Exposition of Psalm 119:137-144

by Charles Spurgeon

137. Righteous art thou, O LORD and upright are thy judgments.

138. Thy testimonies that thou hast commanded are righteous
and very faithful.

139. My zeal hath consumed me, because mine enemies have
forgotten thy words.

140. Thy word is very pure; therefore thy servant loveth it.

141. I am small and despised: yet do not I forget thy precepts.

142. Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and
thy law is the truth.

143. Trouble and anguish have taken hold on me: yet thy
commandments are my delights.

144. The righteousness of thy testimonies is everlasting; give
me understanding, and I shall live.

This passage deals with the perfect righteousness of Jehovah and his word,
and expresses the struggles of a holy soul in reference to that
righteousness. The initial letter with which every verse commences has a
sound which reminded the Hebrew reader of the word for righteoueness.
The keynote of this section is righteousness. Oh, for grace to delight
ourselves in righteousness!

137. “Righteous art thou, O Lord, and upright are thy judgments.”
“Righteous art thou, O LORD.” The Psalmist has not often used the
name of Jehovah in this vast composition. The whole psalm shows him to
have been a deeply religious man, thoroughly familiar with the things of
God; and such persons never use the holy name of God carelessly, nor do
they even use it at all frequently in comparison with the thoughtless and the
ungodly. Familiarity begets reverence in this case. Here he uses the sacred
name in worship. He praises God by ascribing to him perfect righteousness.
God is always right, and he is always actively right, that is, righteous. This
quality is bound up in our very idea of God. We cannot imagine an
unrighteous God. Let us praise him by ascribing righteousness to him, even
when his ways to us are painful to flesh and blood.

“And upright are thy judgments.” Here he extols God’s word, or
recorded judgments, as being right, even as their Author is righteous. That
which comes from the righteous God is itself righteous. Jehovah both saith
and doth that which is right, and that alone. This is a great stay to the soul
in time of trouble. When we are sorely afflicted, and cannot see the reason
for the dispensation, we may fall back upon this most certain fact, that God
is righteous, and his dealings with us are righteous too. It should be our
glory to sing this brave confession when all things around as suggest the
contrary. That is the richest adoration which rises from the lips of faith
when carnal reason mutters about undue severity, and the like.

138. “Thy testimonies that thou hast commanded are righteous and very
faithful.” All that which God hath testified in his word is right and
truthful. His testimonies are righteous, and may be relied upon for the
present; they are faithful, and may be trusted in for the future. About every
portion of the inspired testimonies there is a divine authority: they are
published by God’s command, and they bear the impress of the royal style
which carries omnipotence in it. Not only the precepts but the promises
also are commanded of the Lord, and so are all the teachings of Scripture.
It is not left to our choice whether we will accept them or not; they are
issued by royal command, and are not to be questioned. Their
characteristic is that they are like the Lord who has proclaimed them, they
are the essence of justice and the soul of truth. God’s word is righteous,
and cannot be impeached; it is faithful, and cannot be questioned; it is true
from the beginning, and it will be true unto the end.

Dwell upon that sweet word — “very faithful.” What a mercy that we
have a God to deal with who is scrupulously faithful, true to all the items
and details of his promises, punctual to time, steadfast during all time! Well
may we risk all upon a word which is “ever faithful, ever sure.”

Since in these verses the Psalmist dwells upon the righteousness of God
and of his words, it becomes us to consider the divine character, and to
endeavor to imitate it.

“If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth
righteousness is born of him”: 1 John 2:29.

139. In the last two verses David spoke concerning his God and his law;
here he speaks of himself, and says, “My zeal hath consumed me, because
mine enemies have forgotten thy words”: this was no doubt occasioned by
his having so clear a sense of the admirable character of God’s word. His
zeal was like a fire burning within his soul. The sight of man’s forgetfulness
of God acted as a fierce blast to excite the fire to a more vehement flame,
and it blazed until it was ready to consume him. David could not bear that
men should forget God’s words. He was ready to forget himself, ay, to
consume himself, because these men forgot God. The ungodly were
David’s enemies: his enemies, because they hated him for his godliness; his
enemies, because he abhorred them for their ungodliness. These men had
gone so far in iniquity, that they not only violated and neglected the
commands of God, but they appeared actually to have forgotten them. This
put David into a great heat; he burned with indignation. How dare they
trample on sacred things! How could they utterly ignore the commands of
God himself! He was astonished, and filled with holy anger.

Have we not some who profess to be Christians, who know the truth, but
live as if they had forgotten it?

140. “Thy word is very pure: therefore thy servant loveth it.”

“Thy word is very pure.” It is truth distilled, holiness in its quintessence.
In the word of God there is no admixture of error or sin. It is pure in its
sense, pure in its language, pure in its spirit, pure in its influence, and all
this to the very highest degree — “very pure.”

“Therefore thy servant loveth it,” which is a proof that he himself was
pure in heart; for only those who are pure love God’s word because of its
purity. His heart was knit to the word because of its glorious holiness and
truth. He admired it, delighted in it, sought to practice it, and longed to
come under its purifying power.

141. “I am small and despised: yet do not I forget thy precepts.” That
fault of forgetfulness which he condemned in others (verse 139) could not
be charged upon himself. His enemies made no account of him, regarded
him as a man without power or ability, and, therefore, looked down upon
him. He appears to accept the situation and humbly take the lowest room,
but he carries God’s word with him. How many a man has been driven to
do some ill action in order to reply to the contempt of his enemies! to make
himself conspicuous he has either spoken or acted in a manner which he
could not justify. The beauty of the Psalmist’s piety was that it was calm
and well-balanced, and as he was not carried away by flattery, so he was
not overcome by shame. If small, he the more jealously attended to the
smaller duties; and if despised, he was the more in earnest to keep the
despised commandments of God.

142. “Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and thy law is
the truth.”

“Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness.” Having in a
previous verse ascribed righteousness to God, he now goes on to declare
that that righteousness is unchanging, and endures from age to age. This is
the joy and glory of the saints, that what God is he always will be, and his
mode of procedure towards the sons of men is immutable: having kept his
promise, and dealt out justice among his people, he will do so world
without end. Both the righteousness and the unrighteousness of men come
to an end, but the righteousness of God is without end.

“And thy law is the truth.” As God is love, so his law is the truth, the
very essence of truth: truth applied to ethics, truth in action, truth upon the
judgment-seat. We hear great disputes about “What is truth?” The holy
Scriptures are the only answer to that question. Note, that they are not
only true, but the truth itself. We may not say of them that they contain the
truth, but that they are the truth: “thy law is the truth.” There is nothing
false about the law or preceptory part of Scripture. Those who are
obedient thereto shall find that they are walking in a way consistent with
fact; while those who act contrary thereto are walking in a vain show.
Because the word is true it has an everlasting righteousness about it. To
alter, diminish, or add, is to lie against God.

143. “Trouble and anguish have taken hold on me: yet thy
commandments are my delights.”

“Trouble and anguish have taken hold on me.” This affliction may have
arisen from his circumstances, or from the cruelty of his enemies, or from
his own internal conflicts; but certain it is that he was the subject of much
distress, a distress which apprehended him, and carried him away a captive
to its power. His griefs, like fierce dogs, had taken hold upon him; he felt
their teeth. He had double trouble: trouble without and anguish within: as
the apostle Paul put it, “without were rightings, within were fears.”

“Yet thy commandments are my delights.” Thus he became a riddle:
troubled, and yet delighted; in anguish, and yet in pleasure. The child of
God can understand this enigma, for well he knows that while he is cast
down on account of what he sees within himself, he is all the more lifted up
by what he sees in the word. He is delighted with the commandments,
although he is troubled with his imperfections. He finds abundant light in
the commandments, and by the influence of that light he discovers and
mourns over his own darkness. Only the man who is acquainted with the
struggles of the spiritual life will understand the expression before us. Let
the reader herein find a balance in which to weigh himself. Does he find,
even when he is begirt with sorrow, that it is a delightful thing to do the
will of the Lord? Does he find more joy in being sanctified than sorrow in
being chastised? Then the spot of God’s children is upon him.

144. “The righteousness of thy testimonies is everlasting: give me
understanding, and I shall live:”

“The righteousness of thy testimonies is everlasting,” First he had said
that God’s testimonies were righteous, then that they were everlasting, and
now that their righteousness is everlasting. Thus he gives us a larger and
more detailed account of the word of God as he proceeds. The longer he
is engaged in writing upon it, the more he has to write. The more we say in
praise of holy writ, the more we may say, and the more we can say. God’s
testimonies to man cannot be assailed, they are righteous from beginning
to end; and though ungodly men have opposed the divine justice, especially
in the plan of salvation, they have always failed to establish any charge
against the Most High. Long as the earth shall stand, long as there shall
be a single intelligent creature in the universe, it will be confessed that
God’s plans of mercy are in all respects marvelous proofs of his love of
justice: even that he may be gracious Jehovah will not be unjust.

“Give me understanding, and I shall live.” This is a prayer which he is
constantly praying that God would give him understanding. Here he
evidently considers that such a gift is essential to his living. To live without
understanding is not to live the life of a man, but to be dead while we live.
Only as we know and apprehend the things of God can we be said to enter
into life. The more the Lord teaches us to admire the eternal rightness; of
his word, and the more he quickens us to the love of such rightness, the
happier and the better we shall be. As we love life, and seek many days that
we may see good, it behooves us to seek immortality in the everlasting
word which liveth and abideth for ever, and to seek good in that renewal of
our entire nature which begins with the enlightenment of the understanding
and passes on to the regeneration of the entire man. Here is our need of the
Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, and the Guide of all the quickened
ones, who shall lead us into all truth. Oh, for the visitations of his grace at
this good hour!

We live by the Word of God, in the sense that it preserves us from those
sinful ways which would be death to us. To understand and copy the
righteousness of God is the best preservative from all our deadly foes. If
the Lord will give us understanding so that we do this, we shall indeed live
in the highest and best sense, despite the powers of death and hell.

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