This study was originally presented over a five day period in July 1995 as a series of radio talks by Pastor Keith Graham. The material will be more profitable if digested in its five separate sessions, of which this is the third.
This is our third session together studying the 119th Psalm, surely a place in Scripture where we see that "the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Our method of study is analyzing several of the various terms that the Psalmist uses for the written Word of God. These terms are each generously sprinkled throughout the Psalm; the Psalmist repeatedly refers to God's statutes, judgments or ordinances, and so forth.
By looking at all the verses that use each of these names for the Word of God, and by considering other places in Scripture where each word is used, we are seeking to gain a better understanding of them. The end result will be to find not that the Psalmist has just used the different terms to avoid repeating himself. Rather we will begin to see the rich and comprehensive way in which God's Word speaks to our whole being, all of our relationships, any circumstance or situation in which we can be.
Thus far we have considered the term "Law" - God's perfect moral standard for all mankind. Also, we have looked at God's testimonies, closely related to the first term, and concerned with God's own utterly holy being.
"Thou hast ordained Thy precepts, That we should keep them diligently."
That's a fine old word, diligently. Diligence means the giving of one's full attention; being careful and painstaking and thorough. Here's something you are bound to notice as you as you study through Psalm 119 and its various terms for God's special revelation, the Bible. It is that the Psalmist gives diligent attention to God's Law, testimonies, precepts, statutes, commandments, and judgments.
Here's a little illustration of diligence. In NJ, self-service gas stations do not exist. Only an employed attendant may pump gas. These hard-working attendants often wash the windshields of customer's cars with squeegees while the gas is pumping. Some are diligent about it, others are not so diligent. When an attendant is not diligent, one can see streaks of water remaining on the windshield when he has finished his job. Sometimes a section of the windshield is missed with the squeegee, leaving an annoying, dirty spot. When an attendant IS diligent, you can see it as you watch him work. He is absorbed in his task. That squeegee moves deliberately, leaving no smears or uncleaned areas. A very little thing? Well, perhaps we should ask a service station attendant who has probably dealt with a couple of hundred arrogant, irate drivers by the time his shift ends, if it is a little thing! But even if washing one windshield is a little thing in itself, consider Luke 16:10: "He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much." We need to be diligent in our approach to Scripture! The Word of God cleanses our view of ourselves and of our world! With what great diligence should we be absorbed in knowing and understanding it!
A form of the Hebrew word translated "precepts" is found in Jeremiah 23:1ff. There, God threatens to attend to the shepherds who have failed to attend to His sheep. The word translated attend in Jeremiah 23 is a form of our word "precepts" in Psalm 119. The root idea has to do with attention to detail, such as that of an overseer or manager.
Let's consider the precept of Deuteronomy 23:24. There we read: "When you enter your neighbor's vineyard, then you may eat grapes until you are fully satisfied, but you shall not put any in your basket." Let's use this as an example. Do you think we modern, information age people can find wisdom in this 3,500 hundred year old precept which God gave through Moses? How would we apply it to our lives? Here are at least three ways to do that:
I. If I am in the position of a property owner, do I graciously purpose to make allowances for my neighbor's welfare in my use and care of my property? I may not have a grape vineyard from which I kindly can allow neighborhood passers-by to refresh themselves with a snack, but do I diligently make sure my sidewalk is cleared of snow in the wintertime, so that my neighbor can pass by and be happy about it?
II. If I am in the postion of the grape eater, do I respect my neighbor's property? Do I return the lawn chairs or tools I borrowed, or just carelessly hang on to them indefinitely, having filled my basket with someone else's grapes, so to speak?
III. If I have a gracious neighbor, do I presume upon him? Do I say in my heart, "I don't need to buy that, I can always use Mr. Smith's one?" Or, if I am in the position of Smith, do I avoid neighbor Jones because "he's always grubbing something from me"?
There are at least twenty other occurences of the term "precepts" in Psalm 119. In them, the Psalmist confesses that these precepts are ordained by God; therefore he esteems them right. He also prays for understanding of them. That is, knowing the testimony of God, he trusts God's precepts. Knowing God's character, he believes in His precepts even if he does not yet understand them fully. Jesus said that an evil and perverse generation seeks for a sign. In other words, man's way is to say to God: "SHOW ME - in order that I may understand and believe!" But this is the way of the God Who is constantly showing Himself by means of His great creation and by means of His merciful Providence: He says to man, "TRUST ME, and I will show you more, and give you greater understanding!"
The Psalmist also says he loves God's precepts, and will meditate on them. Don't be intimidated by the word meditation. It is not a mysterious practice requiring crystals, incense, a certain body position and a personal guru! If you write down a verse or passage on a 3 X 5 card, and go over it again and again until you have it memorized, you are meditating! You can effectively meditate on God's Word while you are waiting for your gas to be pumped in NJ, and at many other times during your busy day.
The Psalmist seeks, observes, and keeps God's precepts. He speaks of never forgetting or forsaking them, having chosen them as his own. God's will as expressed by His precepts teaches us to actively use our time, resources, gifts, and abilities. It teaches us to seek opportunity in things beyond our control.
Paul urges: "Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil..." Ephesians 5:15,16
We see an illustration of heeding vs. not heeding God's precepts in Jesus' parable of the talents. It is found in Matthew 25, beginning at verse 14. A man going on a long journey entrusts money to three servants, expecting them to put the money to work for him, although he doesn't tell them exactly how they are to do this. Two of the servants wisely invest their master's money, and are able to give him back twice what he entrusted to them. The third buries his share, and displeases his master by showing no profit on it. If we ignore God's precepts regarding our time, resources, gifts, and abilities, we are like the unprofitable servant.
Soon we will consider God's commandments, another term used by the Psalmist to set forth the Word of God. God's precepts apply to those areas of life which His direct and specific commandments do not. Let's consider the matter of tithing in relation to this. Tithing means of course that at least 10% of our gross earnings is to be given directly to the work of the kingdom of God. In most cases, this will mean that one faithfully supports the local church of which he is a member. What is your attitude toward tithing? Do you ignore it? Do you begrudgingly give a part of it? Do you reluctantly give the full tithe? Perhaps you don't mind giving a full tenth, knowing you still have 90 per cent of YOUR money? All of these attitudes fall short of the precepts of the God Who loves a cheerful giver. Our view of it should be that it ALL belongs to God...that all we are, and all we have belongs to Him! The question is what use have we made of the other ninety per cent of HIS money! God specifically commands that we tithe, but His precepts apply to that other ninety percent of the money which our Heavenly Master has entrusted to us!
God has bought you, fellow Christian, at such a dear cost as the life of His unique Son! God gave 100 per cent for His people, we might say. He has a full and just claim on all we are and all we have. Isn't it wonderful and just like Him that He has given us the glorious freedom we find in keeping His precepts?
Verse 45 of Psalm 119 says, "And I will walk at liberty, For I seek Thy precepts". Indeed, God's service is perfect freedom.
Have you been looking up each occurence of the various terms we are studying in Psalm 119? For our next session, please find occurences of the terms "statutes" and "commandments" in the Psalm. If you are using the New International Version of the Bible, look for the words "decrees" and "commands".
Go to Session Four - Bible Study on Psalm 119
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