The Bible for Life
Psalm 119: 9-16
1. Perhaps you remember a bit about Daniel. As a young man, probably a teenager, he was dropped into a pagan culture against his will and faced with immediate pressure to conform. Yet we read that he resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine.” (Dan 1:8). What was Daniel’s secret?
2. That seems to be the precise question posed by the psalmist in 119:9-16. Two facets of this stanza seem to jump out at the reader.
3. First, this psalm addresses young persons. It seems to be suggesting that the best time to begin living for God is when you are young. Someone captured the thought this way, “If you do not live for me when you are young, you will probably not live for me when you are older either and the end of your life will be ruinous.” (source unknown). Of course this makes sense. Good habits and good choices made when you are young go with you through life. On the contrary, bad habits are hard to break.
4. Second, the psalmist is addressing the broad concept of “purity”. Verse 9a is an interrogative, “How…?” The remainder of this stanza is an answer. The simple answer is , “make the Bible central in your life.” Or as James Boice put it, “God alone can cleanse the heart and he does so through the agency of his Word, The Bible (Boice 977). So, turn the Bible loose in your life! The stanza contains five keys to doing this.
A. Obey the Word 9b-10.
1. Two thoughts are opposite sides of the same coin. Positively and negatively stated they are: keep the Word and don’t stray from the Word.
2. Much could be said about this, but one observation stands out: verse 10b is a prayer - “Don’t let me stray….” While we are diligently seeking God and keeping the Word we are nonetheless pleading with God to hang on to us. It is a recognition of our utter proclivity to wander and our ultimate dependence upon Him.
B. Memorize the Word 11
1. Now we come to the heart of the entire stanza. The psalmist selects a word that can mean either “hide” (KJV, NIV) or “treasure” (NAU). The ESV captures both with “stored up”.
2. The term is physically as in the case of Moses being hidden in the ark on the River Nile (Ex 2) or Rahab hiding the spies (Josh 2). However, here it is used metaphorically.
3. Treasuring or hiding the Word in our hearts goes beyond reading it. Because of the second phrase (“that I might not sin against you”) assumes ready access to the Word in time of temptation, the concept must at least include memorization of the Word. Maybe the notion of internalizing the Word is best. Eliphaz said it this way to Job, “Submit to God…accept instruction from His mouth, and lay up His words in your heart…” (Job 22:21-22). So, even though we may not carry a Bible in or back pocket or purse or phone we nonetheless can have ready access to it if we have internalized it!
4. If this addresses “youth”, then it also speaks to the church as well. Should we give our kids “…trivial stories, pointless games, and banal songs” or should we give them biblical theology, Bible memorization, an Scriptural songs (Boice 978)?
5. Spurgeon outlined vs 11 as follows: the best thing - “thy Word”; Hidden in the best place - “my heart’; For the best purpose - “that I might not sin against thee.” (source unknown).
6. Remember then, that memorization is a great panacea against sin! The word, buried deeply into our beings, can empower us against sin. Without the Word and the ministry of the Holy Spirit we can never attain holiness of life.
C. Study the Word 12
1. The psalmist is actually imploring God to “teach” him the Word. In fact, it is an imperative! He desperately wants to learn. He is committed to study. This same request surfaces 7x in the Psalm 119 (26, 64, 108,124,135,171).
2. “A father and son went fishing one day. While they were out in the oat, the boy suddenly became curious about the world around him. He asked his father, “how does this boat float?” The father replied, “don rightly know son.” A little later the boy looked at his father and asked, “how do fish breath underwater?” “Don’t rightly know son.” Later the boy asked, “why is the sky blue?” Again the father replied, “Don’t’ rightly know son.” Finally the boy asked his father, “Dad, do you mind my asking you all these questions?” The father replied, “of course not, you don’t ask questions, you never learn nothing.” (source Victor Gideon in Sermon Central). Unlike this fictitious father, God has answers that we desperately need! And they are readily available in His Word.
3. So, understand this: we need God as our teacher. Just how does He teach us? The Holy Spirit has been commissioned to instruct believers. NAU 1 Corinthians 2:12, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. 14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”
4. Certainly it is not enough to just have the Bible. We must have the Holy Spirit residing within us. If the Bible does not make sense to you, perhaps it is because you are not a genuine believer.
5. Here is the way it works - we study, he teaches! Without His instruction our study can easily be wasted effort
6. Further, the term for teaching is so much more than classroom activity. It is training in the basic disciplines of life.
D. Declare the Word 13-14
1. On the one hand, verse 13 may refer to teaching the Word. Anyone who has taught knows that one of the best ways to learn any given subject matter is to teach it! And we retain it longer when we teach it. Do you really want to get a working handle on the Bible? If so here is what you should do – get qualified and then pound on the church door and beg for an opportunity to teach.
2. On the other hand, verse 13 might also be just a simple reference to the general declaration of God’s Word in any setting. As Peter puts it, NAU 1 Peter 3:15, “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” This is a wonderful growth hormone for believers.
3. Verse 14 adds the concept of excitement over the privilege of declaring the Word or perhaps just excitement about the Word per se. I think we are talking here about genuine festive joyfulness. Exhilaration! Standing up and shouting. The term “rejoiced” seems to imply this. We get cranked up about many things – why not the Word?
4. Where can we do this? We can do this privately as we have encounters with the Word in our personal worship . We can also do so publicly when the Word is taught or sung or read or prayed in our corporate worship!
E. Meditate on the Word 15-16
1. J.I. Packer in Knowing God (p 18-19), says that, “Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, thinking over, dwelling on, and applying to oneself the various things one knows about the works and ways and purpose and promises of God. It is an activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God, under the eye of God, by the help of God, as a means of communication with God. Its purpose is to clear one’s mental and spiritual vision of God, and to let his truth make its full and proper impact on one’s mind and heart. It is a matter of talking to oneself about God and oneself. It is, indeed, often a matter of arguing with oneself, reasoning oneself out of moods of doubt and unbelief into a clear apprehension of God’s power and grace.”
2. But let’s not make this mysterious or too difficult. Boice (981) says it more succinctly, “Mediation is recalling what we have committed to memory (or read) and then turning it over and over in our minds to see the fullest implications and applications of the truth.”
3. This is exactly to opposite of popular meditation that urges you clear your mind and think about nothing or whatever pops in. In Biblical meditation the object is always God – his person or ways.
4. Verse 16 tells us that as we read, memorize, and meditate we come to delight in the Word; encounters with it are a pleasure! Our whole perspective changes! NAU Psalm 112:1, “Praise the LORD! How blessed is the man who fears the LORD, Who greatly delights in His commandments.”
5. Furthermore, verse 16 also seems to suggest that such meditation enhances our retention of the Word that we have read and memorized. The psalmist speaks of “not forgetting” the Word. The word is most commonly expressed by the English “forget.” For instance, the butler “forgot” Joseph while in was in prison in Egypt (Gen 40:23). Interestingly, it is sometimes an antonym with “to know”. Therefore to forget God is to not know God.
6. But “forget” may be conveying something like “ignore” or “wither” (TWOT 2383). So forgetting is not simply a psychological act of having a thought pass from one’s consciousness or a temporary or permanent lapse of memory. To forget God is to ignore his commandments (see Dt 8:11). It is an action as well as a mental lapse. And catch this – being full, that is being comfortable with all needs cared for, is a major circumstance that leads to forgetting God. NAU Deuteronomy 8:12, “otherwise, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, 13 and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
7. Thus, we learn that a panacea for “forgetting” God is memory and meditation – “hiding the Word in your heart!.
Someone shared an account of a mother putting her little girl to bed. The girl began singing the B-I-B-L-E. When she came to the end she mixed in the words of another song. She sang: “I stand alone on the word of God, that’s what it’s all about.” (source unknown).By combining the words of the B-I-B-L-E with the Hokey Pokey, the little girl nailed the way each of us should view God’s Word!
© Copyright. Joseph Flatt. 2016. All rights reserved. May be used for educational purposes without written permission but with a citation to this source.