When you, Christian, have need of reminding that Scripture is your treasure from the Lord and of how various facets of its perfection bear on the issues of your life, you need look no further than the riches stored up for you in Psalm 119.
Because of this psalm’s length, I have used it as the foundation of a robust and profitable homework assignment in various counseling situations: nearly everyone can be helped by spending a week in this psalm, memorizing a portion, and reading and praying through the whole psalm daily.
One particularly helpful aspect of this assignment (one I return to repeatedly myself) has been to journal or pray through the psalm—even for more than a week—endeavoring to:
- Praise the Lord where my soul resonates with the psalmist’s praises of Scripture’s perfections.
- Thank Him where I have seen evidence in my own life of the aspect of Scripture’s effectiveness that is being extolled.
- Ask Him for help walking in repentance and faith in areas where my heart is slow to resonate with the psalmist’s heart for God’s Word.
Although most of the psalm is a challenge in these ways—I rarely find my heart as enthralled with Scripture as the psalmist’s is nearly throughout—I want to point out in this post the comfort, help, and encouragement for the struggling believer that can be found in the fourth stanza in particular:
25 My soul cleaves to the dust;
Revive me according to Your word.
26 I have told of my ways, and You have answered me;
Teach me Your statutes.
27 Make me understand the way of Your precepts,
So I will meditate on Your wonders.
28 My soul weeps because of grief;
Strengthen me according to Your word.
29 Remove the false way from me,
And graciously grant me Your law.
30 I have chosen the faithful way;
I have placed Your ordinances before me.
31 I cling to Your testimonies;
O Lord, do not put me to shame!
32 I shall run the way of Your commandments,
For You will enlarge my heart.
In verses 25-32, God gives us through the author of Psalm 119 the three prescribed responses of the believer whose “soul cleaves to the dust, melts for heaviness, and cries for enlargement from its spiritual prison”: (1) the petitions of the burdened soul (vv. 25-29); (2) the confirmed choice of the justified soul (vv. 30-31); and (3) the renewed resolve of the enlivened soul.²
The Petitions of the Burdened Soul
This psalmist is no stranger to the glory of hoping in God’s Word. He is one who has sought the Lord with all his heart (v. 10) and has found delight in God’s testimonies (v. 24). Therefore, what a painful contrast it is for him to be so low that he describes his soul as being “stuck to” the dust (v. 25), and as weeping because of grief (v. 28).
While it is not explicit, the fact that he “tells of” (or, confesses) his ways (v. 26, in contrast with God’s way, v. 27), and asks for God to “remove the false way” from him (v. 29), are indicators that what has the psalmist so low is some experience of his own sinfulness.
And here the psalmist represents every believer in a situation that is painfully common: one who has received such mercy and grace from God—who has in his heart been lifted up to the heavenly hope of eternal life—can seemingly in the next moment have his heart set on some worldly and fleshly desire, even though he knows that its attainment would bring only misery and death.
And so how needful it is for us to follow the psalmist in his desperate pleading before God!
As one who has experienced being made alive by God (v. 93), he knows that God’s active work of keeping him alive is his only hope, and so he asks God to do that work (v. 25b). And he asks for this, specifically, “according to” God’s word: it is God’s own testimony that He gives life to those who are His, and so the writer is “praying the promises,” as it were, even from the depths of his despair.
In verse 26, he further builds on that prayer, indicating through his next petition the means by which he expects God to continue keeping him alive: “Teach me your statutes.” He knows that the same biblical truth that has been his hope, his sustenance, and his anchor in the past, must continue to sustain him going forward. And he also does not presume: he will be just as dependent on God tomorrow to open his eyes and give him understanding as he was yesterday.
In verses 27 and 28 the psalmist continues his requests with connection to God’s Word by asking for understanding, and for the strength that God’s Word promises. And then, in verse 29, he asks specifically that God would “remove the false way”—that He would take away the occasion for his sorrow (his sin), and that He would replace it with His righteous law.
The Confirmed Choice of the Justified Soul
Notice how quickly the psalmist’s plea for removal of his sin is followed by a sense of assurance. Whereas the dust had clung to him, and he knew that he had the false way within him, he is now able to declare himself innocent: “I have chosen the faithful way” (v. 30a).
But notice also that this is a dependent assurance, whereby he continues to cling to the means of life, and to ask the Giver of those means to continue His faithful provision (v. 30b-31).
What does this mean for you? This is where your ongoing effort, and your absolute assurance and trust in God’s willingness and ability to save you to the uttermost, must combine to produce your imperfect but inexorable perseverance.
There will be occasions where you could be put to shame. If the Lord tarries, you will again sink from the heights of trust to the depths of having sinned, but He will rescue you each time, because you have made your confirmed choice. You have forsaken the false way, He has removed it from you together with its shame, and His Word is before you. You have chosen to open His Word in front of your eyes that you might continue walking in His ways.
The Renewed Resolve of the Enlivened Soul
Now lest this seem like an endless series of ups-and-downs with no hope for lasting change, we follow the psalmist through to his renewed resolve in verse 32. Whereas it is common to speak of and expect that God’s people will “walk” in His ways (Exodus 16:4, 18:20; Leviticus 26:3), the psalmist intensifies this expectation for himself, that he will “run” the way of God’s commandments (v. 32a).
And just as we have seen so far, this resolve that he will run in God’s ways is a dependent resolve. In this case, it is dependent on his expectation that God will provide him with the “enlarged heart” to do so (v. 32b)
So the idea is that the psalmist is not just resolved to “survive” the peaks and valleys of life, but to run in such a way that reflects God’s provision of life. It’s not just that God has given him a heart, but that God has given him an enlarged heart, so that he might excel still more.
Bringing it Home to Where You Live
So, again, what does this mean for you?
Well, do you ever find yourself down because you have sinned? Do you ever think back on earlier seasons when you found your heart more inclined to obey and to rejoice in God’s Word?
Christian, whenever you find your heart in that spot—even in this moment—join with the one whose soul cleaves to the dust.
Ask God to do what He has done for you before, because He has been faithful to promise that according to His Word, and He has shown Himself faithful to do it for every other child of His throughout history.
Confess your sin to God specifically. Compare it in detail to what His Word requires, say the same thing He says about it, and ask Him to remove it (including the desire for it) from you.
And then, once again, make your choice: Choose to open His Word before your face. He has removed your sin and your shame from His sight—and His gift to you is that you are now able to remove it from yours also, and make His precious promises and instructions your fixation instead.
From there, friend, you will be free to run—to excel—in God’s ways. That might look like spending extra hours in prayer or in Scripture meditation. It might look like going beyond what is required to make an earlier wrong right (like Zacchaeus in Luke 19:8). It might look like a new abundance of generosity, even out of your extreme poverty (2 Corinthians 8:2).
Whatever it looks like, it will look like joy and life, and it will be a foretaste of the life that will come to the one whose soul cleaves to the dust, but whose eyes turn decisively to God’s eternal and glorious Word.
¹ Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations in this post are from the NASB translation.
² Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tod/psalms-119.html (accessed September 25, 2020). Spurgeon provides this outline, as well as numerous other helpful observations from this text. Note: Although Spurgeon’s opinion that David penned Psalm 119 represents a common and well-reasoned view, the identity of the psalmist here is not discernibly revealed in the pages of Scripture.