Exposition of Psalm 119:121-128

by Charles Spurgeon

121. I have done judgment and justice: leave me not to mine

122. Be surety for thy servant for good: let not the proud
oppress me.

123. Mine eyes fail for thy salvation, and for the word of thy

124. Deal with thy servant according unto thy mercy, and teach
me thy statutes,

125. I am thy servant; give me understanding, that I may know
thy testimonies.

126. It is time for thee, Lord, to work: for they have made void
thy law.

127. Therefore I love thy commandments above gold; yea, above
fine gold.

128. Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to
be: right; and I hate every false way.

121. “I have done judgment and justice: leave me not to mine

“I have done judgment and justice.” This was a great thing for an Eastern
ruler to say at any time; for these despots mostly cared more for gain than
justice. Some of them altogether neglected their duty, and would not even
do judgment at all, preferring their pleasures to their duties; and many
more of them sold their judgments to the highest bidders by taking bribes,
or regarding the persons of men. Some rulers gave neither judgment nor
justice; others gave judgment without justice; but David gave judgment and
justice, and saw that his sentences were carried out. He could claim before
the Lord that he had dealt out even-handed justice, and was doing so still.
On this fact he founded a plea with which he backed the prayer — “ Leave
me not to mine oppressors.” He who, as far as his power goes, has been
doing right, may hope to be delivered from his oppressors when attempts
are made by them to do him wrong. If I will not oppress others, I may
hopefully pray that others may not be permitted to oppress me. A course of
upright conduct is one which gives us boldness in appealing to the Great
Judge for deliverance from the injustice of wicked men. Nor is this kind of
pleading to be censured as self-righteous; it is most fit and acceptable.
When we are dealing with God as to our shortcomings, we use a very
different tone from that with which we face the censures of our fellow-men.
When untruthful accusers are in the question, and we are guiltless
towards them, we are justified in pleading our innocence. Moral integrity is
a great helper of spiritual comfort. If we are right in our conduct, we may
be sure that the Lord will not leave us at all, and certainly will not leave us
to our enemies.

122. “Be surety for thy servant for good: let not the proud oppress me.”

“Be surety for thy servant for good.” This was the cry of Job and of
Hezekiah, and it is the cry of every soul which believes in the great
Intercessor and Daysman. Answer for me. Do not leave thy poor servant to
die by the hand of his enemy and thine. Take up my interests and weave
them with thine own, and stand for me. As my Master, undertake thy
servant’s cause, and represent me before the faces of haughty men till they
see what an august ally I have in the Lord my God. Our greatest salvation
comes from the divine suretyship. The Son of God as our Surety has
smarted for us, and thereby he has brought good to us, and saved us from
our proud oppressor, the arch-enemy of souls. In this verse we have not
the law mentioned under any of its many names, and this is the only
instance in the whole Psalm in which a verse omits mention of the Word of
the Lord. Yet this is no exception to the spirit of the rule; for here we find
mention of our Surety, who is the fulfillment of the law. Where the law
fails we have Christ, the surety of a better covenant. This suretyship is
always for good, but how much of good no tongue can tell.

“Let not the proud oppress me.” Thine interposition will answer the
purpose of my rescue: when the proud see that thou art my advocate, they
will hide their heads. We should have been crushed beneath our proud
adversary the devil if our Lord Jesus had not stood between us and the
accuser, and become a surety for us. It is by his suretyship that we escape
like a bird from the snare of the fowler. What a blessing to be able to leave
our matters in our Surety’s hands, knowing that all will be well, since he
has an answer for every accuser, a rebuke for every reviler!

Good men dread oppression, for it makes even a wise man mad, and they
send up their cries to heaven for deliverance; nor shall they cry in vain, for
the Lord will undertake the cause of his servants, and fight their battles
against the proud. The word “servant” is wisely used as a plea for favor
for himself, and the word “proud” as an argument against his enemies. It
seems to be inevitable that proud men should become oppressors, and that
they should take most delight in oppressing the true servants of God. Their
oppressions will soon be put down, because they are oppressions, because
the workers of them are proud, and because the objects of them are the
Lord’s servants.

123. “Mine eyes fail for thy salvation, and for the word of thy

“Mine eyes fail for thy salvation.” He wept, waited, and watched for
God’s saving hand, and these exercises tried the eyes of his faith till they
were almost ready to give out. He looked to God alone, he looked eagerly,
he looked long, he looked till his eyes ached. The mercy is, that if our eyes
fail, God does not fail, nor do his eyes fail. Eyes are tender things, and so
are our faith, hope and expectancy: the Lord will not try them above what
they are able to bear. “And for the word of thy righteousness”: a word
that would silence the unrighteous words of his oppressors. His eyes as
well as his ears waited for the Lord’s word: he looked to see the divine
word come forth as a fiat for his deliverance. He was “waiting for the
verdict” — the verdict of righteousness itself. How happy are we if we
have righteousness on our side! for then that which is the sinners’ terror is
our hope, that which the proud dread is our expectation and desire. David
left his reputation entirely in the Lord’s hand, and was eager to be cleared
by the word of the Judge, rather than by any defense of his own. He knew
that he had done right, and, therefore, instead of avoiding the supreme
court, he begged for the sentence which he knew would work out his
deliverance. He even watched with eager eyes for the judgment and the
deliverance, the word of righteousness from God which meant salvation
to himself.

124. “Deal with thy servant according unto thy mercy, and teach me thy

“Deal with thy servant according unto thy mercy.” Here he recollects
himself: although before men he was so clear that he could challenge the
word of righteousness, yet before the Lord, as his servant, he felt that he
must appeal to mercy. We feel safest here. Our heart has more rest in the
cry, “God be merciful to me,” than in appealing to justice. It is well to be
able to say, “I have done judgment and justice,” and then to add, in all
lowliness, yet “deal with thy servant according unto thy mercy.” The title
of servant covers a plea; a master should clear the character of his servant
if he be falsely accused, and rescue him from those who would oppress
him; and, moreover, the master should show mercy to a servant, even if he
deal severely with a stranger the Lord condescendingly deals, or has
communications with, his servants, not spurning them, but communing
with them; and this he does in a tender and merciful way, for in any other
form of dealing we should be crushed into the dust. “And teach me thy
statutes.” This will be one way of dealing with us in mercy. We may
expect a master to teach his own servant the meaning of his own orders.
Yet since our ignorance frequently arises from our sinful stupidity, it is
great mercy on God’s part that he condescends to instruct us in his
commands. For our ruler to become our teacher is an act of great grace,
for which we cannot be too grateful. Among our mercies this is one of the

125. “I am thy servant; give me understanding, that I may know thy

“I am thy servant.” This is the third time he has repeated this title in this
one section: he is evidently fond of the name, and conceives it to be a very
effective plea. We who rejoice that we are sons of God are by no means
the less delighted to be his servants. Did not the firstborn Son assume the
servant’s form and fulfil the servant’s labor to the full? What higher honor
can the younger brethren desire than to be made like the Heir of all things?

“Give me understanding, that I may know thy testimonies” In the
previous verse he sought teaching; but here he goes much further, and
craves for understanding. Usually, if the instructor supplies the teaching,
the pupil finds the understanding; but in our case we are far more
dependent, and must beg for understanding as well as teaching: this the
ordinary teacher cannot give, and we are thrice happy that our Divine
Tutor can furnish us with it. We are to confess ourselves fools, and then
our Lord will make us wise, as well as give us knowledge. The best
understanding is that which enables us to render perfect obedience and to
exhibit intelligent faith, and it is this which David desires —
“understanding, that I may know thy testimonies” Some would rather not
know these things; they prefer to be at ease in the dark rather than possess
the light which leads to repentance and diligence. The servant of God longs
to know in an understanding manner all that the Lord reveals of man and to
man; he wishes to be so instructed that he may apprehend and comprehend
that which is taught him. A servant should not be ignorant concerning his
master, or his master’s business; he should study the mind, will, purpose,
and aim of him whom he serves, for so only can he fulfil his service; and as
no man knows these things so well as his master himself, he should often
go to him for instructions, lest his very zeal should only serve to make him
the greater blunderer.

It is remarkable that the Psalmist does not pray for understanding through
acquiring knowledge, but begs of the Lord first that he may have the
gracious gift of understanding, and then may obtain the desired instruction.
All that we know before we have understanding is apt to spoil us and breed
vanity in us; but if there be first an understanding heart, then the stores of
knowledge enrich the soul, and bring neither sin nor sorrow therewith.
Moreover, this gift of understanding acts also in the form of discernment,
and thus the good man is preserved from hoarding up that which is false
and dangerous: he knows what are and what are not the testimonies of the

126. “It is time for thee, Lord, to work: for they have made void thy law.”
David was a servant, and therefore it was always his time to work: but
being oppressed by a sight of man’s ungodly behavior, he feels that his
Master’s hand is wanted, and therefore he appeals to him to work against
the working of evil. Men make void the law of God by denying it to be his
law, by promulgating commands and doctrines in opposition to it, by
setting up tradition in its place, or by utterly disregarding and scorning the
authority of the lawgiver. Then sin becomes fashionable, and a holy walk is
regarded as a contemptible puritanism; vice is styled pleasure, and vanity
bears the bell. Then the saints sigh for the presence and power of their
God. Oh for an hour of the King upon the throne with the rod of iron in his
hand! Oh for another Pentecost with all its wonders, to reveal the energy of
God to gainsayers, and make them see that there is a God in Israel! Man’s
extremity, whether of need or sin, is God’s opportunity. When the earth
was without form and void, the Spirit came and moved upon the face of
the waters; should he not come when society is returning to a like chaos?
When Israel in Egypt were reduced to the lowest point, and it seemed that
the covenant would be void, then Moses appeared and wrought mighty
miracles; so, too, when the church of God is trampled down, and her
message is derided, we may expect to see the hand of the Lord stretched
out for the revival of religion, the defense of the truth, and the glorifying
of’ the divine name. The Lord can work either by judgments which hurl
down the ramparts of the foe, or by revivals which build up the walls of his
own Jerusalem. How heartily may we pray the Lord to raise up new
evangelists, to quicken those we already have, to set his whole church on
fire, and to bring the world to his feet! God’s work is ever honorable and
glorious; as for our works it is as nothing apart from him.

127. “Therefore I love thy commandants above gold; yea, above fine

As it was God’s time to work, so it was David’s time to love. So far from
being swayed by the example of evil men, so as to join them in slighting the
Scriptures, he was the rather led into a more vehement love of those divine
revelations. He loved not only the doctrines, but the commandments. As he
saw the commandments slighted by the ungodly, his heart was in sympathy
with God, and he felt a burning affection for his holy precepts. It is the
mark of a true believer that he does not depend upon others for his
religion, but drinks water out of his own well, which springs up even when
the cisterns of earth are all dried. Amid a general depreciation of the law,
our holy poet felt his own esteem of it rising so high that gold and silver
sank in comparison. Wealth brings with it so many conveniences that men
naturally esteem it, and gold as the symbol of it is much set by; and yet, in
the judgment of the wise, God’s laws are more enriching, and bring with
them more comfort, than all the choicest treasures. The Psalmist could not
boast that: he always kept the commands; but he could declare that he
loved them; he was perfect in heart, and would fain have been perfect in
life. He judged God’s holy commands to be better than the best earthly
thing — gold; yea, better than the best sort of the best earthly thing — fine
gold; and this esteem was confirmed and forced into expression by those
very oppositions of the world which drive hypocrites to forsake the Lord
and his ways.

A miser watches his treasure all the more eagerly when he hears that there
are thieves abroad who are in league to deprive him of it. The more men
hate the eternal verities, the more do we prize them. We can truly say —

“The dearer, for their rage,
Thy words I love and own —
A wealthier heritage
Than gold and precious stone.”

128. “Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be
right; and I hate every false way.”

“Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right.”
Because the ungodly found fault with the precepts of God, therefore David
was all the more sure of their being right. The censure of the wicked is a
certificate of merit; that which they sanction we may justly suspect, but that
which they abominate we may ardently admire. The good man’s delight in
God’s law is unreserved, he believes in all God’s precepts concerning all
things. We state our faith all the more broadly in proportion to the
opposition of the foe. To carping criticism we oppose a fearless faith.
When confidence in God is counted vile, we purpose to be viler still.

“And I hate every false way.” Love to truth begat hatred to falsehood. He
that prizes a robe abhors the moth which would devour it. This godly man
was not indifferent to anything in the moral and spiritual world; but that
which he did not love he hated. He was no chip in the porridge without
flavor; he was a good lover or a good hater, but he was never a waverer.
He knew what he felt, and he expressed it plainly. He was no Gallio, caring
for none of these things. His detestation was as unreserved as his affection;
he had not a good word for any practice which would not bear the light of
truth. The fact that such large multitudes follow the broad road had no
influence upon this holy man, except to make him more determined to
avoid every form of error and sin. May the Holy Spirit so rule in our hearts
that our affections may be in the same decided condition towards the
precepts of the word! May we take our place on the side of God and
righteousness, and never bear the sword in vain! We would not be
pugnacious, but we dare not be sinfully indifferent. All sin we must hate;
for any one of the whole tribe will be our ruin if it be indulged. To arms!
To arms! ye soldiers of the cross.

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