In the second half of the Yodh octave, we continue the series of supplications that David is making of the Lord. In Psalm 119:76, he refers to God’s promise of salvation and his desire for the comfort of God’s. The last four verses of that section build on that theme.
God the Merciful Lawgiver
Psalms 119:77 Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight.
Verse 77 is the natural result of this progression. First the psalmist reminds himself (and us) of God’s steadfast love toward him (and us) in the forgiveness of his sins on the basis of Christ’s atonement (looking forward to messiah for the psalmist). Once any sinner has been granted such grace, the natural result is to love the grace-giver. Once we are made aware of the sacrifice it took to expiate our sins, it is natural to love the schoolmaster that first made us aware of our sins.
And what was the schoolmaster that brought us to Christ? God’s law, of course (Galatians 3:24)! It is through knowledge of God’s law that we realize our sinfulness and our need for a Savior, and it is through God’s law that we encounter the reality of Jesus’ perfect righteousness. The God-man who never violated God’s law is very much revealed through the study of God’s law. Think about it, you can know a lot about a man by the company he keeps. You can know even more about him when you consider the standards he aspires to, as well as those that he actually achieves. So the Christian finds his delight in God’s law (Psalm 119:47-48) because God’s law reveals Jesus to him.
And so, with our minds set upon delighting in God’s law, we request mercy. I do not think the mercy spoken of here is salvific mercy, but rather it’s a request for God’s continual tender mercy toward His children. The Christian has already received mercy (Titus 3:5) unto justification. The psalmist here is praying that God will be merciful to him as a dear child as the result of his love for his Heavenly Father’s law. John writes “And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight (1 John 3:22).” There is a continuous relationship between the child of God and his Father which is enriched by man’s obedience to God’s commandments—a direct result of finding his delight therein.
Put the Insolent to Shame?
Psalms 119:78 Let the insolent be put to shame, because they have wronged me with falsehood; as for me, I will meditate on your precepts.
It is the psalmist’s deepest wish that he himself not be put to shame, yet for the insolent, the proud and boasting, being put to shame is the psalmist’s prayer. When a believer is confronted with slander from God’s enemies, it is a natural response to wish to see the destruction of the prideful. Asaph lamented the prosperity of the wicked at least in part because when the wicked prosper it mars the character of God in the eyes of the heathen (Psalm 73:11). God’s patience toward sinners is too often mistaken for a tolerance of sin (Psalm 42:3; Psalm 79:10; Psalm 115:2). “Where is your God?” spew the heathen.
So it is here for the first time in Psalm 119 that we truly see what is called an imprecatory prayer. Up to this point, David has exercised great patience toward his enemies. But in the 78th verse, we see a shift. Do you notice the shift? Throughout Psalm 119, David endures his own anger (Psalm 119:53), and whenever he references the proud or his enemies, the focus has been his own determination to trust in God (Psalm 119:23,61,69). But even the best of men are men at best, and David is a man. Even a man after God’s own heart is capable to be so full of anger that he wishes judgment on his enemies. But this is a noble thing, you say to me, because it is for God’s defense. To the extent that we wish for evil to be judged because we are concerned for God’s glory is certainly a good thing. But chances are that often our hearts are more focused on how we are affected by evil than how it makes God look.
Because our God is a God of patience. He bears with the sins of many in order to save some at the right time (2 Peter 3:9). Oh, our dear Lord Jesus may cry out let the insolent be put to shame for He knows His sheep. But when we think to say with the psalmist let the insolent be put to shame we often might as well cry out for own damnation, for there was a time, (not so long ago in the grand scheme), that we were the insolent one. We have the advantage of further revelation than our pained psalmist. Now the same Holy Spirit inspired this holy text as the One who is from before all time, so we don’t dispute the truth of this sentiment. But we need to properly understand it in the context of progressive revelation. David wrote this as a member of the Old Covenant. He faithfully relied on the promised messiah…but we were all once enemies of God, even the Jews (Romans 3:9). As Christians, we are specifically called to pray for those who persecute us (Romans 12:14; Matthew 5:44), and I don’t think God meant solely imprecatorily. We are to see ourselves as the insolent ones who needed to have our shame imputed to Christ…and pray the same for others.
Thank God that He may even take a prayer such as this and make someone’s enemy his friend!
At the same time, our hatred for evil and love for God can move us to pray imprecatory prayers because of the examples given in the Bible. If God should not save our enemy, may He eliminate him quickly!
To Know God is to Fear God
Psalms 119:79 Let those who fear you turn to me, that they may know your testimonies.
The psalmist has asked for mercy from the Lord, that he may have life, and he has asked for God’s enemies to be punished while affirming his own commitment to meditating upon God’s precepts. Now he prays for his fellow saints. Those who fear you is synonymous with Christians. So what we see here is a request for God’s people to turn to our psalmist. In the ESV the phrase “that they may know your testimonies” seems to imply that if God’s people would turn to our psalmist they would learn more of His excellent Word. This is certainly true if the psalmist is Jesus himself, and you may apply that how you will. But it is notable that every other reasonable version (NASB, KJV, NKJV, NIV, CSB) translates the second phrase here as simply another way of describing God’s people. The CSB rendering is the most straightforward in English.
Let those who fear you, those who know your decrees, turn to me. (Psalm 119:79 CSB)
What this is saying is that “those who fear you” is synonymous with “those who know your decrees/testimonies.” In other words, David is requesting God to permit His people to turn to him. Now when you think of David and his life of difficulty and affliction, you can see how he would have experienced times where God’s people may have given up on him. No king is without critics, and David lived at a time of great war and bloodshed. As he was plotted against by his enemies, may his people have turned away, too? What about those in his charge who were angry with him? Do you think friends of Uriah didn’t figure out what David did to him? Were not Joab and all David’s servants angry with David during these times of distress (2 Samuel 19:5-6)?
David, like any man, needs the companionship that only God’s people can offer each other. So he cries out to God for those who fear Yahweh to turn to him. They have turned away, (rightfully so at times), but David desires reconciliation and restoration that only the Spirit of God can procure. May we all be quick to forgive an erring brother who repents and turn back to him for Christ’s sake as we see the hearfelt cry of this prayer and the pain housed behind it.
Psalms 119:80 May my heart be blameless in your statutes, that I may not be put to shame!
We complete this octet with a far more personal and humble request. After the request for enemies to be put to shame, it would appear the Spirit has reminded David of his own tendency toward pride. Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18), thus we must always be sure of our own footing when pointing out the sins of others. It is a humble spirit which obtains honor (Proverbs 29:23) so it is with knowledge of our own depravity that we come to the Lord and ask to be pure in heart. David asks in Psalm 19: let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Yahweh, my rock and my redeemer, and this is simply a reiteration of that supplication. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God, indeed!
But no one is pure in heart, thus we are all deserving of shame. So we need a pure heart imputed to us. This is a wonderful phenomenon called the rebirth. When we are born again we are granted faith in Christ whereby His righteousness is imputed to us. When God looks on one of His children, He sees nothing but Christ’s righteousness. Our sin and iniquity was penalized on the cross, and we are wearing a new garment, we are clothed in the righteousness of the perfect Son of God. This is grace that we may fulfill the blessing of Matthew 5:8 and enjoy fellowship with the Father!
But it is also understood that we continue to live in the flesh even though we are led by the Spirit, while we remain in this world. For our body has not yet been redeemed and we are still susceptible to the sin that our corruptible flesh loves. As the battle wages between spirit and flesh we earnestly strive to mortify the deeds of the flesh and make our calling and election sure. But we all fall short of the glory of God and none of us can say that we are without sin. For if we did, we would make God a liar (1 John 1:8,10) and deceive ourselves! With this in mind, pray with the psalmist the prayers and supplications of Psalm 119:76-80, but especially consider verse 80 as a regular request. How horrible is the thought of sinning so egregeiously as to be put to public shame and there take your Lord and Savior with you? How desirous are you of a blameless heart that you might not sin against God and that you may not bring reproach to His Holy Name? Cry out to God for sanctification in your flesh, that you may begin enjoying Him forever…immediately.
See all posts in this series
Psalm 119:1-4 — Blessed!
Psalm 119:5-8 — Blessed!
Psalm 119:9-12 — Purity is the Objective
Psalm 119:13-16 — Declare and Delight!
Psalm 119:17-20 — Open My Eyes!
Psalm 119:21-24 — The Comfort of God
Psalm 119:25-28 — Thirst and Life
Psalm 119:29-32 — Shame Shifting
Psalm 119:33-36 — Seeking The Way
Psalm 119:37-40 — Behold God's Promise
Psalm 119:41-44 — Answering the Taunter
Psalm 119:45-48 — A Wide Place
Psalm 119:49-52 — Comfort Amidst Affliction
Psalm 119:53-56 — Righteous Anger?
Psalm 119:57-60 — What's Your Portion?
Psalm 119:61-64 — Companionship
Psalm 119:65-68 — Afflicted by God
Psalm 119:69-72 — More Affliction?
Psalm 119:73-76 — Sovereign Creator
Psalm 119:77-80 — May God Supply!
Psalm 119:81-84 — Our Whole Being Longs for God
Psalm 119:85-88 — They Have Dug Pitfalls
Psalm 119:89-92 — Established
Psalm 119:93-96 — Limited Perfection
Psalm 119:97-100 — Elevated Wisdom
Psalm 119:101-104 — Sweeter Than Honey
Psalm 119:105-108 — Freewill, Oaths, and More Affliction
Psalm 119:109-112 — Sorrows, Snares, Sons, and a Savior
Psalm 119:113-116 — My Hiding Place and My Shield
Psalm 119:117-120 — God Discards the Dross
Psalm 119:121-124— Deliverance
Psalm 119:125-128— God's Law > Everything on Earth
Psalm 119:129-132 — Into The Light
Psalm 119:133-136 — Does Your Love Bring You To Tears?
Psalm 119:137-140 — Zeal + Ignorance = Worthless Religion
Psalm 119:141-144 — Assurance of Perseverance
Psalm 119:145-148— Meditate on the PROMISE
Psalm 119:149-152 — Be Comforted For God Is Near
Psalm 119:153-156— Christ Alone Delivers
Psalm 119:157-160 — We Are In A Battle
Psalm 119:161-164— Do You Hate Falsehood?
Psalm 119:165-168 — Cause → Effect
Psalm 119:169-172 — Eruption of Praise
Psalm 119:173-176 — Seek Your Servant Like a Lost Sheep