The Fight for Life: A Meditation on Psalm 119:153-160

“Consider mine affliction, and deliver me: for I do not forget Thy law” (Psalm 119:153).

Life. The word itself speaks of all that is good, of all that makes existence worth having. Not all who exist truly live. Those in hell exist, but they endure endless punishment in what is called “the second death.” Not even all who exist on earth truly live, for “she that liveth in pleasure,” says the Bible, “is dead while she liveth” (1 Timothy 5:6); and, even among those who live, having been born of God, there is a significant difference between having life and having it more abundantly (John 10:10). How precious is this gift called life!

Not only precious, but how precarious is this gift called life. Threatened on earth by evildoers, and threatened in judgment by one’s own guilt, the gift of life is not automatic. It also a matter of justice, for not all deserve to live on earth, and not all deserve to live after earth.

It is within this context of justice that the psalmist cries out three times, “Cause me to live!” (vv. 154, 156, 159), which is often translated archaically as “Quicken me!” or “Revive me!” Afflicted and trapped, accused and impoverishly enslaved, he cries out to God:

“Consider mine affliction, and deliver me: for I do not forget Thy law.
Plead my cause, and deliver me: quicken me according to thy word” (vv. 153-154).

Literally, he prays, “See my affliction!” as if to say, “Lord, take note! Is this the way that one who does not forget Your law should be treated? Take up my fight, pay the price, set me free, and get me out of here.” In a word, “Cause me to live!”

Is this your predicament? Is your life threatened or sapped unfairly, as if you deserved not to live? If so, pay close attention to the wisdom given in this stanza.

First, rest in the management of God, and resist the manipulation of the flesh. In all situations of injustice, it is tempting to rationalize our own efforts of escape, instead of holding firm in faith to the justice and mercy of God. The psalmist resisted this temptation. Instead of manipulation, he prayed and prayed for God to take note. That is the simple lesson of the twice-repeated plea of “See!” placed prominently in this stanza (vv. 153, 159). Moreover, he encouraged his own heart, pitting fact with fact. If his persecutors be “many,” then so are the “tender mercies” of God (vv. 157, 156). How precious are the multitude of God’s mercies, for multiple are our needs!

Second, cling to the law of God as the basis of justice. Deep down the psalmist knew that salvation from death rightfully belonged to him, for he did not forget God’s law (v. 153). In contrast, he also knew, “Salvation is far from the wicked: for they seek not Thy statutes” (v. 155). The contrast was stark. Moreover, he also knew that those who caved in, and defected from the side of God’s law, in order to follow the expedience of compromise were also in trouble. When he saw these traitors, he was sickened (v. 158). Rather than join their defection, he did not stretch or budge one bit from God’s testimonies (v. 157). Therefore, on the basis of God’s merciful management and watchful justice, the psalmist could confidently repeat his main prayer: “Consider how I love Thy precepts: quicken me, O LORD, according to Thy lovingkindness” (v. 159). Underneath all of life was the bedrock of God’s flawless word, so wondrously described at the end of the stanza in both its totality and its details: “Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of Thy righteous judgments endureth for ever” (v. 160).

Now, if you are sensitive to your sin, this two-step approach still poses a problem. It provides an adequate basis for human-to-human injustices, but what about our wrongdoings before God Himself? How can I say to Him, against whom I have sinned, “Please my cause!” when He Himself is my Accuser? Who will stand up for me against the just fury of Almighty God?

The answer, of course, is Jesus, the one Mediator between God and humans, who died for our sins in order that He might ransom us for God. In love, God the Father sent His Son to us; then, in justice, God the Father sentenced His Son to death for us. Because Jesus bore our sins, He died; because He Himself had done no wrong, He lives again. Therefore, justice put Him to death, and justice raised Him to life. In truth, Jesus is the perfect embodiment of this stanza, and the only One who could pray it in full. It is just as Peter wrote, concerning Christ the Lord:

“Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth: who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to him that judgeth righteously: who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed” (1 Peter 2:21-24).

Not manipulating, He trusted. Leaving self-reliance, He left His case with God, who delivered Him out of death. Thus, having left His case with God, He also left us an example to follow in His steps:

“Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19).

Once you are forgiven of your sin in Christ, you are then able to say to God, “See, O Lord, and cause me to live! As You heard Your Son in justice, so now hear me in grace, and save me from my accusers!” And He will, for He is “a faithful Creator.” May the Lord bless you as you turn from sin to the Son, from manipulation to trust, and from disobedience to unswerving allegiance. Amen.

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