The Word a Lamp and Light For All Occasions.
This is both the longest psalm and the longest chapter in the Bible. It may have been written by Ezra after the Temple was rebuilt (Ezra 6:14-15) as a repetitive meditation on the beauty of God’s Word and how it helps us stay pure and grow in faith. Psalm 119 has 22 carefully constructed sections, each corresponding to a different letter in the Hebrew alphabet and each verse beginning with the letter of its section. Almost every verse mentions God’s Word. Such repetition was common in Hebrew culture. People did not have personal copies of the Scriptures to read as we do, so God’s people memorized his Word and passed it along orally. The structure of this psalm allowed for easy memorization. Remember that God’s Word, the Bible, along with the help and guidance of his Holy Spirit, is the only sure guide for living a God-honouring life.
In verse 105 the psalmist confesses: “Your word is a lamp to my feet / And a light to my path.” I recall years ago the great Christian educator, Henrietta Mears, citing this verse and illustrating it from her experience at Forest Home, the camp that she founded in the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California. There in the woods at night it is difficult to see anything. Even if we have a flashlight, we may not see the whole trail, but we see where we are to place our next step. Likewise, God’s Word lights our path as we walk through the darkness of this world one step at a time.
With this light before him the psalmist confesses: “I have sworn and confirmed / That I will keep Your righteous judgments” verse 106. His language is legal and emphatic. He will uphold the law of God as it applies to the situations of this life. His ethics are absolute rather than relative. They are not determined by the particular context within which he finds himself. At the same time, such a stance provokes persecution. Thus he continues, “I am afflicted very much,” and requests “Revive me, O LORD, according to Your word” verse 107. As God renews his spirit, he promises “the freewill offerings of my mouth” in verse 108. These are his praises for relief. They are what the Book of Hebrews calls the “sacrifice of praise,” which is “the fruit of our lips” in Hebrew 13:15. With an open heart to God he asks, “And teach me Your judgments.” Worship makes us receptive to the Word of God. After we have opened our hearts to Him in praise we are ready to receive what He has for us. The psalmist laments that his life is “continually in my hand,” that is, that it is continually at risk but Job 12:10 says, “[The Lord] in whose hand is the life of every living being”. Yet, he adds, “I do not forget Your law” in verse 109. In fact, this law sustains him through the fears and trials of this life. In verse 110 he reveals that the “wicked” seek to trap him like a wild bird, laying “a snare for me.” Nevertheless, he remains faithful to God’s Word as he confesses: “Yet I have not strayed “wandered” from Your precepts.”
Regardless of the suffering and persecution of this life, the psalmist finds confidence in God’s Word. It alone endures. He asserts, “Your testimonies I have taken as a heritage forever; literally, ‘I have inherited Your testimonies’ forever.” The Word of God becomes his Promised Land. In God’s testimonies he finds “the rejoicing of my heart” verse 111. There is no legalism here. He adds, “I have inclined my heart to perform Your statutes / Forever, to the very end” in verse 112. As God knows his heart, so God knows what is upon his heart, and it is to obey His will forever.
Psalm 119 is an extended meditation upon the revelation (“law,” Torah) of God. In it we find classic verses that stand alone when lifted from their context, such as “How can a young man cleanse his way? / By taking heed according to Your word” verse 9, and “Your word I have hidden in my heart, / That I might not sin against You” verse 11. And again, “Forever, O Lord, / Your word is settled in heaven” verse 89; “Your word is a lamp to my feet / And a light to my path” verse 105. The psalmist makes clear that our knowledge of God and our ability to live in this world is based upon divine revelation. The wonderful truth is that God has spoken, and we have a trustworthy record of His speech in His Word.
While Psalm 119 stresses the objective nature of revelation, it never sees that revealed Word as standing between us and God. Thus the psalmist affirms the instrumental use of Scripture. God’s Word is His instrument to bring us into a living union with Himself. Since this is true, we are not to worship revelation (or the Bible); rather we are to worship the God who reveals Himself in the Bible. While this psalm teaches a high view of revelation, it is never at the expense of living before God. For example, in verse 2 the psalmist says, “Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, / Who seek Him (rather than them) with the whole heart!” Again the psalmist confesses, “With my whole heart I have sought You”.
As we have asserted, there is an objective, revealed guide to understanding who God is and how we are to live. For this reason, again and again in the psalm we find the phrase “according to Your word.” In verse 9 the question is asked, “How can a young man cleanse his way?” The answer is given, “By taking heed according to Your word.” In the Word of God, the standard is given by which we can know the will of God. We are not left to wallow in our own subjectivity.
Psalm 119 teaches that the living God is the God who speaks. He stands behind His written Word. Since it is God who has revealed Himself there, this Word is true. As we have seen, it is settled in heaven; it comes with eternal and divine authority. Moreover, since the word of God is revelation, God must prepare our hearts to receive it. The psalmist does not rely upon his unaided reason in order to understand God’s word; the God who speaks must illumine our hearts so that we can hear His speech. Thus the psalmist prays, “Open my eyes, that I may see / Wondrous things from Your law” verse 18. Again, “Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes” verse 33.
God must not only reveal His will to us; He must direct us in that will. Thus the psalmist asks, “Make me walk in the path of Your commandments”. Because of our weakness and sin he prays, “Revive me in Your righteousness”. Furthermore, we face opposition from the world as we choose a godly walk. For this reason, the psalmist accepts the comfort of God’s word in his affliction and, at the same time, prays for God I have suffered much; preserve my life, LORD, according to your word.
As the psalmist lives according to the Word of God, there is great reward. He is blessed. He is cleansed. He is guarded from sin. His soul is satisfied. He is revived. He is strengthened. His heart is enlarged. Salvation comes to him. He has answers for his enemies. He walks at liberty. His witness is certain. He is comforted and given life. He receives mercy. He is dealt with well. Affliction is turned to good. He has hope. He is not ashamed. He is wise. He knows more than his teachers and the ancients. He is restrained from evil. His path is lit. He fears God’s judgments. His eyes fail from seeking God’s word. He pants for God’s commandments. He weeps for those who disobey God’s law. He is consumed by zeal. He knows the truth. His heart is in awe. He is filled with praise. No wonder those are blessed “who walk in the law of the Lord!”.
To walk safely in the woods at night, we need a light for protection so we don’t trip over tree roots or fall into holes. In this life, we walk through a dark forest of evil. But the Bible can be our light to show us the way ahead so we won’t stumble as we walk. It reveals the entangling roots of false values and philosophies. We need a light to reach our desired destination. Study the Bible so you will be able to see your way clearly enough to stay on the right path.
The Word of God is our light. In it we come to know God. In it we come to know His will for us. Through it we have strength to stand against our enemies and endure persecution in this life. This is our eternal heritage. The book is open. It is before us. We must not miss it.
The lighted path is not whatever we want it to be, but righteous judgments and God’s precepts; on such a path there is no danger or trap but a heritage and joy. Thus the guidance of the Lord’s instruction enabled us to negotiate right and wrong. And walk on the right and lighted path of our life for all Occasions. Amen.
God Bless you all.