The website Phobialist.com lists no fewer than 541 different phobias. You will be aware of some of them (arachnophobia—fear of spiders; aquaphobia—fear of water), but some of them are downright ridiculous—either because you wouldn’t think there would be a need to actually formally name them as phobias (lilapsophobia—fear of tornadoes and hurricanes) or because they just seem so downright silly (mnemophobia—fear of memories; nomatophobia—fear of names).
One of the more common ones—particularly, though not exclusively, among children—is scotophobia (sometimes lygophobia or nyctophobia)—fear of the dark. As a general rule, the fear is not of darkness itself, but of possible (or imagined) fears that are concealed in the darkness.
This fear is very common and, perhaps, somewhat natural. Researchers have observed that fear of the dark generally does not arise until about the age of two. For most people, this fear eventually dissipates, but for some, it persists into adulthood.
Where fear of the dark does persist for adults, it is generally manifested in unfamiliar surroundings. (Although, to be fair, if you have children who play with Lego, you may fear walking barefoot in the dark—even in your own house!)
Before we had kids, I used to walk around the house at night completely unperturbed. Since having children, if I am walking in the dark house, I generally have the flashlight on my phone turned on, shining on the floor in front of me. A cell phone flashlight does not provide an inordinate amount of light, but it is enough to light the way for the next step I am going to take.
As we come to the text before us, the psalmist makes this same observation about God’s word. The Bible, he says, is “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (v. 105).
As we have seen time and again in our studies of Psalm 119, this psalm focuses heavily on the theme of God’s word. We have seen that God’s word is given to us to help us in many ways. In the section before us, the psalmist highlights three specific things that God’s word does for us: It guides us (vv. 105–109); it guards us (vv. 109–110); and it gladdens us (vv. 111–112).
The Bible Guides Us
One of the lines in Newton’s beloved song, Amazing Grace, reads, “I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.” According to the psalmist, it is the Bible that enables us to see where we were once blind. The Bible is a faithful lamp, which guides us in at least three areas.
The Bible Guides Us in Our Walk
First, the Bible guides us in our walk: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to keep your righteous rules” (Psalms 119:105–106).
One of the most common metaphors that the Bible uses to describe the Christian life is a “walk.” For example, the Bible tells Christians to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4) and to “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16). We are told to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1), to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Colossians 1:10), and to “walk in a manner worthy of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:12). We should walk honestly (Romans 13:13), walk in good works (Ephesians 2:10), walk in love (Ephesians 5:2), and walk circumspectly (Ephesians 5:15). But when the way we walk is dark, we need something to light the way. That “something” is the Bible—God’s word.
You will notice that the Bible is a lamp to your “feet.” It does not provide sufficient light to see to the very end of the path, but only for the next step. God’s word is designed to help the Christian know which step to take next. It is designed to provide us with guidance. And the way it guides us is by our commitment to obeying it—to keeping God’s righteous rules (v. 106).
When we speak of God’s word guiding us, we should understand what we mean. God’s guidance doesn’t come to us by means of specifics (giving us the name of the person we should marry, or the degree that we should pursue, etc.). It lights our way by providing us with general principles to follow. As we walk in accordance with those principles—as we keep God’s righteous rules (v. 106)—we find guidance for our walk.
The Bible Guides us in Our Weakness
The psalmist next returns to the theme of affliction: “I am severely afflicted; give me life, O LORD, according to your word” (v. 107).
We have seen time and again that the psalmist was afflicted. The theme of affliction is almost as omnipresent in this psalm as is the theme of the word. But, when he was afflicted, he trusted God’s word to guide him in his affliction.
His petition was: “Give me life, O LORD, according to your word!” In the Psalms, giving of life is poetic both of the life received through faith and the life sustained through faith. Jeff Adams says, “In the New Testament sense, we speak of receiving the grace of God. The grace of God saves us, and the grace of God sustains us through the trials of life. This is what David is requesting.”
When you are weak, you must believe that God’s word, which saved you, is able to sustain you. Go to the Bible in your affliction, and ask God for sustaining grace.
The Bible Guides Us in Our Worship
In v. 108, the psalmist turns to language of worship: “Accept my freewill offerings of praise, O LORD, and teach me your rules.” The only type of worship that is acceptable in God’s sight is worship that is offered according to his word. Nadab and Abihu worshipped God by bringing fire into the tabernacle for sacrifice, but because it was “unauthorised fire …, which he had not commanded them, … fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them” (Leviticus 10:1–3). They did not allow God’s word to guide their worship, and they suffered the consequences.
We need to be careful in our worship to offer to God only that which he has authorised. Lord’s Day worship in the local church should not be novel or innovative. It should simply honour the elements that God has prescribed in worship: singing, praying, reading Scripture, stewardship, preaching, and the administration of the sacraments. God has given us everything we need in order to tell us how to worship him.
The Bible Guards Us
The second main thing that God’s word does for us, according to these verses, is that it guards us. It does so in at least two ways.
The Bible Guards Us by Calming Our Fears
First, God’s word guards us by calming our fears: “I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your law” (v. 109). The language of holding one’s life in one’s hand continually is strange and unfamiliar to us, but we are helped to understand this term when we look to the story of David.
At one point in their friendship, Jonathan became aware of Saul’s plans to kill David. He quickly warned his friend of the impending danger. He tried to intercede with his father on David’s behalf, recounting David’s brave exploits in war. Note 1 Samuel 19:5: “He took his life in his hand and he struck down the Philistine.”
The term speaks of being in a fearful condition. When David faced Goliath, he was not unafraid. He was courageous, but courage is not the absence of fear, but the commitment to do what is right in the face of fear. Though he was afraid, David took his life in his hand and faced the giant. To hold one’s life in one’s hand, then, is poetic language expressing fear.
When we are afraid, God’s Word is there to comfort and encourage us. God calms our fears through his word. “This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life” (v. 50). “When I think of your rules from of old, I take comfort, O LORD” (v. 52). “Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant” (v. 76).
The Bible Guards Us by Counteracting our Foes
Second, God’s word guards us by counteracting our foes: “The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts” (Psalm 119:110).
“The wicked” had “laid a snare” to entrap the psalmist. A “snare” is ordinarily a hidden trap, something of which the intended victim is unaware. However, the psalmist was aware of this snare—because “I do not stray away from your precepts.” It was his adherence to the word that informed the psalmist of the snare laid and counteracted the foe’s plans.
The principle is this: The Bible informs us of the strategy of the enemy, who would lay a snare to entrap us. “We are not ignorant of [Satan’s] designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11). “Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). The Bible gives us insight into the “designs” and the “schemes” of the devil, and thereby guards us. The believer who is informed by Scripture is not surprised when “the wicked” try to ensnare him, for God’s word warns him that this will happen.
The psalmist faced danger from “the wicked,” and he was afraid at times, but when he faced danger and was afraid, he remembered God’s word and its promises. He remembered that God had promised never to leave him or forsake him, and in remembering God’s promises, the intended schemes of his foes were counteracted.
The Bible Gladdens Us
Because God’s Word guided and guarded the psalmist, he viewed it as his enduring and joyful hope. He considered God’s word to be his inheritance (v. 111), and committed to gladly obeying it (v. 112).
Our Glad Inheritance
God’s word was the psalmist’s glad inheritance: “Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart” (Psalm 119:111).
The word “heritage” speaks of an inheritance. The psalmist had inherited the word from faithful forefathers, and now embraced it as his own. They had lived by it and preserved it. He inherited from them and (as we will see) committed to do the same.
But notice that the psalmist took great delight in God’s word. It wasn’t something he had simply inherited as a vague family heirloom, but something he loved and rejoiced in. His forebears had lived by it, and now it was “the joy of [his] heart” too.
Our Glad Inclination
Second, obedience to the word was the psalmist’s glad inclination: “I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end” (v. 112). This “performance” or obedience was not a drudging duty, but a glad delight. As John said centuries later, “This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).
Because he had received and rejoiced in the word, the psalmist committed that he would live by it—enduringly. “I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end.” Come what may, he would keep God’s word as his guiding lamp and would follow its light through the darkness.
God’s word guides us, guards us, and gladdens us. But it only does this for those who are committed to it. The unbeliever does not experience these benefits. That is why the psalmist said, “Give me life, O LORD, according to your word” (v. 107). It is only those who have been made alive by the gospel who can experience these benefits.
It is the gospel, revealed in the written word and secured by the incarnate Word, that gives us life—both saving us and sustaining us. If these three blessings—guiding, guarding, and gladdening—seem foreign to you, it is perhaps because you have never been given life through the gospel. The way to experience the life-giving gospel is by acknowledging your sin before a holy God, repenting of it, and receiving the Lord Jesus Christ—who died, was buried, and rose again for the sins of those he came to save—as your Saviour.
The Communion Table points us to the truths of the gospel, and it is these truths that must be believed and appropriated if we will experience the blessings of the Bible promised in our text.