Exposition of Psalm 119:169-176

by Charles Spurgeon

169. Let my cry come near before thee, O Lord: give me
understanding according to thy word.

170. Let my supplication come before thee: deliver me
according to thy word.

171. My lips shall utter praise, when thou hast taught me thy

172. My tongue shall speak of thy word:. for all thy
commandments are righteousness.

173. Let thine hand help me; for I have chosen thy precepts.

174. I have longed for thy salvation, O Lord; and thy law is my

175. Let my soul live, and it shall praise thee; and let thy
judgments help me.

176. I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I
do not forget thy commandments.

The Psalmist is now at the last section of the psalm, and his petitions
gather still more force and fervency; he seems to break into the inner circle
of divine fellowship, and to come even to the feet of the great God whose
help he is imploring. This nearness creates the most lowly view of himself,
and leads him to close the psalm, prostrate in the dust, in deepest serf-humiliation,
begging to be sought out like a lost sheep.

169. “Let my cry come near before thee, O Lord: give me understanding
according to thy word.”

“Let my cry come near before thee, O Lord.” He is tremblingly afraid lest
he should not be heard. He is conscious that his prayer is nothing better
than the “cry” of a poor child, or the groan of a wounded beast. He
dreads lest it should be shut out from the ear of the Most High; but he
very boldly prays that it may come before God, that it may be in his ear,
under his notice, and looked upon with his acceptance. Yea, he goes
further, and entreats, “Let my cry come near before thee, O Lord”: he
wants the Lord’s attention to his prayer to be very close and considerate.
He uses a figure of speech and personifies his prayer. We may picture his
prayer as Esther, venturing into the royal presence, entreating an audience,
and begging to find favor in the sight of the blessed and only Potentate. It
is a very sweet thing to a suppliant when he knows of a surety that his
prayer has obtained audience, when it has trodden the sea of glass before
the throne, and has come even to the footstool of the glorious seat around
which heaven and earth adore. It is to Jehovah that this prayer is expressed
with trembling earnestness — our translators, filled with holy reverence,
translate the word, “O Lord.” We crave audience of none else, for we
have confidence in none beside.

“Give me understanding according to thy word,” This is the prayer about
which the Psalmist is so exceedingly anxious. With all his gettings he
would get understanding, and whatever he misses he is resolved not to
miss this priceless boon. He desires spiritual light and understanding, as it
is promised in God’s word, as it proceeds from God’s word, and as it
produces obedience to God’s word. He pleads as though he had no
understanding whatever of his own, and asks to have one given to Him.
“Give me understanding.” In truth, he had an understanding according to
the judgment of men; but what he sought was an understanding according
to God’s word, which is quite another thing. To understand spiritual things
is the gift of God. To have a judgment enlightened by heavenly light and
conformed to divine truth is a privilege which only grace can give. Many a
man who is accounted wise after the manner of this world is a fool
according to the word of the Lord. May we be among those happy children
who shall all be taught of the Lord!

170. “Let my supplication come before thee: deliver me according to thy

“Let my supplication come before thee.” It is the same entreat, with a
slight change of words. He humbly calls his cry a supplication, a sort of
beggar’s petition; and again he asks for audience and for answer. There
might be hindrances in the way to an audience, and he begs for their
removal — “Let my supplication come.” Other believers are heard by the
Great Lord himself — let my prayer come before thee: let me also have
audience of my God.

“Deliver me according to thy word.” Rid me of mine adversaries, clear
me of my slanderers, preserve me from my tempters, and bring me up out
of all my afflictions, even as thy word has led me to expect thou wilt do. It
is for this that in the previous verse he seeks understanding. His enemies
would succeed through his folly, if they succeeded at all; but if he exercised
a sound discretion they would be baffled, and he would escape from them.
The Lord in answer to prayer frequently delivers his children by making
them wise as serpents as well as harmless as doves.

171. “My lips shad utter praise, when thou hast taught me thy statutes.”
He will not always be pleading for himself, he will rise above all selfishness,
and render thanks for the benefit received. He promises to praise God
when he has obtained practical instruction in the life of godliness: this is
something to praise for, no blessing is more precious. The best possible
praise is that which proceeds from men who honor God, not only with their
lips, but in their lives. We learn the music of heaven in the school of holy
living. He whose life honors the Lord is sure to be a man of praise. David
would not be silent in his gratitude, but he would express it in appropriate
terms: his lips would utter what his life had practiced. Eminent disciples are
wont to speak well of the master who instructed them; and this holy man,
when taught the statutes of the Lord, promises to give all the glory to him
to whom it is due.

172. “My tongue shall speak of thy word: for all thy commandments are

“My tongue shall speak of thy word.” When he had done singing he
began preaching. God’s tender mercies are such that they may be either
said or sung. When the tongue speaks of God’s word it has a most fruitful
subject; such speaking will be as a tree of life, whose leaves shall be for the
healing of the people. Men will gather together to listen to such talk, and
they will treasure it up in their hearts. The worst of us is, that for the most
part we are full of our own words, and speak but little of God’s word. Oh,
that we could come to the same resolve as this godly man, and say
henceforth, “My tongue shall speak of thy word”! Then should we break
through our sinful silence; we should no more be cowardly and halfhearted,
but should be true witnesses for Jesus. It is not only of God’s works that
we are to speak, but of his word. We may extol its truth, its wisdom, its
preciousness, its grace, its power; and then we may tell of all it has
revealed, all it has promised, all it has commanded, and all it has effected.
The subject gives us plenty of sea-room; we may speak on for ever: the tale
is for ever telling, yet untold.

“For all thy commandments are righteousness.” David appears to have
been mainly enamoured of the preceptive part of the word of God, and
concerning the precept his chief delight lay in its purity and excellence.
When a man can speak thus from his heart, his heart is indeed a temple of
the Holy Ghost.

He has said aforetime (verse 138), “Thy testimonies are righteous,” but
here he declares that they are righteousness itself. The law of God is not
only the standard of right, but it is the essence of righteousness. This the
Psalmist affirms of each and every one of the precepts without exception.
He felt like Paul — “The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and
just, and good.” When a man has so high an opinion of God’s
commandments, it is little wonder that his lips should be ready to extol the
ever-glorious One.

173. “Let thine hand help me; far I have chosen thy precepts.”

“Let thine hand help me.” Give me practical succor. Do not entrust me to
my friends or to thy friends, but put thine own hand to the work. Thy hand
has both skill and power, readiness and force: display all these qualities on
my behalf. I am willing to do the utmost that I am able to do; but what I
need is thine help, and this is so urgently required that if I have it not I shall
sink. Do not refuse thy succor. Great as thy hand is, let it light on me, even
me. The prayer reminds us of Peter walking on the sea and beginning to
sink; he, too, cried, “Lord, save me,” and the hand of his Master was
stretched out for his rescue.

“For I have chosen thy precepts.” A good argument. A man may fitly ask
help from God’s hand when he has dedicated his own hand entirely to the
obedience of the faith. ‘“I have chosen thy precepts.’” His election was
made, his mind was made up. In preference to all earthly rules and ways, in
preference even to his own will, he had chosen to be obedient to the divine
commands. Will not God help such a man in holy work and sacred service?
Assuredly he will. If grace has given us the heart with which to will, it will
also give us the hand with which to perform. Whenever, under the
constraints of a divine call, we are engaged in any high and lofty enterprise,
and feel it to be too much for our strength, we may always invoke the right
hand of God in words like these.

174. “I have longed far thy salvation, O Lord ; and thy law is my

“I have longed for thy salvation, O Lord.” He speaks like old Jacob on
his deathbed; indeed, all saints, both in prayer and in death, appear as one,
in word, and deed, and mind. He knew God’s salvation, and yet he longed
for it; that is to say, he had experienced a measure of it, and he was
therefore led to long for something yet higher and more complete. The
holy hunger of the saints increases as it is satisfied. There is a salvation yet
to come, when we shall be clean delivered from the body of this death, set
free from all the turmoil and trouble of this mortal life, raised above the
temptations and assaults of Satan, and brought near unto our God, to be
like him and with him for ever and ever.

“I have longed for thy salvation, O Jehovah; and thy law is my delight.”
The first clause tells us what the saint longs for, and this informs us what is
his present satisfaction. God’s law, contained in the ten commandments,
gives joy to believers. God’s law, that is, the entire Bible, is a well-spring
of consolation and enjoyment to all who receive it. Though we have not
yet reached the fullness of our salvation, yet we find in God’s word so
much concerning a present salvation that: we are even now delighted.

175. “Let my soul live, and it shall praise thee; and let thy judgments
help me.”

“Let my soul live.” Fill it full of life, preserve it from wandering into the
ways of death, give it to enjoy the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, let it live
to the fullness of life, to the utmost possibilities of its new-created being.
“And it shall praise thee.” It shall praise thee for life, for new life, for
eternal life, for thou art the Lord and Giver of life. The more it shall live,
the more it shall praise, and when it shall live in perfection it shall praise
thee in perfection.. Spiritual life is prayer and praise.

“And let thy judgments help me.” While I read the record of what thou
hast done, in terror or in love, let me be quickened and developed. While I
see thy hand actually at work upon me, and upon others, chastening sin,
and smiling upon righteousness, let me be helped both to live aright and to
praise thee aright. Let all thy deeds in providence instruct me, and aid me
in the struggle to overcome sin and to practice holiness. This is the second
time he has asked for help in this portion; he was always in need of it, and
so are we.

176. “I have Gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not
forget thy commandments.”

This is the finale, the conclusion of the whole matter: “I have gone astray
like a lost sheep”’ — often, willfully, wantonly, and even hopelessly but
for thine interposing grace. In times gone by, before I was afflicted, and
before thou hadst fully taught me thy statutes, I went astray. “I went
astray” from the practical precepts, from the instructive doctrines, and
from the heavenly experiences which thou hadst set before me. I lost my
road, and I lost myself. Even now I am apt to wander, and, in fact, have
roamed already; therefore, Lord, restore me.

“Am not I thy wilder’d sheep?
Seek me, O thou Shepherd good,
Find, and for thy service keep
The dear purchase of thy blood;
Lost again if thou depart,
Hide me, Savior, in thy heart.”

“Seek thy servant.” He was not like a dog, that somehow or other can
find its way back; but he was like a lost sheep, which goes further and
further away from home; yet still he was a sheep, and the Lord’s sheep, his
property, and precious in his sight, and therefore he hoped to be sought in
order to be restored. However far he might have wandered he was still not
only a sheep, but God’s “servant,” and therefore he desired to be, in his
Master’s house again, and once more honored with commissions for his
Lord. Had he been only a lost sheep he would not have prayed to be
sought; but being also a “servant,” he had the power to pray. He cries,
“Seek thy servant,” and he hopes not only to be sought, but forgiven,
accepted, and taken into work again by his gracious Master.

Notice this confession; many times in the psalm David has defended his
own innocence against foul-mouthed accusers; but when he comes into the
presence of the Lord his God, he is ready enough to confess his
transgressions. He here sums up, not only his past, but even his present life,
under the image of a sheep which has broken from its pasture, forsaken the
flock, left the shepherd, and brought itself into the wilderness, where it has
become as a lost thing. The sheep bleats, and David prays, “Seek thy

His argument is a forcible one, — “for I do not forget thy
commandments.” I know the right, I approve and admire the right. What
is more, I love the right, and long for it. I cannot be satisfied to continue in
sin, I must be restored to the ways of righteousness. I have a home-sickness
after my God, I pine after the ways of peace; I do not and I
cannot forget thy commandments, nor cease to know that I am always
happiest and safest when I scrupulously obey thy law and find my joy in
doing so. If the grace of God enables us to maintain in our hearts the
loving memory of God’s commandments, it will surely yet restore us to
practical holiness. That man cannot be utterly lost whose heart is still with
God. If he be gone astray in many respects, yet still, if he be true in his
soul’s inmost desires, he will be found again, and fully restored. Yet let the
reader remember the first verse of the psalm while he reads the last: the
major blessedness lies not in being restored from wandering, but in being
upheld in a blameless way even to the end. Be it ours to keep the crown of
the causeway, never leaving the King’s highway for By-path Meadow, or
any other flowery path of sin. May the Lord uphold us even to the end. Yet
even then we shall not be able to boast with the Pharisee, but shall still pray
with the publican, “God be merciful to me a sinner”; and with the
Psalmist, “Seek thy servant.”

Let the last prayer of David in this Psalm be ours as we close this book and
lift our hearts to the Chief Shepherd of the sheep. Amen.

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