What brings you joy? There is no doubt that we are creatures of desire—we want things. Whether it is greater economic stability, the desire for deeper friendships, less loneliness, we all want something. Perhaps, in light of Ephesians 6, you want children who are more attentive to your words. Perhaps you want some time to simply get away from the rush of life. Regardless, we are all seeking chasing after happiness—after joy and well-being.
But my question for you as you is, where are you seeking such joy and well-being? I ask this because the subject of our section in Psalm 119 has to do with joy and well-being.
As you may have observed, Psalm 119 repeats this idea of God’s law and obedience. Psalm 119—a celebration of God’s covenantal love and faithfulness to his people—exemplifies the life of obedience and resolve to obey God’s Word.
But, perhaps in your reading of Psalm 119 you have been discouraged. Perhaps reading God’s Word is something you just don’t have a desire for at the moment. Perhaps you feel as though you’re fighting a losing battle against sin, and every time you come to God’s Word you feel guilty, hypocritical, or distant from him. Perhaps you have found yourself searching for joy and well-being in other things—in worldly, fleshly objects. It might be lust, power, control, or the admiration of others. Perhaps these have caught your eye and heart.
Psalm 119:57–64 remind us that, when we come to the Word of God, we don’t peer into its pages like a textbook, or a financial statement, or a social media page. No, the act of reading God’s Word is not an abstract, impersonal activity. Instead, we are to meet with God. And we do so because Scripture holds out God himself as the great source of joy and well-being; it is God himself who is to be our ultimate joy and source of stability.
This much you probably know. But, are you aware that our joy and satisfaction in him should also be the fuel to the flame of our obedience. We see this in the beginning of our stanza: “The LORD is my portion; I promise to keep your words” (v. 57).
The LORD is my portion. This is a strange saying for us today. But the word “portion” has its roots in the Levitical priesthood. The household of Levi was to be set apart from the rest of the nation of Israel. Levites were given no land, no portion of the real estate that flowed with milk and honey.
Instead, God himself was to be their lot and portion. The land represented blessing and prosperity and God’s favour; and yet, as priests of God, their treasure was to be God himself, set apart wholly to him.
Do you know what this meant? It meant that they could not aspire to build homes or expand their wealth. They had no means of establishing economic stability. Instead, their well-being was to be found in God himself. And here we see the psalmist referring to God as his portion, his treasure and well-being.
This is no less true for us today. God’s Word tells that Christians—those who have been born again—are now priests of God (Exodus 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9; Isaiah 61:6). That is to say, we are set apart wholly to God, and God himself is to be our portion, our source of joy and well-being.
This is, no doubt, why the psalmist could write in Psalm 16:11, “In your presence is fullness of joy and at your right hand are pleasures forever more.” Fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. What a thought! And so, I ask again, where have you been seeking joy and your well-being? Almighty God offers himself in his Word to be known and cherished as a lasting treasure.
But there is more. As we have seen, God’s Word paints the picture that our joy in the LORD is to be the fuel to the flame of our obedience. We read the second part of v. 57: “I promise to keep your words.” Calvin says that, “God being our portion, ought to animate and encourage us to observe his law…. We should rest satisfied in him alone; and if we do this, our hearts will also be disposed to keep his law.”
Brothers and sisters, God calls you to come to him, to be satisfied in him alone, so that we might be spurred on to faithfully respond in obedience to him. Like the psalmist in v. 58, we do so by entreating “the favour of God” with our whole heart.
I wonder, just how have you approached God in your prayers this week? Is your prayer life marked by earnestness? Do you seek the favour of God? Or do you presume on it? If we are to dig a little deeper, what has been the substance of your prayers? Has the desire for material and economic well-being surpassed that of the desire for knowing God more fully and having your affections for him deepened?
As Christians, we have the great privilege of entreating God’s favour on the basis, on the ground of his grace found in his promises. We read in v. 58: “I entreat your favour with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise.”
We can entreat God to extend grace to us according to his promise, according to his Word. What an amazing encouragement it is that we can entreat this God to act according to his Word! Our God is the God of promise! He is the God who acts according to his Word!
And where else is this better displayed than in the life of Jesus and all that is fulfilled in him? You see, the life of Jesus is the entirety of what Scripture points to. The Bible contains one story, unfolding bit by bit as we move through history. All of God’s interactions with man, all the revelations of himself finally centre and culminate in his Son. We could, no doubt, summarise the gospel of Jesus Christ as being a promise: It was made in Genesis 3 in the Garden of Eden and was fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, where he ushered in the reign and kingdom of God.
God acts according to his Word. He is the God of promise.
Just what are you clinging to? What lies have you listened to? Brothers and sisters, let us leave the weak and waning words of men, and instead cling to the Word of God and the promises found in Christ!
For those of us who have been Christians for a long time, have the promises of God become something we no longer are enthralled by? Perhaps your love has grown cold for God and his Word. No doubt, our prayer, evangelism and discipling of others will be a testimony of how we cling to God’s promises.
Nevertheless, be encouraged; be reminded afresh of these promises in Christ.
This promise of God in Christ is a promise of salvation. It is one of saving; it is good news. Christ is the righteous fulfilment of the promises made throughout Scripture. And it is on this basis that we approach and entreat God. And it is on this basis that God does give grace, that he does give mercy.
In the gospel—in the death and resurrection of Christ—the eternal Son of God calls all to repent of their sins, to turn to God, and to believe in the one who was crucified for your sin, so that your sins might be blotted out.
Friends, if you have not turned from your sin and trusted Jesus, know that this Jesus is the one who can reconcile you to a holy God, wash of you of your sins, place his Holy Spirit within you, and give you the desire to please God, so that you can join in with the psalmist and, turn your feet to his testimonies, and hasten and not delay in keeping his commandments.
It is with this context that we understand the rest of the stanza. With God as our portion—as our great treasure and delight, as our source of well-being and comfort—and by entreating his favour according to his promises in Christ, the rest of the stanza presents us with a picture of the Christian life.
Firstly, in vv. 59–60, we see that the Christian is aware of his own life and sin, and is quick to repent and turn to God’s testimonies. He is not slow to keep God’s commandments. “When I think on my ways, I turn my feet to your testimonies; I hasten and do not delay to keep your commandments.”
Understanding the promise of God in his gospel leads us to live lives of repentance. When confronted with sin, Christians turn to God and to their brothers and sisters for forgiveness. The Christian life is to be one of constant self-examination. Because of God’s great love in the gospel, Christians are moved to forsake all idols of the heart, to forsake anything that would lay claim to our affections for Christ, or to our obedience to him. That is why it should be a normal part of the Christian life to have our lives open and transparent with others, so that they too can peer in and, in love, warn us when sin begins to harden our hearts. When was the last time you invited someone to keep you accountable? In your marriage? In how you steward authority in the work place? When did you last confess your sin to God or to another person? We are to live lives of transparency so that we might turn to God and his testimonies.
Secondly, in v. 61 we see that the Christian is able to endure hardships of life and temptations to sin because the gospel is his shield. “Thought the cords of the wicked ensnare me, I do not forget your law.” The word of Christ dwells in him richly so that he is able to not be tempted by wicked snares from within or without.
When the LORD is your portion, you can stand against trials and temptations. Why don’t you seek to find an opportunity to remind someone with the promises of God, with His word? It can be so easy to forget God’s law and promises. Let’s point each other to the greatness of Christ and what he has accomplished for us so that we might triumph over our enemies and sin.
Third, the Christian is ever ready and wanting to praise God for his righteous rules. “At midnight I rise to praise you, because of your righteous rules” (v. 62).
Their resolve and desire to praise God in his Word champions over even the desire for sleep. For the Christian, God’s righteous rules are not burdensome, but a joy. They are such a delight a delight that they even overcome our longing for physical rest. A common theme in Psalm 119 is the connection between God’s word and the delight that it brings to the soul. His Word offers light, life and nourishment. It offers spiritual rest and pleasure. Friends, spend time in God’s Word. Read it. Pray through it. Ask God for a heart that loves his word. This is a prayer he loves to answer.
Fourth, in v. 63, we see that the Christian is a companion of the God-fearing. He or she is part of the host of those who keep his precepts. “I am a companion of all who fear you, of those who keep your precepts.”
We are not saved into a vacuum; we are saved into God’s people. Because of our fellowship with Christ, we have fellowship one another. Since God is our portion, we in turn love what he loves and hate what he hates. And Christ is passionate about his church—so much so that he would die to purchase her as his bride. Christian, you are not alone in this walk of faith. Look around this room and see the grace that God has poured out on these brothers and sisters around you. God is producing a people—a people who fear him. And he does so through his Word. His Word is the effectual means of making a people.
Have you ever given thought to the company you surround yourself with? Do they fear God and keep his precepts (v. 63)? That is why God would have us gather weekly to spur one another on to love and good deeds. So seek to encourage one another to walk with Christ in his Word.
Fifth, and finally, the one who is in communion with God sees his goodness, his mercy, his kindness, and his covenantal love. “The earth, O LORD, is full of your steadfast love; teach me your statutes!” (v. 64).
When you look out at the world, what do you see? Are you quick to criticise? Is your perception of world events governed by the knowledge of God and his covenantal commitment to his people? Are we quick to thank him for this kindness? The kindness of the gospel? The kindness of the local church? The kindness of elders who love and lead and serve? The kindness of an education? Employment? Children? Friendship? It is evident that the child of God who is most near with him will be able to spot his touch and influence in the smallest of ways.
So, where are you seeking your joy and well-being?
God’s Word calls us to seek true, lasting joy and well-being in the LORD himself. Should we rest satisfied in him alone, our hearts will also be inclined to keep his law—for his glory and our joy.