Psalm 119 is a gift to Christ’s church. If you’ve encountered it before, you know its massive. This psalm is composed of 176 verses. For its gargantuan size, there is only one big idea presented: the Word of God. I challenge you to point to any verse at random. Go ahead. Do it. I bet you’ll find a verse concerned with God’s Word. There’s another fascinating point. The psalm is an acrostic poem. That means that the author purposefully structured each section in alphabetical order. Most Bibles have a title over each of the sections corresponding to the Hebrew alphabet.
All of this is rather fascinating but there’s one more component worthy of our observation: Psalm 119 is chiefly a prayer. The psalm is a prayer calling God’s people to love the law of the Lord. This is a truly counter-cultural idea. People hate rules. We are naturally allergic to them. This is basically because the law is a reminder to us that we are sinners hopeless apart from the grace of God. This is the first use of the law; it shows us our need for Christ. James sums this up well, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” (James 2:10 ESV) Have you ever broken the law of God? Ever lied? Ever stole? Ever lusted after someone or something? Ever misused God’s name? Ever desecrated the Sabbath? etc. According to Scripture, you and I are guilty of the whole law by virtue of our most minute infraction.
What do we do with that? We are held responsible and will be judged rightly. We cannot satisfy God’s demand for perfection or flee this guilty verdict. God’s law must be satisfied, or else He will cease to be a righteous judge. But Christ comes to settle our account with God. Jesus sets us free from the condemnation that we deserve under God’s law. God tells us, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” (Galatians 3:13 ESV) We are freed from the condemnation of the law by faith in Jesus Christ.
With this before us, how can we see the law as a good thing? Can we pray Psalm 119 as a Christian under grace? Absolutely. First, we must recognize that the law is a reflection of God’s holy character. Second, the law is “holy and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” (Romans 7:12 ESV) Third, the law shows us how we can express our thankfulness for what God has done for us in Christ; this is often called the third use of the law.
The law is not a means of salvation for anyone. The law is the song of thanksgiving offered up to God reflexively for what God has done for believers in Christ. Our love of the law is a reflex of our desire to love Christ who kept the law for us. So, when we read Psalm 119, we need to see it in its proper place today as the prayer of a Christian who desires to grow.
The whole psalm is beneficial, but like any good meal it needs to be cut up into smaller pieces if it’s going to be enjoyed. Psalm 119:33-40 is a great cross section to showcase the believer’s need. We are taught to pray, “Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end.” (ESV) We stand in need of God’s Word. It must be taught to us. We don’t know these things naturally. We may know some things about God because He’s revealed them through creation. But we stand in need of God’s special revelation, that is the Bible.
So, the prayer of a Christian has to begin with seeking God’s help to grow in understanding the Word. That is what is conveyed in the word “statute” from Psalm 119:33. A “statute” is another word for a rule, or a written regulation. The psalmist is pleading with God to help him learn what God has taught His people. This must be our reflex as well. How many of you are glad when someone teaches you something that changes your life for the better? Some instruction is even lifesaving! But even more precious than that knowledge is learning what God has said and having that guide every part of our lives.
Can you say that you’ve asked God to teach you His ways? We need His voice to change how we parent, and how we love our spouses, and how we work in the office, and how we live in our community, and how we handle when our cars break down. It turns out there are many places in our world that need His voice. What needs to grow is our awareness of how dependent we really are and how gracious He truly is. May we too learn to delight in his law.