Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore, my soul observes them. The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. I opened my mouth wide and panted, for I longed for Your commandments. Turn to me and be gracious to me, after Your manner with those who love Your name. Establish my footsteps in Your word, and do not let any iniquity have dominion over me. Redeem me from the oppression of man, that I may keep Your precepts. Make Your face shine upon Your servant, and teach me Your statutes. My eyes shed streams of water, because they do not keep Your law. (Psa 119:129-136 NASB)
The first three verses of this pericope reveal the psalmist’s appreciation of God’s testimonies, words, and commandments. The word wonderful translates the Hebrew noun פֶּלֶא pele, which communicates something unusual or miraculous and refers to God’s acts in history, such as the exodus, where “He wrought wonders [פֶּלֶא pele] before their fathers in the land of Egypt” (Psa 78:12). The psalmist delights reading about God’s acts in history; no doubt because they reveal aspects of His character and ways. Knowledge of God and His ways is tremendously practical, as it provides a mental construct for the psalmist to know what to expect from God in the present, for the Lord does not change (Mal 3:6). This wealth of knowledge derives from Scripture, as he states, “The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Psa 119:130). The unfolding refers to the unrolling of a scroll which contains written words on a page; words which give insight into realities one could never know, except that God has revealed them. Here is the precious light that comes from God, which penetrates into our darkness and exposes what is. That which “gives light” is followed by the appositional phrase, “it gives understanding to the simple.” The implied comparison is that God’s word, when opened and read, illumines the mind and brings understanding to the naïve. The psalmist, being very open to understanding God and His ways, states, “I opened my mouth wide and panted, for I longed for Your commandments” (Psa 119:131). Here is the picture of a little bird with its mouth open wide to receive the nourishment necessary for growth. He’s hungry and ready for what God has for him.
Next, he requests of God, “Turn to me and be gracious to me, after Your manner with those who love Your name” (Psa 119:132). Having learned about God’s acts in history, and seeing His grace towards others, the psalmist pleads for the same. The Hebrew verb חָנָן chanan, translated grace, is a Qal imperative and best understood as an imperative of request. Through divine revelation the psalmist has learned that God is gracious; that is, He treats us better than we deserve and provides the necessary resources to do His will. The psalmist does not want merely to read about God’s grace, he wants to experience it for himself. Here, the idea of grace is that of divine enablement, which is given to those “who love Your name.” A person’s name conjures up all we know about her/his character and ways, and this is true of God. The humble psalmist loves the Lord and seeks the grace to do His will. Illumination and grace are followed by a request for right guidance, as he entreats the Lord, “Establish my footsteps in Your word, and do not let any iniquity have dominion over me” (Psa 119:133). Only God’s word can provide stability for one’s walk, for all else is unstable. The request that God “not let any iniquity have dominion” over him likely refers to the iniquity of others and not his own. The next clause would support this, for he asks, “Redeem me from the oppression of man, that I may keep Your precepts” (Psa 119:134). Those who are hostile to God and His word possess an inborn proclivity to hate and oppress those who love and walk with Him. The psalmist knows oppression can upset his life, so he prays God will spare him from anything that would hinder his walk with the Lord. He wants to be governed by divine precepts, not human pressures.
He continues his requests, saying, “Make Your face shine upon Your servant, and teach me Your statutes” (Psa 119:135). The word shine is the same Hebrew word (אוֹר or) used previously of the light that was given through God’s word (vs. 130). The shining of God’s face upon His servant is a picture of grace, as He illumines the one who desires to do His will. The language here is similar to the blessing of Aaron which he was commanded to speak to Israel, saying, “The LORD bless you, and keep you; the LORD make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace” (Num 6:24-26).
In closing this section, the psalmist expresses his sorrow over those who disobey God, saying, “My eyes shed streams of water, because they do not keep Your law” (Psa 119:136). Here is true spirituality manifest in the heart of one who loves others and weeps because they reject God’s law (תּוֹרָה torah), His written revelation which illumines the mind and brightens the path of those who would otherwise walk in darkness. How terrible to live a life in darkness, fumbling and stumbling along, never seeing the path one is on; never knowing if danger lies ahead. “For someone who loves the word of God, lives obediently by it, and finds hope in its promises, to see the world mistreat it and reject it is very painful. Their attitude to the word is completely the opposite of the devout, who have found so much delight and benefit in it that they desire more from the LORD.”
Dr. Steven R. Cook
- The Lord is my Shepherd – Psalm 23
- Choosing the Faithful Way – Psalm 119:25-32
- God’s Word Sustains us – Psalm 118:89-96
 Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms (90–150): Commentary, vol. 3, Kregel Exegetical Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2016), 569.