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Sunday, May 09, 2021

“Your Statutes Are Wonderful” Psalm 119:129-144 [Matt's Messages]


“Your Statutes Are Wonderful”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
Mothers' Day :: May 9, 2021
Psalm 119:129-144

Sometimes, it’s hard to pick out a particular passage of the Bible to preach that’s particularly appropriate to preach for Mother’s Day. I mean, you can preach from anywhere in the Bible on any given Sunday including Mother’s Day, but whenever I can, I like to preach a message that is particularly appropriate and suited for the particular occasion.

And this year, as we’ve been studying the fortifying truth of the Psalms, I wanted to pick a psalm that might be particularly appreciated by the mothers in our church family. Appropriate for all, of course, yet appreciated especially by the moms. 

So this time, I turned to the mom that lives in our home! Heather Joy Mitchell.

I asked Heather Joy if she would pick out the psalm for Mother’s Day, and I said that the only rule was it not be one of the 31 other psalms that we have studied so far in this series. And she agreed.

And so Heather Joy picked out for us the longest of the psalms! Psalm 119.

176 verses long!

Often called the “Giant Psalm” because it’s the longest psalm, the longest chapter in the whole Bible, and is actually longer than some entire books of the Bible!

Psalm 119.

I hope you have set aside a few hours to listen to this message!

No, don’t worry. Heather Joy didn’t ask me to preach the entire 176 verses in a short message to you today.

She actually picked out just 2 stanzas. Stanzas 17 and 18. Verses 129 through 144.

Just 16 verses, not 176!

Why do you think that Heather Joy picked out Psalm 119?

What do you know about this psalm? Other than that it’s gigantic?

Psalm 119 is also very intricate.

The unnamed author was an amazing craftsman with poetry.


Well, that was nothing compared to this!

Psalm 119 is a gigantic alphabetic acrostic in the original Hebrew. We can’t quite see it in our English versions.

This songwriter wrote 8 lines in a row for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. 

Each line starts with the same letter for 8 lines. Aleph. 8 lines. Aleph, Aleph, Aleph, Aleph, Aleph, Aleph, Aleph, Aleph. Each line of the poem starts with Aleph.

Then Beth. 8 lines. Beth. Beth. Beth. Beth. Beth. Beth. Beth. Beth. Each line of the poem in the second stanza begins with Beth.

Then Gimel. 8 lines. You get the idea.

For all 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. You know how many verses that is? 176 all perfectly following that intricate pattern.

And not only that, but the psalmist uses 8 words, 8 terms, 8 synonyms over and over again without repeating the pattern for how he deploys them in 176 verses! These same 8 words pop up in just about every single verse!

And every single verse can stand on it’s own. They are connected to what is around them and all fit into the big acrostic pattern, but they are also each independent thoughts from one another.

Tiny little couplets of Hebrew parallelism. 176 of them!

This is a masterful piece of Hebrew poetry.

It’s isn’t just massive; it’s masterful.

But that’s not the main reason why Heather Joy picked this psalm for this weekend.

Heather Joy picked Psalm 119 because of what it’s about. Not just because of its beautiful construction, but because of its beautiful subject.

Psalm 119 is about one big thing. It rings the changes on one particular theme.

Like a diamond being turned in the light for each individual facet to be admired for its own glorious beauty, this gigantic, intricate, massive, masterful song is a rhapsody about...the Law of God.

All 8 of those recurring words, those 8 synonyms that show up again and again in all 22 eight line stanzas are all interrelated terms for the Law of God, the Torah.

Command
Precept
Decree
Law
Ordinance
Word
Promise
Statute

Now, let me ask you to do some free association here.

When you hear the word “statute,” what other words immediately come to your mind?

(And pretend that you haven’t read the title of this message yet.)

“Statute!”

Um. Legal? Dry. Stale. Important, maybe? Unbending. Prohibitive? Inscrutable. Cryptic? Written. Demanding?

What comes to your mind? “Statute.”

Now, listen to what the psalmist writes in our first verse for today. Psalm 119, verse 129.

It’s the first line of the 17th stanza where each line begins with the Hebrew letter “PE” like our letter “P.”

He writes, “Your statutes are wonderful; therefore I obey them.”

Wonderful statutes leading to obedience.

Statutes that are just full of wonder.

Awesome! Amazing! Astonishing! Astounding! Wonderful!

Those are the kind of words that the psalmist associates with these statutes.

Some of your versions may have the word “testimonies” here because the Hebrew  is related to the words that mean “to bear witness” meaning these statutes bear witness to God himself, His Law, and His requirements (thought drawn from Alec Motyer).

They are true representations of Who God is and what God wants.

And the psalmist says that these statutes are wonderful.

Now, let me ask you a trick question.

What do you think is the most important word in verse 129?

I told you it was a trick question!

What do you think is the most important word in Psalm 119, verse 129?

I’ll give you a hint. It’s not “statutes.” And it’s not even “wonderful.”


This is a prayer. These are all prayers. Psalm 119 is a gigantic prayer full of prayers. 176 little prayers.

The most important thing about these statutes is that they are the LORD’s.

That’s what makes them wonderful. That’s what makes them miraculous.

This word “wonderful” in the Old Testament is a word that almost always is talking about God. Like the Son prophesied in Isaiah 9. “He shall be called” what? “WONDERFUL.”

Same word, “Pele!”

The psalmist not in love with the Law by itself.

He is in love with the Law of the LORD.

Because he loves the LORD of the Law.

What he loves about the Law is that it God’s Word to him.

The Law was the first five books of the Bible what we often called Pentateuch or they called the “Torah” which means the “Instruction” or the “Teaching.”

It was full of what we call “laws,” the “thou shalts” and the “thou shall nots.”

But Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy have a lot more than just “thou shalt” and “thou shall not,” in them don’t they?

And everything that they said was a precious, miraculous, wonderful word from God.

And the psalmist was so in love with it.

He wrote a 176-line love song about God’s Word!

Massive and masterful and gigantic and intricate and passionate!

And we’re just going to get a taste of it in these two stanzas.

“Your statutes are wonderful; therefore I obey them.”


Each line of this song has similar features to it.

Each line is a prayer. They are all directed to the LORD Himself.

Each line is a personal prayer. It is direct from the psalmist to God Himself. The pronouns are singular. I, me, my, mine.

Each line talks to God about God’s Word, God’s Law, mostly with those same 8 synonyms that refer to overlapping and interconnected ideas showing the richness and diversity yet unity of God’s Word.

Most of the lines are about how wonderful God’s Word is and the effect it has on the psalmist–either what it does to him or how it makes him feel or what he wants to do because of them.

Therefore each line shows us how we should feel about and relate to God’s words.

And so I think each line raises the question for us today, “Do I feel this way about God’s Word?”

Do I feel this way about God’s Law?

And if not, why not? What is wrong with me? And what needs to change?

Because there’s nothing wrong with God Word! It’s wonderful!

If I don’t feel this way, then I need to repent and to read these words again and to pray these words again and to ask God to change my heart again so that they ring true for me today.

#1. YOUR STATUTES ARE WONDERFUL.

The theme of stanza 17–verses 129 through 136–is wonder and the controlling image is that of light. Look at the next verse, verse 130. 

“The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.”

Heather Joy said to me, “Verse 130 sums up what I feel.”

This is a picture of Heather Joy’s heart. When God’s Word gets unfolded to her, it is like a wondrous light shining on her.

Some of your versions may say the “entrance” of your word gives light.

The idea is that of an open door. You’re inside and it’s kind of dark, and then somebody opens the door and the sunlight streams in!

“Now, I can see!”

God’s Word makes it so that you can see. He says, “It gives understanding to the simple.” The simple are not fools. They are the uninitiated. They are open to be taught. They are childlike and teachable. Like little kids with their Mommy.

They are not yet mature, but they are open to being taught.

And when God’s word gets opened to them, they understand. A light comes on.

Is that how you feel about God’s Word?

The psalmist wants that so badly! Verse 131.

“I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands.”

Like the thirsty deer in Psalm 42. Please give me your word! I pant for it. V.132

“Turn to me and have mercy on me, as you always do to those who love your name.”

Do you see how this psalm is all about his relationship with God?

He says, “I know how You operate. You are gracious and merciful to those who love Your name. So please give me Your word.” V.133

“Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me.”

Notice here that there is no perfectionism here. There’s no sense that this psalmist has arrived, that somehow the doing of God’s Law has made him perfect.

No, the more he understands God’s Law, the more he knows how imperfect he is and how much grace he needs. This is not legalism or works-based. This is all of grace, the grace of God to give His enlightening word to fight against sin.

Heather Joy said to me, “I am desperate and weak and foolish and sinful and constantly pounded by the world’s wisdom. I need life and light and mercy and a rock and a refuge, and God is all that and so much more. He has given me Himself in his word, so I run to it to find Him. And I do. Or rather, He finds me there.”

That’s why she picked this psalm. Because it’s her prayer.

The psalmist sees how beautiful the Law of God is and wants that to be reflected in his own heart and life. And he wants all obstacles to that to be removed. Internal ones like his own sin in verse 133 and external ones like oppressors in verse 134.

“Redeem me from the oppression of men, that I may obey your precepts. Make your face shine upon your servant and teach me your decrees.”

You see the image of light there again?

And that’s obviously an allusion to the blessing of Aaron in Numbers chapter 6 which I pray over my boys just about every night.

“The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

Psalm 119:135 is a personal prayer that God would do just that for the psalmist.

“Make your face shine upon your servant.”

It’s so wonderful. Shine on me with your words!

Is that your prayer today? Moms, do you pray like this?

Do you feel how passionate the psalmist is about this?

He cares so much! 

And he cares so much that so many do not care. Verse 136.

“Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed.”

The songwriter looks out on his culture, and he just cries and cries rivers of tears because nobody seems to care about God’s Law any more.

Can you relate to that?

I don’t mean that we should go “Tisk, tisk. Those people aren’t following God’s Law.”

I mean we should say, “Woe is me. I have unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips...”

So many people who claim to know and love Jesus don’t give a rip about His Word!

They are missing the wonder of it, and they are not following it.

And so we lament. We lament for God’s glory being neglected.

And we weep for God’s people’s being un-blessed because they haven’t seen the illuminating brilliance of His wonderful word!

The theme of Stanza 18 where every line begins with the letter “Tsadhe” (which is like a “TZ” in our language) is the righteousness of God’s Word which makes it trustworthy forever. Look at verse 137.

“Righteous are you, O LORD, and your laws are right.”

Notice that God’s laws are right because God Himself is righteous.

The one comes from the other. He doesn’t ever do anything wrong. He is not crooked in any way, so His laws are always straight. They’re always right. They’re always righteous. V.138.

“The statutes you have laid down are righteous; they are fully trustworthy.”

That’s not true of all the rules in the world. 

There are lots of statutes in this world that are not righteous and therefore are not trustworthy. But God’s statutes are, and the psalmist knows it. Verse 139.

“My zeal wears me out, for my enemies ignore your words.”

They don’t see, and they don’t care that God’s statutes are righteous, and that is so depressing for the songwriter. They just don’t see it!

But the songwriter sure does. Verse 140.

“Your promises have been thoroughly tested, and your servant loves them.” 

Heather Joy said to me, “Verse 140 is what I have learned in my mothering.”

This is what has gotten Heather Joy through in her mothering these last two decades.

This is her Bible. She has come to this book again and again and again and prayed words like Psalm 119, verse 18. “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.”

And when she found a promise there, she trusted it.

These promises in here have been “thoroughly tested,” meaning they are fully refined. They are 100% pure. They are the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. (Idea taken from Hywell Jones).

These words are not a shot in the dark. They are a light in the dark, “and your servant loves them.”

Moms, you need something tried and tested and true to base your mothering on.

We all need it.

Because there are going to be really hard days, and we’ll be tempted to lose sight of this. Verse 141.

“Though I am lowly and despised, I do not forget your precepts. Your righteousness is everlasting and your law is true. Trouble and distress have come upon me, but your commands are my delight. Your statutes are forever right; give me understanding that I may live.”

#2. YOUR STATUTES ARE FOREVER RIGHT.

They are not just wonderful.

They are righteous forever.

There is nothing wrong with them. There is nothing wrong with God’s Word.

That is such good news! And there never will be anything wrong with God’s Word.

So that means we can trust it forever.

And if we grasp it, we can truly live!

“Your statutes are forever right; give me understanding that I may live.”

Is that your prayer today?

Do you feel this way about God’s Word?

I know that, so often, I don’t.

I agree with it. 100%.

But my heart can be so cold.  

I would love to have a heart that burns like this with a passion for God’s Word.

I would love to have a heart like this so that I could write a gigantic intricate passionate love song about God’s Law full of tears and shot full of joy!

I’m so thankful that Jesus felt this way 100% about God’s Word.

Jesus could sing Psalm 119 without any irony or repentance.


And wept when He saw it being ignored.

He knew how wonderful it was and how righteous forever.

I’m so thankful because I’m in Christ through faith in His Work on the Cross and all of His love for the Word is reckoned to my account.

But I want it to be true of me in real time, as well.

So I need to repent of my ignorance and apathy and coldness and read these words and pray these words again and again and again.

Moms out there. Have you discovered the wonder of God’s Word and its trustworthiness for yourself?

What was the last wondrous thing you discovered in the Word of God for yourself?

What was the last trustworthy promises you took hold of in the Word of God for yourself?

God’s Law is light-giving and life-giving and righteous forever.

His promises have been thoroughly tested, and his servant loves them.


***

Fortifying Truth - Psalms - Fall 2020 / Winter 2021 / Spring 2021

01. Majestic and Mindful - Psalm 8
02. All Our Days - Psalm 90
03. "The LORD on High Is Mighty!" - Psalm 93
04. "The LORD Is My Shepherd" - Psalm 23
05. "Praise the LORD, O My Soul!" - Psalm 103
06. "The Blessing of Aaron's Oily Beard" - Psalm 133
07. "A Dying Thirst for the Living God" - Psalm 42
08. "Our Fortress" - Psalm 46
09. Unrestless - Psalm 131
10. "Sun and Shield" - Psalm 84
11. "With Songs of Joy" - Psalm 126
12. "His Love Endures Forever" - Psalm 136
13. "How Many Are Your Works, O LORD!" - Psalm 104
14. "My Soul Waits for the Lord" - Psalm 130
15. "Remember David" - Psalm 132
16. "My Son" - Psalm 2
17. "Search Me" - Psalm 139
18. "Cleanse Me" - Psalm 51
19. "A New Song" - Psalm 96
20. "Hear My Prayer, O LORD." - Psalm 86
21. "May All the Peoples Praise" - Psalm 67
22. "A Wedding Song" - Psalm 45
23. "My Feet Had Almost Slipped" - Psalm 73
24. “Rejoicing Comes in the Morning" - Psalm 30
25. 'The Waters Have Come Up To My Neck" - Psalm 69
26. "Cast Your Cares on the LORD" - Psalm 55
27. "“My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?" - Psalm 22
28. "You Will Not Abandon Me To the Grave" - Psalm 16
29. "He Will Rule" - Psalm 72
30. "Taste and See That the LORD is Good" - Psalm 34
31. "Since My Youth" - Psalm 71

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