The Oath of Obedience and the Vow of Praise: A Meditation on Psalm 119:105-112

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105).

Every year, about 1.5 million immigrants join the United States of America.  On the court date of their naturalization, these new citizens are required to take, not the Pledge of Allegiance, but the stronger Oath of Allegiance–to swear to God, in promising to

renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty; to defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; to bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law [though some, for religious reasons, omit this part]; to perform noncombatant service in the armed forces when required by law; to perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by law; and to take the oath freely.

While such solemnity is often lost on us native-born Americans, for the immigrant, the break with the past can be as absolute as it is solemn.  As one Armenian survivor of the Turkish holocaust put it: “One moment you belong with your fathers to a million dead yesterdays–the next you belong with America to a million unborn tomorrows” (quotes from Mindy Belz, “A Million Unborn Tomorrows,” WORLD, 29 August 2009, 42).

Such is the solemnity of the psalmist: “I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments” (v. 106).  In other words, “My obedient allegiance to Your law is as certain as the fact that You, O God, live.”  I have sworn it, and I have begun to fulfill it.

Then, if the oath were not enough, the psalmist also seems to add a vow: “I am afflicted very much: quicken me, O LORD, according unto thy word.  Accept, I beseech thee, the freewill offerings of my mouth, O LORD, and teach me thy judgments” (vv. 107-108).  Literally, the “freewill offerings” are votive offerings, the pledged paybacks for a bargained-for deliverance of his life.  Thus, in both deed and word, in both keeping the law and offering praise with his mouth, the psalmist has solemnly pledged himself to God–wholeheartedly and unreservedly.  How about us?  Have we?

We live in an age of little commitment.  Vows are more and more rare, and even then, are rarely kept.  Apart from marriage, who hears of a vow?  And even within marriage, how many still cherish each other, till death do us part?  In church, the situation is little better.  It used to be that churches were formed by covenant, when members solemnly pledged before God to walk together in His commandments as a body and toward one another.  Now, membership mean little more than a voting formality, with hearts fearful of any intrusion into private dealings.  It is as if we want to retain a way out, if things should go bad, and so we are unwilling to devote ourselves unreservedly and publicly to God, country, church, or one another.

Let me challenge you, and in doing so, challenge myself.  Why do we act this way toward God?  His word is “a lamp unto [our] feet, and a light unto [our] path” (v. 105).  In this dark world, there is no other light (2 Peter 1:19).  Why then do we hesitate?  Of what are we afraid, if we truly believe that His word is the only way?

Perhaps it is affliction.  Perhaps it is danger.  Both are mentioned, and both are dealt with in a striking way.  Regarding affliction, we have the power of prayer for preserving our life, and the preciousness of offering God praise from the furnace.  If anyone thinks that “the freewill offerings from my mouth” are cheap gifts to God, he has not yet felt the force of affliction deep enough and the preciousness of faith to praise God still, though He slay me.

Regarding danger, it is not mitigated, but affirmed.  Often the lamp of the word leads us to walk voluntarily into danger–to take our life into our hand, as if to throw it away (v. 109).  The wicked, in turn, are like hunters, who know exactly where we will be walking–in God’s commandments.  Though their trap may tempt us to get off the path, we must press on like praying Daniel, and believe that God can shut the mouths of lions.  We must not forget (v. 109).  We must not wander (v. 110).

Interestingly, it is not resolution alone that keeps us on the path, but the preciousness of the word.  In communist countries, where Bibles are scarce, the word is preciously held by believers as their highest possession.  At times, individual members can quote whole chapters, enabling the church to have a partial audio Bible!  It is these believers, like the immigrants mentioned earlier, who understand the solemnity of the oath and the preciousness of the word.  Like the psalmist, they too can say, “Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever: for they are the rejoicing of my heart.  I have inclined mine heart to perform thy statues always, even unto the end” (vv. 111-112).

To have the word forever.  To do the word forever.  This is the echo of an oath, the heart of a vow–to have and to hold from this day forward.

Is it not time for you and I to make that pledge–to hesitate no longer–to commit ourselves to the word of Jesus, for “there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12)?  Affliction, yes
–danger, yes–but now we have the words of eternal life, the true beginning of a million unborn tomorrows.

God be praised!

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