Psalm 119:37-40 — Behold God’s Promise

Turn My Eyes

Psalm 119:37 Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.

David has prayed throughout this Psalm, and particularly in the first half of the He octave, for a heart that truly delights in God’s ways (Psalm 119:5,27,32,33-36). But, as Jesus told us, the eye is the lamp of the body. What we set our eyes upon indicates for us what our heart truly treasures. Thus, our psalmist not only desires that God give him the right heart-desires, but also that God would direct his gaze.

And it isn’t so much that David wants his eyes turned from looking at sinful things, but even that which is vain or useless. Yes, we should all be vigilant that we don’t let our eyes rest anywhere our hand shouldn’t (Dan Phillips taught me that virtue), but the child of God understands two things in particular.

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Firstly, that what we choose to set our sights on has qualitative value. We are not to be idolaters; we are to set our minds on things above us so that we don’t waste our time here on the earth. To redeem the time, God’s people have to choose to give up some things which are lawful, yet not edifying. The 21st century has provided plenty of opportunities for us to obsess with our eyes over worthless things.

Secondly, God’s people understand that what we allow ourselves to gaze upon is actually feeding our soul. The eyes of man are never satisfied (Proverbs 27:20), and we would do well to recall that our first parents’ first sin was in part a sin of the eyes. Genesis 3:6 begins “So when the woman saw…” John tells us that the desire of the eyes is worldliness—not from our Father who is in Heaven (1 John 2:16). There is a sense that sin and temptation wear us down over time, and we can hope that God would provide us life according to his ways, that we might not be tempted to seek it through visual stimulation which is spiritual junk food or even poison.

God’s Promise

Psalm 119:38 ESV Confirm to your servant your promise, that you may be feared.

Confirm to your servant your promise! This is a really neat verse because the ESV uniquely translates the Hebrew into the word promise at the end of the first clause. The KJV and the NAS each translate this word as “word.” But the word used in verse 38 is different from the word translated word in verse 25, for example. So it seems the ESV translators have tried to give us some indication that there may be a different thought behind the term. You may even say they’ve interpreted it for us by translating it as promise.

Now look ahead just a few verses to Psalm 119:41 (or hover over the verse with your mouse, or on a mobile phone you can light-tap the link to see the verse text). What you see is the psalmist seeking God’s steadfast love, as evidenced by salvation according to what, exactly? The KJV and NAS read “your word.” and that’s true enough, but the term isn’t the same term that’s translated word over a thousand times in the OT. So when we start talking about salvation, we are, in fact, talking about a specific promise of God, so I can see why the ESV translators picked promise. And I won’t disagree that this implies the promise of the Messiah to come and deliver his people! You can even see how the specific idea of the promise of God fits nicely in many of the other spots in the OT where the same term is used yet is translated word.

But let’s not miss the point, whether the psalmist is referring to God’s word as a general term for all of God’s revelation or a specific promise, the fact remains that God’s servant first observes the veracity of what God has said, then properly responds with the fear of Yahweh. For our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29) and it is the fear of Yahweh that is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7). In fact, the fear of Yahweh is synonymous with trusting in God for salvation (Proverbs 3:5-7). Because God’s word and because God’s promises are confirmed and established forever, He is to be feared. He is not a God to be trifled with, bargained with, nor bribed. He is a holy being to be feared, yet it’s a reverent fear for His adopted son or daughter. For, although the terror of the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:11) is overwhelming, His love compels us to great comfort (1 John 4:17-18).

More Turning

Psalm 119:39 ESV Turn away the reproach that I dread, for your rules are good.

In Psalm 119:22-23, the psalmist desired that scorn and contempt be kept far from him and that he would have a steadfastness about meditating on God’s law even amidst affliction, and again we see here in verse 39 the petition followed by the appeal to God’s goodness and mercy. The psalmist has confessed his sins; he has asked God to help him to live according to God’s ways; he has claimed his covenant promise that God will supply the sacrificial lamb one day who will take away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you we are told by the Apostle John (1 John 3:13).

Oh, we are not surprised that the world hates us, but it is still dreadful. Jesus refers to it as persecution in Matthew 5:11-12 when people even utter false things about us. Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me is one of the biggest lies we tell ourselves. The reproach of even God’s enemies is enough to drive us to despair. A man who does not feel the pain and sting of the reproach of others is a man who likely fails to exercise proper sensitivity and compassion when appropriate as well. God doesn’t command us to simply not care what others think or say about us. Yes, we must hold fast to the truth even amidst affliction—but I think the affliction is designed to hurt that we might seek him (Psalm 119:67,71,107).

And it is precisely because God is good that we can make this request with confident hope that He will do everything according to the perfect counsel of His will. We appeal to God’s goodness when we ask him to turn away our reproach because we are in Christ Jesus. It is because God didn’t turn away His reproach toward our sin, but poured it out on His only Son that we can even come to him at all. It is because He is good and merciful that we have any hope at all that the only reproach we’ll ever experience is in this life. But, like Jesus, we must say “thy will be done, not mine” (Matthew 26:39). God is glorified when He answers our prayer yes or no, so we pray most faithfully when we simply pour out our heart’s desires and accept whatever He willeth.


Psalm 119:40 ESV Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life!

Nonsap Visuals

We complete the 5th octave with an exclamation. Behold! This Bible word is replete with implications. The idea is that we should stop and really consider what follows. It is an imperative of the highest degree, and we would do well to obey it! Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life! Stop and look, he says, for I desire your precepts. Give me life, O Lord, because you are righteous, he says.

It seems that David is continuing his appeal to God for salvation. David has been bombarded on all sides. Affliction could be his middle name at this point, yet David knows that when the righteous cry for help, God hears and delivers them (Psalm 34:17,19,22). David has examined himself. He longs for God’s truth, God’s precepts, God’s ways…and He appeals to God who is righteous to deliver him from death. Yes, David was a sinner, but in Christ David’s heart was pure and God is faithful and just to forgive us as well as David of all our sins (1 John 1:9). It is because God is righteous that we should have great fear of his reproach outside of Christ. But it is also because he is righteous that we don’t fear condemnation in Christ (Romans 8:1). He who did not spare His own Son will freely give us all things (Romans 8:32). And because we do what pleases Him we have what we ask of Him (1 John 3:22).

But this is even more glorious when we see it applied to the life of our Lord Himself. For beholdJesus really did long for God’s precepts at all times. And yet, Jesus suffered and died as if He were a son of Adam. But Adam was not the federal head of the Christ, thanks be to God! Jesus came into the world and did what Adam could not by obeying every one of God’s precepts perfectly. Jesus is the better Adam, and the better David, ad infinitum. So when Jesus prayed this psalm, it was a messianic plea to be raised from the dead. God, in His righteousness, poured out his wrath toward sinners on Jesus. But Jesus propitiated that wrath. Jesus fully satisfied the wrath of God for His elect. Thus, God raised Him from the dead (gave Him life) and gave him glory (1 Peter 1:21). Believer, you can rest today because you have been raised with Christ to new life, and you no longer need to fear God’s righteousness, but you can rest in the finished work of Jesus who has sat down at His father’s side.

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