The Word of God
Some of us, myself included, having got up in the morning, find it much too easy to have a rather too cursory read of the scriptures and prayer, and then get on with the day's activities.
Treating the scriptures seriously is vitally important. This afternoon I want us to see what one person in the Old Testament viewed the word of God and he said about it. The person is unnamed; many think it was David and it may have been, but as we are not told it can't really matter - what matters is what he wrote.
The Book of Psalms is full of majestic and wonderful psalms written in different situations by different people based on different moods and feelings of the psalmist. But it is instructive to note that this Psalm, by far the longest of the Psalms, has one overall theme - and that of God's word. Psalm 119, the Psalm with 176 verses, is all about God's word - that's the theme, and in fact, God's word is so important to the psalmist that it is mentioned in almost every verse - not quite every verse, but almost every verse. So we see immediately through this that God who inspired this Psalm, as he did the whole of the scriptures, gives great emphasis to his word.
You are probably aware that it is a long acrostic poem. It is a poem in 22 sections and unlike the division into verses in other parts of scripture (which in general are a convenience but not inspired), here the division into verses follows the divinely given pattern of the psalm. Each of the 22 sections has 8 verses. Within each section, the first word of every verse starts with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and each section is based on a different letter.
Psalm 119:1-16, 97-112, 129-144, 169-176
As we look through the Psalm it is possible to identify different emphases in the different sections, but that is not what I want to look at this afternoon. I am going to take this Psalm at a more simple level. What I want to do is to discover some overall themes and thoughts that are found in this wonderful poem. The psalm is long - it is impossible to offer anything like a complete and comprehensive review in the time available . so, do take the time to read it through carefully and think about it at home.
We should remember that the Psalmist when he wrote was thinking of the part of God's word that he knew - probably only the Books of Moses - but clearly what he writes is true of the complete revelation of God and I am going to treat it as though he is writing of the whole Bible.
I want to look at it under the following headings:
- Firstly, what words does the psalmist use for God's word - because he doesn't always refer to it as "the word" or "words". We just look briefly at that.
- Secondly, what are some of the truths about God's word that this psalm emphasizes.
- Thirdly, what does this psalm tells us about the writer's attitude to God's word.
- Fourthly, what are some of the practical effects of God's word as noticed by the psalmist - what does God's word do?
What terms does the psalmist use when referring to God's word, what truths do we find about God's word, what is the writer's attitude to God's word and what are some of the practical effects of God's word.
What words does the Psalmist use to refer to God's word?
With the help of a good concordance I find that there are 8 words that the Psalmist uses - each approx the same number of times (around 20, just over 20) and a ninth that is used occasionally. Sometimes they appear in our translations in the singular and sometimes plural: law, testimonies, precepts, statutes, commandments, judgments and 2 totally different words that are both translated as 'word' in the King James Version - several other translations give one of these as 'word' or 'words' and the other as 'promises'. Finally, he occasionally uses the word 'ways'.
Let me very briefly just give some passing comments about these terms used to describe God's word. The use of the term 'word' shows us the amazing truth that God has spoken; God's word - God has spoken. The term translated as 'law' is the Hebrew word Torah, also meaning 'teaching' - it is what God has taught and we therefore need to learn. 'Judgments' are decisions which God has made, the term translated 'statutes' comes from the word for engraving, implying that these are unchangeable words. 'Precepts' are authoritatively imposed, and 'commandments' require obedience. To me the term 'testimonies' indicates that God's word is a testimony or witness to God; and the use of the word for 'promises' reminds us that God's word isn't just instruction but God makes many wonderful promises too.
Now, although different terms are used, each with its own emphasis, I will not be stressing that but taking each as telling us about God's word in general.
The writer identifies many truths about God's word. I will mention some of them in the next few minutes; they should help to mould our attitude to this book.
1a) From God [verses 1,115]
" Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD" (v.1)
"I will keep the commandments of my God" (v.115)
It comes from the Lord. That's the essential starting point. Other books are good, other books are helpful, other books give great information - but none others are from the Lord. Of course, we hold to the verbal inspiration of Scripture - every single word in the original texts was inspired by God, although in a wonderful way He uses the personalities and writing styles of those He chooses to give us His word in order to convey His message. But it is HIS word; this is the pre-requisite, without this starting point, our study is merely an academic exercise.
The thought is similar in verses 72 and 88 where it is described as being of God's mouth - these are God's words, as though God Himself actually spoke them. That's how important they are. There can, of course, be no words more important than those of the infinite, omnipotent God.
1b) Eternal [verse 89]
" For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven" (v.89)
The source of this word is God, and springing from its source is the truth of the existence of the word outside of time. "Settled in the heavens for ever". That's a great statement - it emphasises that there are no doubts about God's word, we need be in no fear that He will change his mind. Its truths and existence are eternal. What God says in time is eternally true. Settled in the heavens for ever - what a wonderful statement! What God has promised in his word is decreed and settled. Everything we as Christians bank on, all those things we rely on because God's word says them - it's fine, they are settled in the heavens for ever. There's no reason to allow any doubt to creep in. What God has said is settled in the heavens for ever. Verse 152 says something similar, and verse 160b also promises that they continue through eternity.
So that's the source and its relation to time, its eternalness.
What about the content?
1c) True [verses 151,160]
" Thou art near, O LORD; and all thy commandments are truth" (v.151)
"Thy word is true from the beginning" (v.160)
This is obvious, given the source, but it is still emphasised here, so I will emphasise it. God's word is true.
Strange things have happened to truth over the last 100 years. This rebellious Western world has in general lost its belief in an absolute God, and hand-in-hand with this there has been a loss of belief in absolute truth. Truth has become relative - as man today sees everything: what is a truth for you may not be a truth for me. Not only does modern man not believe the same things as we do, but his whole way of thinking is different. We could have had an intelligent debate with a Victorian about an issue of spiritual importance and we may not have agreed, but at least we would have understood each other. But for many this is no longer the case - to many, truth itself no longer exists in any absolute sense.
But God's word IS true. Every single word as originally given is true. Nothing in it is or can be false; we can rely on it and its veracity completely.
1d) Pure [verse 140]
" Thy word is very pure: therefore thy servant loveth it" (v.140)
The word 'pure' used here comes from the refining process. Metals are refined by getting rid of impurities - once thoroughly refined they are pure. We have already noted that God's word is true , but this is an extra quality. There are many things that may be true, but not pure. But because God is pure, God's word is intrinsically pure.
1e) Very faithful [verses 86, 138]
" All thy commandments are faithful" (v.86)
"Thy testimonies that thou hast commanded are righteous and very faithful" (v.138)
You can depend on God's word. We have the sayings of a God who cannot lie; the promises in them are faithfully performed by Him that made them; they are all "yes and amen" in Christ.
We have seen that the Word is God's - He is the source, it is settled in the heavens for ever, it is true, pure and very faithful. But there is more:
1f) Wonderful [verse 129]
" Thy testimonies are wonderful" (v.129)
The word used here in the original text is sometimes used to relate to the miraculous. When God is described as doing 'wonders' in the land of Egypt (Psalm 78:12; Ex 15:11 - at the Red Sea) this is the word that's used. God's word is wonderful because it is totally out of the ordinary, it is miraculous, it is something to cause our astonishment - it is the revelation of the infinite eternal God. It is so easy to lose the wonder of it; we read it, we study it, but we can easily lose our amazement, our wonder at such an extraordinary book. It is wonderful!
1g) Comprehensive [verse 96]
" thy commandment is exceeding broad" (v.96)
The word 'broad' here means, the experts say, "in any and every direction"; I would interpret that to indicate that God's word is comprehensive. It is relevant for every detail of our lives, its scope is broad. It is not, of course, just limited to our first day of the week (we hear of Sunday Christians sometimes) but God's Word is applicable and relevant to everything. That's one reason why study of the word is so important.
So, these are just some of the truths about this wonderful book that the Psalmist notes: the source is God Himself, it is settled in the heavens for ever, it is true, pure and very faithful. It is wonderful and exceeding broad (relevant for all details of our lives). And there are other truths which I haven't mentioned, some of which you have undoubtedly noticed, but we must move on.
2. The psalmist's attitude to God's word
What an extraordinary and marvellous book. We will see some more truths about this book when we consider its practical effects a bit later, but let's now consider the author's attitude to it. There is much that comes out regarding how he feels about God's word - I will pick out what I think are some of the key points - again, this is certainly not exhaustive, far from it. And let's consider, as we think about the psalmist's attitude, what ours is. How do we feel about God's word?
2a) In awe [verse 161]
" my heart standeth in awe of thy word" (v.161)
We stand in awe of something that is magnificent, or someone who can perform marvellous feats. When we reflect on God's word it is awesome, isn't it? That God, the infinite, indescribable one, outside of time and space, all powerful, all knowing, the creator of everything should choose to reveal Himself to us through words - that is awesome. And what He reveals, what He tells us through His word - that He loves us so much that He gave Himself so that terrible unholy rebels such as ourselves can be made acceptable to Him - that too is truly awesome. The psalmist wrote "my heart stands in awe of thy word" - he had some understanding of the awe of God's word.
But one of the wonderful things about God's word is that although we view it with awe, we can still have pleasure in it.
2b) My delight [verses 24, 70, 77, 92, 143, 174]
" Thy testimonies also are my delight" (v.24)
"I delight in thy law" (v.70)
"thy law is my delight" (v.77)
"Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction" (v.92)
"thy commandments are my delights" (v.143)
"thy law is my delight" (v.174)
The psalmist delights in the word - he looks at it with pleasure. And time and again he tells us. He loves opening his bible and reading what God has to say, he doesn't tire of it. It's a pleasure, a joy. It the same true of us? Do we delight in God's word? Do we enjoy reading it? Of course, sometimes it challenges and corrects us rather than pleases us - and most of us don't enjoy being corrected - but all in all we should find, as the psalmist did, that we can delight in the word.
2c) My rejoicing [v14,162]
" I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches" (v.14)
" I rejoice at thy word, as one that findeth great spoil " (v.162)
Similarly, he tells us several times that he rejoices in the word - "I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies" (verse 14), for example. He delights himself in the word, and he rejoices in it.
2d) My songs [v54]
" Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage" (v.54)
And, further, in verse 54 we find that God's statutes are his song- we may sing to express or joy, we sing to offer our praise, we also teach songs to children as an aid to remembering scriptural truths. God's statutes were the psalmist's song.
2e) Precious (verses 72, 127)
" The law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver " (v.72)
" I love thy commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold " (v.127)
"Better than silver or gold". Tell this to a man of the world and he will think you're mad. Of course, it is better than thousands of gold and silver, of course, it is above fine gold; it deals with eternal issues. The new Christians in Ephesus had the right idea (in Acts 19) when they destroyed unholy books - books that directly opposed God's word, the books of their sorcery - the financial cost was enormous, but that didn't matter to them, they had something that was better than silver or gold. (Luke tells us that they destroyed 50000 drachmas worth - a drachma being a day's wage for an ordinary working man - that's around 150 years worth of wages - a gigantic sum of money). The word, God's word, was far more important to them than what they would lose financially.
And thankfully we often do see the same sort of attitude among Christians today; there are many young believers who have taken God's word seriously enough to choose a less lucrative path for their secular work than they might have done otherwise, because they understand that the Christian lifestyle as outlined in God's word is not the same as that of the world's.
2f) My meditation [verse 15, 23, 97, 148]
" I will meditate in thy precepts " (v.15)
" thy servant did meditate in thy statutes " (v.23)
" O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day " (v.97)
" Mine eyes prevent the night watches, that I might meditate in thy word " (v.148)
Meditation has got itself a bit of a bad name with Christians as it is so often linked to Buddhism and eastern religions- meditation linked with emptying of the mind. The psalmist meditated and his meditation had nothing to do with this - instead it was a focused meditation- reflecting on God's word.
Most of us are very busy, we seem to find ourselves with far too much to do. We read the word, we pray and then move on to something else. Of course, it is good, it is essential to hold on to a regular habit of reading the scriptures and praying - but what about this: "My eyes stay open during the night watches that I may meditate of thy word" [verse 148]. Choosing to stay awake at night in order to reflect, think about, mentally chew over what God has written. Meditation was clearly is of enormous importance to the psalmist, and several times we find him mentioning it. How important is it to us? All night sessions may not be practical for many of us, but giving time for quiet reflection on what God has written should be habitual for each of us.
2g) My desire [verses 20, 40]
" My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto thy judgments at all times " (v.20)
" Behold, I have longed after thy precepts " (v.40)
He has an intense desire for God's word. It is that important to him and gives him so much pleasure that he is always wanting God's word - he longs for it. I can imagine him, as he goes about his busy schedule fervently wishing that he had more time to spend with his scriptures. We have already seen that he meditates on God's word through the night.
2h) Determined obedience (verse 33)
" Teach me, O LORD, the way of thy statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end " (v.33)
He is determined to be obedient right to the end. Life has many difficulties and discouragements, but whatever the problems being obedient to God and His word is what is important to him, and he is determined to keep it until God chooses to take him away.
2i) Grief over the attitude of others (verses 53, 136, 158)
" Horror hath taken hold upon me because of the wicked that forsake thy law " (v.53)
" Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law " (v.136)
" I beheld the transgressors, and was grieved; because they kept not thy word " (v.158)
"Horror takes hold of him", he is grieved", "he weeps" because others don't keep God's word.
The psalmist is hurt, he is deeply grieved, he weeps because he sees God's word being ignored. He has the deepest respect for God's honour. And surely one of the saddest trends in society today is the progressive abandoning of God's standards as given in His word. For a country that was once considered a Christian country and where much of the law was once based on Biblical standards, we find ourselves a very long way down the road of having norms which are opposed to scripture. And this rejection of God's standards is grievous to those who truly love the Lord.
2j) keeps company with those who keep thy precepts (verse 63)
" I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts " (v.63)
Whose company does he enjoy? It is not those that grieve him because of their disobedience to God; there cannot be any real fellow-feeling with such. No, he finds those who have a similar attitude to God word, those are the people he is with, these are his companions- those who keep God's precepts. Notice too that there is mutual encouragement; he makes such people glad (verse 74) because he has hoped in God's word.
2k) loves [verse 97]
" O how love I thy law! " (v.97)
And perhaps there is one word that summarizes his attitude to God's word; he loves it.
Often we find the author in a difficult situation, let's see his attitude to God's word when he has problems - I will pick out some examples:
even when things are bad:
he remembers (v.61)
he keeps with his whole heart (v.69)
he will meditate (v.78)
he forsook not (v.87)
his delights (v.143)
Here God hadn't protected him from the bands of the wicked (v.61). God hasn't stopped the proud lieing about him (v.69). God hadn't prevented the proud unjustly dealing perversely with him (v.78). His enemies had almost consumed him (v.87). Trouble and anguish had taken hold of him (v.143). Sometimes God allows a situation, a path for us that we don't like, that we ourselves would not choose, the Lord allows it - perhaps to test our faith, perhaps to discipline, perhaps to draw us closer to him, but whatever the reason God allows it. The psalmist responded by remembering God's words, he focuses on what God has written, meditating on it, keeping it with his whole heart and delighting in it.
We have seen some of the terms that the psalmist uses for God's word, we have considered some of the truths that he expresses regarding it and now we have thought a little about how he views it.
The practical effect of God's word
Finally I want us to notice what the word did for him, the practical effect of God's word. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword. Let's see in what ways our psalmist found it active.
3a) quickening [verse 93]
" I will never forget thy precepts: for with them thou hast quickened me. " (v.93)
God's word doesn't just give information, it gives life. God's word is powerful and effective, and is life giving. How many there have been who have never heard a preacher but have picked up God's word or just part of God's word, read it and have found life. God's word is life giving. It can totally change the spiritually dead, it makes them alive.
3b) gives understanding [Psalm verses 98-100,104]/ gives light [Psalm verse 130]
" Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts. " (v.98-100)
" Through thy precepts I get understanding " (v.104)
" The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple " (v.130)
The word gives understanding of those things that are important. A child who believes God's word knows that there is heaven and hell, and salvation through trust in the Lord Jesus Christ - he understands so much more of the vital essentials than his teacher who rejects God's word. A child who believes Genesis 1 in God's word understands more than the foremost intellectuals who try to work out how everything exists but leave God out. You may have seen or heard in the News recently about Professor Antony Flew, a top Oxford University thinker and a professor of philosophy, a man who was a leading proponent of atheism for more than 50 years. He says that he now thinks that there must be an intelligence behind the universe because of (and I quote)" the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce [life]". That's what he said! Sadly he still rejects the revelation of this intelligence in the Bible. A child who simply believes God's word understands much more than he still does on this issue.
3c) a lamp and a light [verse 105]
" Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path " (v.105)
And after we have received life the word shows us the way. Many years ago when I was young, junior school age, I was given an autograph album and in the manner of strange children I would get anyone and everyone to write in it; I would thrust it under the noses of visitors to the family home - usually visiting Christians who would then feel obliged to write some words of instruction, encouragement or advice. This was many years ago, but even after all this time there was one message that I remember. It was actually written in by one of my sisters, and it was this verse (Psalm 119:105), she drew a lamp to go alongside of it. That was the message that she felt I needed and there can hardly be any better advice for a young Christian than to remember and act upon this verse. We will only go God's way if we follow His word. It is so easy to use our own way of thinking, but if we not following His word then we are going the wrong way, of course. I am sure that there are many who will take a certain path sincerely believing it to be the right way, but do it based on an ignorance of God's word - clearly, to follow God's word we need to know it.
3d) hid in heart so won't sin (verse 11)
" Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee " (v.11)
God's word is a protector from sin- if hid in the heart. Read, taken seriously, meditated upon, remembered - all are involved in hiding in the heart. Again this takes time, but it helps to protect us from sin. The Lord Jesus provides the perfect example of the use of God's word when under temptation- for each of Satan's temptations He was able to respond with the appropriate scripture - He not only knew the scriptures, of course, but understood how they should be applied, which verses were appropriate in which situation. How vitally important it is that we hide the word in our hearts, there is no better protector from sinning.
And going back a couple of verses we have a vitally important practical issue.
"How shall a young man shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word " [verse 9]
Purity. Perhaps sexual purity is the most obvious exemplar of this. These words here are directed particularly to the young men, but let's not suppose that whatever our age or gender we are immune from the dangers. The word is clear, and we should, of course, remember that purity involves not just what we do, but what goes on in our minds as well.
For those struggling with these issues, they are not something we tend to talk about much, but for those struggling with these issues, the psalmist tells what is required - "by taking heed according to your word". God's word needs to be hid in the heart and then obeyed.
3e) peace (verse 165)
" Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them "(v.165)
Peace. Not here the absence of external conflict, for we have seen some of the troubles and problems facing the psalmist, there were many - just to remind ourselves of some of the difficulties he was going through:
In verse 23 "princes also did sit and speak against me"
verse 51 "the proud have had me greatly in derision"
verse 61 "the bands of the wicked have robbed me"
verse 69 "the proud have forged a lie against me"
verse 78 "they [the proud] dealt perversely with me without a cause"
verse 87 "they had almost consumed me upon earth"
verse 110 "the wicked have laid a snare for me"
verse 143 "Trouble and anguish have taken hold of me"
verse 157 "many are my persecutors and mine enemies"
verse 161 "princes have persecuted me without a cause"
and so on.
His life was full of external troubles, and as we noted, God did not keep him from them - but he was at peace. As someone who loved God's law he was at peace. He had peace with God and peace within himself.
So, these are a few brief thoughts on a wonderful psalm. We mentioned, but didn't dwell on, what terms the psalmist uses for God's word, we looked at some truths found in the psalm regarding God's word - the source is God Himself, it is settled in the heavens for ever, it is true, pure and very faithful. It is wonderful and relevant for all details of our lives. We saw how the psalmist felt about the word - the awe he held it in, that he delighted in it, that he considered it better than gold; we notice that he meditated on it and longed for it, he was determined to keep God's word to the end and he was grieved because others didn't keep it. We noted that he made his company with those who took a similar attitude to the word. And when God allowed difficult times he continued to take God's word seriously. His attitude could be summed up, as in verse 97, "Oh how I love thy law!". What an example the author is to us - and he didn't even have God's complete revelation, as we have. How much more his attitudes should be true of us.
Finally, we looked at some of the practical effects of God's word - it gives life, it gives understanding, it is a light to our paths, it keeps us when hidden in the heart and gives peace.
This is God's word - and to go back to one of the first points we noticed - it is awesome that God should give us such a wonderful book. And He has!