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How I Love Your Word, O Lord

Series: Psalms Book 5

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Nov 6, 2011

Psalm 119:1-176

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If you have your Bibles, I would invite you to turn with me to Psalm 119. We've been working through the fifth book of the Psalms, the longest book or section of the Psalms, for a number of weeks now, and for a couple of months the ministers have been asking me, and other friends have been asking me, “What are you going to do with Psalm 119?” Some have wondered, are you going to do a twenty-two week series on Psalm 119 where we take each section of the psalm, structured around the Hebrew alphabet. And that's very tempting to do. Some very long books have been written on Psalm 119. But I'm going to do something tonight that I am pretty sure that I've never heard before in the context of a worship service, and that is, I'm going to read the entirety of Psalm 119 as an act of worship in the reading of God's Word tonight. Now that will take me a little over twenty minutes because this psalm is not only the longest psalm, it's the longest chapter in the Bible and it's longer than some books in the Bible, but I think it will help us all to hear the psalm together. And chances are, you've not heard Psalm 119 read aloud in the context of a worship service. I've listened to it read aloud twice this afternoon just to get the cadence of it into my head and into my heart, listening on the ESV Study Bible online site that provides for you those wonderful audio recordings of the reading of Scripture. So we're going to hear Psalm 119 from the Word of God tonight.

Now again, it will take me twenty minutes to read, and I don't know how many minutes that leaves me to preach, so here's my plan. With whatever time I have left, I want to direct your attention to one important thing, especially in light of what we've just sung, and then I'm going to come back next week and I want to highlight for you the great themes of the psalm and make some specific applications. So consider this a two part sermon on Psalm 119. We could very profitably break it into twenty-two weeks, but what I've planned to do is to provide for the congregation a twenty-two page, one page per section, devotional guide to the psalm, so that over a period of twenty-two days, you could read this short eight-verse section of the psalm and meditate on the manifold glory of the Word of God because this whole psalm is about how glorious God's Word is and how it sets us free and how those who love the Lord delight in it and love it.

So as we prepare to hear this psalm about the Word of God, I want to draw your attention to different words that are used for the Word of God. Now the obvious things that you see about this psalm, and I think you see this if you’re looking at the pew Bibles but probably whatever translation you’re using breaks this psalm into eight-verse increments because the psalm is an acrostic psalm and each of the eight verses of each of the twenty-two sections begins with a particular letter of the Hebrew alphabet which is probably written above that section in your Bible. So if you look down at verse 1, above that, probably in your Bible if the Hebrew letter “ALEPH” isn't written, chances are, “ALEPH” is spelled out in English and that's the equivalent of our “A.” And then if you look down to verse 9, right above that probably if the Hebrew letter “BETH” is not written out for you then the letters, “B-E-T-H” to indicate the Hebrew letter “BETH” is written there. Each of those verses begins with the Hebrew letter “BETH” and then “GIMEL” and then “DALETH” and all the way through the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Now that's the obvious thing in this structure when you look at this psalm except we can't see that in English, can we? We can see the structure but we can't see the letters because there's no way to duplicate that in English, the starting of each verse with the letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

So here's what I want you to be on the lookout for. I want you to be on the lookout for the words that are used for God's revelation. And the first and most significant of them is the word “law” which is the Hebrew word, “torah.” It refers to God's instruction, the instruction that He gives us for the living of the Godly life. Then, I want you to be on the lookout for the word “testimony.” This refers to what God solemnly testifies to be His will for our life. Then there's the word “precepts.” This refers to what God has appointed for us to do. Then there's the word “statues.” This refers to what our divine Law-giver has laid down as His will for us. Then there's the word “commandments.” This of course refers to the things that God has commanded us to do. Then there's the word “rules” or in some of your translations it may be translated “ordinances” or even better “judgments” because these rules are more like rulings. They are what the divine Judge has ruled to be right. A judge in a courtroom gives a ruling or renders a judgment and that's what these rules, “mishpatim,” rules or ordinances or judgments are. And then finally, there are two words for “word” that are used. The more general word, “davar” — God has spoken and revealed Himself — and “imrah” which especially refers to a promise that God has given. Now all of those terms occur in almost every verse of the psalm. I think there are only seven verses out of one hundred and seventy-six verses that don't have one of those words for the Word of God in them. So the whole psalm celebrates the Word of God.

Well before we read and hear it, let's look to God in prayer.

Heavenly Father, this is Your Word and it is a word about the Word and it's a word about how we are to love the Word, so open our eyes to behold wonderful things in Your Word. And we’ll give You all the praise and glory in Jesus' name. Amen.

This is the Word of God. Hear it:

“Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD! Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in His ways! You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently. Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping Your statues! Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all Your commandments. I will praise You with an upright heart, when I learn Your righteous rules. I will keep Your statues; do not utterly forsake me!

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to Your word. With my whole heart I seek You; let me not wander from Your commandments! I have stored up Your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You. Blessed are You, O LORD; teach me Your statues! With my lips I declare all the rules of Your mouth. In the way of Your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on Your precepts and fix my eyes on Your ways. I will delight in Your statues; I will not forget Your word.

Deal bountifully with Your servant, that I may live and keep Your word. Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Your law. I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not Your commandments from me! My soul is consumed with longing for Your rules at all times. You rebuke the insolent, accursed one, who wander from Your commandments. Take away from me scorn and contempt, for I have kept Your testimonies. Even though princes sit plotting against me, Your servant will meditate on Your statues. Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.

My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to Your word! When I told of my ways, You answered me; teach me Your statues! Make me understand the way of Your precepts, and I will meditate on Your wondrous works. My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to Your word! Put false ways far from me and graciously teach me Your law! I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I set Your rules before me. I cling to Your testimonies, O LORD; let me not be put to shame! I will run in the way of Your commandments when you enlarge my heart!

Teach me, O LORD, the way of Your statues; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep Your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to Your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in Your ways. Confirm to Your servant Your promise, that You may be feared. Turn away the reproach that I dread, for Your rules are good. Behold, I long for Your precepts; in Your righteousness give me life!

Let Your steadfast love come to me, O LORD, Your salvation according to Your promise; then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me, for I trust in Your word. And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in Your rules. I will keep Your law continually, forever and ever, and I shall walk in a wide place, for I have sought Your precepts. I will also speak of Your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame, for I find my delight in Your commandments, which I love. I will lift up my hands toward Your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on Your statues.

Remember Your word to Your servant, in which You have made me hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, that Your promises give me life. The insolent utterly deride me, but I do not turn away from Your law. When I think of Your rules from of old, I take comfort, O LORD. Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked, who forsake Your law. Your statues have been my songs in the house of my sojourning. I remember Your name in the night, O LORD, and keep Your law. This blessing has fallen to me, that I have kept Your precepts.

The LORD is my portion; I promise to keep Your words. I entreat Your favor with all my heart; be gracious to me according to Your promise. When I think on my ways, I turn my feet to Your testimonies; I hasten and do not delay to keep Your commandments. Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me, I do not forget Your law. At midnight I rise to praise You, because of Your righteous rules. I am a companion of all who fear You, of those who keep Your precepts. The earth, O LORD, is full of Your steadfast love; teach me Your statues!

You have dealt well with Your servant, O LORD, according to Your word. Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in Your commandments. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word. You are good and do good; teach me Your statues. The insolent smear me with lies, but with my whole heart I keep Your precepts; their heart is unfeeling like fat, but I delight in Your law. It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn Your statues. The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

Your hands have made and fashioned me, give me understanding that I may learn Your commandments. Those who fear You shall see me and rejoice, because I have hoped in Your word. I know, O LORD, that Your rules are righteous, that in faithfulness You have afflicted me. Let Your steadfast love comfort me according to Your promise to Your servant. Let Your mercy come to me, that I may live; for Your law is my delight. Let the insolent be put to shame, because they have wronged me with falsehood; as for me, I will mediate on Your precepts. Let those who fear You turn to me, that they may know Your testimonies. May my heart be blameless in Your statues, that I may not be put to shame!

My soul longs for Your salvation; I hope in Your word. My eyes long for Your promise; I ask, ‘When will You comfort me?’ for I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, yet I have not forgotten Your statues. How long must Your servant endures? When will You judge those who persecute me? The insolent have dug pitfalls for me; they do not live according to Your law. All Your commandments are sure; they persecute me with falsehood; help me! They have almost made an end of me on earth, but I have not forsaken Your precepts. In Your steadfast love give me life, that I may keep the testimonies of Your mouth.

Forever, O LORD, Your word is firmly fixed in the heavens. Your faithfulness endures to all generations; You have established the earth, and it stands fast. By Your appointment they stand this day, for all things are Your servants. If Your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have given me life. I am Yours; save me, for I have sought Your precepts. The wicked lie in wait to destroy me, but I consider Your testimonies. I have seen a limit to all perfection, but Your commandment is exceedingly broad.

Oh how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep Your precepts. I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep Your word. I do not turn aside from Your rules, for You have taught me. How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to keep Your righteous rules. I am severely afflicted; give me life, O LORD, according to Your word! Accept my freewill offerings of praise, O LORD, and teach me Your rules. I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget Your law. The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from Your precepts. Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart. I incline my heart to perform Your statutes forever, to the end!

I hate the double-minded, but I love Your law. You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in Your word. Depart from me, you evildoers, that I may keep the commandments of my God. Uphold me according to Your promise, that I may live, and let me not be put to shame in my hope! Hold me up, that I may be safe and have regard for Your statues continually! You spurn all who go astray from Your statues, for their cunning is in vain. All the wicked of the earth You discard like dross, therefore I love Your testimonies. My flesh trembles for fear of You, and I am afraid of Your judgments.

I have done what is just and right; do not leave me to my oppressors. Give Your servant a pledge of good; let not the insolent oppress me. My eyes long for Your salvation and for the fulfillment of Your righteous promise. Deal with Your servant according to Your steadfast love, and teach me Your statues. I am Your servant; give me understanding, that I may know Your testimonies! It is time for the LORD to act, for Your law has been broken. Therefore I love Your commandments above gold, above fine gold. Therefore I consider all Your precepts to be right; I hate every false way.

Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them. The unfolding of Your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple. I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments. Turn to me and be gracious to me, as is Your way with those who love Your name. Keep steady my steps according to Your promise, and let not iniquity get dominion over me. Redeem me from man's oppression, that I may keep Your precepts. Make Your face shine upon Your servant, and teach me Your statues. My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep Your law.

Righteous are You, O LORD, and right are Your rules. Your have appointed Your testimonies in righteousness and in all faithfulness. My zeal consumes me, because my foes forget Your words. Your promise is well tried, and Your servant loves it. I am small and despised, yet I do not forget Your precepts. Your righteousness is righteous forever, and Your law is true. Trouble and anguish have found me out, but Your commandments are my delight. Your testimonies are righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live.

With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O LORD! I will keep Your statues. I call to You; save me, that I may observe Your testimonies. I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in Your words. My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on Your promise. Hear my voice according to Your steadfast love; O LORD, according to Your justice give me life. They draw near who persecute me with evil purpose; they are far from Your law. But You are near, O LORD, and all Your commandments are true. Long have I known from Your testimonies that You have founded them forever.

Look on my affliction and deliver me, for I do not forget Your law. Plead my cause and redeem me; give me life according to Your promise! Salvation is far from the wicked, for they do not seek Your statues. Great is Your mercy, O LORD; give me life according to Your rules. Many are my persecutors and my adversaries, but I do not swerve from Your testimonies. I look at the faithless with disgust, because they do not keep Your commands. Consider how I love Your precepts! Give me life according to Your steadfast love. The sum of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous rules endures forever.

Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of Your words. I rejoice at Your word like one who finds great spoil. I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love Your law. Seven times a day I praise You for Your righteous rules. Great peace have those who love Your law; nothing can make them stumble. I hope for Your salvation, O LORD, and I do Your commandments. My soul keeps Your testimonies; I love them exceedingly. I keep Your precepts and testimonies, for all my ways are before You.

Let my cry come before You, O LORD; give me understanding according to Your word! Let my plea come before You; deliver me according to Your word. My lips will pour forth praise, for You teach me Your statues. My tongue will sing of Your word, for all Your commandments are right. Let Your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen Your precepts. I long for Your salvation, O LORD, and Your law is my delight. Let my soul live and praise You, and let Your rules help me. I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I do not forget Your commandments.”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

Now there's one thing that I want to direct your attention to in the few moments that we have together tonight and it's this. If you’ll turn back to verse 1, keep your finger there. I want you to look at verse 1 and verse 176. The psalmist is not saying that the way that we are made right with God is by keeping these rules and therefore being accepted. He is not saying, “How I love Your law, O LORD,” as a covenant of works whereby we are made to be in right standing with God. He is saying, “How I love Your law, O LORD,” as the rule of life, not as a covenant of works but as a rule of life. And he is well aware and utterly realistic about the way that he and we stumble daily, no matter how much we love the Lord. And so in verse 1 he says, “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD!” But in verse 176 he says, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep.” And then he lifts up this prayer, “Seek Your servant.” And thus, in this psalm, he reminds us that we need a Savior who comes to seek and to save the lost. And that is precisely what our Savior tells us that He came to do. In fact, He even tells the story of a flock of sheep, one of whom has wandered off and the Good Shepherd goes after that sheep to reclaim it. So the glorying in the law of the psalmist is not contrary to grace, but consummate with it, perfectly consistent with it. There is a love of the law as a rule of life; there is a recognition that we need a seeking, saving, gracious, Savior. And when we come back next week we’ll look at the great themes of this psalm together and give some effort at applying it to our hearts.

Let's pray.

Heavenly Father, we thank You for the privilege of hearing Your Word, even as we've heard these words read aloud, we, perhaps for the first time in our lives, saw repeated scenes in this psalm that we've never quite grasped or appreciated before. As we dig into Your Word deeper next week, we pray that You would bless it to our hearts and to our lives. But even as we reflect tonight and we go to our homes on the richness of Your Word and the Word that we have read tonight, we pray that You would work it deep into our hearts that we would not sin against You, and that we, like the psalmist, would delight in Your Word and would be determined not to stray from its path. But also to know that when we do, You are a Good Shepherd who comes to seek straying sheep and to reclaim them and to put them back on the good way of Your Word. Now hear our prayer, O Lord, and bless us, and dismiss us with Your own benediction. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.

Would you stand for God's blessing?

Peace be to the brethren and love with faith from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ until the daybreak and the shadows flee away. Amen.

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