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 fourth.
Our method of study is to consider several of the various terms that the Psalmist uses for the written Word of God, and what each of them means. Thus far we have considered God's Law, His Testimonies, and His Precepts. Perhaps you've noticed by now that the inspired Psalmist introduces almost all of his terms for the Word of God within the first of the 22 sections of Psalm 119. In verse five, he cries out: "Oh that my ways may be established To keep Thy STATUTES!" Similarly in verse 145, he exclaims, "I cried with all my heart; answer me, O Lord! I will observe Thy statutes.
If you have prepared for this session of our five-part study, you will have found that this word STATUTES appears 22 times in the Psalm. (DECREES for NIV users) What are God's statutes? What new dimension of the written Word of God does the Psalmist's fourth term show us? Let's consider some other places in Scripture where the word is used, to gain some insight into it's meaning.
Both the Passover and the Day of Atonement were STATUTES for God's ancient people. Regarding the Passover, we read in Exodus 13:10: "Therefore, you shall keep this ordinance at its appointed time from year to year." The word translated "ordinance" here is our term statute from Psalm 119.
In Leviticus 16:29 and 31 we read this about the Day of Atonement: "And this shall be a permanent statute for you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall humble your souls, and not do any work, whether the native, or the alien who sojourns among you; It is to be a sabbath of solemn rest for you, that you may humble your souls; it is a permanent statute.
When the commemoration of Jephthah's daughter in Judges 11:40 is called a custom, the same word is used.
A statute, then, is a perpetual observation that is godly. We might think of the STATUTES of the Lord as good traditions; that is, ones ordained by God. Many churches sadly have allowed the traditions of men to obscure and encrust their worship and service to God. God's good statutes are designed to keep us vitally connected to Jesus the True Vine. Consider this statute found in Hebrews 10:24,25: "...and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near."
It is significant that at least seven times, the Psalmist asks to be TAUGHT God's statutes. On at least one occasion he affirms that God does teach them to him. In verse 71 he writes that it was good for him to have been afflicted, in order that he might learn God's statutes. How much affliction have Christians endured because they have not learned that statute from Hebrews, that God has ordained that Christians to gather for worship and fellowship regularly! How often have you slipped away from Christian fellowship, from the place where the Word is preached and taught, and where encouragement dwells? Has a sense of spiritual affliction and misery been the outcome? Perhaps you are learning the hard way, like the Psalmist: "It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn Thy statutes."
As he said regarding God's Law, Testimonies, and Precepts, the Psalmist says of God's statutes that he meditates on them. Let me reinforce something mentioned previously about meditation. There is no mysterious, hocus pocus, reaching out to "whatever Divine forces or beings there may be" - for the Christian! If you know Jesus Christ, you know the only true God! As John the apostle said: "And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding, in order that we might know Him who is true, and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life." (1 John 5:20). Suppose you contemplate Jesus' parable of the sower found in Matthew 13, Mark 4, or Luke 8. Suppose you talk to yourself about the parable, and ask yourself if your life has proven to be wayside, stony ground, thorny ground, orgood ground for the seed of the gospel. That's good - you are meditating! If you think about your relationship with someone, and compare it to the characteristics of genuine love found in 1 Corinthians 13 - that's good! You are meditating! The meditation to which the Psalmist refers again and again is something each of us can and should be about, day and night.
The fifth term used by the Psalmist to set forth the Word of God is COMMANDMENTS, or COMMANDS if you are using the NIV. Of God's COMMANDMENTS, the Psalmist confesses that they are truth and that he believes in them. He prays that God not let them be obscure to him nor let him wander from them, but rather walk in the path of them. As with God's Law, the Psalmist delights in and loves God's commandments...he loves them more than fine gold.
The term LAW sets forth the beautiful perfection of God's moral standard for man; the term COMMANDMENTS emphasizes God's sovereign right to make laws for man; to unilaterally tell man what he must do. God possesses that right on at least two accounts - as Creator and as Redeemer.
Picturing Himself as a Maker of pottery, the God Who made Adam out of the dust of the ground says in Isaiah 45:9 "Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker - An earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, `What are you doing?' Or the thing you are making say, `He has no hands '?" Surely, our Maker has every right to form us as He will, and command that we do what He wishes! It is sin that has made that truth hateful to the natural man, but it should not be so to the Christian. Indeed, the Christian is doubly God's, for the Creator has become the Christian's Savior, and bought again what was His in the first place! How we are indeed bound to love the commandments of the God Who says, "For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body." (1 Corinthians 6:20)
Consider Psalm 119:60 "I hastened and did not delay To keep Thy commandments." Once again we can turn to the words of the Lord Jesus for illumination of the Psalmist's words. His parable of two brothers is found in Matthew 21:28ff. In the parable, the first brother is commanded by his father to go to work in the family vineyard. He tells His father he will do it, but actually does not. The second brother flatly refuses when the father also orders him to the vineyard. However, the second brother has a change of heart, and does his father's will after all. The Psalmist desires to be one who not only does God's will as expressed by His commandments, but does so without procrastinating. In verse 32, he writes that he looks forward to God's "enlarging His heart" that he may nstead RUN to do God's commandments! That is, He longs to see his mind, affections, and will changed that he may do as God wills. In this way, he will be wiser than his enemies, who ignore God's commandments.
Another statement from the Psalm that gives us insight on this word is verse 21: "Thou dost rebuke the arrogant, the cursed, Who wander from Thy commandments." The arrogant have an attitude opposite to the one that seeks an enlargement of the heart that it might conform to God's Word. They instead elieve that they are more fit to command than God Himself. They seek loopholes in the commandments; to see not their hearts enlarge, but to see the narrow gate of which Jesus spoke enlarged.
This is illustrated in the life of Saul, Israel's first king. The account is found in 1 Samuel 15. Through Samuel, God had given Saul the specific command to execute the righteous judgment of God on the Amalekites. Saul and his warriors were to utterly destroy them, man and beast. Saul thinks he knows better! He spares some of the Amalekites' animals and makes sacrifices to the Lord of them. Yet, in verse 13 of 1 Samuel, we read: "And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, "Blessed are you of the Lord! I have carried out the command of the Lord." Saul's arrogance is seen in that he actually thought he knew better than God! The account goes on to show both Saul continuing to justify himself, and God's sore displeasure. In verses 22 and 23 we read: "And Samuel said, `Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has also rejected you from being king.' "
Worthy of special notice of course is the fact that Saul hypocritically claims that his disobedience to God's specific command was in order that he might honor God! As we learn to run the way of God's commandments, let us beware of the leaven of Saul!
Whoever annuls one of the least of God's commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
The final homework assignment for our study is to find in Psalm 119 occurences of the sixth term we will consider, JUDGMENTS. If you are using the NASB find also the word "ordinances", and if you are using the NIV, find the word "LAWS", plural, in your search.
Go to Session Five - Bible Study on Psalm 119
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