A sermon on Psalm 119:9-18 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 20 September 2021
Today we return to Psalm 119. Like a holiday destination too beautiful to just visit once, like a city so big that you can live your whole life there and still discover new things, we return to have a different look. It’s almost two months since we were here in Psalm 119, looking at one of my favourite verses in Scripture. Verse 105.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.
In that message we noted that almost all the 176 verses of Psalm 119 mention some aspect of God’s Word. His law. His commands. His decrees. His promises. Today we return to look at verses 9 to 18. And I’d like you to see that although the Psalm writer loves God’s word, he doesn’t love it more than God.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I love books. I love reading books. I like taking books away on holidays. I would never want to damage a book on purpose. I even collect old books. But I don’t love books more than people.
Imagine, for example, a person reading a book in the shade of a tree. He’s reading the autobiography of a famous man. When of all amazing coincidences, that famous person walks up and says hello to him. He’s not going to stop reading, look up and recognise the celebrity, and then ignore him and go back to his book. He’s going to put the book down and say hello and start a real conversation.
That’s what I mean when I say that I love the Bible. I find reading it interesting and rewarding. I enjoy the job I have of explaining the Bible’s message to other people. But I don’t worship the Bible. We don’t stand up and parade it in. We don’t bow down to it and sing praise to it. That’s not Christianity. That’s idolatry, like bowing down to the statue of a bull, like selling out the gospel for money. Of course, we value the Bible, and admire it and love it in a way, but only because it expresses the mind of its author, whom we love even more.
That’s what we see in Psalm 119, verses 9 to 18. It expresses a love for God’s law, based on and because of an even a greater love for God. In verse 10, for example, the writer describes his longing for intimacy with the Lord.
I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.
Of course, he wants to obey the commands. He doesn’t want to stray from them, like a car with dodgy steering, or like a sheep that wants to go left when you want it to go right. But what he wants more than anything is God himself. With all his heart, with every fibre of his being, he wants to be in the presence of the Lord. For our creator is not a means for us to achieve other goals. He doesn’t exist to serve us. He is not a force that we can bend to our will to give us the safety and prosperity that we desire. He himself is our life’s goal. We live and breathe to know him and to love him and to serve him. All other things exists as means to achieve that end. And so we love the Bible, but only because it reveals the mind and will of the God who is our life’s source and our life’s goal.
Secondly, in this passage we see the writer’s joy in obedience. Verse 14 says,
I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches.
It is a joy that isn’t satisfied with reading God’s word and understanding God’s word or even explaining it to others. But is only satisfied with doing it. Even finding buried treasure, even winning the lottery, could not make him happier. It reminds me of a quote from 19th century Scottish minister, Robert Murray M’Cheyne who said,
My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness.
We expect so much from our ministers and pastors. But the pastor’s most important task is not to read the Bible or to teach the Bible, but to live it, because if he does not live it, he undermines everything he teaches.
In the same way, the Bible stands at the heart of our worship on Sundays and of our daily devotions, but the real joy is not to read it but to do it. Because it is in obedience to the will of God that our life comes into harmony with God’s purpose for the world and with our part in it. Because the more we know and love the Lord, the more we want to please him.
That’s why thirdly the writer expresses his delight in the Lord’s decrees. He says in verse 16,
I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.
He doesn’t read God’s law like it is a chore. A job that has to be done, like a little boy who has to finish his vegetables if he wants ice cream. He doesn’t do it, so he can tick that job off to give him a sense of achievement. Reading God’s Word is a delight, a pleasure, so that neglecting it, not being able to spend a day in the Word, is like planning a picnic on a rainy day. A great disappointment.
He does not worship God’s Word, but he worships the great mind that is behind it. And yet he also doesn’t read it like any old book that he can pick up any old time. Instead, as he turns to the Word, he prays to its divine author for inspiration. He writes in verse 18,
Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.
For God is light. And his light shines in the darkness. Not only so that we can see his light. But that by that light we can see everything else truly. For God’s Word is not just an encyclopedia that is full of interesting facts. It is not just a history book that contains the names and dates of ancient kings and battles. In it we see the true God revealing himself. In it we see our true selves, as we are and as we were made to be and as we were saved to be. And in it we find the greatest treasure, God’s eternal Word made flesh in the life of Jesus Christ. Without him we stumble in the darkness, we believe the lies of Satan that we exist to please ourselves so that we end up pleasing no one, least of all ourselves. Jesus Christ is our life and only hope and we discover him on every page of Scripture, if only God by his Holy Spirit might open our eyes to see it. O Lord, open our eyes that we may see wonderful things in your law.
And so because God’s word is such a precious treasure, he stores it away in his heart. He writes in verse 11,
I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
He not only reads God’s word, but he memorises it so that it is with him when he needs it. Just like Jesus had memorised it, as he showed when he answered every one of Satan’s temptations with a word of Scripture. For,
Human beings do not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
In verse 13 the Psalm writer writes,
With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth.
Because he has memorised it, he can recite it, using it like a tool kept sharp and ready for any job. In verse 15 he writes,
I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.
He not only reads God’s word and memorises it, but he meditates upon it, thinking about it, considering its implications for daily life, observing how it challenges our desires and behaviour, drawing on its wisdom to make healthy changes.
Ultimately, it comes down to this: what you spend your time thinking about shows what you really care about. What you mind dwells on, what you can’t get out of your head, the things that you turn over and over as you think about them, those are the things you care about. What the psalm writer shows in this great long psalm is that what he cares about is his creator, how his will is revealed in his word, how his word shines its light on every part of his life, how its wisdom leads to choices that bring healing and life. For the psalm writer it is a deeply personal thing. Every verse is full of I, I, I, me, me, me. And the challenge for us is to put ourselves in those verses: that we seek intimacy with our God, that we long to know him and love him ourselves, that we delight in his will expressed in his word, and that we care about it enough to store it away in the treasury of our heart so that when we need it, it is there for us for any occasion, for any challenge that life throws at us, that we hide his word in our heart that we may not sin against him.