Psalm 119 is a elongated exaltation of the truth, beauty, and goodness of God’s Word. In twenty-two stanzas it leads the reader to consider all the ways in which God’s Word intersects our lives. There are dozens of themes to consider, but one that stands out is the way in which the Word mediates and regulates our relationship with God.
While most systematic theologies present the doctrine of God’s Word in categories of inspiration, authority, sufficiency, clarity, and inerrancy, Psalm 119 speaks of the Word in purely existential terms. He commends us to pick and read—Tolle Lege!—because of what the Word has promised and produced in his own life. Psalm 119 is devotional theology of the highest quality, and for those struggling to get into the Word of God, it’s praise for God’s Word may be the very thing a tired and doubting soul needs to (re)turn to the Word.
“According to the Word”
At least, 14 times Psalm 119, develops the idea of life “according to __________.” Most of them relate to the Word of God; sometimes they are related to aspects of God (e.g., his love and justice) as revealed in his Word.
Most explicitly, the Psalmist pleas for grace on the basis of God’s Word. For example, we read: “Give me life according to your word” (v. 25; cf. v. 107); “strengthen me according to your word” (v. 28). “Give me understanding according to your word” (v. 169); “deliver me according to your word” (v. 170). In these verses, the blessing called for comes by way of the Word. And it’s petition is intensified by the plight of the plea: “I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to your word” (v. 107).
At the same time, the Word regulates the way in which God acts towards his people and his people respond to him. Stressing God’s covenant faithfulness, verse 65 says, “You have dealt well with your servant, O LORD, according to your word.” Just as you have promised, so have you done; not one of your words has failed (cf. Josh 21:43–45; 1 Kgs 8:56). Such trust in God’s commitment to his Word, invites the Psalmist to pray for God to work on his behalf “according to his promise” (vv. 76, 133).
God’s Word also demands that we obey him “according to his Word.” Whereas his revelation is largely compromised of a historically-revealed, promise-laden covenant, it also lists commandments, rules, and laws we must obey. The man of God who abide with the Lord will do so according to his Word (cf. John 15:7–8). Therefore, the Psalmist answers his own question in verse 9 (“How can a young man keep his way pure?”) with the answer: “By guarding it according to your word.” Likewise, verse 156 speaks of finding life “according to [God’s] rules.”
In short, the way in which our relationship with God flourishes is according to God’s Word. We know him by his revealed word; we find life and strength in his Spirit-inspired word; we are to pray to him according to his covenant promises; we are to love him, obey him, and walk in holiness before him according to his rules.
It is this Word-centeredness that marks out the difference between the godly and the godless. Verse 85 reads, “The insolent have dug pitfalls for me; they do not live according to your law.” By contrast, even in the face of suffering, believers will continue to abide in the Word of God. This is the context that situates nearly every “according to your Word” statement.
For as the world lives according to their fickle flesh and their fainting feelings, the believer is marked out by rugged commitment to God’s Word. It’s in the word where we find his justice and mercy (see v. 149), twin truths needed to combat the wickedness and hostility of the world and our sin. For this reason, we ought to, like the Psalmist, strive to live, move, and have our being “according to the Word.”
Psalm 119: A Place to Receive (or Recover) a Heart for God
Why read Psalm 119? Because if you don’t feel like “getting into the Word,” it’s the best place to receive (or recover) a heart for God is Psalm 119. There you will find 176 verses aimed at extolling the Word of God and at least 14 verses that speak of the way in which his Word—in all its forms (e.g., laws, promises, rules, commandments, etc.)—gives life. Life that creates in fallen creatures an appetite for God’s Word.
Feeling spiritually dead? Read Psalm 119. Don’t go first to a theology textbook to figure out the riddles of revelation. Pick up this ancient acrostic and learn from this fellow pilgrim why he led his life according to the Word.
God promises you life and strength according to his Word. And, not surprisingly, he teaches you that without his Word, you’ll continue to live ensnared, suffering the deadly effects of sin—yours and others. See verse 85.
Not convinced? Consider the 14 places where Psalm 119 speaks “according to God’s Word.” May these well-driven nails spur you on to find life in his Word.
9How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.
25My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!
28My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word!
65You have dealt well with your servant, O Lord, according to your word.
76Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant.
85The insolent have dug pitfalls for me; they do not live according to your law.
107I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to your word!
133Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me.
149Hear my voice according to your steadfast love; O Lord, according to your justice give me life.
154Plead my cause and redeem me; give me life according to your promise!
156Great is your mercy, O Lord; give me life according to your rules.
159Consider how I love your precepts! Give me life according to your steadfast love.
169Let my cry come before you, O Lord; give me understanding according to your word!
170Let my plea come before you; deliver me according to your word.
Lord, may our tired, tempted hearts turn to you as we turn to your Word. Forgive us for failing to live according to your Word, and may we find fresh grace as we find life in your Word.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds