Of Psalm 119’s 176 verses, all but three mention the law of God, or a synonym thereof: precepts, statutes, word, commandments, testimonies, judgments, or ordinances. These eight terms describe the Law of Moses—the Torah (or Pentateuch), comprised of the first five books of the Bible.
If what the psalmist says is true of Torah, how much more do the words of the psalm apply to all of Scripture?
As you read this psalm, notice this repetition of terms, and the psalmist’s passion for the moral beauty of God’s truth. Consider, too, the application for those who possess not only Torah but the whole counsel of God in the rest of Scripture. If what the psalmist says is true of Torah, how much more do the words of the psalm apply to all of Scripture?
(Want to take this long psalm a little more slowly? Try reading verses 1–24 today, and then read a similar amount each day for a week.)
Psalm 119 emphasizes the application of the truth of God’s law to circumstances of affliction and adversity. We often feel powerless in life’s difficulties, but following are four actions this psalm encourages us to take in the midst of suffering (whatever form it takes).1
Go to God With All Your Emotions
First, as in the Psalter as a whole, Psalm 119 displays the whole range of human emotions, from the depths of despair and wrestling with God to the heights of joy. Indeed, the book of Psalms is one of the best places in the Bible to go when experiencing sorrow, pain, or doubt. These passages don’t sugarcoat life, conceal its pain, or deny its realities; they show us how to draw closer to God even when we’re feeling like life, people, or even God Himself has let us down.
The psalmists resonate with our emotions and openly express their problems in the presence of God. But they’re not just enjoying a good venting session. In the midst of the psalmists’ distress, they affirm their willingness to cling to the Lord. For example, Psalm 119:153–154 says:
Look upon my affliction and rescue me,
For I do not forget Your law.
Plead my cause and redeem me;
Revive me according to Your word.
Similarly, we read in Psalm 119:157:
Many are my persecutors and my adversaries,
Yet I do not turn aside from Your testimonies.
Again and again the psalmist affirms that what keeps him together in the midst of adversity is that he is tethered to God’s truth.
What keeps [the psalmist] together in the midst of adversity is that he is tethered to God’s truth.
Recognize His Presence in Your Suffering
Second, this psalm denies the message of the prosperity gospel that says God sends only blessings on His people, so long as they have enough faith in Him. Instead, the psalmist attributes not only good and happy circumstances but also affliction to the faithful providence of God:
Before I was afflicted I went astray,
But now I keep Your word. …
It is good for me that I was afflicted,
That I may learn Your statutes. …
I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are righteous,
And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.
(Psalm 119:67, 71, 75)
The psalmist judges his circumstances in light of God’s unwavering character, not the other way around. He understands that even negative circumstances can be instruments of redemption. Adversities can be used by God to shape our souls and prepare us for eternity.2 It can break us of self-reliance and idolatry in ways nothing else can. This is why the psalmist recognizes, “in faithfulness you have afflicted me” (119:75, emphasis added).
This psalm denies the message of the prosperity gospel … [and contends that] even negative circumstances can be instruments of redemption.
Renew Your Mind in His Word
Third, God’s Word is the primary agent of the renewal of our minds. The eternal perspective found in the Scriptures will never be confirmed by the world. Therefore, we have to consistently go to His Word—indeed, we must long for it—in order for our minds to be conformed to the mind of Christ.
The eternal perspective found in the Scriptures will never be confirmed by the world. Therefore, we have to consistently go to His Word.
Psalm 119 testifies to this renewing power of God’s Word:
Your word I have treasured in my heart,
That I may not sin against You. . . .
I will meditate on Your precepts
And regard Your ways.
I shall delight in Your statutes;
I shall not forget Your word. . . .
Behold, I long for Your precepts;
Revive me through Your righteousness. . . .
Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path.
(Psalm 119:11, 15–16, 40, 105)
The image in those last two lines (verse 105)—God’s Word as a lamp to our feet and a light to our path—is an excellent metaphor for walking in this present darkness. A lamp only illuminates the next step in front of us, but as long as we continue walking in its light, our path will always be lit. That is what the word of God is for us in this life.
Walk by Faith
Fourth, the psalmist pleads for restoration and revival, which he understands will only come about by renewing his mind in God’s Word:
Remember the word to Your servant,
In which You have made me hope.
This is my comfort in my affliction,
That Your word has revived me. . . .
If Your law had not been my delight,
Then I would have perished in my affliction. . . .
I am exceedingly afflicted;
Revive me, O Lord, according to Your word.
(Psalm 119:49–50, 92, 107)
These words (with the rest of Psalm 119) lead us to acknowledge two truths about ourselves: first, we do not know what our best interests are; and second, even if we did know our best interests, we would not be able to bring them about. God is in charge of both of these—knowing and bringing about the best interests for our lives.
God is in charge of both … knowing and bringing about the best interests for our lives.
He has ordained a certain time and purpose for each person. When we are enduring difficulties, we can be sure these sufferings will not be wasted. Sometimes we need to stand still and wait, while other times we need to act. Whatever our next move, He calls us to walk by faith and not by sight—trusting in the goodness of His revealed Word.
Verses for Prayer & Meditation
How sweet are Your words to my taste!
Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (Psalm 119:103)
Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)
Revive me, O Lord, according to Your lovingkindness. (Psam 119:159b)
Sustain me according to Your word, that I may live. (Psalm 119:116a)
- In this article, I seek only to summarize some of the main themes of this psalm, though I know these points will raise deeper questions regarding the “problem of pain,” including how a good God can allow suffering, whether God’s sovereignty means He actually causes suffering, and “what about suffering caused by sin?” I do not attempt to cover these important questions here, but I do encourage you to explore them further. My book I’m Glad You Asked contains a chapter on this topic, and many other authors, from C.S. Lewis to Ravi Zacharias, have sought to address these issues in their writings.
- In connection with this theme, the focus of my next book forthcoming in fall 2019, I encourage you to read the letter of 1 Peter, sometimes called the “Job of the New Testament,” for an eternal perspective on suffering in the life of the believer.