Psalm 119:157-160 — We Are In A Battle

Many Adversaries

Psalms 119:157  Many are my persecutors and my adversaries, but I do not swerve from your testimonies.

Throughout the 119th psalm, David has repeatedly cried to God about the persecution he suffers. But here in verse 157 he uses the term “many” to describe those who oppose him. It is not that David has a single enemy or some in-law who doesn’t love him. David’s adversaries are many. Everywhere he turns he faces opposition, persecution, or affliction. He could crush a whole army of his adversaries and two more would take its place. How shall a man find peace and joy amidst such distress?

And when we look at the example of our Savior, what do we see? All the chief priests and elders of the people came against him (Matthew 27:1). And it wasn’t just the chief priests and elders:

Matthew 27:20,23 ESV  Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. 23 And he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”

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Then even the Roman soldiers persecuted the perfect Son of God!

Matthew 27:27 ESV  Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him.

Even the “passersby” derided him. Note that these are not the same people who already turned him over!

Matthew 27:39-41 ESV  And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads  40  and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”  41  So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying,

Yet, he was led like a sheep is led to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7) and “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2). So it is with our future glorification and the present glorification of God through our suffering that we endure much affliction! Do not let the number of your persecutors cause you to swerve from God’s testimonies. Dear Christian, the more adversaries you have the more you may identify with your Lord. Suffer as a good servant and look forward to that Day.

It’s Right To Be Disgusted By Evil

Psalms 119:158  I look at the faithless with disgust, because they do not keep your commands.

Here we come to a hard text for us. We have been conditioned by our church and the church by our world to always obey the gospel of niceness. When we encounter someone who has not received the same grace that we have, we are expected to only proclaim “but for the grace of God, there go I!” It is the ultimate act of humility to look upon all men with pity, even those who have debased and disgraced themselves thoroughly. I fear that our fear of being accused of being judgmental has pervaded our thinking and our speech. The Bible shows no respect for evildoers or their pagan religions, and neither should we. Stay with me.

If you are a believer in God, you have been born-again (John 3:3). You are a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17) who has new desires and affections. Like the unregenerate man who is sickened by the proclamation of God’s law and gospel, regenerate men ought to have both a rational and visceral reaction to wickedness. To look upon those who doubt God and do not keep His commands with anything but disgust is insulting to God and His goodness. Don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying we should not also pity those who are apart from Christ. I am not saying we should not declare to them the gospel and command them to repent and believe. But a healthy Christian hates sin and evil in all its forms and ought to react to evil with contempt. In particular, may we never be accepting of evil that even the world rejects (1 Corinthians 5:1)!

We vomit spoiled food almost instantaneously, not because we think about it and decide we should expel it, but because our bodies are naturally designed to protect us. We have a *”gag reflex” for a reason, and it prevents things from getting deep inside us before we have time to realize all the effects. Similarly, our Christian conscience and convictions, bathed in the Word and Law of God, are capable of causing a natural aversion to sin and evil before we’ve even had time to consider it. We are disgusted by the ideas of lying, stealing, vandalism, gossip, slander, sexual immorality, rape, orgies, homosexual acts and desires, drunkness, hypocrisy, envy, sorcery, and faithlessness. A Christian who is growing in holiness and separation from worldly lusts will find themselves more quickly disgusted when they encounter rampant wickedness and filth as they walk their path in this world (James 1:21).

Steadfast Love Is Awesome

Psalms 119:159  Consider how I love your precepts! Give me life according to your steadfast love.

The ultimate contradiction between those who hate God and those who love Him is the love that His elect has for His precepts. We all do what we naturally love to do. And God’s children exhibit their love for Him and His precepts through their lives. When we are persecuted and afflicted, we are able to keep alert with all perseverance because we hope in Him. We can endure seasons of life where things aren’t going well because our affection for God’s precepts confirms for us our justification. Many a man, woman, and child have written dates in their Bibles when they asked Jesus into their hearts. But the child of God who by faith takes hold of the Christ of God is the one who loves His ways.

1 John 3:10 ESV  By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

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The psalmist appeals to grace and love in his supplication here. He knows that He has already taken hold of God’s grace when he proclaims his love for God’s precepts, and he beseeches God to give him life because of God’s steadfast love. Steadfast love is a very special phrase in our Bible. It is translated as mercylovingkindnesssteadfast love and faithful love, et al. This term refers to God’s amazing and unfathomable love. God is love (1 John 4:8), and His love is always perfect. So how can a sinner appeal to God to be given life according to His love? God’s very nature and character demand that sinners cannot be loved by Him, for that would be a terrible thing for a holy God to love that which is by nature wicked and unholy. This is one of the great questions the Bible was written to answer: “How can a sinner be reconciled to God?”

And it is here that the love of God is demonstrated to us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). God’s steadfast love is found when we examine God’s love for Himself. In Trinitarian terms, we might say that the Father’s love for the Son is steadfast and immutable. Thus whoever is joined to the Son, that is, whoever is in perfect union with the Son cannot do anything BUT be loved by the Father. For the Father loves the Son (John 3:35), and if you are in Christ, God is as well-pleased with you as He is with Jesus (Matthew 3:17). Nothing can separate you from God’s love if you are in Christ (Romans 8:38,39). Therefore, because we are hidden in Christ, we boldly approach God’s throne and request help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

God Is Faithful

Psalms 119:160  The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.

David here comforts himself with the faithfulness of God’s word, for the encouragement of himself and others to rely upon it. — Matthew Henry’s commentary on the Whole Bible

In the Treasury of David, Charles Spurgeon notices that in several of the octaves David finished the section by “dwelling upon the sureness of the truth of God.” There are some variations in our modern English translations which I think can be confusing because the word “sum” is a term ripe with mathematical meaning that does not apply here. The point of verse 160 is that all, or the whole, of God’s Word is truth. There isn’t an iota nor a dot which has not been perfectly placed by the Spirit of God. We would do well to remember this when we are trudging through passages of scripture that are not as exciting to us as others.

Aaron Burden

All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable (2 Timothy 3:16). Be comforted by God’s previous faithfulness to His people so that you will have confidence in His faithfulness to the covenant He has made with you, dearly beloved. Remember that God has put His people through fires many times, but always brought the promised deliverance. You will not escape such a walk with our Lord Jesus (1 Peter 1:7), nor should you want to!

To be able to fully trust someone is alien to us in our human condition, so we have to learn to trust God and discipline ourselves to the same. Though we are born-again, perfect faithfulness is always a goal on this side of glory, but never a destination where we can rest. Thus, God has seen fit in His goodness and lovingkindness to give us precisely the revelation we need in order to trust in His trustworthiness. Many a man has set out to judge the Bible only to be judged Himself. God’s Word has and will outlive all its critics, and it is sufficient for your needs today as well.

* I credit Thabiti Anyabwile with the concept of the gag reflex from an article in Aug 19, 2013. I do not recommend you follow him or read any of his more recent writings.

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