by Mike Ratliff
Zayin. Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life. The insolent utterly deride me, but I do not turn away from your law. When I think of your rules from of old, I take comfort, O LORD. Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked, who forsake your law. Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my sojourning. I remember your name in the night, O LORD, and keep your law. This blessing has fallen to me, that I have kept your precepts. (Psalms 119:49-56)
The doctrinal extremists out there really get under my skin sometimes. It seems they cannot handle the fact that our sovereign, holy, omnipotent, omnipresent, immutable and omniscient God wants to have a personal relationship with those He has saved by His grace. God is sovereign and yet He is gracious. He knows that left to our own abilities we could never come to salvation. He knows that, even if He declares us righteous, we need Him to extend His grace to us continually to sanctify our hearts and draw us to Him. He also reveals Himself to us, speaks to us, and sustains us through the sanctification process that matures us unto Christlikeness.
I read an article today in which the writer was complaining about Divine Illumination. He did not buy it. He felt we had no need for the Holy Spirit to interpret scripture in our hearts so God's wisdom would be imparted to us. I suppose he believes we are capable of doing that in our own abilities. I agree that as we become more skilled in proper exegesis of scripture we can become quite proficient in the process. However, without the presence of the Holy Spirit in that process error is inevitable. The writer of the article used the illustration of the many conflicting interpretations of scripture out there. In his mind how could so many come to such varying opinions about scripture if the Holy Spirit was really doing that. I suppose thats a fair question. The answer, of course, is we do not always listen to the Holy Spirit when expounding scripture. We are fallible which makes error inevitable when we do not listen. We are too independent for our own good. I have caught myself doing Bible study and teaching without involving God at all. When we do this, we are absolutely opening ourselves up for error as we "serve" God perfunctorily. That means we do it routinely without His aid and empowerment. This is why it is imperative to rely on the Holy Spirit in all Bible Study. We must ask the Lord to open up our hearts to the truth as we study and ask Him to give us the truth. If we simply do it ourselves, we are asking for trouble. If our motive is not His glory, we err.
I went into that because in the stanza of Psalms 119 we are studying we read where the psalmist is reminding God of a promise He made to him. Now, how can we know if God makes a personal promise to us? Is this possible? How could that promise be transmitted to us? This is an interesting consideration with many implications. Is Divine Illumination valid? That doctrine states that the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of those studying the Word of God to impart God's truths therein. I believe it is valid. At least it is for those with the speaking gifts. However, my wife Ina is not a teacher but she has insight into scripture sometimes that, I am convinced, came straight from God. Why didn't I get that insight? I was too busy working through what God had me studying. As I teach, I am very focused on my lesson. Ina has learned to read and study scripture with an open heart. She listens to God and makes comments while I teach. It is amazing to me how deep those insights are. I totally stepped over or around them and God revealed those truths to her heart. Another aspect of this is my treasury of God's Word in my heart is unique to me. Hers is unique to her. Yours is unique to you. We will receive different illuminations for that reason alone. In addition, our sanctification paths will be unique to each of us because God is sovereign and will do with each of us according to His will.
So, does God reveal things to us this way from scripture? Yes He does. Part of the Spirit of Man is the intuition. This is the area of our Spirit which God uses to impart things to us we could not ever know unless He does this. When I am studying scripture and praying for help in my understanding God will impart His truth to me, His wisdom, through His Divine Illumination. Sometimes He draws me into more research and study through this process and this leads me to the truth and wisdom He is imparting to me. So can God and will God give us personal promises this way? Let's look at a scriptural example.
The stanza in Psalms 119 we are studying in this chapter is entitled "Zayin." The first line in this stanza is, "Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope." The many Bible versions available to us give us a wide range of meanings for this seemingly simple verse. The Hebrew word translated "word" in this verse is speaking of a spoken or written word. This is a different word than that used for the Word of God in v11 for example. That verse states. "I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you." In v49, however, we see a different word. This word can mean "matter" or "thing." It can also mean a "declaration," "promise," or "command." Each of the Ten Commandments was a "word," for example. So in this verse what are we seeing? The psalmist is requesting God to remember His "word" which was imparted to him. This "word" also gave the psalmist hope. Matthew Henry states in his commentary that the psalmist was, "pleading with God in prayer for that mercy and grace which he hoped for, according to the word, by which his requests were guided." Ah, now that makes sense. The psalmist had been guided through the Word of God to a specific promise, "word", which the Lord had identified was for him and this promise had give him hope. The "word" which is mentioned in this verse is a specific part of scripture, not all of scripture. Now, was this psalmist experiencing Divine Illumination? It seems so. Let's let scripture interpret scripture.
The second line of this stanza is, "This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life." The plea in v49 for God to remember is coming from the grief of affliction mentioned in v50. The word translated "promise" in this verse is the Word of God, all of scripture, so it is not the specific promise mentioned in v49. So what is this declaration saying? Look at the second phrase in this verse. What is he saying the Word of God does for Him? It gives him life. The King James translates this as "quickens." This terminology refers to the new life that comes at salvation. At salvation, we are made alive in Christ from being dead in our sins. We are quickened. Therefore, in v50, the psalmist is making the declaration he is comforted in his affliction because he knew He was "saved" by the grace of God and those truths come from the Word of God.
What a wonderful thing it is to know we are in Christ. Assurance, our helmet of salvation, is one of our mighty weapons in the whole armor of God. When our consciences are clear and we are Spirit-led, we have an assured heart. Then we can do as the psalmist and declare to God, even in the worst afflictions, we are comforted in knowing we are Christ and it His Word which aids us in that comfort.
The third line in this stanza is, "The insolent utterly deride me, but I do not turn away from your law." The word translated "insolent" in v51 means "proud," "insolent," "wanton" or "wicked." The root of this word is "to see the." It has the idea of inflated pride or swelling up. In this sense, it could clearly be translated as "presumptuous." Do you know anybody like that? When we pray, beseeching God from our affliction, can we find Him if we are prideful, insolent or hold evil in our hearts?
You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, "He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:3-10)
God draws the humble and broken hearted to Him not the proud. God will also allow the evil in the world to touch our lives sometimes for His purposes. He will use that affliction in our life to draw us closer to Him.
The phrase "utterly deride" in v51 could also be translated as "have had me greatly in derision." That word translated "deride" or "derision" means to "mock" or "scorn." Prideful people who held him in scorn were afflicting this psalmist. For some of us this particular scenario is very devastating. Why? We have weeds of pride deeply rooted in our rocky, hard hearts. Perhaps God is causing this to break up that fallow ground of our hearts. Sometimes, however, we will be very unpopular with certain people if we live righteously (not self-righteously). This would mean persecution. We have already looked at this several times. We are indeed blessed when we suffer for the name of Jesus Christ.
The prophet Jeremiah had one of the toughest ministries imaginable. He had to stay and preach in Jerusalem even though most people would not believe him. In fact, he was preaching doom and gloom so much they threatened him. This caused so much anguish in his heart he tried to resign.
O LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, "Violence and destruction!" For the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, "I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name," there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. For I hear many whispering. Terror is on every side! "Denounce him! Let us denounce him!" say all my close friends, watching for my fall. "Perhaps he will be deceived; then we can overcome him and take our revenge on him." But the LORD is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten. O LORD of hosts, who tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause. Sing to the LORD; praise the LORD! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers. Cursed be the day on which I was born! The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father, "A son is born to you," making him very glad. Let that man be like the cities that the LORD overthrew without pity; let him hear a cry in the morning and an alarm at noon, because he did not kill me in the womb; so my mother would have been my grave, and her womb forever great. Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame? (Jeremiah 20:7-18)
How would you like to have a ministry like that? These verses are a prayer mixed with anguish and praise. I have had prayers like that.
The second phrase in v51 says, "…but I do not turn away from your law." Even though wicked prideful men held him in scorn, he remained faithful to the "Torah." The Torah was the Law. What he was saying to God was even though God was allowing these evil people to attack him and hold him in derision he would remain faithful in his keeping of the Law unlike his attackers. The implication is the keeping of God's Law enabled him to do this and not strike back in kind. The next line in this stanza completes the thought. It says, "When I think of your rules from of old, I take comfort, O LORD." The word translated as "think" can also be translated as "remember" or "recollect." This implies the psalmist is referring to meditation on something. Upon what is he meditating? The word translated "rules" in this verse can also be translated as "judgments." This is not referring to judicial judgments. This is referring to all parts of God's theocratic ruling of His people. The word "old" gives us the picture of God ruling His people perfectly since time began. The psalmist calls God by His name in this verse. The all-uppercase word "LORD" is God's name "YHWH." This name means, "I Am!" That name of God implies He has always been with us; He is with us now and will always be with us. In other words to use that name of God the psalmist was expressing how God was his comfort, strength, and assurance in all circumstances. The word "comfort" in this verse gives us a picture of the writer stopping and taking a deep breath. Its usage in the Old Testament usually indicated a turning point or point of departure as in repentance or a change of heart. Verse 52 appears to be the pivotal verse in this stanza. He wrote the first four verses then took a deep breath of reflection and comfort before changing course.
The fifth line in this stanza says, "Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked, who forsake your law." The expression "Hot indignation" is a picture of a glowing hot wind of anger resembling a pyroclastic flow that volcanoes produce. This is an all-consuming righteous indignation that takes hold of the psalmist because of wicked men who have willfully walked away from keeping God's perfect Torah. The psalmist's value system was lined up with God's value system. The desires of his heart were the same as God's desire for him. What offended God offended him.
In contrast to those who have turned away from keeping God's law, the psalmist declares to God he has done no such thing. The sixth line in this stanza says, "Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my sojourning." The psalmist gives us a picture of the saint of God who walks through his life rejoicing and praising God fully accepting that the world is not his home. The house he lives in is simply his temporary abode during this sojourn. God's perfect law is the source of much of this rejoicing. The next part of this thought is in the seventh and eighth lines of this stanza that say, "I remember your name in the night, O LORD, and keep your law. This blessing has fallen to me, that I have kept your precepts." Once again, the psalmist tells us he meditates. This time he tells us he mediates on the name of YHWH. We have seen that this name of God brings much comfort to those who love Him. The word "night" in v55 means to "twist away from light." This is another way of expressing deep adversity. Because of that comfort in the midst of trials what does the psalmist do? The word "kept" means to "hedge about with thorns." This means to guard it and keep it from being stolen. What does this mean? This is another reference to the hiding of God's Word in our hearts. This will enable us to not sin against Him. Why did the psalmist do this? He meditated on God's Name. This is our proper fear of God. When we fear God, as we should, it leads us to a proper relationship with Him. The psalmist tells us he is blessed by the knowledge he is able to keep God's law. This is that wonderful truth of our regenerated will by the grace of God. When we live and walk in God's grace, we are divinely enabled to choose to not sin. Outside of God's grace, no power to keep from sinning exists. What a blessing it is to know each of us can live holy and godly lives that glorifies our Lord because of His sustaining grace.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™ Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved