Absorbed in God’s Word
Absorbed in God’s Word
Brad Mills / General
Bible; Meditate; Purity / Psalm 119:9–16
One of my traditions has been to use the last Sunday of the year to prepare us for the new year. We have considered several psalms which help us to look back with gratitude. But I want to return to Psalm 119 and spend time picking up at vv.9-16. This is the quintessential chapter on God’s word. Almost every verse refers to God’s word (laws, statutes, decrees, etc.). It is not a mistake that this is the longest chapter in the Bible. The psalmist motivates us to prioritize God’s Word in our lives.
The length of the psalm speaks to the importance of the topic, but so does its structure. The author organizes the psalm in 22 acrostic sections. Each section includes eight verses that begin with the same letter of the Hebrew Alphabet. The first eight verses begin with “Aleph”, then verses 9-16 begin with “Beth”, and so on. Few psalms are given such an intricate structure. God’s word is to be treasured. We ought to slow down and meditate upon it.
Four years ago I preached on Psalm 119:1-8, but here is a brief summary. Verses 1-3 refer to the pursuit of joyful obedience, and verses 4-8 regard the practice of joyful obedience. The psalmist longs to walk in a way that is pleasing to God. He wants to prioritize God’s word in his heart and walk in obedience to what it commands. He is resolved to pursue a life of blessing by keeping God’s law.
Read Psalm 119:9-16.
My hope is that we would all seek to have a greater longing for the word of God in 2020. May this psalm encourage all of us to read our Bibles more. We will focus on two particular benefits of doing so.
How to use the sword of God’s Word in your fight against sin and despair.
1. Storing Up God’s Word for Purity (9-12)
The longing for a life of joyful obedience transitions into the psalmist’s practical answer to a disciple’s question about how he might maintain purity. If you have ever asked a question like this you likely had some external action in mind. How can I stop doing A? How can I make a habit of doing B? Oftentimes, our initial reaction to these kinds of questions is to prescribe some external forms of conduct. But notice what the psalmist does. His answer is almost entirely dealing with internal attitudes and commitments. If you desire to remain outwardly pure, you must consider what you are inwardly focused upon.
This “young man” is seeking to “keep his way pure” (9). The psalmist’s answer follows the question and continues to the end of v.16. Whether or not this “young man” is hypothetical or a description of the psalmist himself (which turns this psalm into a passionate prayer rather than a pedagogical technique), the situation is quite relevant to everyone. It just so happens that the purity of young men are under particular attack. The disciple is concerned with temptation to depart—in any way—from the path that is laid out by God in Scripture. The Lord’s word serves as a guard upon his way.
To remain steadfast on the path of godliness, he needs to seek God with all of his heart (10). This “seeking” reflects his transformed intentions and will. Yet, he also understands that he remains fully dependent upon God’s help. “Let me not wander” is a prayer that implies his need for God’s guidance and protection. Apart from God’s sustaining grace, every one of us would wander from his path. Calvin comments “that we immediately relapse into sin the instant [God] leaves us to ourselves.”
These are often lessons that we learn with age. Just when we think we have overcome some particular sin, temptation comes knocking, and we stumble again. We are prone to wander, so we must cry out for God’s help like the psalmist.
Wandering away from God’s commandments is how we wander off the path of purity. This is why the disciple must store God’s word in his heart (11). As important as memorization is in fighting temptation, his heart implies much more than memorization. He is not speaking of choosing a few bible verses and storing them in his mind through rote memorization. The heart encompasses the whole inner man. For the word to reach the heart, it must pass beyond our minds and impact our will and emotions. Yes, memorize God’s word, just don’t stop there.
This speaks to the difference between reading God’s word for knowledge and savoring God’s word in worship. Israel’s practice of daily reciting the Shema (Deut 6:4-9) went well beyond reading and knowing God’s instruction. They were to have God’s word in their hearts. It was to be with them wherever they went, dictating how they lived and informing their decisions. It was to fill their conversations with their children and anyone else that they met throughout their day.
The psalmist is thankful for the growth he has already experienced (“Blessed are you, O Lord”), and he remains dependent upon the Lord (“let me not wander from your commandments!” 12). He reveals the link between gratitude and a healthy craving for more. God feeds us through his word and the sweetness of the taste causes us to keep returning for more. We never become full and we cannot get enough.
Christ sanctifies us, “by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:25-27). Jesus uses the word of God to purify us and prepare us for glory. However, the fact that Jesus does the sanctifying does not eliminate our need to read. In fact, it should motivate us to read God’s word all the more knowing that he will make it profitable.
Maybe the first thing we should ask ourselves is whether or not we care to be cleansed from our ongoing sin. Does your personal sin bother you enough to even ask the question posed in v.9? Is that a question you have ever asked? Is it a question you are currently asking?
If God is the source of life and salvation, including our sanctification, then we must take heed to his instruction. Yes, we can learn some important things about God’s character by observing his creation, but it is his written revelation that guards our way. It is the word of God that keeps us in the path of righteousness. The only way you can remove the idols from your heart is by filling it with the word of God.
God’s word is the instrument the Holy Spirit uses to strengthen you against temptation. It is the means by which Christ cleanses you. Let us not be content to rely upon past experiences of grace. Let us strive for the ongoing work of God in our lives. It is the present grace of God that sustains the past grace we have received. Therefore, we ought to regularly seek to commune with God through his word and sincerely desire to walk according to his will.
You must read the Bible more in order to sin less! I recognize that is a simplified statement, and maybe a bit provocative, but I think it is a faithful summary of the psalmist’s point in these verses. Christ has promised to cleanse us with the word, which motivates us to read it by faith. We anticipate God working through his word as we consume it. So enjoy the feast!
› The psalmist shifts his focus from storing up God’s word for purity to…
2. Meditating Upon God’s Word for Joy (13-16)
Here the psalmist transitions from his intellectual comprehension of God’s word to his verbal and emotional apprehension of God’s word.
He considers the way he communicates God’s word. Because he has stored up the word in his heart, he now has it upon his lips to declare (13). This might be a declaration of praise to God, but more than likely it is meant to convey instruction and edification for others. God’s word is on his lips so that he might regularly encourage others with it.
There is a connection between this and the delight he experiences. He delights in the word more than he delights in riches (14). He savors and treasures the word of God so that it is not a boring chore to read, nor is it difficult for him to share with others. Whenever you truly delight in something, you instinctively want to share that experience. You want to talk about it.
Recall what happened as Jesus opened the Old Testament scriptures with two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
Luke 24:27 ESV
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
These disciples had an emotional reaction as they were taught the word of God…
Luke 24:32 ESV
They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”
The power of the gospel was so palpable for these two disciples, that immediately after Jesus left (late in the evening) they returned to Jerusalem to find “the eleven” (Lk 24:33). That very evening they walked another 10 miles (or perhaps they ran) just to relate their experience to the others!
One of the reasons we don’t speak as often as we should about God’s word is possibly due our lack of reading it. And if we are not reading it, then we are certainly not delighting in it.
But there is another connection the psalmist makes. Verses 14 and 16 speak of his delight, while verse 15 speaks of his resolution to meditate upon God’s precepts. As he meditated upon God’s word, fixing his eyes upon God’s ways, his delight was enriched. Charles Bridges notes,
Exposition of Psalm 119: As Illustrative of the Character and Exercises of Christian Experience 15. I Will Meditate in Thy Precepts, and Have Respect unto Thy Ways
Our rejoicing in the testimonies of God will naturally flow in an habitual meditation in them. The thoughts follow the affections. They are no burden to the carnal man, so far as his heart is in them. But having no spiritual taste, he has no ability for spiritual meditation.
But the concept of meditation is largely compromised today. Eastern practices have infiltrated the church so that people think meditating is about emptying our minds. For many it has been associated with a particular posture. You have to take off your shoes and sit on the floor. Place your arms palm up on your knees and bow your head (“naval gazing”). “Be still and know that I am God” is not a defense of prayerful yoga.
Biblical meditation is not about a particular posture, nor is it about emptying our mind of all thoughts. Biblical meditation involves filling the mind rather than emptying it (Josh 1:8). We focus upon God’s word in reflection. You might do this mentally or vocally. You might close your eyes or write in a journal. Or perhaps some combination of these things. But, whatever you do, meditation is about engaging with God’s word rather than disengaging our minds (Ps 19:14).
When we delight in God’s law we desire to spend more time meditating upon it which then feeds our delight. It creates a wonderfully fulfilling cycle of growth and godliness and joy. And if that is your experience when you read God’s word, you will not forget it (16). Calvin concludes,
Commentary on the Book of Psalms Psalm 119
In our natural state, what is more agreeable to us than that which is sinful? This will be the constant tendency of our minds, unless the delight which we feel in the law carry us in the opposite direction.
We ought to declare with Jeremiah:
Jeremiah 15:16 ESV
Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.
We ought to say with Paul:
Romans 7:22 ESV
For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,
Because we have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, his word has become a delight for us. Meditate upon the Bible in order to experience more joy!
I have printed off several copies of a Bible reading plan that Tim Chester has put together. In three years it will take you through the OT once and the NT twice. It is organized by weekly readings to allow plenty of flexibility regarding how many days you will read and how many chapters. I selected this plan because I think it allows adequate time for meditation. You won’t feel rushed to spend all your devotional time reading. You will have time to reflect and pray and journal. So pick up a copy in the back and commit yourself to being absorbed in God’s word for your purity and joy.
Exported from Logos Bible Software, 11:08 AM December 30, 2019.