Psalm 119 Journal - Stanzas 17 and 18
129 Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them. 130 The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple. 131 I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments. 132 Turn to me and be gracious to me, as is your way with those who love your name. 133 Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me. 134 Redeem me from man’s oppression, that I may keep your precepts. 135 Make your face shine upon your servant, and teach me your statutes. 136 My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law.
The imagery of this stanza is what strikes me. The Psalmist appears to be speaking in language that is intentionally beyond simple descriptions. What does it really mean that God’s testimonies are wonderful. He has already said many times that they are good, righteous, and true. More than that is in view. The Psalmist ponders the words of the Lord in the middle of the night and wee hours of the morning because their depths are beyond his understanding – yet what he does understand leaves him wanting more. God’s speech is intriguing and delightful. It does not always come to us throug words. Sometimes it is demonstrated to us through the lives of others. God’s word and his works in creation and history testify to his unfathomable magnificence. We are left to ponder what is spoken as well as unspoken and/or beyond human comprehension.
The ESV translation says the Psalmist “keeps” God’s testimonies. Other translations say he “obeys” them. Perhaps both meanings are intended. The Psalmist has already pictured God’s speech as delightful, sweeter than honey, and joy giving. His heart is thus motivated to live accordingly. But I also see the image of the human soul as the keep of a castle. It is the location in which you place the pearl of great price – the place of utmost preservation.
The wonder of God’s word is useless unless it is “unfolded”. When it is, it gives light. Without question this is a reference to the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts and minds of God’s people. Wonder unfolded. Wow! The Psalmist is left speechless - his mouth wide open panting for more. But when the his attention turns from his Heavenly Father to the world where he currently resides, the Psalmist is reduced to streams of tears. This is Jesus during his Triumphal Entry.
137 Righteous are you, O LORD, and right are your rules. 138 You have appointed your testimonies in righteousness and in all faithfulness. 139 My zeal consumes me, because my foes forget your words. 140 Your promise is well tried, and your servant loves it. 141 I am small and despised, yet I do not forget your precepts. 142 Your righteousness is righteous forever, and your law is true. 143 Trouble and anguish have found me out, but your commandments are my delight. 144 Your testimonies are righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live.
When God speaks, and the Spirit Works, the light of goodness is unfolded for us. I cannot surpass the summation written by Thomas Manton in his Exposition of Psalm 119:
"God is set forth to us in the clearest representation that we are capable of in this mortal state."