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Psalm 119 – Part 2

Psalm 119 - Part 2

Sermon Transcript

Difficulty engulfed the prophet Jeremiah’s ministry because  God tasked him with speaking truth to the ungodly nation of Judah as well as the godless nations of the world (Jer. 1).  God, therefore, used this brave young man to specifically call the spiritually and morally calloused nation to repentance before they fell to the Babylonians in 586 B.C.; however, God informed him that, by and large, the people would listen to leaders who would tell them what they wanted to hear, and they would primarily oppose him and his message.  You name it and his people did it to him.

Waldemar Janzen, Professor of Old Testament at the Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Manitoba, offers a helpful summary observation of what mean-spirited, sinful people did to Jeremiah when he spoke truth to power:

The suffering prophet par excellence is Jeremiah. He is called by God against his own protestations, mocked and persecuted by his fellow villagers of Anathoth and others, and forbidden by God to marry or have children. Beaten and put in the stocks by the priest Pashhur, he barely escapes the death sentence demanded by a mob and must go into hiding for his preaching during the reign of King Jehoiakim. He is accused of being a traitor for announcing God’s judgment on Jerusalem through the Babylonians. After being thrown into a dry well to perish, he eventually is rescued and kept in a prison, only to be carried off to Egypt against his will.[1]

 

Since his tough, trying ministry stretched from 627 B.C. to about 580 B.C., or  some ninety years, all the opposition and mistreatment he faced from the wayward, stiff-necked people, leads some logical questions: How did he keep it together? How did he get up each day with a renewed sense of spiritual power and divine presence? How did he not just get so discouraged and disillusion he just threw in the proverbial towel and called it quits?

The answer has three parts, in my view.

  • He knew God had called him to address Israel’s two sins, which Hobart Freeman identifies, “Not only had Israel forsaken the true God, whom she alone had been privileged to know (Amos 3:2), but she also magnified her sin and shame by exchanging the only true and living God for worthless idols—broken cisterns.”[2]
  • He knew God was with him no matter what: “ 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the LORD (Jer. 1). Note, God did not promise to spare him from affliction and opposition but to be with him in it and to bring him through it, eventually.
  • He gained insight, wisdom, and strength from the living Word of God. All throughout the book, and all throughout his life, God’s Word came to the prophet to equip and empower him for the rough road stretched out before him as a godly man in an ungodly, hostile time. All throughout Jeremiah’s book, you cannot help but see how often God’s word, which is now written, came to him to energize his faith in spiritually faithless, feckless times (Jer. 1:2, 4, 11, 13; 2:1, 4, 31; 6:10; 7:2; 8:9; 9:20; 13:2, 3, 8; 14:1; 16:1; 17:15, 20; 18:5; 19:3; 20:8; 21:11; 22:2, 29; 24:4; 25:3; 27:18; 28:12; 29:20, 30; 31:10; 32:6, 8, 26; 33:1, 19, 23; 34;4; 12; 35:12; 36:27; 37:6; 39:15; 42:7, 15; 43:8; 44:24, 26; 46:1; 47:1; 49:34).

These are some of the main reasons Jeremiah stood his ground for God when the majority of his countrymen abandoned God for worldly pursuits and erroneous and evil ideologies.  All three of them are certainly applicable to current saints, like you, who seek to be Christ’s light in an ever-darkening culture.  We, too, are called to speak God’s truth to the nations. We, too, have God’s promise He will be with us (Matt. 28:19-20; Heb. 13:5).  We, too, have access to God’s Word for instruction on how live a successful life for God when the world around you turns against Him and against you.

Psalm 119 is one of those “go-to” passages for Christian witnesses.  Here we learn much needed, timely answers to the question of all questions:

How You Can Stand Strong And True In Tough Times (Psalm 119)

Throughout this wonderful, educational, and highly emotional Psalm, the Psalmist shares what he has learned as he, like Jeremiah, lived for God in an ungodly, overtly and covertly pugnacious, persecutory culture.  The tension he experienced is palpable (Psalm 119:22, 23, 29, 51, 53, 78, 85, 95, 122, 143, 161).  His empowerment from his allegiance to the Scripture is enlightening and instructive for saints in similar hostile, hurtful cultural circumstances.

What did he learn about how to remain positive and effective in your witness for God in Jeremiah-type times?  So far, we have covered to principles which emerge from his timely insights. One, the divinely inspired Word shows you how to stay undefiled (Psalm 119:1-4).   There is nothing more powerful than a morally and spiritually holy life when most of the people around you, like ancient Israel, are embracing, even glorifying, unholy living.  Two, the divinely inspired Word gives precise insight (Psalm 119:17, 18, 24), meaning it teaches you how to glean wisdom from the lives of other saints, from clear commands, from prophetic and poetical words, and from narrative literature concerning what God wants you to do or how God wants you to respond.

In our current study, we shall consider two more helpful concepts.

The Word Rejuvenates You (Psalm 25, 37, 40, 50, 88, 93, 107, 149, 154, 156, 159)

No saint is made of stone.  When you speak truth in a family setting and face opposition for it, it’s draining.  When you don’t follow the wayward culture and call a given life choice, sin, the blowback is not pleasant.  When you seek the guard and defend the life of the unborn, like many are doing successfully in Texas, you will be hit with angry rhetoric and name calling.  When you, as a Judge, know from your Christian upbringing how you must decide a given case before you, you know you will take it on the chin in the news.  Yes, living out God’s Word before the masses who reject, mock, and downplay God’s Word will take the life out of you, leaving you sometimes weary, many times saddened, and quite often discouraged.  If you don’t believe my words, then just go and take a hard look at Jeremiah’s life.

Interestingly enough, the Psalmist gets raw and real when he calls upon God to rejuvenate him. His words in this regard are woven like a beautiful thread throughout the 176 verses of the Psalm.  The word he employs in English is “revive,” which is from the Hebrew, chayah (חָיָה), a word whose root denotes “life and living.” In the Piel, as used here, it speaks of reviving a weary person.[3] One of its Greek synonyms in the LXX is avazopureo (ἀναζωπυρέω), a word which literally describes the rekindling of a fire.[4]  Think of Elijah holed up in a dark, dank cave in the trackless desert of the Sinai for fear of the wrath of Jezebel, and you have the idea of a war-weary saint whose life flame appeared to be almost extinguished (I Kings 19).  While standing at the mouth of that cave he didn’t hear the Word of God in a strong wind, nor in a localized earthquake, but in a voice which sounded like the whisper of the wind on the canyon walls (I Kings 19:13). As the emotionally depleted prophet strained to listen, he heard God quietly pose a question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” God not only knew where he was, He knew where he needed to be at that was in the thick of the spiritual action (I Kings 19:15-18).  All of this makes you want to ask yourself, “If God whispering to me in my cave experience? If so, what is He saying?”

Rightly, then, did the Psalmist cry out for God to rekindle the flame of his faith as opponents constantly sought his demise of sorts.

25 My soul cleaves to the dust; revive me according to Thy word (Ps. 119).

37 Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, and revive me in Thy ways (Ps.119).

40 Behold, I long for Thy precepts; revive me through Thy righteousness. (Ps. 119)

88 Revive me according to Thy lovingkindness, so that I may keep the testimony of Thy mouth (Ps. 119).

107 I am exceedingly afflicted; revive me, O LORD, according to Thy word (Ps. 119).

156 Great are Thy mercies, O LORD; revive me according to Thine ordinances (Ps. 119).

107 Revive me, O LORD, according to Thy word (Ps. 119).

154 Plead my cause and redeem me; revive me according to Thy word (Ps. 119).

The continual contempt mean-spirited, ungodly people showed toward him drove him to the dust, as it were, emotionally and spiritually (Psalm 119:22). Watching the wicked oppose God’s laws while creating their own inferior and unholy ones was hard to watch on a daily basis (Psalm 119:53).  The lies the lost perpetually spread around him, like they did Jeremiah, took their toll on him (Psalm 119:69).  The fact the unbelievers and misguided, carnal believers constantly looked for new ways to get him to fall into a pit of their making, just drained him (Psalm 119:85).  No wonder he appealed to God to rekindle his flame of faith.

How did God bring the Psalmist’s faith from a flicker to a raging flame while living in a land known for no faith?  He caused the Psalmist to see the, once again, how the Word of God is something akin to spraying lighter fluid on the simmering coals in your Weber kettle grill.  Verse 25 pretty much sums up this truth the Psalmist knew well:

25 My soul cleaves to the dust; revive me according to Thy word (Ps. 119).

With his soul in the proverbial dust because of hostilities he had endured for his bold, courageous faith in the public square, he had learned the value of reading and heeding God’s inspired Word.

How does the Word of God, the Bible, fan your flickering flame of faith so it can burn brightly again?  Consider a brief analysis of just one book, Proverbs.  If your faith is taking a beating, if you feel like you have a thimble full of passion left to be God’s light in the darkness, a cursory reading of Proverbs can put life back in your life and bring your faith flame back to a bold burn.  Throughout Proverbs, God tells us there are two paths in life; the path of the wise man and the path of the fool.  The former person God promises to bless, while the latter will, eventually, experience His curse, opposition, and judgment. Of course, this is helpful, positive, uplifting news for the afflicted saint:

20 So you will walk in the way of good men, and keep to the paths of the righteous.

21 For the upright will live in the land, and the blameless will remain in it; 22 But the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the treacherous will be uprooted from it (Prov. 2).

25 Do not be afraid of sudden fear, nor of the onslaught of the wicked when it comes;

26 For the LORD will be your confidence, and will keep your foot from being caught (Prov. 3).

5 The righteousness of the blameless will smooth his way, but the wicked will fall by his own wickedness (Prov. 11).

You know, maybe you need to get off of Facebook and get your face in God’s book. Underscore and note God’s inexorable promises just in these few words from the Word.  He will, at the right time, bless the way of godly people, and He will, likewise, one-day silence the voices of those who oppose Him and His people.  They may enjoy their bad banter and hurtful actions in the present, they may gloat and think they are at the front of the line because nothing happens to them as they besmirch Christian thinking, privately and publicly.  They should, however, think again for the great reversal, not the great reset, is coming from God Almighty (Matt. 19:30, “But many who are first will be last; and the last, first” (Matt. 19).

So, if you have been standing strong and true for God where you work, where you live, and so forth and the opposition you experiencing is starting to get to you, I know what the spiritual doctor has in order.  It’s called a prescription for a heavy dose of the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures.  The following poem captures this spiritual truth well:

We’ve traveled together through life’s rugged way,

O’er land and o’er water, by night and by day:

To travel without it I never would try:

We keep close together, my Bible and I.

In sorrow I’ve proved it my comfort and joy,

When weak my strong tower which nought can destroy;

When death comes so near me ‘tis thought I would die,

We still are together, my Bible and I.

If powers of evil against me would come,

And threaten to rob me of heaven and home,

God’s Word then directs me to Him in the sky;

And nothing can part us, my Bible and I.

When evil temptations are brought to my view,

And I in my weakness know not what to do,

On Christ as my strength I am taught to rely;

And so we keep company, my Bible and I.

When life’s path is ended; if Jesus should come

And take his blood-purchased brethren home;

O if, in long suffering, He waits till I die,

We’ll never be parted, my Bible and I.

And when in the glory my Lord I behold,

With all His redeemed gathered safe in the fold,

My Bible and I close companions will be

For God’s Word abides for all eternity.

Author Unknown[5]

In addition to the Word reviving you when the world is busy reviling you, a fourth helpful truth emerges from Psalm 119 starting in verses 71. Here the Psalmist gives us this flash of fresh insight:

The Word Gives Light For Living (Psalm 119:71-75, 105, 130)

Many Christians have committed verse 105 to memory:

105 Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path (Ps. 119).

It’s a beautiful word picture, isn’t it?  It portrays the life of a saint as one walking down a darkened life path, one, I’m sure, with many twists and turns, as it heads toward the Promised Land, heaven. While worldlings are born slaves to darkness and sin (Rom. 5:12-21; 6:19ff) and naturally prone to pursue all those things which run counter to God, characteristics Paul details in his letter to the Galatians:

19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5).

. . .  the believer has the eternal light of God’s Word to teach him how he should walk, how he should think, how he should feel, where he should go and not go, how to respond when he is wronged, how he should respond to other races, and so on and so forth.  Thank God for His Word. Amen? How many times it has kept me safe and given me wisdom and direction as I’ve walked down the challenging road called life.

However, within the context of Psalm 119, verse 105 speaks about giving wisdom and light when the believer is opposed for his/her faith.  What kind of wisdom and light it gives is showcased, at a case in point, in verses 71 and 75:

71 It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Thy statutes. 72 The law of Thy mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces. 73 Thy hands made me and fashioned me; give me understanding, that I may learn Thy commandments. 74 May those who fear Thee see me and be glad, because I wait for Thy word. 75 I know, O LORD, that Thy judgments are righteous, and that in faithfulness Thou hast afflicted me (Ps. 119).

Wow, the first and last verses here are simply jaw-dropping.

Why?  In verse 71, the beleaguered Psalmist says “It is good for that I was afflicted.”  We naturally tend to want affliction to end because it doesn’t appear beneficial.  No so, says the Psalmist.  He thanks God for sending affliction he way.  Why?  He gives us the coveted answer, “That I may learn Thy statutes.”  Translated, divinely ordained difficulty served to enable the Psalmist to better understand God’s Word and ways.  Really it forced him to dig into the Word and seek God’s mind and heart in relation to the opposition he faced.

I’ve been there and done that as a Christian and as a leader.  Whether it was learning how to weather a nasty church split in our church plant in 1993, or learning how to deal with fickle friends who always deserted us when the going got rough and challenging while planting a church in California, trials became my best educators in spirituality.  Through them I learned my limitations, saw my sin, learned how to lead in a positive fashion in negative times, how to build better leaders, and so on.  Afflictions born in the field of opposition has taught me more about the meaning of God’s Word than that which I’ve learned when times are relatively calm and easy.  Light is what comes with tough times, spiritual light from the Scriptures to know where you must walk in order to honor God.  No wonder the Psalmist says that God’s Word is worth more to him the gold and silver.  All they do is sit in a box. They don’t impact the soul, direct the mind, and give insight for the road ahead. All of that comes from affliction which drives you to the Word for light for life.

Verse 75 is equally instructive.  Here the Psalmist makes an amazing claim: “Thy judgments are righteous.”  The same God who carefully and lovingly made him (and you), is the same God who brings judgments to your life to help you grow spiritually in tough times. Put differently, whatever God permits in your life is never wrong, never capricious, never half-baked, never thoughtless, never purposeless, and never arbitrary.  The Roman governor Felix left Paul languishing in prison for some two years all because he wanted to grant the Jews a big favor (Acts 24:27).  In the OT, Joseph suffered in prison for two years simply because the cupbearer forgot all about him (Gen. 40:14, 23; 41:1). Concerning this, Jerry Bridges keenly observes, “These two godly men were left to languish in prison—one because of deliberate injustice and the other because of inexcusable forgetfulness—but both of their predicaments were under the sovereign control of an infinitely wise and loving God.”[6] Both men suffered for their bold, courageous faith, but even in the suffering, even in this divine judgment God, who is totally sovereign, was at work in them and in the how He would use them in the future to advance His kingdom message.  Look at this from a different angle:  Their oppressors were really working in behalf of their possessor, God. Apply this to your life setting: Your oppressors are really working in behalf of your possessor, God.

How can I say this?  Because this is exactly what the Psalmist teaches he learned in the heat of hostility for his faith.

75 and that in faithfulness Thou hast afflicted me.

The prepositional phrase here is what’s important, viz., “in faithfulness.”  All the affliction and pain and suffering the Psalmist lays out in these 176 verses he has experienced for his faith is directly tied to the faithfulness of a loving, compassionate and caring heavenly Father who uses the school of affliction to His best, most profound work in our lives to conform us to His image. You might need to read that one more time.  This time, let it sink into your soul. God is always about deepening your faith in the waters of affliction.

What does affliction for the faith accomplish?

  • It drives us to grab ahold of the lamp called the Word of God. So, turn off the cell phone. Stop checking your email account in the morning. Stop seeing what’s going on your Instagram account.Yes, stop checking all the wrong things and start checking into the lamp of all lamps, the Bible.
  • It causes us to see, as Paul learned, that God’s grace is sufficient when we are weak (2 Cor. 12).
  • It prunes you so you can produce. Take a look at your vine and get honest. Anything need pruning? As Joseph Hall once stated, “The most generous vine, if not pruned, runs out into many superfluous stems and grows at last weak and fruitless: so doth the best man if he be not cut short in his desires and pruned with affliction.”[7]
  • It gives us a new paradigm.Concerning this truth, S. I Prime said many years ago, “If your cup seems too bitter, if your burden seems too heavy, be sure that it is the wounded hand that is holding the cup, and that it is He who carries the cross that is carrying the burden.”  Today you just might need a new view of your life, you know, a new view to replace the old view.

Are you facing affliction for your faith right now?  If so, know that God’s loving hand is at work in the fire to accomplish great things which will, most assuredly, echo in eternity.  So, trust Him and stand strong and true.

                  [1] Waldemar Janzen, “Suffering Servants,” Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, 20, accessed September 2, 2021, https://www.baylor.edu/ifl/christianreflection/SufferingarticleJanzen.pdf.

                  [2] Hobart Freeman, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophets (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981), 239.

                  [3] Brown, Francis, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 311: חָיָה†Pi. Pf. 3 ms. חִיָּה ψ 22:30; 3 fs. sf. חִיָּ֑תְנִי ψ 119:50; 2 ms. sf. חִיִּיתַנִי ψ 30:4; חִיִּיתָ֑נִי ψ 119:93; 3 pl. חִיּוּ Ju 21:14, הַחִיִּיתֶם Nu 31:15; Impf. יְחַיֶּה 1 S 27:9 +, etc.; Imv. sf. חַיֵּנִי ψ 119:25 + 8 times, חַיֵּיהוּ Hb 3:2; Inf. cstr. חַיּוֹת Gn 7:3 Ez 13:19; sf. חַיֹּתֵנוּ Dt 6:24 +, etc.; Pt. מְחַיֶּה Ne 9:6 1 S 2:6;— 1. preserve alive, let live Ex 1:17, 18, 22; 22:17 Jos 9:15 (JE), Gn 12:12 (J), Nu 31:15 (P), Dt 6:24; 20:16 Ju 21:14 1 S 27:9, 11 1 K 18:5 2 K 7:4 Je 49:11 Ez 3:18 Hb 3:2 Jb 36:6 ψ 30:4; 33:19; 41:3; 138:7; ח׳ נפשׁpreserve oneself alive ψ 22:30 Ez 18:27, or preserve persons alive Ex 13:18, 19, or preserve life 1 K 20:31; ח׳ זרעpreserve seed alive Gn 7:3; 19:32, 34 (J); keep in existence heaven and earth Ne 9:6; nourish, young cow Is 7:21, lamb 2 S 12:3. 2. give life, to man when created Jb 33:4. 3. quicken, revive, refresh: a. restore to life, the dead 1 S 2:6 Dt 32:39 Ho 6:2; the dying ψ 71:20. b. cause to grow, grain Ho 14:8. c. restore, a ruined city 1 Ch 11:8, stones destroyed by fire Ne 3:34. d. revive, the people of י׳ by י׳ himself with fulness of life in his favour ψ 80:19; 85:7; 119:25, 37, 40, 50, 88, 93, 107, 149, 154, 156, 159; 143:11 Ec 7:12.[3]

                  [4] Friberg, Analytical Greek Lexicon.

                  [5] Mark Water, Compiler, The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000), 112.

                  [6] Jerry Bridges, Trusting God (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1988), 40.

                  [7] Tyron Edwards, Compiler, The New Dictionary of Thoughts (Colorado Springs: Standard Book Company, 1957), 12.