“Righteous are you O LORD,
and right are your rules.
You have appointed Your testimonies in righteousness
and in all faithfulness.
My zeal consumes me,
because my foes forget Your words
Your promise is well tried,
and your servant loves it.
I am small and despised,
yet I do not forget your precepts.
Your righteousness is righteous forever,
and Your Law is true.
Trouble and anguish have found me out,
but Your commandments are my delight.
Your testimonies are righteous forever,
give me understanding that I may live.”
Psalm 119:137-144 (ESV)
These verses are nothing more than a reprieve from much that has been said before. The Psalmist want to jump right into it with praise and thanksgiving as he nears a pause in the lesson that he has been giving the People of Judea. Here is a reminder that the Ways of the LORD God is paved with righteousness. That the Law is filled with His Righteousness and that every thing contained in the law is filled with the Righteousness of God’s wonder, Power and mercy! As I go through the verses I am going to use the Jerusalem Bible translation, because in this case it offers more intent understanding of what was spoken to the people.
“Righteous, indeed, Yahweh! And all Your rulings, correct!” All the rulings of the Lord are Correct. Nothing he has ever said is to be taken away or disregarded. Even in these days when we are free from the bondage of the Law, we are not free to regard them as incorrect. In the book of Tobit (from the Apocrypha), “You are just O Lord, and just are your works. all Your ways are grace and truth, and you are the Judge of the world.” and from 2 Timothy 4:8, Paul speaks of his own righteousness, “And now the prize awaits me – the crown of righteousness that the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of His return.” (NLT) As we know that the righteous judge, who sits at the right hand of the Father, is Jesus rewards His faithful we also know that the God of the exiled Jews is the same judge. We know that the Laws and rules on righteousness Jesus, who sit at the Right hand of God came from the Father to the people of Israel and Judea. God Rewards His faithful,and obedient people. We know that what God has spoken is truth, correct and unwavering today just as it was for the returning children to Jerusalem.
So We can give thanks to God for giving to these people a reminder just as he reminds us through the words of Jesus, “Anyone who listens to my teaching and obeys Me is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock.” (Matt.7:24 NLT). Since Jesus is our Rock, we must build our house of faith on His foundations, and those foundation are built on the Righteousness of the Law, the Correctness of The Word of the Father to the children of Israel. But the Psalm continues with, “The decrees You impose, how righteous, how absolutely faithful!” Psalm 119:138. Look carefully at one word here, “impose”. The Law is not a suggestion or an rule to be taken lightly. God imposed them upon a unruled and contrary people, a people who would rather go back to the slavery of sin than follow the decrees God laid out for them. Today we try to wiggle out of the law by finding the excuse: “Jesus freed us from the bondage of the Law,” so we can sin without regard to the Righteousness of the Law and of the Lawgiver. We walk in unrighteous behavior, doing as we please and say that it is OK with God because He forgives my transgressions even if I don’t repent.
I think this was the attitude of the Remnant that was left in Judea and also of many who were returning to Jerusalem from captivity. God had abandoned them in their minds and they had forgotten how merciful He is. They were punished for their transgressions before the captivity, they had lived in a foreign land, picked up a new language, new culture and new bad habits and have forgotten why they were a people chosen of God. Perhaps they felt that because they were allowed to return to Jerusalem, their sins and the sins of their fathers were forgiven but they did not have to make changes in their lives. Is that not also what was taught by your churches, that won’t you said “I’m sorry” to God you didn’t ever have to worry about your future sins? Weren’t you told that all your sin, even those you would commit later in life were forgiven so you never had to worry about sinning again? That is like saying the Law of God is no longer applicable any more, that sin is justified by God condoning it. We have to remember that we are chosen to do good works, to live as Jesus lived, to preach the Good News of Salvation by living in the obedience of the Word, both the Oral Law of Moses and the Living Law of Christ.
But the Psalm writer has not forgotten. He knows the the Law is for the living and that it is perfect because it came from God. If I am right in my thinking that this was written by the instructions of Ezra and Nehemiah, the writer of this stanza is one who is devote and has a great love for God. In the next verse, I find the key to the stanza. If nothing else matters it is these words to the people of Judea and Jerusalem. “Zeal for Your House devours me, since my oppressors forgot Your Word.” Ps 119:139. And this is a problem today. To many people who claim to know Christ and His Word, are not consumed by it. They do not have a zeal for righteousness in their own house. When Jesus told the priests that they must eat of His flesh and drink of His blood to get into heaven(see John 6:52-58), He was speaking to the zeal that they did not have for the righteousness of God. Their zeal was for power, they did not have the zeal to consume all that was Righteous and True before God or they would have recognized that Jesus was the Truth, the Way and the Light of the Father. When Ezra and Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem to build the temple and establish the city, they faced three types of personalities. The first is the Assyrians and Babylonians who had lived in the nation since the fall of the city, people who had no knowledge of the God of Abraham, Moses and David. People to whom the Law was foreign. The second was the remnant who were left behind after the conquest, people who had no spiritual leadership, who had no temple to worship God in and who had no Law of God left with them. Even when the Maccabees claimed the land briefly and tried to restore the temple, they were basically untrained. Their own soldiers carried “good luck” idols with them, symbols of false gods, or spirits. Yet even in their misguided beliefs, God performed the miracle of the lamps. The third were a people they brought with them, some not so willing who also had lost their culture, their written language and their traditions. The one thing that each of these three groups had was the loss of the Word, the Law. Many who no longer could read the script of the Hebrews. To each of these people, Nehemiah brought order, and the Law. It was his mission and the mission of Ezra to establish a zeal and a love for the Word, the Law of God. The Word, the Law, had to be rewritten in the text of the very enemies who had conquered them.
Today we have churches that don’t teach from the Law, or even allow it to be spoken of. We have churches that have no Sunday Schools, no Bible classes, no teaching from the Word. We have many that the preachers are poorly schooled, who only know what they have been taught by unqualified people locked into doctrines that are not biblical. But most of all we have leaders who do not have a Zeal for the Word. But perhaps the saddest thing is that they don’t want to know what is right. They contest and confront those who delve into the Word with the zeal they do not have. Instead of being warriors for the Word they have become foes to the knowledge of the Spirit. Because there is a lack of teaching the Law and the benefit of God’s Love through the Law, we are left “lawless” in a culture of sin. I see this in those who claim that the Holy Spirit’s gifts and signs are no longer in the church yet the evidence is all around them. They have eyes but do not see, ears that will not listen, hearts that can’t not understand that God is today the same as yesterday. Perhaps it was the same for the remnant, who felt abandoned, and the exiles who saw nothing new but animosity from the others in the land. Did they also feel that God was no longer relevant? Did they disregard the Law as “old School” and no longer pertaining to their lives?
This brings us to the response of the psalmist to the lack of zeal, the turning way from the knowledge of God’s Law. “But Your Promise is well tested, and your servant holds it dear!” (Psalm 119:141) And it is still true today! God’s Promise of salvation, His promise never to abandon His Chosen is still true today. And like the Psalmist, we’re to hold the Promise dear to our hearts. We are to believe that the Promise is well tested. That Jesus came to fulfill all the Promises of The Father. What is understood here is that in spite of the loss of zeal for the Word and the Law, because of the rejection and persecution, the writer’s zeal is stronger. We need to look no further than to the persecuted Christians around the world to see that they also have that quantity of zeal and hunger for the Word. But the Promise of Christ is that the Law requirement is fulfilled. It does not replace the Law but shows us how to live in the Love of the Law, the Love in which it was given so that man could serve and know God. It is in the writing of Paul to Ephesus, I find a great zeal of the people for God, but then just a few years later, John records in Revelation 2:4, “But this I have against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” In many who came to Christ with great emotion, great zest and fervent love, they have become “lukewarm, tepid” and quite distasteful in God’s grace. They have set aside their love and returned to the pleasures of the world. They and their leaders have no zeal, no fire for the Word.
And I find that just as in the day of Ezra and Nehemiah, those who teach and love the Law are despised, they are thought as little and legalistic. Those who share that we are to live in accordance to the Word as taught to the exiles, the remnant and the new people in the land of Judea, that to have a good society, a healthy society, we must live within the Law of God. So when the psalmist says, “Puny and despised as I am, I do not forget your precepts.” I hold them dear to my heart. I may be despised, I may be thought of as legalistic, but I am bound with the Love of the Law giver. And statement that comes through in every passage of the law is that we are bound with Love to obey, not as slaves to a task master but as children to a loving Father. So it was with the spiritual leaders of the New Jerusalem. They presented a Old Law for a New People, but it is still the law that comes from Righteousness. To a people who condone divorce, adultery, exploitation of the people, the widows, elderly and the disabled, and yet lead our churches, I am weary. with a loud voice I cry out, where is the Law? Where is the teaching of the Word as God commanded? As Ezra complained about intermarriage (Pagans to Jews), and Idolatry (pleasure before God), and lack of intense worship with song and praise for the Law. We live in a world today that mocks devote worship and a zealous heart for the Word, the Whole Word.
The Psalmist says that. “Your Righteousness is eternal righteousness, Your Law holds true for ever!” Who then is man to tell me that because we are free from the bondage of sin, the LAW no longer has value? Who is it that reads the Christ Jesus came and replaced the covenant of Moses with a lawless one. What grace is there in rejection of God’s ever lasting, eternal law? Yes Righteous indeed is the Law and I will delight in it. As we read the bible, the Old and the new Covenant, we must take into our hearts that whenever God made a new covenant, He did not replace the old but refined it and expanded it. The Covenant with Adam was filled with promise, the Covenant with Abraham, with promise, the Covenant of Moses loaded with promise, the covenant with David, gave us Christ. And the Covenant of the Cross gave us life, but none of these covenants replace the elder. And while the atonement has been made by the Cross of Jesus, it did not exclude the responsibility of the believers to obey the commandments of God nor did it cause us to lose our zeal for the perfection of the love of God who gave us the Law. God gave Moses the Law so that man may know how to obey and serve Him. When Christ came we now know why to obey, we can understand the purpose of the Law and like Ezra and Nehemiah and the writers of the Psalms, we can understand to love it, not shun it as did the people of Jerusalem and Judea.
So while The psalmist laments the condition of the people, the lack of respect for God and his smallness before the people, he still cries out, “Though distress and anguish grip me, your Commandments are my delight.” Let our zeal for the Word and God’s Will through the Law be consuming in nature. Let is fill us with the desire to love and to serve God Forever! And his final cry is what drive us forward into the study and delight of the Word, “Eternally, your decrees – explain them to me,and I shall live.” Yes Lord, explain them to my heart! Let every part of me be filled with the law as an instrument of your Love. Let me see that I am not a slave to them but a lover of them as Christ loves me. Let me understand the depth of your Word, the greatness of you passion for me and your people. And let those who hear me share the Word and the Law, know that it is with the Love that Christ gives that I do so.