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"The Cords of the Wicked Have Bound Me; But I Have Not Forgotten Your Law" (Psalm 119:41-88)     January 26-27

In the Waw strophe (verses 41-48) the psalmist prays for God's promised deliverance (verse 41; compare verse 49) so that he will be able to continue to live by God's law (verse 44) and to proclaim God's words to others-to his detractors (verse 42) and to kings (verse 46). This could imply that the writer was himself a prophet such as Jeremiah, yet others take it merely to mean that the writer, or anyone, should be able to unabashedly discuss their Bible-based beliefs when asked to defend them, even in the presence of kings (compare Matthew 10:18-20; Luke 21:12-15; 1 Peter 3:15-16).

The words of Psalm 119:43, "Take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth," are paraphrased in The Living Bible as: "May I never forget your words." Yet they may more specifically be asking that God not allow the psalmist's proclamation of God's truth to others to cease by being silenced in prison or death.

Through God's intervention the author will be able to live by God's law "forever and ever" (verse 44)-clearly demonstrating his belief in eternal life as the reward of the righteous. This is part of the liberating aspect of God's law, as described in the next verse.

The Hebrew word in verse 45 translated "liberty" or "freedom" (NIV) literally means "a wide space"-metaphorically meaning unconfined by suffering or oppression. The apostle James referred to God's law as "the perfect law of liberty" (James 1:25). John said that God's commandments "are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3). "The psalmist celebrates the freedom that is found in obeying God's instruction. Although many think of laws, instructions, and commandments (v. 47) as limiting and restricting, the Law of God paradoxically frees us. It frees us from sin (v. 133) and gives us the peace that comes from following the Lord's instructions (v. 165)" (Nelson Study Bible, note on Psalm 119:44-45). Moreover, it leads to the ultimate freedom, found in Christ, of reigning in God's Kingdom forever-liberated for eternity from death and all the burdens and sorrows of this present life.

The poet closes the stanza with two expressions of love for God's commandments and a commitment to meditate on His statutes.

In the Zayin strophe (verses 49-56) the psalmist asks God to "remember" the word that caused him to have hope. The psalmist doesn't remind God of which promise comprises the word, but it likely involves the promise of salvation or deliverance (compare verse 41). Of course, God knows what is meant. "When applied to the Lord, the word 'remember' means 'to pay attention to, to work on behalf of.'...Remembering is not recalling, for God never forgets; it is relating to His people in a special way" (Wiersbe, Be Exultant, note on verses 49-56). This hope-that God would work out a specific promise-comforted the psalmist in his affliction and enlivened him (verse 50).

His present affliction (same verse) involves proud, wicked men who hold him in contempt (verses 51, 53). Some aspect of God's law is at issue. The adversaries have forsaken the law and deride the author for his faith. "Yet," he says, "I do not turn aside from Your law" (verse 51). He is angry: "Indignation grips me because of the wicked" (verse 53, NIV; compare verse 139). But he directs his thoughts toward God's statutes (verse 54). They become his songs, subjects for composing praises to God-as they indeed form the basis for this very psalm (compare Ephesians 5:19).

The phrase "in the house of my pilgrimage," literally "in my temporary house" (Zondervan NIV Study Bible, note on Psalm 119:54), identifies life as a journey. As a stranger and pilgrim on the earth (see verse 19), the psalmist sings praises to God wherever he finds himself.

In declaring to God, "I remember Your name in the night" (verse 55), the writer shows that his religion is not just an outward show during the day. He thinks about God and all He stands for at night (compare verses 62, 148) when he is reflecting on what is important to him-and He resolves to obey Him.

The psalmist ends the strophe by stating that God's law "has become mine." In essence, he has internalized it to an extent that it is his way of living-not just God's way, not just his parents' way. By keeping the law of God, he has made it his own (verse 56).

In the Heth strophe (verses 57-64) the poet proclaims, "You are my portion, O LORD" (verse 57). As commentator Wiersbe notes: "This is real estate language and refers to the apportioning of the land of Canaan to the tribes of Israel (78:55; Josh. 13-21). The priests and Levites were not given an inheritance in the land because the Lord was their inheritance and their portion (Num. 18:20-24; Deut. 10:8-9; 12:12). Jeremiah, the priest called to be a prophet, called the Lord 'the portion of Jacob' [i.e., of all Israel] (Jer. 10:16; 51:19; Lam. 3:24), and David used the same image in Psalm 16:5-6" (note on 119:57-64). Christians today should consider God as our portion, through whom all our needs and wants are supplied for eternity.

Because he knew that the Lord was his portion, the psalmist requests God's favor and mercy (verse 58). He "made haste" and "did not delay" to bring his life into harmony with God's ways, obeying His commandments (verses 59-60). These words are instructive. We should always be quick to follow God's commands. And whenever our lives fall out of harmony with God's ways, we must not put off repentance-imagining we will eventually get around to it, letting ourselves drift farther and farther away from God-for we thereby jeopardize our future (see Hebrews 2:1-3). If your life is going that way, ask God to help you turn around. Do it today. Don't wait for a tomorrow that may never come.

The psalmist's enemies had no regard for God's law, and they bound him in cords (Psalm 119:61). This could be figurative of some type of ensnarement, or it may refer more literally to bondage and imprisonment-such as what Jeremiah experienced. Yet despite his predicament, the writer holds fast to God's law and gives thanks to God for it in the middle of the night (verses 61-62; compare verse 55).

The author is at great odds with his lawless oppressors but sees as companions all those who fear and obey God (verse 63). He realizes he is not alone in his struggle (compare verses 74, 79)-and that was no doubt a source of encouragement, as it should be to all of us today. He further recognizes that in spite his present troubles, the earth is still full of God's hesed, his lovingkindness and mercy (verse 64).

In the Teth strophe (verses 65-72) the psalmist focuses on God dealing "well" (Hebrew tob, "good") with him (verse 65), admitting that he went astray in some manner before his present affliction and that this led to his repentance (verse 67)-which he sees as tob, good (verse 71).

The Hebrew word tob is used six times in this stanza. The psalmist declares that God is good and does good (verse 68). In verse 72, he states that God's law is better (from tob-i.e., "more good") than treasure (compare verses 14, 127, 162).

The poet calls his enemies "proud." He states that they have "forged a lie against me" and later that they "almost made an end of me on earth" (verse 87). He says their hearts are "fat as grease" (verse 70)-or "fat, without feeling" (Green's Literal Translation). The imagery is that of being covered in thick fat and difficult to penetrate. The NIV substitutes "callous" for "fat." Yet, in spite of being persecuted, the psalmist will keep God's precepts and delight in His law (verses 69-70).

He learned from his earlier mistake and from the correction that resulted. Undoubtedly it was not pleasant to live through the situation. The writer can look back, however, and say that it was "good"-that it was more than worth it (verses 71-72; compare verse 75). He recognized it as the opportunity for spiritual growth that it was.

As the book of Hebrews tells us, "Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (12:11; see verses 5-11).

In the Yod strophe (verses 73-80) the psalmist recognizes that God as man's Maker is the One who best understands how man, His creation, is supposed to properly function-so he seeks God's direction in how to live (verse 73).

The writer desires to encourage others who revere God by maintaining hope in God's Word through his affliction and continuing in obedience (see verses 74, 79; compare verse 63). He knows that God has allowed his present affliction and that His judgments have been right (verse 75). Yet he now prays for relief and comfort, as God has promised (verse 76). This will be a powerful witness to God's people-and so will the final outcome of all this.

The poet reiterates that his enemies are proud and continues the pattern of contrasting their wrongdoing with His faithfulness: "They treated me wrongfully...but I will meditate on Your precepts" (verse 78). "They have forged a lie against me, but I will keep your precepts" (verse 69). They "have bound me...but I have not forgotten Your law" (verse 61). They "have me in derision...yet I do not turn aside from Your law" (verse 51).

He chooses to let God deal with his enemies while he finds comfort in the law, striving to be blameless, praying that they will be put to shame rather than him (verses 78, 80)-again as part of an important witness to all of God's people.

The Kaph stanza (verses 81-88), the last strophe of the first half of the psalm, is-like the ending stanza (verses 196-176)-dominated by prayer for God's intervention. Wearying under his trial, the psalmist searches God's Word and wonders, in the manner of a lament, "When will you comfort me?" (verses 81-82).

He feels "like a wineskin in smoke" (verse 83). "As a wineskin hanging in the smoke and heat above a fire becomes smudged and shriveled, so the psalmist bears the marks of his affliction" (Zondervan NIV Study Bible, note on verse 83).

The first question of verse 84, "How many are the days of Your servant?," may mean, as the NIV renders it, "How long must your servant wait?" But it may also refer to how many days of life he has remaining in him under these circumstances. He would then be asking, "How long can I survive like this?"

"When," he further pleads, "will You execute judgment on those who persecute me?" (same verse). Essentially, he is asking God, "When will You deal with these people? When will You put a stop to what they're doing to me?"

Their digging of pits for him (verse 85) is probably figurative of setting situational traps for him-evidently to the point of plotting his death (compare verse 87). He cries out for help to avert this dire threat (verse 86), once more contrasting the behavior of his persecutors with his own: "They almost made an end of me on earth, but I did not forsake Your precepts" (verse 87). Through all this he hasn't turned his back on God's law, but he asks renewed strength to continue keeping it (verse 88). Again, we see that continuance in obedience to the law of God requires His caring attention and help. In this we also see that doing right doesn't come automatically, even to those who love God. We cannot succeed on our own strength; we need to reach out to God and His Word continually.

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