Psalm 119: Aleph

Do me a favor and please read Psalm 119:1-8

The beginning of this long psalm starts with the declaration that one is “blessed” when they fully walk in obedience to the Law (the Torah). That when you keep God’s statues, when you follow what God asks of you, when you seek Him and his ways with all your heart that you not only are “blessed”, you not only realize/recognize that you are blameless and perfect, but your obedience to God is perfect. It’s an acknowledgement that God’s rules not only change you but are here to lead and guide you along a good and right path and that HIS path blesses you. And then there’s the kick to the shin: after they declare all that good stuff, they look at themselves and declare, “That’s not me. I wish it were – but it’s not.” (vs 5)

Their recognition of their own sins and failures isn’t much, only 2 verses, but it’s enough to make you pause and wonder. What is it exactly that they have done? What “ways” do they speak of that are not steadfast? How are they not obeying God’s decrees? Clearly they are “put to shame” by their actions but what, where, and why? WHERE’S THE CONTEXT? Well, there isn’t any. Sorry.

The easiest thing for us to do is look at the end of verse 6 to get some understanding – but that’s pretty much where it ends. But while we may not know the gory details of their failures we do read that it’s the “commands” of God that they are failing to follow. Which ones? All of them. Commands like: putting God above all else, not worshiping false gods, loving your neighbor, keeping the Sabbath holy, abstaining from certain foods, seeking to be cleansed when you eat/consume or touch unholy things, and hundreds and hundreds of other laws. The list is actually fairly long (613 to be exact) but the point is that the psalmist knows how they are SUPPOSED to act and simply has not. Have they chosen not do it? We don’t know. But this isn’t about getting down on yourself for what you fail to do. These 8 verses are about recognizing what we should do, the goodness of those things (laws), recognizing our failures in doing so, and moving forward in a healthy direction.

I think we often approach our failures in the opposite manner in which we should. We tend to look at what we haven’t done, or fail to do, and then chastise ourselves for those failures. We look at each broken step we take, each wrong move we make, and focus on THAT instead of saying, “OK, I failed…here’s how I’m going to move forward.” The difference? One focuses on the failures while the other focuses on the healings and corrections. And ultimately this is what I love about verse 7 and 8. The psalmist makes a stand that they are going to do better. They aren’t going to focus on what they’ve done because they know it already. Instead, they are going to praise God, focus on his “righteous laws” and move forward. So when the psalmist declares in verse 7 that they “will praise you (God) with an upright heart” I get this image of a person standing up and making the declaration. They are not wallowing in their past – they are proclaiming (this is the “standing”) that from now on their praise and worship of God will be holy, blameless, and with a full heart. That they will follow His ways, walk along His paths, and fully obey the Laws God has given (which is what they declare in verses 1-3).

I think we too often focus on our missteps and failures. Too often we get so hard on ourselves that we feel it’s impossible to get back on the right path. It’s as if we tell ourselves that this wrong path we currently are walking along means that we cannot re-trace our steps and return or even leap onto the right path from the wrong one we currently are on. And if that’s a place you are currently in – let me tell you – that line of thinking is false. We do not believe in a God who tally’s up our wrongs and lets us sit and stew there – unable to get out. We do not believe in a God who says, “Once you’ve walked away you can never come back.” We believe in a God who responds with forgiving our sins. One who speaks of forgiveness 70×7 times (Mathew 18:21-22) and not as a “number” of times but that “70×7” is meant as “infinity.”  We believe in a God who sees his wayward child come home and unabashedly runs after them and doing so after THEY had shouted in his face that they wish he were dead and treated him as such (Luke 15:11-32).

  • We believe in a God who forgives by dying himself for us.
  • We believe in a God who holds to his covenantal word of love no matter how many times we break his Law.
  • We believe in a God who allows us to take the paths we choose and yet declares that that path does not name us, declare who we are, or have anything to do with where we end up for God’s grace is above and beyond and VASTLY more powerful than any decision you or I could ever make.
  • We believe in a God, who through his Son Jesus Christ, took our failures at the Law and fulfilled them for us.
  • We believe in a God of love who does not forsake.

So I affirm, wholeheartedly, what the psalmist declares that while they (we) fail miserably at holding to God’s word that doesn’t mean we are doomed and destined to be failures for all eternity. We can stand firm, and upright, because while the God of love, grace, and mercy DOES call us to be blameless and walk according to his law and word he knows that we don’t and can’t.

 

 

3 QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CHEW-ON:

  • Is there a part of this text that stands out for you? What is it that is speaking to you – and why is it?
  • Why does God call us to be blameless – even though he knows we cannot? What’s the point? If we are destined to fail then why even try?
  • How do we praise God with an “upright heart”? What does that look like? What even IS an “upright” heart?

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