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Jamieson, Fausset & Brown :: Commentary on Psalm 119

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The Book of Psalms

Commentary by A. R. FAUSSET

PSALM 119

Psa 119:1-176. This celebrated Psalm has several peculiarities. It is divided into twenty-two parts or stanzas, denoted by the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Each stanza contains eight verses, and the first letter of each verse is that which gives name to the stanza. Its contents are mainly praises of God's Word, exhortations to its perusal, and reverence for it, prayers for its proper influence, and complaints of the wicked for despising it. There are but two verses ( Psa 119:122, 132 ) which do not contain some term or description of God's Word. These terms are of various derivations, but here used, for the most part, synonymously, though the use of a variety of terms seems designed, in order to express better the several aspects in which our relations to the revealed word of God are presented. The Psalm does not appear to have any relation to any special occasion or interest of the Jewish Church or nation, but was evidently "intended as a manual of pious thoughts, especially for instructing the young, and its peculiar artificial structure was probably adopted to aid the memory in retaining the language."

ALEPH. ( Psa 119:1-8 ).

      1. undefiled--literally, "complete," perfect, or sincere (compare Psa 37:37 ).
      in--or, "of"
      the way--course of life.
      walk--act
      in the law--according to it (compare Luk 1:6 ).
      law--from a word meaning "to teach," is a term of rather general purport, denoting the instruction of God's Word.

      2. testimonies--The word of God is so called, because in it He testifies for truth and against sin.
      seek him--that is, a knowledge of Him, with desire for conformity to His will.

      3. his ways--the course He reveals as right.

      4-6. precepts--are those directions which relate to special conduct, from a word meaning "to inspect."
      statutes--or ordinances, positive laws of permanent nature. Both words originally denote rather positive than moral laws, such as derive force from the divine appointment, whether their nature or the reasons for them are apprehended by us or not.
      commandments--or institutions. The term is comprehensive, but rather denotes fundamental directions for conduct, both enjoining and forbidding.
      have respect unto--or regard carefully as to their whole purport.

      7. judgments--rules of conduct formed by God's judicial decisions; hence the wide sense of the word in the Psalms, so that it includes decisions of approval as well as condemnation.

      8. Recognizes the need of divine grace.

BETH. ( Psa 119:9-16 ).

      9. The whole verse may be read as a question; for,
      by taking heed--is better, "for" taking heed, that is, so as to do it. The answer is implied, and inferable from Psa 119:5, 10, 18, &c., that is, by God's grace.

      10-16. We must carefully treasure up the word of God, declare it to others, meditate on it, and heartily delight in it; and then by His grace we shall act according to it.

GIMEL. ( Psa 119:17-24 ).

      17-20. Life is desirable in order to serve God; that we may do so aright, we should seek to have our eyes opened to behold His truth, and earnestly desire fully to understand it.

      21-24. God will rebuke those who despise His word and deliver His servants from their reproach, giving them boldness in and by His truth, even before the greatest men.

DALETH. ( Psa 119:25-32 ).

      25-27. Submitting ourselves in depression to God, He will revive us by His promises, and lead us to declare His mercy to others.

      28-32. In order to adhere to His word, we must seek deliverance from temptations to sin as well as from despondency.
      enlarge--or, "expand"
      my heart--with gracious affections.

HE. ( Psa 119:33-40 ).

      33-38. To encourage us in prayer for divine aid in adhering to His truth, we are permitted to believe that by His help we shall succeed.
      the way of thy statutes--that is, the way or manner of life prescribed by them. The help we hope to obtain by prayer is to be the basis on which our resolutions should rest.

      37. Turn away mine eyes--literally, "Make my eyes to pass, not noticing evil."
      vanity--literally, "falsehood;" all other objects of trust than God; idols, human power, &c. ( Psa 31:6 40:4 60:11 62:9 ).
      quicken. . . in thy way--make me with living energy to pursue the way marked out by Thee. Revive me from the death of spiritual helplessness ( Psa 119:17, 25, 40, 50 116:3 ).

      38. who is devoted to thy fear--or better, "which (that is, Thy word) is for Thy fear," for producing it. "Which is to those who fear Thee." God's word of promise belongs peculiarly to such (compare Gen 18:19 1Ki 2:4 8:25 ) [HENGSTENBERG].

      39, 40. Our hope of freedom from the reproach of inconsistency is in God's power, quickening us to live according to His Word, which He leads us to love.
      for thy judgments are good--The time must therefore be at hand when Thy justice will turn the "reproach" from Thy Church upon the world ( Isa 25:8 66:5 Zep 2:8-10 ).

VAU. ( Psa 119:41-48 ).

      41-44. The sentiment more fully carried out. God's mercies and salvation, as revealed in His Word, provide hope of forgiveness for the past and security in a righteous course for the future.

      42. The possession of God's gift of "salvation" ( Psa 119:41 ) will be the Psalmist's answer to the foe's "reproach," that his hope was a fallacious one.

      45-48. To freedom from reproach, when imbued with God's truth, there is added "great boldness in the faith" [ 1Ti 3:13 ], accompanied with increasing delight in the holy law itself, which becomes an element of happiness.

      48. My hands. . . lift up unto. . . commandments--that is, I will prayerfully ( Psa 28:2 ) direct my heart to keep Thy commandments.

ZAIN. ( Psa 119:49-56 ).

      49-51. Resting on the promises consoles under affliction and the tauntings of the insolent.
      upon which--rather, "Remember Thy word unto Thy servant, because," &c. So the Hebrew requires [HENGSTENBERG].

      50. for--rather, "This is my comfort. . . that," &c. [MAURER].
      hath quickened--What the Word has already done is to faith a pledge of what it shall yet do.

      52-56. The pious take comfort, when harassed and distressed by wickedness of men who forsake God's law, in remembering that the great principles of God's truth will still abide; and also God's
      judgments of old--that is, His past interpositions in behalf of His people are a pledge that He will again interpose to deliver them; and they become the theme of constant and delightful meditation. The more we keep the more we love the law of God.

      53. Horror--rather, "vehement wrath" [HENGSTENBERG].

      54. songs--As the exile sings songs of his home ( Psa 137:3 ), so the child of God, "a stranger on earth," sings the songs of heaven, his true home ( Psa 39:12 ). In ancient times, laws were put in verse, to imprint them the more on the memory of the people. So God's laws are the believer's songs.
      house of my pilgrimage--present life ( Gen 17:8 47:9 Hbr 11:13 ).

      56. Rather, "This is peculiarly mine (literally, to me), that I keep Thy precepts" [HENGSTENBERG and MAURER].

CHETH. ( Psa 119:57-64 ).

      57-60. Sincere desires for God's favor, penitence, and activity in a new obedience, truly evince the sincerity of those who profess to find God a portion ( Num 18:20 Psa 16:5 Lam 3:24 ).

      58. favour--Hebrew, "face" ( Psa 45:12 ).

      59. So the prodigal son, when reduced to straits of misery ( Luk 15:17, 18 ).

      61, 62. This the more, if opposition of enemies, or love of ease is overcome in thus honoring God's law.
      have robbed me--better, surrounded me, either as forcible constraints like fetters, or as the cords of their nets. HENGSTENBERG translates, "snares."

      62. At midnight--HENGSTENBERG supposes a reference to the time when the Lord went forth to slay the Egyptian first-born ( Exd 11:4 12:29; compare Job 34:20 ). But it rather refers to the Psalmist's own praises and prayers in the night time. Compare Paul and Silas ( Act 16:25; compare Psa 63:6 ).

      63. The communion of the saints. Delight in their company is an evidence of belonging to them ( Psa 16:3 Amo 3:3 Mal 3:16 ).

      64. While opposed by the wicked, and opposing them, the pious delight in those who fear God, but, after all, rely for favor and guidance not on merit, but mercy.

TETH. ( Psa 119:65-72 ).

      65-67. The reliance on promises ( Psa 119:49 ) is strengthened by experience of past dealings according with promises, and a prayer for guidance, encouraged by sanctified affliction.

      66. Teach me good judgment and knowledge--namely, in Thy word (so as to fathom its deep spirituality); for the corresponding expression ( Psa 119:12, 64, 68 ), is, "Teach me Thy statutes."

      67. Referred by HENGSTENBERG to the chastening effect produced on the Jews' minds by the captivity ( Jer 31:18, 19 ). The truth is a general one ( Job 5:6 Jhn 15:2 Hbr 12:11 ).

      68. Compare as to the Lord Jesus ( Act 10:38 ).

      69, 70. The crafty malice of the wicked, in slandering him, so far from turning him away, but binds him closer to God's Word, which they are too stupid in sin to appreciate. HENGSTENBERG refers the "lie" to such slanders against the Jews during the captivity, as that in Ezr 4:1-6, of sedition.

      70. fat as grease--spiritually insensible ( Psa 17:10 73:7 Isa 6:10 ).

      71, 72. So also affliction of any kind acts as a wholesome discipline in leading the pious more highly to value the truth and promises of God.

JOD. ( Psa 119:73-80 ).

      73. As God made, so He can best control, us. So as to Israel, he owed to God his whole internal and external existence ( Deu 32:6 ).

      74. So when He has led us to rely on His truth, He will "make us to the praise of His grace" by others. "Those who fear Thee will be glad at my prosperity, as they consider my cause their cause" ( Psa 34:2 142:7 ).

      75-78. in faithfulness--that is, without in the least violating Thy faithfulness; because my sins deserved and needed fatherly chastisement. Enduring chastisement with a filial temper ( Hbr 12:6-11 ), God's promises of mercy ( Rom 8:28 ) will be fulfilled, and He will give comfort in sorrow ( Lam 3:22 2Cr 1:3, 4 ).

      77. Let thy tender mercies come unto me--As I am not able to come unto them. But the wicked will be confounded.

      78. and so shall not be "ashamed," that is, put to shame ( Psa 119:80 ).

      79, 80. Those who may have thought his afflictions an evidence of God's rejection will then be led to return to Him; as the friends of Job did on his restoration, having been previously led through his afflictions to doubt the reality of his religion.

      80. Let my. . . be sound--that is, perfect, sincere.
      ashamed--disappointed in my hope of salvation.

CAPH. ( Psa 119:81-88 ).

      81-83. In sorrow the pious heart yearns for the comforts of God's promises ( Psa 73:26 84:2 ).

      82. Mine eyes fail for thy word--that is, with yearning desire for Thy word. When the eyes fail, yet faith must not.

      83. bottle in the smoke--as a skin bottle dried and shriveled up in smoke, so is he withered by sorrow. Wine bottles of skin used to be hung up in smoke to dry them, before the wine was put in them [MAURER].

      84-87. The shortness of my life requires that the relief afforded to me from mine enemies should be speedy.

      85. pits--plots for my destruction.
      which--rather, "who," that is, "the proud"; "pits" is not the antecedent.

      87. consumed me upon earth--HENGSTENBERG translates, "in the land"; understanding "me" of the nation Israel, of which but a small remnant was left. But English Version is simpler; either, "They have consumed me so as to leave almost nothing of me on earth"; or, "They have almost destroyed and prostrated me on the earth" [MAURER].
      I forsook not--Whatever else I am forsaken of, I forsake not Thy precepts, and so am not mistaken of Thee ( Psa 39:5, 13 2Cr 4:8, 9 ), and the injuries and insults of the wicked increase the need for it. But, however they act regardless of God's law, the pious, adhering to its teaching, receive quickening grace, and are sustained steadfast.

LAMED. ( Psa 119:89-96 ).

      89-91. In all changes God's Word remains firm ( 1Pe 1:25 ). Like the heavens, it continually attests God's unfailing power and unchanging care ( Psa 89:2 ).
      is settled in--that is, stands as firmly as the heaven in which it dwells, and whence it emanated.

      90. thou hast established the earth, and it abideth-- ( Psa 33:9 ).

      91. They--the heaven ( Psa 119:89 ) and the earth ( Psa 119:90 ). HENGSTENBERG translates, "They stand for thy judgment," that is, ready, as obedient servants, to execute them. The usage of this Psalm favors this view. But see Jer 33:25.

      92-94. Hence the pious are encouraged and inclined to seek a knowledge of it, and persevere amidst the efforts of those planning and waiting to destroy them.
      my delights--plural, not merely delight, but equal to all other delights.

      93. The bounds of created perfection may be defined, but those of God's law in its nature, application, and influence, are infinite. There is no human thing so perfect but that something is wanting to it; its limits are narrow, whereas God's law is of infinite breadth, reaching to all cases, perfectly meeting what each requires, and to all times ( Psa 19:3, 6, 7-11 Ecc 3:11 ). It cannot be cramped within any definitions of man's dogmatical systems. Man never outgrows the Word. It does not shock the ignorant man with declared anticipations of discoveries which he had not yet made; while in it the man of science finds his newest discoveries by tacit anticipations provided for.

MEM. ( Psa 119:97-104 ).

      97. This characteristic love for God's law (compare Psa 1:2 ) ensures increase.

      98-100. of knowledge, both of the matter of all useful, moral truth, and an experience of its application.
      wiser than mine enemies--with all their carnal cunning ( Deu 4:6, 8 ).
      they are ever with me--The Hebrew is, rather singular, "it is ever with me"; the commandments forming ONE complete whole, Thy law.

      99. understanding--is practical skill ( Psa 2:10 32:8 ).

      100. more than the ancients--Antiquity is no help against stupidity, where it does not accord with God's word [LUTHER] ( Job 32:7-9 ). The Bible is the key of all knowledge, the history of the world, past, present, and to come ( Psa 111:10 ). He who does the will of God shall know of the doctrine ( Jhn 7:17 ).

      101-104. Avoidance of sinful courses is both the effect and means of increasing in divine knowledge (compare Psa 19:10 ).

NUN. ( Psa 119:105-112 ).

      105. Not only does the Word of God inform us of His will, but, as a light on a path in darkness, it shows us how to follow the right and avoid the wrong way. The lamp of the Word is not the sun. He would blind our eyes in our present fallen state; but we may bless God for the light shining as in a dark place, to guide us until the Sun of Righteousness shall come, and we shall be made capable of seeing Him ( 2Pe 1:19 Rev 22:4 ). The lamp is fed with the oil of the Spirit. The allusion is to the lamps and torches carried at night before an Eastern caravan.

      106-108. Such was the national covenant at Sinai and in the fields of Moab.

      108. freewill offerings--the spontaneous expressions of his gratitude, as contrasted with the appointed "offerings" of the temple ( Hsa 14:2 Hbr 13:15 ). He determines to pursue this way, relying on God's quickening power ( Psa 119:50 ) in affliction, and a gracious acceptance of his "spiritual sacrifices of prayer and praise" ( Psa 50:5, 14, 23 ).

      109, 110. In the midst of deadly perils (the phrase is drawn from the fact that what we carry in our hands may easily slip from them, Jdg 12:3 1Sa 28:21 Job 13:14; compare 1Sa 19:5 ), and exposed to crafty enemies, his safety and guidance is in the truth and promises of God.

      111, 112. These he joyfully takes as his perpetual heritage, to perform the duties and receive the comforts they teach, evermore.

SAMECH. ( Psa 119:113-120 ).

      113. vain thoughts--better, "unstable persons," literally, "divided men," those of a divided, doubting mind ( Jam 1:8 ); "a double-minded man" [HENGSTENBERG], skeptics, or, skeptical notions as opposed to the certainty of God's word.

      114. hiding-place--(Compare Psa 27:5 ).
      shield-- ( Psa 3:3 7:10 ).
      hope in thy word--confidently rest on its teachings and promises.

      115-117. Hence he fears not wicked men, nor dreads disappointment, sustained by God in making His law the rule of life.
      Depart from me--Ye can do nothing with me; for, &c. ( Psa 6:8 ).

      118-120. But the disobedient and rebellious will be visited by God's wrath, which impresses the pious with wholesome fear and awe.
      their deceit is falsehood--that is, all their cunning deceit, wherewith they seek to entrap the godly, is in vain.

      120. The "judgments" are those on the wicked ( Psa 119:119 ). Joyful hope goes hand in hand with fear ( Hab 3:16-18 ).

AIN. ( Psa 119:121-128 ).

      121-126. On the grounds of his integrity, desire for God's word, and covenant relation to Him, the servant of God may plead for His protecting care against the wicked, gracious guidance to the knowledge of truth, and His effective vindication of the righteous and their cause, which is also His own.

      122. Be surety--Stand for me against my oppressors ( Gen 43:9 Isa 38:14 ).

      127,128. Therefore--that is, In view of these benefits, or, Because of the glory of Thy law, so much praised in the previous parts of the Psalm.
      I love. . . [and] Therefore (repeated)--All its precepts, on all subjects, are estimable for their purity, and lead one imbued with their spirit to hate all evil ( Psa 19:10 ). The Word of God admits of no eclecticism; its least title is perfect ( Psa 12:6 Mat 5:17-19 ).

PE. ( Psa 119:129-136 ).

      129. wonderful--literally, "wonders," that is, of moral excellence.

      130. The entrance--literally, "opening"; God's words, as an open door, let in light, or knowledge. Rather, as HENGSTENBERG explains it, "The opening up," or, "explanation of thy word." To the natural man the doors of God's Word are shut. Luk 24:27, 31 Act 17:3 Eph 1:18, confirm this view, "opening (that is, explaining) and alleging," &c.
      unto the simple--those needing or desiring it (compare Psa 19:7 ).

      131-135. An ardent desire (compare Psa 56:1, 2 ) for spiritual enlightening, establishment in a right course, deliverance from the wicked, and evidence of God's favor is expressed
      I opened my mouth, and panted--as a traveller in a hot desert pants for the cooling breeze ( Psa 63:1 84:2 ).

      132. Look. . . upon me--opposed to hiding or averting the face (compare Psa 25:15 86:6 102:17 ).
      as thou usest to do--or, "as it is right in regard to those who love Thy name." Such have a right to the manifestations of God's grace, resting on the nature of God as faithful to His promise to such, not on their own merits.

      133. Order my steps--Make firm, so that there be no halting ( Psa 40:2 ).
      any iniquity-- Psa 119:34 (favors HENGSTENBERG, "any iniquitous man," any "oppressor"). But the parallel first clause in this ( Psa 119:33 ) favors English Version ( Psa 19:13 ). His hope of deliverance from external oppression of man ( Psa 119:34 ) is founded on his deliverance from the internal "dominion of iniquity," in answer to his prayer ( Psa 119:33 ).

      136. Zealous himself to keep God's law, he is deeply afflicted when others violate it (compare Psa 119:53 ). Literally, "Mine eyes come down (dissolved) like water brooks" ( Lam 3:48 Jer 9:1 ).
      because, &c.--(Compare Eze 9:4 Jer 13:17 ).

TZADDI. ( Psa 119:137-144 ).

      137-139. God's justice and faithfulness in His government aggravate the neglect of the wicked, and more excite the lively zeal of His people.

      139. ( Psa 69:9 ).

      140. very pure--literally, "refined," shown pure by trial.

      141. The pious, however despised of men, are distinguished in God's sight by a regard for His law.

      142-144. The principles of God's government are permanent and reliable, and in the deepest distress His people find them a theme of delightful meditation and a source of reviving power ( Psa 119:17, 116 ).
      law is the truth--It therefore cannot deceive as to its promises.
      everlasting-- ( Psa 111:3 ), though to outward appearance seeming dead.

KOPH. ( Psa 119:145-152 ).

      145-149. An intelligent devotion is led by divine promises and is directed to an increase of gracious affections, arising from a contemplation of revealed truth.

      147. prevented--literally, "came before," anticipated not only the dawn, but even the usual periods of the night; when the night watches, which might be expected to find me asleep, come, they find me awake ( Psa 63:6 77:4 Lam 2:19 ). Such is the earnestness of the desire and love for God's truth.

      149. quicken me--revive my heart according to those principles of justice, founded on Thine own nature, and revealed in Thy law, which specially set forth Thy mercy to the humble as well as justice to the wicked (compare Psa 119:30 ).

      150-152. Though the wicked are near to injure, because far from God's law, He is near to help, and faithful to His word, which abides for ever.

RESH. ( Psa 119:153-160 ).

      153-155. Though the remembering of God's law is not meritorious, yet it evinces a filial temper and provides the pious with promises to plead, while the wicked in neglecting His law, reject God and despise His promises (compare Psa 9:13 43:1 69:18 ).

      154. Plead, &c.--HENGSTENBERG translates, "Fight my fight." (See Psa 35:1 43:1 Mic 7:9 ).

      156. (See on JF & B for Ps 119:149).

      157. (Compare Psa 119:86, 87, 95 ).

      158. (Compare Psa 119:136 ).
      transgressors--or, literally, "traitors," who are faithless to a righteous sovereign and side with His enemies (compare Psa 25:3, 8 ).

      159. (Compare Psa 119:121-126, 153-155 ).
      quicken me, O Lord, according to thy lovingkindness-- ( Psa 119:88 ). This prayer occurs here for the ninth time, showing a deep sense of frailty.

      160. God has been ever faithful, and the principles of His government will ever continue worthy of confidence.
      from the beginning--that is, "every word from Genesis (called so by the Jews from its first words, 'In the beginning') to the end of the Scriptures is true." HENGSTENBERG translates more literally, "The sum of thy words is truth." The sense is substantially the same. The whole body of revelation is truth. "Thy Word is nothing but truth" [LUTHER].

SCHIN. ( Psa 119:161-168 ).

      161-165. (Compare Psa 119:46, 86 ).
      awe--reverential, not slavish fear, which could not coexist with love ( Psa 119:163 1Jo 4:8 ). Instead of fearing his persecutors, he fears God's Word alone ( Luk 12:4, 5 ). The Jews inscribe in the first page of the great Bible, "How dreadful is this place! This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!" ( Gen 28:17 ).

      162. (Compare Mat 13:44, 45 ). Though persecuted by the mighty, the pious are not turned from revering God's authority to seek their favor, but rejoice in the possession of this "pearl of great price," as great victors in spoils. Hating falsehood and loving truth, often, every day, praising God for it, they find peace and freedom from temptation.

      163. lying--that is, as in Psa 119:29, unfaithfulness to the covenant of God with His people; apostasy.

      165. nothing shall offend them--or, "cause them to offend" (compare Margin).

      166-168. As they keep God's law from motives of love for it, and are free from slavish fear, the are ready to subject their lives to His inspection.

      168. all my ways are before thee--I wish to order my ways as before Thee, rather than in reference to man ( Gen 19:1 Psa 73:23 ). All men's ways are under God's eye ( Pro 5:21 ); the godly alone realize the fact, and live accordingly.

TAU. ( Psa 119:169-176 ).

      169,170. The prayer for understanding of the truth precedes that for deliverance. The fulfilment of the first is the basis of the fulfilment of the second ( Psa 90:11-17 ). On the terms "cry" and "supplication" (compare Psa 6:9 17:1 ).

      171, 172. shall utter--or, "pour out praise" (compare Psa 19:2 ); shall cause Thy praises to stream forth as from a bubbling, overflowing fountain.

      172. My tongue shall speak of thy word--literally, "answer Thy Word," that is, with praise, respond to Thy word. Every expression in which we praise God and His Word is a response, or acknowledgment, corresponding to the perfections of Him whom we praise.

      173, 174. (Compare Psa 119:77, 81, 92 ).
      I have chosen--in preference to all other objects of delight.

      175. Save me that I may praise Thee.
      thy judgments--as in Psa 119:149, 156.

      176. Though a wanderer from God, the truly pious ever desires to be drawn back to Him; and, though for a time negligent of duty, he never forgets the commandments by which it is taught.
      lost--therefore utterly helpless as to recovering itself ( Jer 50:6 Luk 15:4 ). Not only the sinner before conversion, but the believer after conversion, is unable to recover himself; but the latter, after temporary wandering, knows to whom to look for restoration. Psa 119:175, 176 seem to sum up the petitions, confessions, and professions of the Psalm. The writer desires God's favor, that he may praise Him for His truth, confesses that he has erred, but, in the midst of all his wanderings and adversities, professes an abiding attachment to the revealed Word of God, the theme of such repeated eulogies, and the recognized source of such great and unnumbered blessings. Thus the Psalm, though more than usually didactic, is made the medium of both parts of devotion--prayer and praise.

Psalm 138:2

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