33 Teach me, Lord, the way of your decrees,
that I may follow it to the end.
34 Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law
and obey it with all my heart.
35 Direct me in the path of your commands,
for there I find delight.
36 Turn my heart toward your statutes
and not toward selfish gain.
37 Turn my eyes away from worthless things;
preserve my life according to your word.
38 Fulfill your promise to your servant,
so that you may be feared.
39 Take away the disgrace I dread,
for your laws are good.
40 How I long for your precepts!
In your righteousness preserve my life.
The words here used for decrees, laws, statutes, precepts, and commands are not just for the 10 commandments, or even for the 600 or so laws found in the first 5 books (the Pentateuch). The psalmist, through this section of psalm 119, is speaking of the entire council of God’s word – for it is only in whole that we can know Him.
Here is a breakdown of what each word is being used for by verse & translation:
|33||choq||decrees||statute, ordinance, limit, something prescribed, due|
|34||towrah||law||law, direction, instruction|
|35||mitsvah||commands||commandments (of man, of God, code of wisdom – collectively the Law)|
|37||derek||word||way, road, distance, journey, manner, a course of life or mode of action|
|38||imrah||promise||utterance, speech, word, word of God, the Torah|
|39||mishpat||laws||a verdict (favorable or unfavorable) pronounced judicially, a sentence or formal decree|
|40||piqquwd||precepts||mandate (of God; plural only, collectively, for the Law), commandment, precept, statute|
Knowing the full background behind the words used here we can begin to understand more deeply what the psalmist is saying. He needs God to intervene in his soul so that he can remain steadfast to His word. He emphasizes God’s work in the action words he uses at the beginning of each verse:
teach me – the psalmists asks for God to teach him His law so that he may follow it all the way till the end of his life, to his eternal reward. I find myself asking for this same thing – to be ever diligent in studying God’s word, and never, ever departing from it.
give me – He then asks for God to bestow upon him the understanding it requires to retain His laws and also to be able to keep them. This is my most frequent prayer – give me the understanding and wisdom to correctly divide your word.
direct me – He asks for God’s direction, to lead him down paths of righteousness because that is where he finds joy. How I can relate to this! It seems that no matter what goes on around me, if I can find the time to be with God and even just read His word, life is seen in a joyous light.
turn my heart – The psalmists asks for God to forcibly keep his heart focused on what God requires and delights in, and not what he personally would like to achieve. It is only when we find ourselves doing the will of God that our hearts are truley satisfied because that is what we were made to do.
turn my eyes – He then asks for God to forcibly take his eyes off of the worthless things of this world and to place them back on Him because in those things there is death, but in God there is life. I find myself in this particular struggle daily. I see what I want (and usually it is for selfish reasons) and that road leads to envy and covetousness which God abhors – this is where death dwells. If only I could always see the way God wants me to see – to find and go after the things He desires – this is where life lives.
fulfill – The psalmist asks for God to take action on the promises of His word – it’s almost an invitation to die on the part of the psalmist because in order to ultimately fulfill the promise he must die to this world. God’s promise to his people is eternal life with Him, and the fear of the Lord is that internal respect and terror at the sheer glory of who He is.
take away – He asks for God to take away his feeling of caring what the world says about him because of his desire to do God’s will, and instead relies on the knowledge that God’s word is good. This is something that every Christian must at one time or another confess to God – ‘help them to understand and make them stop taunting me because I desire you above all else’.
Until verse 40 the entire psalm is about what God can, will, and must do for the psalmist if he is to move forward in his walk with Him. He desires so much to be in line with God’s will for his life. And even in this last part the psalmist again resorts to God and His power to be able to preserve him for eternity.
Something to ponder:
Unlike the psalmist, we have both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Though the psalmist looked forward to the Messiah, we look back. We have been endowed with the Holy Spirit who is a seal guaranteeing our inheritance, and also our strength to continue steadfast in God’s word. How does the knowledge of God living in you change the way you thank Him?
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. – Ephesians 1:13-14
Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. – 2 Corinthians 1:21-22