonies of the Lord in times of distress, and there he will find much hope.

23 Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes.

The psalmist has been abused by men who are in leadership positions. It is evident that this seeming betrayal caused much spiritual pain in the life of the follower of Christ. But the focus of this petition is not on the accusation of those in the wrong, but on the sufficiency that the believer found in Scripture. It was the Word of God that comforted the downtrodden man. It was the Word of God that acted as a confidant. It was the Word of God that gave wisdom for dealing with the issue and growing.

From these three verses, we can start to view our troubles through the lens of Providence. It is a culmination of the validity of Romans 8:28. “All things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” Even in this seemingly slanderous betrayal, the true follower of Christ is driven to the Word of God. This is the way that we grow in our sanctification. And ultimately, this is the purpose of all of our trials, which are under the control of the Father.

24 Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.

To conclude the stanza, the psalmist points the reader to the only source of hope in times of distress. He makes the declaration that the Word of the Lord brings “delight” to his soul. And more importantly, the believer finds joy in the testimonies of God.

Specifically, in the context of the psalmist, Scripture was the counselor through the issues regarding those who sought to destroy his life by plotting against him and slandering his name. When this trouble came into his life, the disciple focused his attention on the Word of God. This, once again, proves the sufficiency of Scripture, even in the times of the Prophets. The psalmist did not seek new revelation for counsel, but instead, saw the current Law of the Lord as a “lamp to his feet and a light to his path.”

We must understand that Scripture is enough for our sanctification. After we have been Justified by the grace of God, we are able to grow spiritually by walking in the Law of the Lord. The Holy Spirit gives us conviction to abide in the Son, and He enlightens the eyes of our heart in such a way that we can understand the meaning of Scripture. It is with this wisdom that we can grow in the “knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” We must continue to “walk by faith and not by sight,” and this is only possible when we trust the sufficiency of the Word of God.