Psalm 119:137-144

137. U O Jehovah! thou art righteous, and thy judgments are right. 138. U Thou hast commanded righteousness in thy testimonies, and truth greatly. 139. U My zeal hath consumed me, because my adversaries have forgotten thy words. 140. U Thy word is exceedingly refined, and thy servant hath loved it. 141. U I am insignificant and despised; I have not forgotten thy commandments. 142. U Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness; and the law is truth. 143. U Trouble and anguish have come upon me; but thy commandments are my delight. 144. U The righteousness of thy testimonies endereth for ever; give me understanding and I shall live.


137. O Jehovah! thou art righteous. The Prophet yields to God the praise of righteousness, and also acknowledges that it is to be found in his law. Some understand judgments as referring to those infliction's by which God chastises the sins of men; but this does not seem so fitly to agree with the scope of the passage. Besides, as the adjective rsy, yashar, translated right, is put in the singular number with the word judgments, the sentence should be explained thus that there is not any one of the judgments of God which is not right. Should we be inclined to take rsy as a substantive, the sense will be almost the same. All men indeed grant that God is righteous; but the Prophet has expressed more than the common sort of men, yea than the whole world, perceive in reference to this subject; for in designating God righteous, he means, that as soon as we depart from Him, we will not find a particle of righteousness anywhere else. When he adds that the evidence and testimony of this righteousness are to be seen in the law, he teaches us that God is robbed of his praise, if we do not subscribe to all his commandments. To the same purpose is the following verse, which declares that God has taught in his law full and perfect righteousness and truth. The adverb, dam, meod, which signifies greatly, is with more propriety connected with the nouns than with the verb commanded; inasmuch as it was God's design to exhibit in the law a perfect rule of righteousness. The doctrine of the law is honored with these encomiums, that all of us may learn to derive wisdom from it, and that no man may devise for himself any other standard of rectitude or righteousness than that which is exhibited in the law; a very necessary lesson, since every man would willingly frame for himself a new pattern or standard of righteousness.

139. My zeal hath consumed me.1 The Psalmist speaks of his persecutors, by whom it is certain he had been subjected to much trouble. But although they were virulent and cruel towards him, he avows that it was not so much his own private wrongs which offended him as the violation of God's law; yea rather, that he was so consumed with grief on that account as not to be affected at all with his own individual troubles. This is an example from which much profit may be derived. We are too tender and delicate in bearing wrongs; and hence it is that if we are but touched with a finger, we are instantly inflamed with anger, whilst at the same time we are but coldly affected at the most grievous offenses committed against God. But if we are animated with the zeal that inspired the Prophet it will carry us away to another kind of sorrow, which will take entire possession of our souls.

140. Thy word is exceedingly refined. In this verse he intimates that the cause of his zeal was the love which he bore to heavenly doctrine. For to be displeased with or severely to condemn the contempt of divine truth, unless we are bound to it by the cords of love, is pure hypocrisy. And he affirms that his love to God's word was not a rash, or a blind and inconsiderate affection, but that he loved it, because like gold or silver which has been refined, it was pure and free from all dregs and dross. This is the idea contained in the metaphorical term hpwru, tseruphah, translated refined;2 and though it seems to be commonplace, yet, vindicating God's word from all perverse and malicious judgments, it expresses graphically the true obedience of faith. How few are there who are not guilty, either by their distrust, or waywardness, or pride, or voluptuousness, of casting upon God's word some spot or stain! The flesh then being so rebellious, it is no small commendation of revealed truth, when it is compared to gold well refined, so that it shines pure from all defilement. Farther, it serves not a little to show the truth of this testimony, that the Prophet confirms it by his own experience. The more effectually to repress the foolish rashness with which we are chargeable whenever we imagine that there is any fault in God's word, he declares that in commending it he gives utterance to the unfeigned feeling of his heart, having experienced a blissful pleasure in that purity of which he speaks.

141. I am, insignificant and despised. The meaning is, that although he was tried with poverty and many other calamities, he steadily persevered in the exercise of true godliness, and in the observance of the law. On that account, as he states, he was despised by wicked men. Every man gives praise to God just in proportion as he is gorged with his benefits; and very few will be found applying their minds to the service of God, unless they have all their wishes gratified. Hence it comes to pass that hypocrites, as long as they are pampered to the full, accumulate riches and increase in power, are very lavish in praising God. But let them be treated in some degree roughly, and immediately the blessed name of God is heard of no more. Since then men are ordinarily mercenary in serving God, let us learn from the Prophet's example that true godliness is disinterested, so that when under its influence we cease not to praise God, although he may afflict us with adversity and make us despised in the eyes of the world. These upbraiding words of Christ in John 6:26, ought, no doubt, to be carefully attended to,

"Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled." (John 6:26)

The persons then who serve God ingenuously and sincerely, are such as continue steadfast. in his fear, although their condition in this world may be mean and despised; in short, they are such as seek not their reward on earth, but through heat and cold, poverty and danger, slanders and mockeries, persevere with unwearied steps in the course of their warfare.

142. Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness. Here the law of God is honored by the additional encomium, that it is everlasting righteousness and truth; as if it had been said, that all other rules of life, with whatever attractions they may appear to be recommended, are but a shadow, which quickly vanishes away. The Psalmist, no doubt, indirectly contrasts the doctrine of the law with all the human precepts which were ever delivered, that he may bring all the faithful in subjection to it, since it is the school of perfect wisdom. There may be more of plausibility in the refined and subtle disquisition's of men; but there is in them nothing firm or solid at bottom, as there is in God's law. This firmness of the divine law he proves in the following verse from one instance -- the continual comfort he found in it when grievously harassed with temptations. And the true test of the profit we have reaped from it is, when we oppose to all the distresses of whatever kind which may straiten us, the consolation derived from the word of God, that thereby all sadness may be effaced from our minds. David here expresses something more than he did in the preceding verse; for there he only said that he reverently served God, although from his rough and hard treatment he might seem to lose his labor; but now when distressed and tormented, he affirms that he finds in the law of God the most soothing delight, which mitigates all grief's, and not only tempers their bitterness, but also seasons them with a certain sweetness. And assuredly when this taste does not exist to afford us delight, nothing is more natural than for us to be swallowed up of sorrow. Nor ought we to omit noticing the form of expression which the Prophet employs, by which he teaches, that although lie was besieged and shut up on all sides, he found a remedy sufficiently powerful in improving the consolation offered him by the word of God. As this could not be true of the bare commandments, which so far from remedying our distresses, rather fill us with anxiety, there is no doubt that under the word commandments there is comprehended by the figure synecdoche, the whole doctrine of the law, in which God not only requires what is right, but in which also calling his elect ones to the hope of eternal salvation, he opens the gate of perfect happiness. Yea, under the term law are comprehended both free adoption, and also the promises which flow from it.

144. The righteousness of thy testimonies endureth forever. The Psalmist repeats what lie had already before stated, that there is a great dissimilarity between the righteousness of God's testimonies and man's inventions; the splendor of the last quickly vanishing away, whereas the other continues steadfast for ever. He repeats this twice; for although the world is forced to attribute the praise of righteousness to the law of God, yet the majority of mankind are carried away after their own speculations, so that there is nothing more difficult than to hold us fast in our obedience to God. David's drift is to show that everlasting righteousness is not comprehended elsewhere than in God's law, and that it is in vain to seek for it anywhere else; and there is accordingly here laid down a clearer definition of righteousness, which is, that righteousness consists in our keeping ourselves within the bounds of the law. As to the last clause of the verse, Give me understanding and I shall live, I read it in connection with the preceding clause; for although David desires to have his mind enlightened by God, yet he does not conceive of any other way by which he was to obtain an enlightened understanding than by his profiting aright in the study of the law. Farther, he here teaches, that men cannot, properly speaking, be said to live when they are destitute of the light of heavenly wisdom; and as the end for which men are created is not that, like swine or asses, they may stuff their bellies, but that they may exercise themselves in the knowledge and service of God, when they turn away from such employment, their life is worse than a thousand deaths. David therefore protests that for him to live was not merely to be fed with meat and drink, and to enjoy earthly comforts, but to aspire after a better life, which he could not do save under the guidance of faith. This is a very necessary warning; for although it is universally acknowledged that man is born with this distinction, that he excels the lower animals in intelligence, yet the great bulk of mankind, as if with deliberate purpose: stifle whatever light God pours into their understandings. I indeed admit that all men desire to be sharp-witted; but how few aspire to heaven, and consider that the fear of,God is the beginning of wisdom. Since then meditation upon the celestial life is buried by earthly cares, men do nothing else than plunge into the grave, so that while living to the world, they die to God. Under the term life, however, as I have elsewhere said, the Prophet denotes the utmost he could wish. Lord, as if he had said, although I am already dead, yet if thou art pleased to illumine my mind with the knowledge of heavenly truth, this grace alone will be sufficient to revive me.

1 "Hath consumed me. The strong term here made use of corresponds very well with the forcible language of the preceding verse. My zeal for thy word is so great, that when I see how my enemies disregard it, I am overpowered by feelings of shame at their neglect." -- Phillips.

2 Dr. Adam Clarke translates hpwru, tseruphah, by purification. This rendering conveys a beautiful idea. God's word is not only a purified thing, but a thing that purifies. It cleanses from sin every heart with which it comes into contact.

"Now ye are clean," said Christ,
"by the word which I have spoken unto you." (John 15:3.)

This tendency of the word to impart a measure of its own purity to such as yield to its influence, endears it to all God's people; and for this reason they make it the subject of their constant meditation.


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