Psalm 119:137-140 — Zeal + Ignorance = Worthless Religion

Righteousness of God

Psalms 119:137  Tsadhe Righteous are you, O Yahweh, and right are your rules.

The tsadhe octave is the “righteous” octave. Half the verses in this set speak of righteousness. And it starts where righteousness starts: with the Lord Himself. God is righteous and worthy to be praised for it. David is a prayerful man with many needs, but he follows the pattern that Jesus taught by bringing praise to the Lord. Hallowed by thy name we cry out before requesting our daily bread. So what does it mean that the Lord is righteous?

When we speak of righteousness or of being righteous, we cannot help but describe someone as conforming to a standard. That is, when we call a person righteous, we are usually saying that the person lives up to a standard of excellence or goodness that is a really high standard. But when we say God is righteous we are saying that God is the standard. It isn’t that God thinks stuff and does stuff and then we compare what he did to some standard and realize “Wow, God did that well!” It’s that the very concept of righteousness doesn’t exist apart from God. God simply is righteous. All other forms of righteousness are compared to Him as the standard. In Him, there is no sin nor blemish (1 Peter 1:19). There is no shadow of turning (James 1:17). He cannot improve nor degrade (Malachi 3:6). He just is and “what He is” is essentially righteous.

Therefore, it naturally follows that all of God’s rules are right as well. God cannot “do” anything wrong. Everything He does accords with His perfect, immutable nature and thus, everything He does is right. So when God tells us about His rules or His law, we can be sure any tension we sense is a problem with us, not God’s ways. This is why David proclaims in Psalm 51:4 that it was against God alone that he had sinned, so that God may be blameless in His judgment. It is our sinful nature to accuse God of unrighteousness when we are in sin. May God have mercy. God is the standard to which we must conform, and He reveals that standard through his rules, his law, and ultimately His dear Son, Jesus (Hebrews 1:2).

Righteousness and Faithfulness

Psalms 119:138  You have appointed your testimonies in righteousness and in all faithfulness.

Though God is the Creator of the world and everything in it, the heathen rage and plot vain things against Him (Psalm 2:1-2). One of the weapons of Satan’s warfare is the theory of evolution. With evolution, men claim that the world and everything in it came about from (at least some level of) chaos. But evolution does not only attack God’s physical creation, but it is also an attack on the objective morality appointed by God. God-haters have plotted in vain for millennia how to “dethrone God,” and they rightfully attack the foundations of Christian belief in their attempt. If God isn’t the One who has appointed all things, including His righteous testimonies, then to whom is man even accountable at all? There is no morality without God having appointed it. Objective morality cannot arise ex nihilo or as the result of evolutionary processes.

Bible in foreground with out-of-focus Christmas tree in backgroundBut God did appoint his testimonies, and He did so in righteousness. First, it is important to note that it is God who appointed his testimonies. They didn’t arise naturally or derive from something in creation. God’s testimonies are eternally established in His perfect mind according to the wisdom of His will. Second, there is no blemish or spot on the perfections of God’s testimonies. Our inability to obey or even grasp God’s righteous law has no bearing on the objective moral goodness of His law. When God’s law isn’t clear or seems “off,” it is our duty to throw ourselves ever the more into study, always beginning with the presupposition that we are wrong and God is right.

Finally, God’s testimonies are appointed in all faithfulness. God is faithful even though every man is a liar. Romans 3:4 refers to Psalm 51:4 and is a reminder that God does not need to be justified for His own sake, but He exhibits His righteousness and faithfulness for our sake. He is righteous and faithful and His faithfulness isn’t something we evaluate or are led to by evidence. Instead, His faithfulness is the standard to which we turn! It is because He has promised something that we should believe it, not necessarily because we’ve seen sufficient evidence. God has and will send us help for our faith, but that is not to prove himself, it is to help us due to our fallible faithfulness. But God is to be believed regardless of what we sense; this is our only comfort (Psalm 119:50)!

Zeal for God with Knowledge

Psalms 119:139  My zeal consumes me, because my foes forget your words.

When we consider the truths of God contained in the scripture, and the Holy Spirit illumines our minds, we are armed with knowledge that translates to action. We cannot simply learn truthful things about God without applying what we’ve learned to our thinking and deeds. This is why we are undone (Isaiah 6:5 KJV) when we encounter the righteousness of God. We have no righteousness of our own to boast in nor establish. But Christ has become to us wisdom from God (1 Corinthians 1:30), and thus, we can understand the gospel: that Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6) and was raised so that they may be accounted righteous (Romans 4:25).

Zeal without knowledge is not helpful…

In Romans 10:2-4, Paul criticizes the Israelites for having a zeal for God but not according to knowledge. It is not that they didn’t know who God is or that they worshipped the wrong God. No, Paul’s admonition is that the Israelites knew God, but didn’t comprehend His righteousness. Thus, they didn’t submit to it, nor were they grasping their need for Christ’s righteousness to cover them. But the Israelites could not blame the psalmist. For centuries before the incarnation, Psalm 119 was telling the people of God’s righteousness and His faithful promise. Thus, the psalmist is consumed with his own zeal for God’s righteous testimonies. He is consumed with zeal for God’s faithful promise as a contrast to the ignorance of his enemies.

For he laments, “my foes forget your words.” The enemies of God are faithful to their own false religious system. Our world system demands one’s whole life be dedicated to it (all gods do). This is why some of the most biblically illiterate people you meet are “ex-Christians.” We forget God’s law when we let sin dull our hearts. When we actively deny what we know to be true, even that which is self-evident (Romans 1:18), we bear the mark of those who hate the Way, the Truth, and the Life. As men’s hearts and consciences are hardened, we should be encouraged to greater zeal for the truth, because it is only zeal with knowledge that leads us in the right direction (Proverbs 19:2).

God’s Servants Trust Him

Psalms 119:140  Your promise is well tried, and your servant loves it.

And here is the heart of the matter. God has promised to redeem a people for Himself. He promised from the earliest time (Genesis 3:15) that a messiah would come and that He would save His people from their sins. This promise has endured since the beginning and to the time of David. The promise persisted through the murder of Abel (Genesis 4:25). It remained steadfast when Abraham and Sarah were beyond child-being years (Genesis 15:2). It never wavered when Abraham was committed to offering Isaac as a sacrifice (Genesis 22:2).

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

When judge after judge rose and fell short of finally delivering God’s people, God’s promise never changed (Judges 16:24). When the Israelites took things into their own hands and demanded a king (1 Samuel 8:6), God’s promise was unaltered. When David, God’s anointed King who most resembled the one who would ultimately give Israel the victory they needed fell woefully short of God’s righteousness (2 Samuel 11:4) God’s promise actually shined even brighter (Psalm 51:2). Because God’s promise that He will dwell among His people is greater than any physical deliverance or plot of land that we could imagine. God’s promise to tear down the dividing wall between himself and sinners is the greatest news ever, and its light is magnified when seen against the backdrop of our sin and darkness (Ephesians 2:16). When its fulfillment appears bleakest, the promise is most cherished.

It is when God’s promise is against all odds that it is most visible to us. When God made Gideon take a smaller army we see His power magnified (Judged 7:2). Edmund Clowney used to say that God is always destroying his own credibility because He promises things that are so much greater than we can even imagine. But that is our God! He is the one who is able to do exceedingly and abundantly more than we could ask or even think (Ephesians 3:20)! His promise was well-tried. Christ came and fulfilled all righteousness (Matthew 3:15) and is seated at the right hand of the father (Colossians 3:1). We believe and love God’s promise because it is from God. And praise Him for He has given us tangible evidence to help us in our unbelief through His continued faithfulness to His people (Acts 17:31).

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