Psalm 119 Journal - Stanzas 3 and 4
17 Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word. 18 Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. 19 I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not your commandments from me! 20 My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times. 21 You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones, who wander from your commandments. 22 Take away from me scorn and contempt, for I have kept your testimonies. 23 Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes. 24 Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.
This morning marks my 47th wedding anniversary. My wife and I exchanged cards and then she said to me, “I’m glad I’m married to you honey.” I said, “I’m glad I’m married to you too!”. To which she replied, “Whew, I’m glad that’s over with.”
Though we’ve lived in the genteel south for 40 years we are still plain-spoken Midwesterners. Bless our hearts! Though we love each other deeply we are just not deeply sentimental people. We don't spend hours trying to fathom the hidden meanings in what the other says. All of this is by way of confessing that I am a person who thinks and operates on big ideas - not so much on intimate details. Still, I know that Jesus came full of grace and truth. We can’t live a full life without embracing relationships that are filled with love and compassion – especially where God himself is concerned. Wholeness involves both aspects of our being - mind and heart. We can look at this stanza through either lens to gain meaningful insight.
In the gospel of John, Jesus says that he came so that we could have life and have it in abundance. John introduces Jesus by saying, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” The Book of Psalms is a poetic exposition of the Torah – God’s law as given to the Israelites for the benefit of all humanity. In verse 17, the Psalmist seems to say the same thing that is recorded in the Gospel of John, though his writing is historically and culturally conditioned by his understanding of the Torah. He means far more by ‘living’ (verse 1) than drawing breath. Living is a vital way of being, that entails experiencing ultimate reality and acting accordingly.
There is an old gospel song that says, “this world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.” For decades many Christians took these words literally. They thought there eternal destiny was to sit on clouds in white robes and play harps. The created earth, therefore, was strange to them and often considered to be profane. That kind of platonistic conception is not what the Psalmist is claiming (verse 19). Nor is the Psalmist speaking of his moral superiority (being a stranger to worldliness) when he uses the term earth. As with Solomon’s statement in Ecclesiastes, what is meant is that “under the sun”, or on the earth, everything is meaningless and empty, if that is all there is. The environmentalist worldview has it wrong in this respect. A body with no soul is not a body – it is a corpse. If one looks only to nature as a source of life one will come up empty. In that way, we are all strangers on the earth. As Augustine of Hippo famously put it, there is a god-shaped void built into every human being and our souls remain homeless until they come to rest in God himself.
Understanding these deep truths is what drives the Psalmist's turn toward existential bliss. The stanza begins with a pleading petition. Oh God, open my heart and mind. Pour out your grace to me that I may truly live, not just exist. Enable me to do what is good for myself, before you my Creator, and toward others. Though your beauty is exhibited throughout your creation what is available to me here on earth does not compare to what you have passed down to me from your heavenly dwelling place. So, change and keep my heart, please. Prevent me, right now, from loving the things and acting in the way those who don’t know you do. I love and delight in the fullness of life you offer me by your grace.
25 My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word! 26 When I told of my ways, you answered me; teach me your statutes! 27 Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works. 28 My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word! 29 Put false ways far from me and graciously teach me your law! 30 I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I set your rules before me. 31 I cling to your testimonies, O LORD; let me not be put to shame! 32 I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart! (i.e., set my heart free)