I used this as the basis for my desert journey one Lent, and found it helpful by trying to put myself in the shoes of the psalmist as a way of rediscovering my true self. What follows is a summary of each section, one each day for meditation.
vv. 1-8 Blessed are they that keep his testimonies: and seek him with their whole heart.
In this long acrostic psalm, the psalmist reveals because of his sinful past, the only way out was to live another way. This is how he discovered God’s commandments. In his meditation of these commandments, over time they became sweeter to him than honey. In the course of this psalm many synonyms are used for commandment: way, decree, law, statue, ordinance, precept, testimony and word.
The psalm begins with acknowledging and praising those who “Walk in the way of the law of the Lord.” These know no guile and is what God requires of all. Thus, the psalmist takes heart to use the faithful as a model for his own life, praying that in time he too will live by God’s decrees and walk diligently in them. He knows he will be on the way when he can give thanks “with an unfeigned heart” to God. Yet he realises from the beginning he can only make progress from the Lord’s help.
I too know it is only the Living Spirit within that keeps me along the right path. Left to my own devices I would struggle as only the Spirit can teach me the Lord’s ways.
vv. 9-16, Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way: even by ruling himself after thy word.
This is autobiographical, reflecting the spiritual journey of this psalmist. He has learnt from his own experiences and is sharing this the reader. Perhaps he is challenging him/her to ask the same question and hopefully to come up with the same response. The psalmist further tells us that he not only desires to live by God’s commandments but to pursue them with his whole heart”.
The psalmist is aware he cannot do this in his own strength but it is only by calling on the Lord for understanding will he achieve this. In time, he hopes he will be able to bring others to know the way to live righteously.
Pondering on this psalm reminds me of Moses and his message to the Hebrew children, poised to enter the Promised Land prior to his death. Before them was a choice between life or death, and blessing or cursing. If you keep the Lord’s commandments you will be blessed (Deut. 30.15-17).
vv. 17-24. Open mine eyes: that I may see the wondrous things of thy law.
The psalmist pleads to the Lord to keep His law, to see its wonders and to reveal the commandments unto him as he is still “a stranger unto them”. After all he knows that the Lord rebukes the proud and mighty and even curses those who err from His precepts. In his own heart, he knows that from now onwards, he only desires the precepts to be his “delight”.
vv. 25-32 I have acknowledged my ways, and thou heardest me: O teach me thy statutes.
The psalmist confesses that he has not always known the Lord’s commandments. He has lived a sinful life, devoid of honesty. He has come to his senses and realises that the way to live a better way is to know and understand God’s decrees. Then he will choose truth rather than lying. I wonder whether he was conscious as many Christians are that it is only the living Spirit within that changes and directs. Yet he is anxious to be a faithful Jew but he also pleads that the Lord will not hold it against him as he fails from time to time. He pleads for the Lord to be always a comfort to him.
vv. 33- 40 Teach me, O Lord, the way of thy statutes: and I shall keep it unto the end.
What a profound statement and would not it be a wonderful way for all to start each day. The psalmist is single-minded towards his intent to understand the Commandments and to help him against the sins of the past, especially those vanities.
vv.41-48 My delight shall be in thy commandments: which I have loved.
The psalmist is learning through the Lord’s guidance more and more about his Lord, especially his “loving mercy” that brings salvation. It gives him the strength to speak up against those who blaspheme and before any who do not know God’s decrees. He is confident that he will not forsake the Law and will continue in his study of it as he knows it is liberating after having lived under the slavery of sin. Do I have that same confidence, I ponder?
vv. 49-56 I am horribly afraid: for the ungodly that forsake the law.
The psalmist’s enlightenment continues to grow as he learns that knowing God’s way means sharing that knowledge with others. He is alarmed that many have forsaken the Commandments even though some still deride him. Why should he worry about things, after all the “statutes have been my songs” and they are becoming very sweet. Yes, God’s songs are always sweet but I cannot be selfish; others need to hear too.
vv. 57-64 I called to mind own ways of remembrance: and turned my feet unto thy testimonies.
The psalmist continues to express his commitment in keeping the Commandments, especially when he is reminded of his past ways. Despite being chided by his enemies he is encouraged by the friendship of those who follow God’s ways He knows he is still has a long way to go and so he prays that the Lord will continue to teach him. I too have to learn not to be discouraged when the going is tough and even lonely. St. Paul constantly reminds me, “My grace is sufficient for thee.”
vv. 65-72 It is good for me that I have been in trouble: that I may learn thy statues.
In these verses, the psalmist reveals again that in his past he has lived sinfully. However, Yahweh rescued him and began to teach him His ways. Having lived a “wrong” past, he appreciates even more the wisdom of Yahweh’s decrees. Indeed, they were dearer than a huge weight of gold and silver. Knowing God’s way has kept him strong when he is ridiculed by others whose hearts he believed were “as fat as brawn”.
vv. 73-80 Thy hands have made me and fashioned me: O give me understanding, that I may learn thy commandments.
The psalmist is learning as every Christian should that God is continually shaping and re-shaping us like a potter. The more the psalmist and us too allow the Living Spirit within to direct, the more we present God’s likeness and ways to others. Of course, the psalmist knows that God’s ways are right and therefore they are his comfort and fortress against any who try to destroy him.
vv. 81-88 All thy commandments are true: they persecute me falsely; O be thou my help.
The psalmist is still disturbed by his persecutors and enemies and wonders how long he will have to confront this. Nevertheless, he knows he can bear all this through hope in being faithful to God’s commandments. This does not stop him by asking God to revenge his assailants. Is this because he knows that salvation for all can only be achieved by living the Lord’s way?
vv. 89-96 Thy truth also remaineth from one generation to another: thou hast laid the foundation of the earth, and it abideth.
The extraordinary faith this psalmist is experiencing continues. He knows it is by keeping God’s law that he does not lose his soul. He notes that not only had God created this world but He is also continually renewing it. God’s word “endures for ever in heaven while on earth all creation serves” Him. Is the psalmist beginning to understand that he is a minute part of the creation chain?
vv. 97-104 Lord, what love have I unto thy law: all the day long is my study in it.
The psalmist declares once again it is by loving and studying God’s commandments thoroughly each day that keep him on the correct path. Hearing them is as sweet as honey and he will not divert from them as he knows observing the Law brings salvation and even makes him wiser than his enemies and the aged. “I hate all evil ways.”
vv. 105-112 Thy word is a lantern unto my feet: and a light unto my paths.
What an inspiration these words have been to me in various situations in my life. The psalmist felt the same way as he encounters his every day troubles. He continues to plead that Yahweh will always teach him His decrees. So that he does not swerve from them when the enemy try to ensnare him. Despite everything, he can still utter Your ways “are the very joy of my heart” and hopefully for mine too.
vv. 113-120 Away from me ye wicked: I will keep the commandments of my God.
The psalmist vents his feelings towards those who “imagine evil things” as he tries to live God’s way. But the sinful do not escape God’s judgment. That reality also makes the psalmist apprehensive about how the Lord will judge him, even though he loves God’s ways. I think all devout Christians identify with his apprehension.
vv. 121- 128 O deal with thy servant according unto thy loving mercy: and teach me thy statues.
The psalmist is still plagued by his oppressors. Indeed, he seems to be at the end of his tether in opposing them. Again, he pleads that Yahweh punish them, and to strengthen his resolve and understanding of His laws. “For I love thy commandments, above gold and precious stones,” he declares.
vv. 129-136 I opened my mouth and drew in my breath: for my delight was in thy commandments.
What an uplifting verse. Not only to know that God lives within but that He is above, below, beside and everywhere. For the psalmist and us, it anchors him and us in God and His ways. The psalmist also knows how loving Yahweh has been to His faithful and he certainly wants to be one of them. Once again, he prays that Yahweh will continue to instruct him. As the psalmist knows the value of keeping God’s commandments, he weeps for those who do not keep them.
vv. 137-144 Trouble and heaviness have taken hold upon me yet is my delight in thy commandments.
Obviously, the psalmist is still struggling with his own life, one way and another, illustrated in “Thy word is tried to the uttermost”, Yet he is grateful for having God’s commandments by which to live. So he insists for Yahweh to continue to instruct him in His ways, especially as he continues to battle with his enemies who do not follow God’s commandments.
vv. 145-152 Early in the morning do I cry unto thee: For in thy word is my trust.
The psalmist is trying to live completely with his Creator. Many Christians, discover later than sooner, that it is the Living Spirit within who prays to the Father and thus we do not have to bombard God With constant petitions. However, this psalmist did not know this and that is why he is fervent in seeking God’s laws as a way to live, especially as his enemies continue to persecute him.
vv. 153-160 Many there are that trouble me, and persecute me: yet I do not swerve from thy testimonies.
Again, the psalmist is appealing to Yahweh to help him against his adversities and for him to keep his testimonies. “Great is thy mercy, O Lord: quicken me as thy wont.” He is still distressed by those who persecute him and those who do not love the Lord’s word that “is true from everlasting,”
vv. 161-168 Seven times a day do I praise thee: when thou hast taught me thy statutes.
The monastic tradition of praying continually was based on this verse. The psalmist stresses by keeping God’s commandments brings peace and gladness as practising Christians know too.. By upholding the commandments give him a moral judgment to resist all evil ways. It is living by these laws that enables him to stand in awe of them.
vv, 169-176 My lips shall speak of thy praise : when thou hast taught me thy statues,
This last section is a summary of the psalm. God’s ways are righteous just as He is righteous. Despite his humble circumstances, the psalmist knows, even in times of darkness and depression that it is only by keeping God’s commandments faithfully that he will have salvation. This is my comfort too through many a time when there is no light at the end of the tunnel, those times when in much physical pain or simply dispirited through adverse happenings. I also find solace in that poem, Footprints in the Sand that encourages through only one set of footprints left in the sand.