“Thy hands have made me and fashioned me: give me understanding, that I may learn thy commandments” (Psalm 119:73).
Affliction is often used by God to correct us; and used in this way, affliction makes the most sense to us: “Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word” (v. 67; cf. v. 71). But what if affliction does not come as correction? What if we are mature Christians, who walk with God? How should we, as mature Christians, consider and respond to affliction? This stanza gives us an outlook (vv. 73-76) and a prayer of response (vv. 77-80).
The outlook of stable faith is learning, waiting, and knowing (vv. 73-76). Even though the psalmist is stable (“Thy hands have made me and established me”), he still asks for greater discernment that he might learn God’s commandments (v. 73). The goal of learning is not mere stability, although that should be achieved early (cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:2; Ephesians 4:11-14); rather, one goal of stability is greater learning. Once the foundation is set, real learning can begin, just as a stable marriage lays the platform for a healthy, growing relationship. Therefore, mature Christian, beware of thinking that your learning is complete; instead, embrace your affliction as an opportunity to learn more of the law you love.
As aids, consider these added incentives. First, know that those who truly fear the Lord will approve your patient wait for Him on the basis of His word (v. 74). So many afflictions have the temptation for a quick-fix pill, which worldlings and immature Christians shortsightedly advise, even though Scripture counsels, “Let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:4). In denying the quick fix, you will suffer the criticism of the short-cutters. Ignore them, and look to the future, when you will enjoy the company of others like you, who feared God and eventually walked in His light (cf. Isaiah 50:10-11).
Second, make God happy by telling Him of Your confidence in His justice, faithfulness, and love: “I know, O LORD, that Your decisions are right; and in faithfulness You afflict me” (v. 75). This one verse is so powerful. The “I know” resounds through the pain and displays the rock-firm substrate of faith in the soul, now scoured clean by the blighting winds of affliction. Then, as if the “I know” was not confident enough, the psalmist follows with a “Let it be” plea: “Please let your loyal-love be for my comfort, according to Your word to Your servant” (v. 76). Affliction is good, but comfort is better–only let it be in God’s timing, because His faithful, loyal-love is perfect.
Having expressed this outlook, stable faith next turns to earnest prayer for a change (vv. 77-80). So strong is this desire, the second half of the stanza leaves behind the verbs of stability (“know” and “be”) for verbs of motion (“come” and “turn unto”). We may need to wait for change, and we are willing to do so (v. 74), but we want God to know that our strong desire and earnest expectation is for change; therefore, we pray. Mature Christian, listen to the counsel of these verses.
First, pray for concrete expressions of God’s compassion to enter your life, adding as incentive that you delight in God’s law as your sport (v. 77). (Incidentally, let the worldlings have their athletic and hunting clubs; since God’s word is your sport, take delight in His church as your own special Bible club.) Second, pray for the shame of the proud, autonomous boasters, who entice you with short cuts and quick-fix schemes that are false, while God’s afflictions are true and faithful. On His precepts, keep your eye (v. 78). Third, pray for faithful companions–those who fear God and know His testimonies enough to counsel you well and to encourage you (v. 79). Finally, pray for a heart of integrity in God’s statutes, in order that you may not be put to shame in anything (v. 80; cf. v. 5).
At the heart of affliction is God’s loyal-love (v. 76). In a strong way, this theme forms a bulls-eye within rings of matching pairs (called a “chiasm”), in which stability and integrity match (vv. 73, 80), those who fear the Lord are mentioned twice (vv. 74, 79), and even false subversion is matched and contrasted with faithful affliction (vv. 75, 78). Therefore, at the heart of this stanza is God’s loyal-love bringing acts of compassion to our afflictions, so that we may live (vv. 76, 77). This is also at the heart of the book of Lamentations (see 3:22-23), from which we have the encouraging hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” It can also be your heart, mature Christian. Please do not give in to the pressure or to the critics. God is faithful. Change will come. Confess the one, and ask for the other, and watch how God will continue to teach you even years after your conversion. To Him be the glory forever! Amen.