Fifth Sunday in Lent: Psalm 119:9-16, Re-Shaped by the Word of God

Prayer: May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock, and our nearest Kinsman, the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

Sermon: People of God, this morning we conclude our Lenten Study through the Psalter. We will finish our studies by looking at a section from the longest psalm in the Bible, Psalm 119. I was thinking this week that if we learned a good tune to this psalm we could spend an entire psalm-roar singing it. This would be a noble pursuit. In this giant among the psalms we see that “delight…in the law of the Lord’ which is described in Psalm 1.”[1] This psalm is in some ways an exposition; a further elaboration of Psalm 19:7, which says, “The law of Yahweh is perfect, restoring the soul: The testimony of Yahweh is sure, making wise the simple.”

If someone asks you to define the law of God, your answer is Psalm 119.

The law of God opposes passivity; the testimony of Yahweh despises sin; God’s Word matures us into becoming the kings and queens we are called to be. It shapes our language and sharpens our attitudes.

In the end of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lewis details how much the four siblings have changed after assuming their royal roles in the kingdom. Their language, actions, and attitude all are transformed to mirror their status as royal people. I Peter says that we are a royal priesthood; a holy nation. A holy people need to be surrounded by holy things: Holy words, holy signs, holy people, and so on.  God’s people need to be shaped by God’s Word to reflect the giver of that Word. And this is why the psalms for this Lenten Season speak of the beauty and splendor of the Law of God. They attest to our deep need to follow after God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength; to know his ways, his truth, and his Excellency in revealing his commands to us.

The law is given so that we may prepare ourselves to respond faithfully when we endure hardship and suffering. This is the spirit of this Lenten Season. As Peter Leithart so ably writes:

Lent reminds us that Jesus didn’t go to the cross so we can escape the cross, but went to the cross to enable us to bear it after Him.[2]

The law provides us the wisdom and guidance to follow after the footsteps of our Lord; to endure and bear the cross with biblical understanding.

The psalm is an alphabetic acrostic poem. It has 22 stanzas — one stanza for each of the 22 consonants in the Hebrew alphabet. Each stanza contains eight verses. In stanza 1 (verses 1-8), every verse begins with the Hebrew letter ‘alef. In stanza 2 (verses 9-16), every verse begins with the Hebrew letter bet. And so on.[3] Why is this Psalm structured in this manner? Some believe it is done this way to assist in memorization. This certainly is an important part of the purpose, but it is also worth mentioning that this psalm is purposeful in repeating the synonyms for the Word of God: “law” (better, “instruction”), “commandments,” “ordinances,” “precepts,” “decrees,” “words,” “promises,” and “statutes.”[4] There are eight words to describe God’s Word. This Psalm—by the use of repetition and the Hebrew alphabet is saying two things: First, that the “ultimate expression of human language is the divine word.”[5] How much does God’s Word inform us about life? Answer: From A – Z. Second, this psalm places them in groups of eight verses. Eight is a picture of new creation. The word of God is a lamp unto our feet because it is light after darkness; joy after sorrow. They are the first words for the Christian. The Law of the Lord matures, challenges, and changes us to be blameless.

I want to take a brief look at the second portion of eight verses under the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet in verses 9-16.

In verse nine the psalmist poses the question in catechetical form: “How can a young person live a pure life? By obeying your word.” The song-writer may be referring to himself in these verses, but he also represents the bride. Ecclesiastes says that we are to remember our Creator in our youth.[6] The reason for this is that in youth there is an extended amount of liberty given. Your relationship with your parents change, in that vocabulary changes. There is an expectation that in that relationship a mature conversation can occur. The implication is that in youth a greater amount feelings and temptations will arise, and the psalmist says that this is where the battle becomes a bit more realistic. Interestingly, the etymology of this Hebrew word for “youth” has to do with the idea of a roaring lion.[7] When you roar people will listen. At youth you begin to structure your thoughts a bit more. Hopefully, you will think before speaking. You begin to engage people in a more consistent manner. In fact, we want to make this a habit. We want our youth—younger men and women—to interact with our little ones and establish a model for how conversation flows. The expectation is that by youth, our young ones are preparing themselves; roaring their biblical wisdom to those around them. This is a practical word for our youth. You have a great role in this congregation. Our little ones are looking up to you for some guidance. This is not your stage in life to satisfy your own cravings, as our culture teaches, this is a time in life to learn and practice purity, to build healthy relationships, not to be at the seat of scornful.
These are questions fathers need to ask of young men who are seeking a relationship with their daughters. Douglas Wilson[8] has a list of 21 questions to ask young suitors, and they are all based on the outgrowth of this purity principle the Psalmist speaks. Here are a couple of questions:

Do you attend worship every Lord’s Day? When was the last time you read through the entire Bible? What is your relationship with your parents and siblings? What kind of worker are you?

In other words, how is the Word of God shaping your thinking and your actions? This is a tremendous problem in our church culture today. We have young men in our churches who are vision-less; who are not seeking actively to be shaped by the purity of the Word of God. They give lip-service to it, but they are not actively seeking. We cannot allow pietism to win the day when it comes to raising our young men. Pietism says that all you need is Bible reading and prayer. Biblical Christianity says that these take a foundational role, but at the core of the Christian faith is a desire to take every thought captive, to take dominion, to have a vision, to lead, and to set a model of discipleship.

Here is a good question for parents when training their sons: Whether he will be called or not, “would he make a good officer in the church?” Would my son be qualified and prepared in ten to twenty years to serve the church as a deacon or an elder? Would he have the type of quality that befalls a servant, or the ability to guide others in the practice of good order in the Church?” Or, “would he be someone the congregation or the session would never consider?”

How can a young man live a pure life? The psalmist answers: By obeying the Word of God. What a simple, but consequential statement for a young generation in our society that is lazy, idle, disrespectful, and expects everything to be done for them? The Word of God demands a different type of man: a manhood that embodies the characteristics of the God/Man, Jesus Christ.

What else does the psalmist expect of the young man, and the entire church?

I try with all my heart to serve you.
Help me obey your commands.
11 I study your teachings very carefully
so that I will not sin against you.
12 LORD, you are worthy of praise!
Teach me your laws.

The Christian sees his union with God at the center of this maturation. To be united to God is to depend on his grace. His mission is to not only commune with Yahweh, but also to serve him in a manner befitting. This fellowship with God is fueled by a yearning to serve him, and so the psalmist asks for help/aid, so that he may fulfill his calling: “Help me obey your commandments.” In other words, grace me with your divine assistance. This is not some matter of personal preference. This is the Psalmist most ardent request: that he may grow into a life of obedience and service. Young men, ask yourself this question: “Is this your deepest desire?” Providence: Ask yourself this question: “Is my deepest longing to be obedient to my God?”

The writer knows that this is no easy task. Life is lived out in the open. The Christian life is unmistakably lived in the public square. The more you hide, the more prone you are to fall. So, he knows that his goal is doxological. Yahweh is worthy of praise. He is blessed. This is the where we get the idea of kneeling. He is worthy of adoration. The Psalmist wants Yahweh to teach him his word, so he may be a better worshipper. The reality is you cannot pray biblically, act biblically, and feast biblically until you know how God defines these activities. To know the Law is to learn to worship God.

The songwriter concludes:

13 I will repeat the laws we have heard from you.
14 I enjoy following your rules
as much as others enjoy great riches.
15 I will study your instructions.
I will give thought to your way of life.
16 I enjoy your laws.
I will not forget your word.

We have here some Hebrew parallelisms. In verse 15, “I will study your instructions and I will give thought to your way of life. The psalmist is doubly emphasizing this point. His words will be repetitive, because his actions will reflect his words. This is one reason the great reformed catechisms for children always included a section for the Ten Commandments. Reformational children knew two things from early on: The Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments. These were foundational to their upbringing. In many ways we have these two pictured for us in this passage: The Law is being studied, and God’s servant is petitioning his Lord to help him to live faithfully, and not to be led into temptation, but to be delivered from evil.

How Now Shall We Then Live?

There is much that can be gleaned from this passage. We have a clear call to young men to shape their lives according to the Word of God and by the worship of God; to be immersed in redemption’s story and live it in their love for one another. What kind of men does the psalmist envision: Men who love worship, who love God’s Word, and who bear fruit.

I love the translation of verse 11: “I study your teachings very carefully.” This is the Hebrew model. For the Hebrew man, no word goes unnoticed. He knows the Spirit does not waste his breath. All of us need simply to pause and consider this day: “How central is God’s Word to our lives?” This is not a call to biblical fanaticism, this is call to a simple faith; a faith rooted in every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

Verse 14 is a terrific example of good work ethic: “I enjoy following your rules
as much as others enjoy great riches.” The human problem is always an issue of ethics. Man must be redeemed by God, so he may apply God’s standards and his righteous principles to every area of life. This is not just a political or economic problem; this is ultimately a religious problem. When God and His Word are sufficient, loyalty to him will not be shattered by unethical decisions at work, in the church, or anywhere else.

The center of this section is found in verse 11 with the phrase, “…that I will not sin against you.” This goes to the heart of the Lenten Season: that we examine ourselves, that we purify our hearts, that we might not sin again the Lord of Glory, who gave himself for us that might have life more abundantly.

In The Name of God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Derek Kidner, Tyndale, Old Testament commentary, 452.

[2] Twitter account.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ecc. 12:1.

[7] A primitive root [probably identical with נָעַר (H5286), through the idea of the rustling of mane, which usually accompanies the lion’s roar. na`ar

About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
This entry was posted in Psalms, Sermons/Lent, The Law of God. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Fifth Sunday in Lent: Psalm 119:9-16, Re-Shaped by the Word of God

  1. Pingback: Thirsting For God « Kevin Nunez

  2. Pingback: Bible Verses You Won’t Read in Church « Black Atheists

  3. Pingback: Proclaiming the Greatness of God « The Daily Bible Plan

  4. Pingback: Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day « bummyla

  5. Pingback: God: the fundamental capacity to perceive and identify « power of language blog: partnering with reality by JR Fibonacci

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