So, there I was, up at 2:30 AM studying my Bible (my normal study time from 2-5 AM), when I read the words of the psalmist, who said, “My eyes anticipate the nighttime hours, that I may meditate on Your Word” (Psa 119:148). My heart leapt. I’m not alone. Praise God! I’d found an ancient soulmate; a companion whose study habits were similar to mine. Of course, I had to dig a little deeper to understand my new found friend.
The psalmist tells us he anticipates the nighttime hours when he can devote himself to thinking on Scripture. The Jews, like Greeks and Romans, commonly broke the night into military watch times (three to four hours each). The time mentioned here would have been “the last watch from two to six o’clock…[and] the plural indicates that the small hours were regularly used in this way by the psalmist.” Earl Radmacher writes, “Accompanying the prevailing prayer of the psalmist was a meditation in the Word of God. Prayer and reading the Word preceded the dawning of the day and continued unto the watches of the night. That is the secret of getting a hold on God.” Amen. The quiet time of the early morning, after a good night’s rest, provided an ideal time for the psalmist to study God’s Word. His mind was fresh and focused, and he could give God his best attention. His time of devotion renewed him on the inside, and transformed him into a godly character on the outside, as God’s Word was integrated into his relationships and daily activities.
From other portions of his psalm, the writer explained that Scripture had a strengthening and revitalizing effect on him. He expressed this through repetition, saying, “My soul cleaves to the dust; revive me according to Your word” (Psa 119:25), and “My soul weeps because of grief; strengthen me according to Your word” (Psa 119:28), and “This is my comfort in my affliction, that Your word has revived me” (Psa 119:50), and “I am exceedingly afflicted; revive me, O LORD, according to Your word” (Psa 119:107), and “Sustain me according to Your word, that I may live” (Psa 119:116a), and “Plead my cause and redeem me; revive me according to Your word” (Psa 119:154). The idea in these verses is that this believer recharged his battery by means of God’s Word, which is “alive and powerful” (Heb 4:12). When faced with grief or affliction, he wisely cried out to the Lord for strength. The benefit was a knowledge of God and His Word, a spiritual life recharged, and a soul set free to walk unhindered with the Lord.
Elsewhere, David and Jeremiah mentioned the benefits of meditating on God’s Word. Of the blessed person, David said, “his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law, he meditates day and night” (Psa 1:2). And the profit of a life devoted to thinking on Scripture is that “He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers” (Psa 1:3). The believer who is rooted in God’s Word will draw vital nourishment from its ever-flowing stream. Jeremiah used similar language (Jer 17:7-8), and adds, “and it will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit” (Jer 17:8). Here is a picture of spiritual strength and health.
May we learn from the psalmist and structure our lives in such a way that we devote ourselves to the study of God’s Word. I pray we see Scripture as the fuel that sustains the fire of our spiritual lives. And as His fire burns within, it will naturally glow for others to see, and will warm the hearts of those who need His truth, love, and goodness.
A Song of Ascents. When the LORD brought back the captive ones of Zion, we were like those who dream. 2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with joyful shouting; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” 3 The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad. 4 Restore our captivity, O LORD, as the streams in the South. 5 Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. 6 He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him. (Psa 126:1-6 NASB)
This psalm of ascent is a praise, a prayer, and an expectation of restored blessing. It praises God for the return of His people back to the land; presumably from Babylonian captivity (vss. 1-3). It also requests the Lord restore even more captives (vs 4). Finally, those who struggled to cultivate the land were encouraged to be persistent, knowing they would eventually experience the joy of harvest (vss. 5-6).
The psalm opens with a temporal clause that sets the mind on “When the LORD brought back the captive ones of Zion” (Psa 126:1a). Babylonian captivity is likely in view. Those who came back to Judah and Jerusalem were among the exiles who had experienced captivity and suffering, and having returned to the land, they had difficulty believing it was true and “were like those who dream” (Psa 126:1b). The result was, “Then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with joyful shouting” (Psa 126:2a). Even the Gentile nations recognized something miraculous had happened, and they declared, “The LORD has done great things for them” (Psa 126:2b). The returned Israelites agreed, saying, “The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad” (Psa 126:3).
The Lord has intervened to restore Israel from its exile to its land (cf. Ezra 1:1–4), but more significantly the return from captivity signaled a restoration from divine judgment to blessing. This unexpected change for the captives totally amazed them so that the people of Israel felt as though they must be dreaming, as did Peter when he was delivered from prison in Acts 12:9. They had experienced the surprising grace of the Lord, who exceeded their greatest hopes, as only he could (cf. Eph 3:20).
The Psalm then shifts from praise to prayer as they ask, “Restore our captivity, O LORD, as the streams in the South” (Psa 126:4). Other translations read, “Restore our fortunes, LORD, like watercourses in the Negev” (Psa 126:4 CSB), and “O LORD, restore our well-being, just as the streams in the arid south are replenished” (Psa 126:4 NET). The NASB translates the Hebrew noun שְׁבוּת shebuth as captivity, whereas the CSB and NET translate it fortunes and well-being. This is likely a request for more Israelites to return from Babylonian captivity to help with the restoration. For just as dry rivers beds could suddenly be filled with water when the rain comes, “as the streams in the South” (Psa 126:4b), so the psalmist prays the empty highways from Babylon to Judah would flow with returning Israelites.
The streams in the South of Israel, the Negev, dry up in the parched summer months but become raging torrents during the rainy season. The psalmist used these streams as a figure of what the highways from Babylon could become with God’s further blessing. They could become flooded with travelers moving back into the land God wanted His chosen people to occupy.
The joy the Israelites knew when they’d returned from captivity did not last long, for they faced the daunting task of restoring a nation and society rooted in the Mosaic Law, with its rebuilt temple and festivals (read Ezra 3:1-13). In addition, they faced opposition and discouragement along the way (Ezra 4:1-4, 24), which delayed the temple reconstruction for sixteen years, until 520 B.C., when God raised up the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to encourage the Israelites to finish the work (Hag 1:1, 14-15; Zec 1:1, 7). Part of the struggle the Israelites faced included cultivating the hard land which had not been tilled for decades. It is in this context the psalmist seeks to encourage his readers, saying, “Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psa 126:5-6). The challenge for them was to remain faithful in the routine and not let impatience or discouragement get them down. Perseverance would eventually bring reward, for the seed would sprout, the harvest would come, and the tears would be replaced with celebration.
God’s people were amazed and filled with laughter when He restored them from captivity to the land of Judah and the city of Jerusalem (Psa 126:1-3), and they prayed the Lord would restore even more (vs 4). But the joy was dampened by the hard work of cultivating the land which had laid dormant for decades; however, they were encouraged to be persistent, knowing their labor would result in a harvest.
A Song of Ascents. To You I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens! 2 Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, until He is gracious to us. 3 Be gracious to us, O LORD, be gracious to us, for we are greatly filled with contempt. 4 Our soul is greatly filled with the scoffing of those who are at ease, and with the contempt of the proud. (Psa 123:1-4 NASB)
Psalm 123 is one of fifteen songs of ascent (Psa 120 to 134), of which four are attributed to David (Psa 122, 124, 131, 133) and one to Solomon (Psa 127). The Mishnah states these psalms were sung on the fifteen steps that led up to the temple; however, it is more likely they were sung by pilgrims as they traveled up to Jerusalem, as stated in Psalm 122:1-2 and 125:1-2. Whether Jerusalem or the temple, these psalms were intended to prepare the worshiper’s mind to look to the Lord in faith. Spurgeon states, “Yet we must use our eyes with resolution, for they will not go upward to the Lord of themselves, but they incline to look downward, or inward, or anywhere but to the Lord.”
The opening verse is singular, “To You I lift up my eyes” (Psa 123:1a), whereas the second verse is plural, “so our eyes look to the LORD our God” (Psa 123:2b); this makes the prayer both individual and corporate. And where is the focus of their attention? It is to God who is “enthroned in the heavens!” (Psa 123:1b). This anthropomorphic language pictures God seated upon His throne and is a recognition of His sovereignty, for “the LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Psa 103:19). It is God who reigns supreme and has the authority to effect change in His creation. He cares about what happens on the earth. His people know that it is He who “raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of His people” (Psa 113:7-8).
These humble worshipers approach the Lord with a servant’s heart, singing, “Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, until He is gracious to us” (Psa 123:2). Here is a picture of humility and submissiveness; for just as servants cannot act on their own initiative or authority, and constantly watch for their sovereign’s gesture, so these humble believers look to the LORD their God, until He is gracious to them. And what is their desire? They twice request, “Be gracious to us, O LORD, be gracious to us” (Psa 123:3a). The repetitious appeal for God to be gracious underscores their desire to meet some pressing need. Though God is the sovereign Lord of the universe, He is no tyrant to be feared by those who are humble. These worshippers confidently approach God because they know something about Him; they know He is a God of grace. On numerous occasions the Bible reveals the LORD is “compassionate and gracious” (Exo 34:6a), “a God merciful and gracious” (Psa 86:15a), “a gracious and compassionate God” (Jon 4:2a), and “a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate” (Neh 9:17a; cf. Psa 103:8, 116:5; 145:8). This gracious disposition is true of all three Persons of the Trinity. God the Father is described as “the God of all grace” (1 Pet 5:10), who sits upon a “throne of grace” (Heb 4:16), who “gives grace to the afflicted” (Prov 3:34), and provides salvation “by grace” through faith in Jesus (Eph 2:8-9; cf. Acts 15:11; Rom 3:24). Jesus is said to be “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), and the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of grace” (Heb 10:29). Grace is undeserved favor. It is the kindness and goodness that one person freely confers upon another who does not deserve it. There is a common grace that God extends to all, in which “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt 5:45). This blessing is upon all people and is rooted in the goodness and open-handedness of the Giver, not the worthiness of the object. However, apart from common grace, there is special grace that God gives to the humble, for “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5b). God’s grace will meet their needs, and their humility is the open hand that receives it.
Why do they need God’s grace? Because they “are greatly filled with contempt” (Psa 123:3b). The word filled is a translation of the Hebrew verb שָׂבַע saba, which means to be sated, filled, satisfied, have enough. The word usually refers to something positive, such as being filled with food (Ex 16:8; Lev 25:19; Psa 132:15), but here it has a negative connotation of being filled with something hurtful, namely “contempt” (בּוּז buz), which refers to the despising or belittling that one person verbally casts into the ear of another. And the afflicted are described as being “greatly” filled (רָב rab), which means they are overflowing with contempt. Other translations read, “we’ve had more than enough contempt” (CSB), and “we have had our fill of humiliation, and then some” (NET). Their souls were injured by “the scoffing of those who are at ease, and with the contempt of the proud” (Psa 123:4). Those who are at “ease” (שַׁאֲנָן shaanan) live secure lives, free from the affliction that often accompanies those whom the Lord is perfecting through some trial. The “proud” (גָּאֲיוֹן gaayon) are those who see themselves as self-sufficient and who operate independently of God; they see no need for grace, and have none to give. Theirs is the hand of oppression and they cannot abstain from violence; they care little about the harm they inflict. Unfortunately, when others think little of us, we are all too quick to think little of ourselves and to reject the consolations of a friend. “Scoffing” (לַעַג laag) is the ridicule, mocking, or derisive speech they use to poison the souls of their victims. It is deeply hurtful to be regarded as unimportant or insignificant by others, and the wicked have no consideration of those on whom they trample verbally. “The reason people ridicule what they oppose, aside from it being so easy, is that it is demoralizing and frequently effective. It is effective because it strikes at the hidden insecurities or weaknesses that almost everybody has.”
These worshipers ascended, not just to Jerusalem or the temple, but to God who is enthroned in heaven. And as a watchful servant looks to his/her master, so these persecuted believers look to the Lord until He is gracious to them; and they need His grace, for the scoffing of the proud has greatly wounded them. Overall, there is intentionality in their mindset as they look to the Lord, for their natural proclivity—and ours as well—is to look anywhere and everywhere other than to the One who sustains in times of trouble.
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)
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.”
Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven. Your faithfulness continues throughout all generations; You established the earth, and it stands. They stand this day according to Your ordinances, for all things are Your servants. If Your law had not been my delight, then I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have revived me. I am Yours, save me; for I have sought Your precepts. The wicked wait for me to destroy me; I shall diligently consider Your testimonies. I have seen a limit to all perfection; Your commandment is exceedingly broad. (NASB)
The psalmist opens with his focus on God, His Word, and His faithfulness to His people. He knows God’s Word is settled in heaven, and where the Word resides, there is stability (Psa 119:89). This is also true for the believer when God’s Word resides in her/his heart. Those who meditate on the Lord know He is faithful from one generation to the next (Psa 119:90a), for He “established the earth, and it stands” (Psa 119:90b). God’s Word is stable and His work is dependable; these reflect His character. Heaven and earth “stand this day according to Your ordinances, for all things are Your servants” (Psa 119:91).
The emphasis on creation’s standing is repeated in verse 91. “They stand” probably is to be interpreted with the heavens and the earth as the subject because the emphasis is on the established creation. The verb “stand” (עָמַד) emphasizes that what God created is fixed and permanent; it may also have the connotation of standing by to do the will of the sovereign, as attendants might present themselves before their king (Gen. 43:15) with the sense of becoming servants to a lord (1 Sam 16:22). This is confirmed in the second colon: “for all things are your servants.” All of creation exists because of obedience to God’s word; all of creation, therefore, exists to do his will.
Having set his mind upon the Lord and circulating divine viewpoint in the stream of his consciousness, the psalmist turns his focus on himself and his situation. His horizontal perspective becomes clear and hopeful in the light of God and His Word. He states, “If Your law had not been my delight, then I would have perished in my affliction” (Psa 119:92). Here is delight in the midst of hardship; a delight that is rooted in God’s Word and not the circumstances of life. Furthermore, he states, “I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have revived me” (Psa 119:93). The word forget translates the Hebrew verb שָׁכַח shakach, which connotes not keeping God’s commands. It must be remembered that the psalmist is an Israelite in covenant relationship with God. The blessings and cursings in the relationship depend, to a large degree, on his faithfulness to walk in God’s commands (Lev 26; Deu 28). The Lord told His people, “Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today” (Deu 8:11). To forget God opens His people to idolatry (Deu 8:19), as well as continual fear of others and timidity of circumstances (Isa 51:12-13). But throughout the whole of Psalm 119, the psalmist repeatedly mentions that he will not “forget” God’s Word, saying “I shall delight in Your statutes; I shall not forget Your word” (Psa 119:16), “The cords of the wicked have encircled me, but I have not forgotten Your law” (Psa 119:61), “Though I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget Your statutes” (Psa 119:83), “I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have revived me” (Psa 119:93), “My life is continually in my hand, yet I do not forget Your law” (Psa 119:109), “I am small and despised, yet I do not forget Your precepts” (Psa 119:141), “Look upon my affliction and rescue me, for I do not forget Your law” (Psa 119:153), and “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I do not forget Your commandments” (Psa 119:176). By staying focused and committed to God’s Word, he experienced personal revival (Psa 119:93b).
The psalmist also saw himself as God’s personal possession, for he states, “I am Yours, save me; for I have sought Your precepts” (Psa 119:94). He belonged to God, and to God he cried for help. His cry for help was also based on his being rightly related to God as one who sought His precepts. Though he walked with God, he also had relational problems with others, which is revealed in his statement, “The wicked wait for me to destroy me” (119:95a). All believers, at some time in their walk, encounter others who are out to cause them harm. As the psalmist had sought the Lord in the past, for guidance and strength, so he would do again, saying, “I shall diligently consider Your testimonies” (Psa 119:95b). The stability of believers is, to a large degree, predicated on the biblical content and continuity of our thinking. Though we cannot always influence the circumstances around us, we do not have to be controlled by them, as we can turn to the Lord and His Word. The psalmist closes this section, saying, “I have seen a limit to all perfection; Your commandment is exceedingly broad” (Psa 119:96). Another translation reads, “I realize that everything has its limits, but your commands are beyond full comprehension” (Psa 119:96 NET). Though there is a limit to all things created, God’s Word is boundless. In this pericope, the psalmist set his mind upon the Lord and contemplated His Word and faithfulness; and though he faced hardship, he was strengthened and sustained by learning and living God’s Word, which is boundless and never fails.
My soul cleaves to the dust; revive me according to Your word. I have told of my ways, and You have answered me; teach me Your statutes. Make me understand the way of Your precepts, so I will meditate on Your wonders. My soul weeps because of grief; strengthen me according to Your word. Remove the false way from me, and graciously grant me Your law. I have chosen the faithful way; I have placed Your ordinances before me. I cling to Your testimonies; O LORD, do not put me to shame! I shall run the way of Your commandments, for You will enlarge my heart. (Ps 119:25-32 NASB)
Twice the author describes himself in a depressed state, saying, “My soul cleaves to the dust” (vs 25a), and “My soul weeps because of grief” (vs 28a). His condition is likely the result of suffering brought on by his commitment to know and live God’s Word (see Ps 119:17-24). Many godly persons have expressed their emotions openly. Joseph, when reunited with his father, Israel, “fell on his neck and wept on his neck a long time” (Gen 46:29). When David learned about the death of his sons, he “tore his clothes and lay on the ground” (2 Sam 13:31). When the elders at Ephesus heard that Paul was leaving, “they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him” (Acts 20:37). The display of emotion does not necessarily mean the believer is controlled by that emotion; for even during heightened emotive states the believer may still be governed by God’s Word, which keeps her/him on the right path.
Twice the author seeks God’s help, saying, “revive me according to your word” (vs 25b), and “strengthen me according to your word” (vs 28b). The words “revive” and “strengthen” (Piel imperatives) express an intensity to pursue and lay hold of that which lifts the soul; specifically, God’s Word. The idea in both of these verses is that the stressed-out-believer recharges her/his battery by means of Scripture (c.f. 119:107, 154), which “is living and active” (Heb 4:12) and transforms the mind and strengthens the life of those who lay hold of it.
The psalmist also states, “I have told of my ways, and You have answered me” (vs. 26). Here he reflects on past times when he spoke to the Lord and He responded to him. God’s past faithfulness encouraged him to know the Lord even more; therefore, he states, “teach me Your statutes. Make me understand the way of Your precepts, so I will meditate on Your wonders” (vss. 119:26b-27). His return on spiritual investments motivate him to know and invest more. Dr. Allen Ross states:
If he gains more knowledge and understanding of God’s word, he will be able to make more sense of this life and renew his commitment to live faithfully in spite of the dangers. When he gains more understanding, then he will meditate (וְאָשִׁיחָה; s.v. Ps. 119:15) on all God’s wondrous works. With the increase in knowledge and understanding there will be increase in devotion and praise.
We don’t know exactly what caused the psalmist’s grief (vs 28a), but it could be related to some deception that had led to his harm. This would explain the latter clause where he asks the Lord to “Remove the false way from me, and graciously grant me Your law” (Ps 119:29). Deception can bring hurt and derail the believer’s life, but God’s Word can “strengthen” the soul (vs. 28b) and keep it on the path of righteousness. He knows God’s Word guides him in truth and is a means of grace to strengthen him during troubling times.
The psalmist is not passively sitting around waiting for life to happen. He’s a man of action who will not idly sit by and do nothing. He states, “I have chosen the faithful way; I have placed Your ordinances before me. I cling to Your testimonies; O LORD, do not put me to shame! I shall run the way of Your commandments, for You will enlarge my heart” (Psa 119:30-32). I have chosen, I have placed, I cling, and I shall run depict the human will set in motion. But he is not wandering aimlessly or just staying busy as a means of ignoring some unpleasantness. No. He’s thoughtful, focused, and decisive about his direction. He has chosen the faithful way, Your ordinances, Your testimonies and Your commandments. The faithful way is the path of faithful obedience to the Lord, and His ordinances, testimonies and commandments are the specifics of what he will follow. As the psalmist clings to God’s testimonies, he asks that he not put me to shame. Of course, the Lord will not; and in fact, cannot let this happen, for He has integrity, always keeps His promises, and will not let His reputation be tarnished. With renewed enthusiasm, the psalmist runs in God’s commandments, knowing God will enlarge his heart. The heart is the seat of understanding and volition, and greater knowledge of Scripture results in greater capacity for service.
Whoever this psalmist was, he expressed himself in honest ways as one who faced great distress, perhaps because of persecution for righteous living. When faced with threats, he cried out to the Lord for strength and doubled down on his commitment to know God and to run in His ways. His desire was to have enhanced knowledge of God’s Word, which would strengthen his soul and increase his capacity for righteous living. The benefit was a soul set free to run with God and a knowledge and capacity to do His will.
 The psalmist regarded himself as a “stranger in the earth” (Ps 119:19), whose soul “is crushed” (vs. 20), and was experiencing “reproach and contempt” (vs. 22). He suffered conflict with others, saying, “princes sit and talk against me” (vs. 24a), God’s “servant who meditates” on His statutes (vs. 24b).
 Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms (90–150): Commentary, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2016), 491.
The 23rd psalm is known and appreciated by many, but it belongs personally only to those who call God their shepherd. It is a song of David’s confidence in God who faithfully provides for him. David pictures God as a shepherd who guides, provides, and protects (vss. 1-4), and as a dinner host who nourishes and refreshes His guest (vs. 5-6). One gets the impression that David wrote this psalm at a time when he was experiencing hardship (perhaps when he was fleeing in the wilderness from Absalom). The psalm reveals a confidence in David’s soul, no doubt the result of his relationship with God and his trust in the LORD’s goodness and loyal-love. Whatever threat David was facing, he could rely on God’s goodness and lovingkindness, and David knew the end of his life would be “in the house of the LORD forever” (vs. 6).
God as Shepherd
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. (Ps. 23:1)
David opens his psalm with a simple but profound statement, “The LORD is my shepherd.” The word LORD translates the proper name of God (Heb. יהוה YHWH), His covenant name, which means “I am who I am.” The meaning of YHWH most likely refers to God’s eternal nature, as the One who remains forever constant. When coupled with His other attributes, such as goodness and love, it means that those qualities are as enduring as the One who holds them. It is this exalted God, who created and rules over the universe, that David personally and affectionately refers to as “my shepherd.”
In Israel, as in other ancient societies, a shepherd’s work was considered the lowest of all works. If a family needed a shepherd, it was always the youngest son, like David, who got this unpleasant assignment. Shepherds had to live with the sheep twenty-four hours a day, and the task of caring for them was unending. Day and night, summer and winter, in fair weather and foul, they labored to nourish, guide, and protect the sheep. Who in his right mind would choose to be a shepherd? Yet Jehovah has chosen to be our shepherd, David says. The great God of the universe has stooped to take just such care of you and me.
The LORD as shepherd metaphor resonated with David, for he had spent his younger days as a shepherd for his father (1 Sam. 16:11; 17:15, 34). God used David’s life experience as a shepherd to prepare him to lead His people, Israel. Scripture states, “He also chose David His servant and took him from the sheepfolds; from the care of the ewes with suckling lambs He brought him to shepherd Jacob His people, and Israel His inheritance. So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them with his skillful hands” (Ps. 78:70-72).
In the New Testament, Jesus is the “Good Shepherd” (John 10:14), the “Great Shepherd” (Heb. 13:20), and the “Chief Shepherd” (1 Pet. 5:4), who provided teaching to those who needed spiritual nourishment (Mark 6:34). God often provides for His people through His under-shepherds, who are to feed them God’s Word (Lev. 10:11; Deut. 33:10; Ezra. 7:10; Jer. 10:21; 12:10; Mal. 2:7; John 21:15; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-2). God told Jeremiah, “I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding” (Jer. 3:15). God’s Word is food for the soul (1 Cor. 3:2; Heb. 5:12-14; 1 Pet. 2:2).
Trusting in God as his divine-shepherd, David knew he would not be in want of anything. God’s resources are always enough for those under His care. Of course, the believer must distinguish between wants and needs, for too often we fall into the trap of confusing the former with the latter, not being content with what the Lord provides from day to day. Scripture states, “If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content” (1 Tim. 6:8).
He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. (Ps. 23:2)
God led David to “lie down in green pastures” and beside “quiet waters” which pictures a place of nourishment, safety and rest. The words “lie down” translate the Hebrew verb רָבַץ rabats, which in the hiphil stem means that God causes His sheep to lie down in restful places. It’s not that the LORD forces His sheep to lie down, but that He creates an environment free from harm and stress so that the naturally timid sheep can relax. The believer who refuses to go where God leads will never find safe and restful places.
He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. (Ps. 23:3)
The phrase, “He restores my soul”, should probably be understood as the result of lying down in “green pastures” and being led “beside quiet waters” (vs. 2). A believer’s soul can be weakened and damaged by the stresses of life, and though we cannot always control our circumstances, we don’t have to be controlled by them either, as we can turn to God to guide us to those places that refresh us. David then states, “He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” Being guided in “paths of righteousness” means we are directed to walk where He leads, and in a way that conforms to His righteous character. The phrase “for His names sake” refers to God’s reputation. God’s guidance most often comes through His written Word, but He also guides providentially through circumstances as well as through the counsel of humble and godly people who know His Word and walk with Him. We should not make the mistake of thinking that right paths are easy paths, for the Scripture is abundantly clear that God tests the heart of His people (Ex. 16:4; Deut. 8:2; Jer. 20:12), and will permit us to face hardships in order to develop our character (Rom. 5:3-5; 2 Cor. 12:7-10; Jam. 1:2-4).
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me (Ps. 23:4).
God, who led David to “green pastures” and “beside quiet waters” was also with him in difficult places, which David calls “the valley of the shadow of death.” There were scary places where death seemed to cast its shadow over David, perhaps at those times when he was walking alone with his sheep through narrow ravines where wild animals might attack without warning. David recounted a time when he was tending his father’s sheep, and said, “When a lion or a bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I went out after him and attacked him, and rescued it from his mouth; and when he rose up against me, I seized him by his beard and struck him and killed him” (1 Sam. 17:34-35). David knew his successes and victories were from God; therefore, he could say, “I fear no evil, for You are with me.” God’s presence meant David would not face anything the Lord had not foreseen or foreplanned, and this gave David confidence because he knew the Lord would guide and strengthen him for whatever he faced, even death. David also said, “Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” The rod and staff were instruments used by the shepherd for protection and travel when walking. “The shepherd’s rod (a cudgel worn at the belt) beat off attacking animals and his staff (walking stick) kept the sheep away from physical dangers such as precipices.” Though enemies may be all around us, God is faithful to protect us and to keep us from wandering into dangerous places.
It is important to note that “the valley of the shadow of death” is as much God’s right path for us as the “green pastures” which lie beside “quiet waters.” That is, the Christian life is not always tranquil nor, as we say, a mountain-top experience. God gives us valleys also. It is in the valleys with their trials and dangers that we develop character.
God as Host and Loyal-provider
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows. (Ps. 23:5)
That God would prepare a table for David to eat with Him means that God welcomed him into His presence. The picture is that of a host who lays out food for His guest to eat. The host who provides the food is also responsible for the guest’s safety while in his home. David describes God’s provision as being “in the presence of my enemies.” The word presence (Heb. נֶגֶד neged) can also be translated in sight of, in front of, or opposite to. Perhaps the idea is that God provides and protects His guest in the sight of his enemies so they know where God’s favor lies. David further states, “You have anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows.” This is a picture of God refreshing His guest with such abundance that he cannot contain it all. Such blessing includes things spiritual and material. Living in America, I regularly see Christians blessed with resources the rest of the world will never know and can only dream about. In truth, we live better than the kings of Europe did two centuries ago. We enjoy technological advances, improvements in modern medicine, mass transportation, an abundance of food resources, and many other blessings. Yet, many Christians fail to see all the Lord’s blessings and spend much of their time consumed with self and complaining like spoiled children. Not so with David, for He saw the Lord’s provision and gave thanks.
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Ps. 23:6)
David has complete confidence in God and knows His “goodness and lovingkindness” will follow him. God’s goodness (Heb. טוֹב tob) carries the idea of that which is beneficial, pleasant, or favorable, and means that God will give us what we need. God’s lovingkindness (Heb. חֶסֶד chesed – often translated mercy) refers to His loyal commitment to render assistance to us when our circumstances are too great for us. It is interesting to note that the word follow [Heb. רָדָף radaph] is used most commonly in the OT of someone who aggressively pursues or chases down his enemy to defeat him. Moses used the word to describe Abraham and his servants who “went in pursuit” of Chedorlaomer and his forces in order to retrieve his nephew Lot (Gen. 14:14-16), and of Pharaoh who determined to “chase after” Israel after they’d left Egypt (Ex. 14:4), and of Israel who would “chase” their enemies to defeat them (Lev. 26:7). However, David uses the verb in a unique and playful manner, picturing God as One who doggedly chases him down to overcome him with goodness and lovingkindness.
It is God who will pursue him and extend his loyal love to him every step of the way. He will not let David out of his faithful loving care. Why does this love “pursue” him? Was he trying to escape? (cf. Ps. 139:7). No matter where he went, or why, David knew that God would follow him with his love. He had been pursued often in his life; but no man chased him as persistently and effectively as the LORD.
The final expression of God’s goodness and loyal love meant that David would “dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” The phrase “the house of the LORD” refers to the place where believers sought intimate fellowship with God. It was the place where God was worshipped (2 Sam. 12:20; Ps. 135:1-3), where the values of the world were excluded (Deut. 23:18), where believers brought their sacrifices (Ex. 23:19), where they enjoyed God’s beauty and meditated on His Word (Ps. 27:4), and where they enjoyed His abundant provision (Ps. 36:8). The house of the LORD is the place where the believer could enjoy God’s blessings forever (Heb. אֹרֶךְ orek), which word might better be translated as long as I live (CSB) or for the rest of my life (NET).
In this psalm of confidence, David pictures God as a shepherd who guides, provides, and protects His people (vss. 1-4), and as a host who nourishes and refreshes His guest (vs. 5-6). As sheep find provision and protection in the good Shepherd, and bounty by the good Host, so believers find blessing in God as we trust His guidance and walk with Him.
 In the Old Testament, God is referred to as the Shepherd who leads, feeds, and protects His people (Isa. 40:11; Ps. 23:1-6; 80:1; 100:1-3; Ezek. 34:10-16). In several places believers are referred to as God’s sheep, as those under His care (Ps. 78:52; 79:13; 95:7; 100:3; Isa. 40:11; Ezek. 34:31; John 10:4, 16, 26-27).
 James Montgomery Boice, Psalms 1–41: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 207–208.
 There are other instances in Scripture where God’s presence gave His people confidence to face difficulties. God was with Jacob (Gen. 28:15), and Moses (Ex. 3:12), and He is with us (Matt. 28:20), and for us, always (Rom. 8:31).
 Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Ps 23:4.
 James Montgomery Boice, Psalms 1–41: An Expositional Commentary, 211.
 Allen P. Ross argues that goodness and lovingkindness probably form a hendiadys and translates the passages as “Surely, good loyal love will follow me” (Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, Vol. 1, p. 568).
 Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, Mich., Kregel Publications, 2011), 570.