Let my cry come before You, O LORD; give me understanding according to Your word. 170 Let my supplication come before You; deliver me according to Your word. 171 Let my lips utter praise, for You teach me Your statutes. 172 Let my tongue sing of Your word, for all Your commandments are righteousness. 173 Let Your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen Your precepts. 174 I long for Your salvation, O LORD, and Your law is my delight. 175 Let my soul live that it may praise You, and let Your ordinances help me. 176 I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I do not forget Your commandments. (Psa 119:169-176 NASB)
This final section of Psalm 119 presents the psalmist as one who has wandered away from God, but cries for understanding and deliverance that he might praise and worship Him. At the opening of this pericope, the author appears spent, with nothing to bring to God but a “cry” for help and “supplication” for grace (Psa 119:169-170). He does not look beyond the Lord, but brings his requests directly before Him; literally, “before Your face” (פָּנִים panim). He desires God’s full attention as he asks for “understanding” and “deliverance” from Him. He asks for “understanding” that he might make sense of his difficulty and know how to respond to it. This is faith in action. He also requests “deliverance” from the Lord, that he might experience His concrete goodness. Both of these requests are given with the twice repeated phrase, “according to Your word.” All that he understands about God and could expect from Him was found in the special revelation of His Word.
The next two verses express the psalmists desire to praise and sing to God for two reasons: 1) “You teach me Your statutes” (Psa 119:171), and 2) “all Your commandments are righteousness” (Psa 119:172). God Himself is his teacher, and what is revealed are His statutes (חֹק choq). God’s statutes are His rules that establish the boundaries for living in a right relationship with Him. Those who love God love His statutes, because they remove ambiguity of expectation and illumine the path He sets for us that we might walk with Him. This is reinforced by the appositional clause, “all Your commandments are righteousness” (Psa 119:172b). The Lord’s commandments (מִצְוָה mitsvah) are right (צֶדֶק tsedeq) because they reflect His righteous character, and lead the believer into righteous living. Such revelation is worthy of praise and song to God.
The psalmist reveals he’s overwhelmed by something in his life, but he does not say what. Using anthropomorphic language, he cries, “Let Your hand be ready to help me” (Psa 119:173a). He realizes his own hand cannot do what is needed; so, he appeals to the hand that made him. The ground of his petition rests in the fact that he has chosen God’s precepts (Psa 119:173b). He has chosen them, not because there were no others, but because there were none better. The verse follows with the phrase, “I long for Your salvation, O LORD, and Your law is my delight” (Psa 119:174). Here is intentionality with the psalmist, as he requests help from the One whose laws are his delight. The word salvation (יְשׁוּעָה yeshuah) connotes physical deliverance, as the psalmist feels threatened by death. He asks, “let my soul live that it may praise you, and let Your ordinances help me” (Psa 119:175). By answering his request for salvation, God would be able to enjoy continued praise from His servant (which would cease if he died), and the servant would be able to continue doing what he loves, which is praising God. There is reciprocation here, for he desires to praise God and needs His help in doing so, and when God delivers, it becomes further grounds for praise.
With the three petitions—for help, for deliverance, and for life, there are four reasons stated for the prayers to be answered: 1) he has chosen God’s law and is resolved to obey it; 2) he has longed for deliverance from all hindrances so that he might obey freely; 3) the law is his devotion and delight; and 4) he desires to praise God for the answers to his prayer. In short, he is a believer who trusts the LORD for salvation, is committed to obeying his word, and will praise him throughout his life. Scripture teaches that God will bless such saints because this is what he desires from them.
The psalmist closes with the statement, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I do not forget Your commandments” (Psa 119:176). He previously used similar language, saying, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word” (Psa 119:67). Sheep that wander away from the shepherd find themselves without direction and protection, vulnerable to dangers. Even though the psalmist turned away from God’s path, His Word was still present in the stream of his consciousness, convicting him of sin and directing him back to the path of righteousness. Furthermore, the psalmist is simultaneously a “lost sheep” that has gone astray, as well as God’s “servant” who does not forget His commandments. Here is an example of what Luther called simul iustus et peccator (simultaneously righteous and a sinner). Believers are made right before God at the moment they trust in Christ as Savior. Their righteous status in God’s sight is not because of any righteousness of their own produced by good works (Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5); rather, it is because of the righteousness of Christ that is imputed to them freely at the moment of salvation (Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). Though saved, we continue to possess a sin nature and face ongoing temptations from a world-system that was created by Satan and is perpetuated by him and his demonic forces. We will walk in righteousness as we learn and live God’s Word, but biblical ignorance, coupled with our sinful proclivity, means we will occasionally wander away from God. But though we wander, we never wander so far that we escape the Holy Spirit Who constantly invades our thinking and reminds us of our need of a Shepherd to pull us back into God’s will. The prayer of the saint should always include a sense of helplessness, confession of sin, and acknowledgment that we need God’s Word to illumine our paths and mature us spiritually.
Throughout Psalm 119, the writer expresses his deep love for God and His Word and seizes every term within his vocabulary to describe it (i.e. laws, commands, precepts, ordinances, etc.). Furthermore, he describes himself as one who seeks for God’s Word diligently and delights when he finds it, and once obtained, obeys it. But in all his knowledge and application, there is not an ounce of academic pride, but rather, a profound sense of his sinfulness and unworthiness before the God who made him. He would not have been like the self-righteous Pharisee who boasted in his religious life (Luke 18:12); but rather, like the tax collector, who, “standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’” (Luke 18:13)
Dr. Steven R. Cook
- Choosing the Faithful Way – Psalm 119:25-32
- God’s Word Sustains Us – Psalm 119:89-96
- Establish Our Footsteps – Psalm 119:129-136
- The Lord is My Shepherd – Psalm 23
- When a Believer Perpetually Sins
- The Doctrine of Simultaneity
- When God’s People Sin
- The Sin Nature Within the Christian
- Restoring Fellowship with God
 Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms (90–150): Commentary, vol. 3, Kregel Exegetical Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2016), 594.