Sweeter than Honey to my Mouth! (Psalm 119)
Psalm 119 has long been an enigma to many Christians, especially those who testify to boredom and confusion when they read God's Word. The attitude of the psalmist is baffling to them. He speaks repeatedly of a joy and unparalleled delight and a spiritual exhilaration when he reads and meditates on Scripture, affections that are largely foreign to their experience.
So here's what I propose. Quickly read this meditation and then slowly read the psalm in its entirety. Then read it again. And then yet again, slowly, saturating your spirit in every syllable and sentence. This is what I did on the day I composed this meditation, only to discover, as if for the first time in a long time, a progressive awakening in my heart and a quickening in my spirit of the mind-blowing beauty, sin-killing power, and breath-taking expanse of God's Word.
As I read the psalm, and then re-read it, again and again, I began to see a number of issues and points of emphasis that are obviously dear to the psalmist's heart, issues that I long to find a permanent place in mine as well. I pray that these ten observations will assist you in your reading of this stunning portrayal of God's Word and its operation in your life.
(1) One of the first things that struck me was the variety of ways in which God's rules and laws and precepts are described: they are "righteous" (vv. 7, 75, 106, 164), indeed "righteous forever" (v. 144); they are "good" (v. 39), they are "sure" (v. 86), they are "firmly fixed in the heavens" (v. 89), they are "exceedingly broad" (v. 96), they are "right" (vv. 128, 137, 172), they are "wonderful" (v. 129), they are "true" (vv. 142, 151), and they endure forever (v. 160).
(2) Little wonder, then, that the psalmist would go to such vivid verbal lengths to describe his attitude, indeed his appetite for the Word of God. Consider, for example, the following brief sampling, and ask yourself if such colorful and passionate language accurately describes your perspective toward the glory and power of God's Word:
"In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches" (v. 14).
"I will delight in your statutes" (v. 16).
"My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times" (v. 20).
"Your testimonies are my delight" (v. 24; cf. vv. 35, 77, 92, 143, 174).
"Behold, I long for your precepts" (v. 40).
"for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love" (v. 47).
"The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces" (v. 72).
"Oh how I love your law!" (v. 97).
"How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!" (v. 103).
"Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart" (v. 111).
"I love your law" (v. 113; cf. vv. 119, 159, 163).
"Therefore I love your commandments above gold, above fine gold" (v. 127).
"Your testimonies are wonderful" (v. 129).
"I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments" (v. 131).
"I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil" (v. 162).
"My soul keeps your testimonies; I love them exceedingly" (v. 167).
(3) One of the more remarkable things in this psalm is the number of times the psalmist pleads with God to teach him and instruct him and give him insight and open his eyes that he might understand the Word. The psalmist has no illusions about his own ability to understand God's Word apart from the illumination of its ultimate author. We see this in vv. 12, 18, 19 ("hide not your commandments from me," i.e., disclose them, reveal them to me), 26, 27, 29, 33, 34, 64, 66, 68, 71, 73, 75, 108, 124, 125, 135, 144, 169, 171. If God does not act to unveil and illuminate the meaning of his Word we shall forever remain in darkness. May I suggest, then, that you take these texts and make them your first prayer each time you open God's Word for study or meditation.
(4) There is great significance in the fact that the psalmist also prays that God would do more than teach him what the Law means; he prays that God would "incline" his heart to observe them (see vv. 10, 35, 36, 37, 88, 117, cf. 133). In other words, God is present to incite our souls to obey the insight of our minds! He is committed not simply to illumine our understanding but also to incline our wills. Knowledge that does not lead to action serves only to breed arrogance and pride.
(5) Although utterly and in all ways dependent on God for help, don't overlook the fact that the psalmist repeatedly commits himself and "promises" to take action to learn, store up, and diligently keep the Word of God. The antecedent priority of God's work in his heart does not preclude or undermine his responsibility to exercise his will in the active embrace of the Word. We see this, for example, in vv. 8, 11, 15 ("I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word"), 30, 32, 44, 57, 59-60, 101-102, 106, 112 ("I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end"), 145.
(6) The psalmist is also determined to undertake the discipline of meditation. He often speaks of "fixing" his eyes on the commandments of God and laboring "never to forget" them (see vv. 6, 15, 16, 23, 27, 48, 61, 78, 83, 97, 99, 141, 148, 176). This is a healthy and much-needed reminder that God does not operate on us in an intellectual or spiritual vacuum. In other words, if he is going to illumine our minds and incline our wills, his Word must first take root in our hearts.
(7) What blessings and benefits accrue to those who by God's grace and energizing presence actually ingest his Word? What may those expect who fix their faith on obedience to what he has revealed? Here's a sampling: they are declared: "blessed" (vv. 1-2), they "shall not be put to shame" (vv. 6, 31, 46, 80), they will be kept from sinning against God (vv. 9,11), they enjoy beholding wondrous things (v. 18), they are spared scorn and contempt (v. 22), they receive counsel (v. 24), they experience true life (vv. 25, 37, 93), they are strengthened (v. 28), they experience the enlargement of the heart (v. 32), they avoid selfish gain (v. 36), they find wise answers for their enemies (v. 42), they experience comfort and delight in the midst of affliction (vv. 50, 52, 92, 107, 143, 153), as well as "great peace" (165). Wow!
(8) I referred above to the "sin-killing power" of God's Word. What the psalmist had in mind by this was the capacity of God's revealed truth to strengthen us in the face of temptation and to believe his promise of superior joy (cf. Ps. 16:11) when confronted with the passing pleasures of sin. In other words, we find in God's Word the only reliable remedy against the impulses of the flesh and the temptations of the world (see vv. 9, 11, 36, 37, 104, 105). Only when God's ways are sweet to the taste will sin turn sour in our souls.
(9) On numerous occasions the psalmist speaks of his commitment to persevere in obedience to God's Word in spite of the evil done to him by the wicked. What he has in mind is how the Word of God satisfies his heart and keeps and preserves him from the ways and destructive tendencies of those who hate God. "The insolent smear me with lies, but with my whole heart I keep your precepts; their heart is unfeeling like fat, but I delight in your law" (vv. 69-70). Or again, "Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of your words" (v. 161). See also vv. 78, 85-87, 95, 98, 110, 115, 150-151, 157-158.
(10) Finally, if you're still tempted to cast aside God's Word for the sake of worldly gain, consider how he compares the value of God's word to all earthly treasures:
"The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces" (v. 72; cf. v. 14).
"Therefore I love your commandments above gold, above fine gold" (v. 127).
God's Word is exquisite, sublime, splendid, and sweet. God's Word is powerful, faithful, righteous, and true. God's Word is great, glorious, grand, and good. Why? Because in it we see God! Through it, he draws near! By means of its truth, we experience the incomparable joy of knowing him and seeing him and beholding the beauty of his infinite elegance.
Hear, O Lord, our prayer: "Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law!" (Psalm 119:18).