Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Blessed (Psalm 119:1-8)

Blessed are they whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the Lord.
Blessed are they who keep his statutes
and seek him with all their heart.
They do nothing wrong; 
they walk in his ways.
You have laid down precepts
that are to be fully obeyed.
Oh, that my ways were steadfast
in obeying your decrees!
Then I would not be put to shame
when I consider all your commands.
I will praise you with an upright heart
as I learn your righteous laws.
I will obey your decrees;
do not utterly forsake me.

(Psalm 119:1-8)

My first thought when I began reading this psalm this morning was the word "blessed." This is the same word that begins the entire book of the Psalms, if you recall: "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked ... but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on this law he meditates day and night." Pretty strong theme here, this living the blessed life when you are living according to God's commands.

Of course, this creates a bit of an "already-not yet" dilemma, given that none of us actually do a very good job of keeping God's statutes, of seeking him with all our hearts, of doing nothing wrong, of fully obeying God's precepts. These first four verses set a pretty high standard, only tempered by the cry of verse five, "Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees!" Now that's a verse I can identify with.

Am I put to shame when I consider all of God's commands? Not usually, but I should be. Maybe this is premature, but the last three verses in this stanza make my mind go straight to Christ. Pause. What would it be like to be writing/reading this psalm when you don't have a Christ who has absorbed your shame for falling short of God's commands? Your only hope is in the sacrificial system that God has so mercifully provided, a series of laws and guidelines that make you ever-mindful of your sin and the inefficacy of even the sacrifices to fully, once-for-all set you right with God. If you are truly mindful of your sin, you are also mindful that you are perpetually balanced on the edge of an abyss. That last request, "Do not utterly forsake me" is a real threat, not an overly-dramatic poetic way of speaking. Of course, we know (and take for granted) that God did utterly forsake someone for sin ... for our sin, in fact. What the psalmist says he will do in order to prevent God forsaking him is, "I will obey your decrees." We know this is impossible, and despite his absolute language, the psalmist probably knows this, too; God knows it, as well, and in his mercy as he anticipates Christ, God never does utterly forsake his sin-filled people.

More absolute language: "I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws." This is the same Bible that says, "There is no one righteous, not even one" and "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked." But here the psalmist speaks of an upright heart. There are certainly degrees to which God's people could speak of upright hearts in the Old Testament, but I think we do well to claim this verse as our own in an aspirational sense. If, as I mentioned in my initial Psalm 119 post, the law of God is an expression of God's holiness and beauty, the more I learn God's righteous laws (all of Scripture, to extrapolate), the more I will love God for his attributes: his wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth. And the more I love God, the more I will obey him and be able to call my worship of God "upright."

The blessed life is one of obeying God's decrees, which comes from delighting in God's revelation of himself to us in all the various ways God has chosen to do so. As Proverbs teaches us, there is a general cause-effect of obeying God: "Do this, and you will live." As Ecclesiastes and Job show, life in a fallen world doesn't always work like that, and sickness, poverty and other evil can befall us regardless of how we live. But still we seek to see God's face and, by his grace, to worship him with an upright heart.

"Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees!"

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