Psalm 119:33-40

h 33. Teach me, O Jehovah! the way of thy statutes; and I will keep it unto the end. h 34. Make me to understand, and I will observe thy law; and keep it with my whole heart. h 35. Direct me in the way of thy statutes; for in it does my heart take pleasure. h 36. Incline my heart to thy testimonies, and not unto covetousness. h 37. Turn away mine eyes from seeing vanity; in thy way quicken me. h 38. Confirm thy word to thy servant, who '.is devoted to thy ear. h 39. Remove from me the reproach of which I am afraid: for thy judgments are good. h 40. Lo! I have a desire to thy commandments: quicken me in thy righteousness.


33. Teach me, O Jehovah/the way of thy statutes. He again presents the same prayer which he has already frequently done in this psalm, it being of the last importance for us to know that the main thing in our life consists in having God for our governor. The majority of mankind think of anything rather than this, as that which they ought to ask from God. The Holy Spirit, therefore, often inculcates this desire, and we ought always to keep it in mind, that not only the inexperienced and unlearned, but those who have made great progress, may not cease to aspire after farther advancement. And as the Spirit of understanding comes from above, they should seek to be guided by his invisible agency to the proper knowledge of the law.

In the second clause of the verse the prophet points out the particular kind of doctrine of which he treats, that which virtually and effectually tends to renovate the heart of man. Interpreters explain the word bqe, ekeb, two ways. Some would have it to denote wages or reward, and then the Psalmist's meaning would be: After I have been well instructed, then shall I know that those who apply themselves to the observance of thy law will not labor in vain; and, therefore, for the sake of the reward, I will keep thy commandments, persuaded that thou wilt never disappoint thy servants. Others render it, until the end, because those whom God teaches he teaches successfully, and, at the same time, strengthens them for prosecuting their journey without feeling lassitude or languor by the way, and enables them to persevere with constancy until they arrive at the termination of their course. I am far from supposing that he has no reference to the grace of perseverance. Let my readers, however, consider whether this verse may not be taken simply as the words stand in the original. The preposition until is not expressed by the prophet, who merely says, I will keep the end. "Lord, I have need of constant teaching, that I may not fall short of, but keep my eye continually upon my mark; for thou commandest me to run in thy course, on condition that death alone should be the goal. Unless thou teach me daily, this perseverance will not be found in me. But if thou guide me, I will be constantly upon the watch, and will never turn away my eyes from my end, or aim." In my version I have inserted the commonly received reading.

34. Make me to understand. We are here informed that true wisdom consists in being wise according to the law of God, that it may preserve us in fear and obedience to him. In asking God to confer this wisdom upon him, he owns that men, in consequence of their natural blindness, aim at anything rather than this. And, indeed, it is quite foreign to the notions usually prevalent among mankind to strain every nerve to keep God's law. The world esteems as wise those only who look well to their own interests, are acute and politic in temporal matters, and who even excel in the art of beguiling the simple. In opposition to such a sentiment, the prophet pronounces men to be void of true understanding as long as the fear of God does not predominate among them. For himself he asks no other prudence than the surrendering of himself entirely to God's direction. At the same Lime, he acknowledges this to be the special gift of God, which none can procure by his own power or policy; for were each adequate to be his own teacher in this matter, then this petition would be superfluous.

Moreover, as the observance of the law is no common occurrence, he employs two terms in reference to it. "Lord, it is a high and hard thing to keep thy law strictly as it ought, which demands from us purity beyond what we are able to attain; yet, depending on the heavenly illumination of thy Spirit, I will not cease my endeavors to keep it." The following, however, renders the meaning more clear: "Give me understanding to keep and observe thy law with my whole heart." Mention is made of the whole heart, to tell us how far they are from the righteousness of the law who obey it only in the letter, doing nothing deserving of blame in the sight of men. God puts a restraint principally on the heart, that genuine uprightness may flourish there, whose fruits may afterwards appear in the life. This spiritual observance of the law is a most convincing evidence of the necessity of being divinely prepared and formed for it.

35. Direct me in the path. The frequent repetition of this phraseology by the prophet is not to be considered as redundant. Seeing that the end of man's existence ought to consist in profiting in God's school, we nevertheless perceive how the world distracts him by its allurements, and how he also forms for himself a thousand avocations calculated to withdraw his thoughts from the main business of his life. The next clause of the verse, in it I take pleasure, must be carefully attended to. For it is an indication of rare excellence when a person so arranges his sentiments and affections as to renounce all the enticements pleasant to the flesh, and take delight in nothing so much as in the service of God. The prophet had already attained to this virtue but he still perceives that he is not yet perfect. Therefore, that his desire may be fully accomplished, he solicits fresh assistance from God, according to the saying of Paul,

"It is God that worketh in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasures" Philippians 2:13.

Let it be remembered, that he does not boast of the inherent working of his nature, but sets forth the grace he has received, that God may complete the work he has begun. "Lord, thou hast given me courage, grant me also strength." Hence in the term pleasure there is an implied opposition to the lusts of the flesh, which keep the hearts of mankind lettered by their enticements.

36. Incline my heart. In this verse he confesses the human heart to be so far from yielding to the justice of God, that it is more inclined to follow an opposite course. Were we naturally and spontaneously inclined to the righteousness of the law, there would be no occasion for the petition of the Psalmist, Incline my heart. It remains, therefore, that our hearts are full of sinful thoughts, and wholly rebellious, until God by his grace change them. This confession on the part of the prophet must not be overlooked, That the natural corruption of man is so great, that he seeks for any thing rather than what is right, until he be turned by the power of God to new obedience, and thus begin to be inclined to that which is good.

In the second clause of the verse the prophet points to those impediments which prevent mankind from attaining to the desire of righteousness; their being inclined to covetousness. By a figure of speech, 1 in which a part is put for the whole, the species is put for the genus. The Hebrew term, eub batsang, signifies to use violence, or to covet, or to defraud; but covetousness is most in accordance with the spirit of the passage, provided we admit the prophet to have selected this species, "the root of all evils," to demonstrate that nothing is more opposed to the righteousness of God, (1 Timothy 6:10). We are here instructed generally, that we are so much under the influence of perverse and vicious affections, our hearts abhor the study of God's law, until God inspire us with the desire for that which is good.

37. Turn away mine eyes. By these words we are taught that all our senses are so filled with vanity, that, until refined and rectified, their alienation from the pursuit of righteousness is no matter of surprise. In the former verse he informed us of the reigning of that depravity in the hearts of men, which he now says reaches also to the outward senses. "The disease of covetousness not only lurks in our hearts, but spreads over every part, so that neither eyes, ears, feet, nor hands, have escaped its baneful influence; in a word, nothing is exempted from corruption." And we know, assuredly, that the guilt of original sin is not confined to one faculty of man only; it pervades his whole constitution. If our eyes must be turned away from vanity by the special grace of God, it follows, that, as soon as they are opened, they are eagerly set on the impostures of Satan, by which they are beset on all sides. If Satan only laid snares for us, and were we possessed of sufficient prudence to guard against his deceits, it could not, with propriety, be said that God turned away our eyes from vanity; but, as they are naturally set upon sinful allurements, there is need for their being withdrawn from them. As often, then, as we open our eyes, we must not forget that two gates are opened for the devil to enter our hearts, unless God guard us by his Holy Spirit. The remarks which he makes, in reference to the eyes, are equally applicable to the other senses, inasmuch as he again employs that figure of speech, by which a part is taken for the whole.

The other clause of the verse corresponds well with the meaning here given. Others may propose different interpretations; I think, however, the following is the most natural: Lord, as the whole life of mankind is accursed, so long as they employ their powers in committing sin, grant that the power which I possess may aspire after nothing except the righteousness which thou appointest us. The better to manifest this, we must lay it down as a first principle, that seeing, hearing, walking, and feeling, are God's precious gifts; that our understandings and will, with which we are furnished, are a still more valuable gift; and, after all, there is no look of the eyes, no motion of the senses, no thought of the mind, unmingled with vice and depravity. Such being the case, the prophet, with good reason, surrenders himself entirely to God, for the mortification of the flesh, that he might begin to live anew.

38. Confirm thy word unto thy servant. Here we have briefly set forth the sole end and legitimate use of prayer, which is, that we may reap the fruits of God's promises. Whence it comes to pass, that they commit sin who utter vague and incoherent desires. For we perceive the prophet allows not himself to petition or wish any thing but what God hath condescended to promise. And certainly their presumption is great, who rush into the presence of God without any call from his word; as if they would make him subservient to their humor and caprice. The argument by which the Psalmist enforces his plea deserves to be noticed; because I am devoted to thy fear. The relative rsa asher, in this place bears the signification of the causal conjunction, because or for. The prophet intimates that he does not content himself with mere temporal enjoyments, as worldly men do; and that he did not make a preposterous abuse of God's promises, to secure the delights of the flesh, but that he made his fear and reverence his aim. And truly the best assurance which we can have of obtaining our requests is when these and God's service harmonize, and our sole desire is that he may reign in and over us.

39. Take away my reproach. It is not certain to what reproach he alludes. Knowing that many calumniators were on the watch to find occasion for reviling him, should they happen to detect him in any offense, it is not without :reason he dreaded lest he might fall into such disgrace, and that by his own fault. Probably he might be apprehensive of some other reproach, aware that wicked men shamefully and injuriously slander the good generally, and, by their calumnies, distort and pervert their good actions. The concluding clause, Because the judgments of God are good, is the reason why God should put to silence the mischievous tongues, which pour out the venom of their malice without shame against the innocent, who are reverently observing his law. If any be inclined to view the word reproach as directed against God himself, such an interpretation is by no means objectionable, That the prophet, whose aim it was to stand approved as to his life in God's sight, merely desired, when he appeared before his tribunal, not to be judged as a reprobate man; just as if, with great zeal and magnanimity, he would despise all the empty talk of the men of the world, provided he stood upright in God's sight. Above all, it becomes holy men to dread the reproach of being suffused with shame at God's judgment-seat.

40. Behold, I have a desire to thy precepts. This is a repetition of what he declared a little before, with regard to his pious affection, and his love of righteousness; and that nothing was wanting but God to complete the work which he had commenced. If this interpretation be admitted, then, to be quickened in the righteousness of God, will be tantamount to being quickened in the way. The term righteousness is often put in this psalm for the law of God, or the rule of a righteous life. This view tends to make the two parts of the verse accord with one another. "Lord, this is now a remarkable kindness thou hast done me, in having inspired me with a holy desire to keep thy law; one thing is still necessary, that this same virtue pervade my whole life." But as the word righteousness is ambiguous, my readers may, if they choose, understand it thus: Restore, defend, and maintain me for the sake of thy goodness, which thou art wont to show to all thy people. I have already pointed out the exposition which I prefer.

1 Per Synecdochen.


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