"Lord, Treat Me Well!": A Meditation on Psalm 119:17-24

“Deal bountifully with Your servant, that I may live, and keep Your word” (Psalm 119:17).

In asking God for anything, one key is motive.  “You ask, and do not receive,” explained James, “because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts” (James 4:3).  In other words, selfish prayers go unanswered.  Why should God sustain the life of someone who denies Him His glory, either through defiant disobedience or disinterested negligence?  Why supply the enemy, or give the ball to the opposing team?

In this psalm, the Messiah asks the Father for general welfare–literally, “Treat Your servant well!”–and then adds as His motive: “I will live, that I may keep Your word” (v. 17, literal translation).  In other words, live to obey, and then expect to receive what you pray.  Why should the Father not supply resources for an obedient servant to do the job?

And the first resource is spiritual vision.  Within the pages of the written word of God are wonders–realities that go beyond our natural understanding, such as the Trinity, the Atonement, and the great mysteries of God’s incarnational interactions with mankind in His Son, His word, and His sovereignty.  To behold these things requires God to uncover our eyes, as much as Balaam needed unveiled eyes to see the angel, or Elisha’s servant the armies of God (v. 18).  In the New Testament, praying for this spiritual vision is common (see Ephesians 1:15ff; 3:14ff; Colossians 1:9ff).

This gift of sight is necessary because we are on earth, and not in heaven.  If we were in heaven, we would see clearly, and not “through a glass, darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12); but we are not.  We are sojourners here, even as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and therefore, we pray, “Do not hide Your commandments from Me” (v. 19).  Please note: This psalm was written after the Israelites had settled in the land.  Not even the promised land of Palestine stopped God’s people from identifying themselves as resident aliens, looking for a heavenly country (Hebrews 11:14-16; cf. 4:7-9).  Even the Messiah was a Sojourner in Israel!

Longing, longing ever so intensely for this vision, the Messiah ends His personal prayer for His own welfare by saying that His soul is crushed like grain into grits out of constant longing for the decisions of His Father in heaven (v. 20).  Oh, experienced Christian! far from coasting on His past knowledge, your Lord and mine was ground up with intense desire to know more, learn more, see more, and do we sit complacent Sunday by Sunday as if no wonder yet remained in the pages of God’s word that we have not yet seen, or have not seen clearly?  Oh, to be graciously grit!

In contrast to the soul of Christ longing for direction from God’s word is the autonomous soul–the “proud that are cursed” (v. 21).  How warped and twisted is our culture’s praise of human science, which sees nothing outside the circumference of man’s little mind and vision!  We applaud the independent genius, while putting down a reliance on revelation as a shameful crutch.  Granted, it is shameful to rely on other human beings to the detriment of one’s own mind; but to rely on God is wise, while “he who trusts in his own heart is a fool” (Proverbs 28:26).

Jesus Christ never spoke a word apart from His Father, nor did one act outside His Father’s will.  In complete obedience to God, He sought no personal glory, and instead gained public shame (v. 22).  Yet even when government leaders talked about Him–and of course, plotted to destroy Him–still, so far was He from minding men, that He continued to mull over God’s rules and to take delight in His testimonies.  Far from being distracted by politics, Jesus kept to His mission.  In contrast to the circle of conspiracy in high places, God’s testimonies were His “men of counsel” (vv. 23-24).

Living to obey.  Longing till crushed.  Single-focused, even in a hostile political environment.  The Spirit of the Messiah is still speaking to His people today.

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