Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies, I keep your precepts with all my heart. Their hearts are callous and unfeeling, but I delight in your law. Psalm 119:69-70 TETH
I just finished going through Psalm 119 again. It doesn’t matter how many times I have studied this lengthy chapter, I always receive fresh light and understanding. That is exactly what the writer prayed he himself would find, and that is what he knew we would find after him. One of those fresh “lights” of understanding is to really grapple with how raw the psalmist is before God. I know what it is to be “raw” in private prayer, because I’m a sinner in need of grace. But this is the Bible! Aren’t “real” Christians supposed to be more humble? more “nice” about life? more “positive”?
The Audacity of God’s Affirmation.
Take first the audacity of the psalmist! He1 doesn’t hesitate to say “I have obeyed your commands”! Our own heads reel, “What?!? How can any mortal human claim this?” We know our failures to measure up all too well. There is none righteous, no, not one!2 And yet here he is, acting like he’s on God’s side against all those other heathen that don’t love, read, learn, and obey God’s commands. He draws a sharp line between “us” and “them” and that can make anyone feel more than a little uncomfortable. He has strong words to say about the “them”, too!
What are we to make of a religious braggart? Well, maybe he’s not saying what we think he’s saying.
All of the psalms are litanies of human expression toward God and about this life. They are meant to be recited together as a nation of believers in Yahweh: historic covenant Israel, and Christ’s global covenant Church. So the writer is speaking on behalf of his own people, not just his own life experience. He speaks on behalf of those who have and are sacrificing everything to remain faithful to the one true God. We also understand that Jesus prayed these very words.
Ah! Well, of course! HE is the only one who can say these things! Right?
In the view of Almighty God, the nation of Israel was comprised into two camps: those who were faithful to Him and His Word (commands), and those who were not faithful. And in the Church today, we have the same division. Now we begin to see how the psalmist’s statements can be true for “dirty saints”. God wills that we become as those who have seen that there is no other hope in this life but in the counsel of Almighty God. God is concerned that we not fall into the same trap as those who are not focused on God’s Word but lean instead on the counsel and benefits of this world. The psalms are disciplinary warnings and compassionate confirmation for each of us.
Ultimately, Psalm 119 forces us to consider our allegiances. At the same time that my heart is chastised for not loving God’s Word consistently and purely, I am also reminded that I am NOT like the “other” who smears God’s saints in slander, being callous and cold to their suffering (vv69-70). I cannot hang in the “in between”. I must, as Joshua called it out, choose my god.
Now therefore, fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served…, and serve the LORD. . . . Choose you this day whom you will serve, . . . But as for me and my house, I will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:14-15
But it still makes me squirm to see myself in the “I have been faithful” category. Comparatively, maybe, but comparisons separate me from my fellowman, and moreover, they are burned away completely in the presence of Almighty, Perfect and All-Knowing God. God has been haunting me with this psalm with the idea that this reticence of mine has really been false humility and a poor rendering of what the psalmist is trying to get across.
Receiving God’s Audacious Affirmation.
I say that because, lately, I have been finding great comfort in these very passages. They confirm what God has already been telling me and doing in my life. I am a “heart guided toward keeping God’s precepts”. I am one who delights in God’s Word. I am! I do!
Yes, I have been faithful. Perfectly? Not a chance. But my heart is truly His, and He knows it. Yes!! THAT is what the psalmist is saying. He is repeating what GOD thinks, not what the psalmist thinks. As we choose for God, the statements become true. God knew this all along! He has written a song and he is drawing us to sing it together as though we are already glorified, because that is what God is in the process of working out in our life—His own glory. God is speaking His love over His children (of which I am one)— yet I had taken it for religious bragging.
Passages like “Look upon me” and “You are very near” imply that the psalmist desires more than anything for His heart to be known by God. The psalmist is “gold that is being burned pure through the fires of affliction”. That’s me! And God sees. He knows. He designed that it should be so. He loves and affirms and saves. Shall I accept this, or continue to shame His love in my ignorance by staying cowed and self-denigrating?
Oh, but that really is the question isn’t it? Do we believe Him or not? If you believe, then receive.
The Goal of God’s Audacious Affirmation
So I have been learning to stop fighting it. It’s hard, because I was taught to be humble, and receiving God’s Word as true of myself seems counter-intuitive to that goal. But (here it is…) I am Seen, and Known, and yet L-O-V-E-D! All my failures are in there, but that is not the point!—because all He can see over me is His Son’s precious spilt blood. So, so precious!
I received God’s tremendous offer of love through believing and receiving Christ as my Redeemer and Lord over my life. Now I can receive God’s poured out blessing and these words, because He sees that my heart is Christward. That heart, though failing at almost every step, truly desires to say “Thank you” to God in the way I allow Him to guide my life. And He is guiding me as I stumble toward Him like my little toddler grandaughter in her unsteady steps! My failures are part of His work in me to grow me in victory over sin—as His child, and not as some outsider. God is a loving Father who speaks what He sees is my end, not my process. I am His and He is mine.
Now, I am praying along with the psalmist as one who casts her heart out to the Lord, certainly imperfectly, but surely all the same. I receive His love and validation in return with confidence. Can God handle such raw bravado? Yep. He had this song written just for me, all along!
How is it with you?
Pray with me?
Oh, Lord! I have a Maker—You formed my heart. Before even time began, my life was in your hands. You know my name. You know my every thought. You see each tear that falls and You hear me when I call. I have a Father—You call me your own. You’ll never leave me no matter where I roam. Yes! You know my name! You know my every thought! You see each tear that falls and STILL you hear me when I call. Thank you Father that I can stand bared before You and I am not ashamed. Because of the sacrifice of your Son, I am not embarrassed to claim your joy and delight in me. This is simply because You have caused me to love You; it was not of my own doing. And, wondrously, I am made new in the glow of your approval. Your love stabilizes my soul so that I can reach out and love others by your grace. How weak I have been in false humility! How shortsighted of me to have missed this for so long. Thank you for the continuing ministry of your Word in my life. And Lord, I pray that if there is one reading this right now who has cowered under false humility for so long and is buried deep in self-recrimination, You would bring this one to know You by your Word and by the fellowship of your saints. May this reader soak in the precious gift of your salvation and stand resolute in your forgiveness and approval, blessing and honor, and in the reflection of your glory. May our lives be according to your Word in the power of your Grace, In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Song: “I Have a Maker” by Tommy Walker, 1996. Listen: “I Have a Maker – Maranatha Singers” (YouTube, J Plares, Mar 16, 2007)
© April 26, 2022, ReadPsalm119.com. PHOTO: “Waipoo Falls, Waimea Canyon Trail, Kauai, HI” by Tamara, ReadPsalm119.com.
1 The male pronoun is used because historically, the psalmist was most likely male. However, it is understood that the writer speaks for all of us, male and female. All of Israel was to join in song, with no gender differentiation.
2Romans 3:10-12, which quotes from Psalm 14:1-3, Psalm 53:1-3, and is echoed in Ecclesiastes 7:20.