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Doug Van Meter - 8 October 2023

What Breaks Your Heart? (Psalm 119:136)

In Psalm 119:136, we see the heart of someone who loves the word of God because he loves the God of the word. In this verse, which quite literally sobs with a heart for God, we are given a metric to examine our own love for God and his truth. May this metric be the means to fill our eyes with tears over those things that truly matter.

Scripture References: Psalms 119:136

From Series: "Miscellaneous"

Sermons in this series are once-off sermons preached by various church members.

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A church member recently sent me this message: “Morning dear brother. Been thinking of you, and just checking in how that inner man of yours is doing and what can I be praying for.” I responded thanking him and shared with him, “The inner man has had a major fight this week with the outer man.”

This week, my heart was broken over a couple of things, burdened for some other things, and unfortunately simply bothered by too many things. If I am honest, not enough of my emotional distress this past week was because God was dishonoured or because his word was disobeyed. I think most of my emotional distress was because I was disrespected and my will was disregarded.

Sadly, not much of this was in line with the passionate cry of the psalmist who wrote, “My eyes shed streams of tears because people do not keep your law” (Psalm 119:136) and “I look at the faithless with great disgust because they do not keep your commands” (Psalm 119:158). Rather than being distressed like this noble psalmist over the glory of God, too much of it was self-centred.

Brothers and sisters, can you relate? If so, then I trust brief time together in this text will help us. I trust that what I share in these few moments will be a helpful means of grace to us all.


In this verse, we see the heart of someone who loves the word of God because he loves the God of the word. This verse quite literally sobs with a heart for God and, in it, we are given a metric to examine our own love for God and his truth. May this metric be the means to fill our eyes with tears over those things that truly matter.


We are not sure who wrote Psalm 119 but perhaps the two most popular candidates are David and Ezra. Ezra is my choice.

Think, for example, of Ezra’s biography recorded in Ezra 7:6–10 and his impassioned response to the marital sin found among God’s people (Ezra 9). Whereas Nehemiah pulled out the hair of the people when he saw their sin (Nehemiah 13), Ezra pulled out his own hair! Ezra clearly had a passion for God. I can see his eyes streaming tears because people do not keep God’s law.

Further, Ezra was so passionate about God’s law that he made an opportunity to teach it to the returned remnant, providing a wonderful example of expository preaching (Nehemiah 8:1–8).

The Passionate Point

Whoever penned this longest chapter in the Bible, it is a chapter filled with passion for the word of God because it is a chapter filled with passion for the God of the word. This dual passion is what lies underneath the emotional passion of vv. 136 and 158. His heart was broken that people were treating God’s self-revelation with contempt. He was in agony of soul over this irreverence that his “eyes shed streams of tears” (v. 136) as he looked at law-breakers with “disgust” (v. 158). He was a man who loved his God. And his love was revealed in what broke his heart and in what stirred his moral revulsion.

He was not the kind of man who manifested road rage when he encountered lawless taxi drivers. He was not a man who turned red in the face unleashing a string of profanities when he heard of corruption in government. No, he was a man who lost sleep over the fact that God’s name was being treated with contempt. He was a man who lost his appetite due to moral disgust that God’s wisdom was being rejected. He was a man who knew when to cry and what to cry over. This was a man who could be disgusted without being disgusting in either his attitude or in his actions. He was a man who, within a few verses, could move from disgust to delight (see vv. 158, 162). He could move from being morally perturbed to being at peace—within a mere seven verses. Deeply disturbed and yet fully self-controlled at the same time. This man was like Jesus.

Grieved for God’s People

The culprits were most probably God’s chosen people.

The word translated “keep” is a covenantal word. Rather than keeping the law, just as Adam was to keep the Garden (Genesis 2:15), the author observed people defying the law. Rather than a fruitful field of godliness, these people were producing weeds of ungodliness.

In v. 158, we find another clue in the words “disgust at the faithless who do not keep [God’s] commands.” The word “faithless” speaks of behaviour that is treacherous and is sometimes translated as “traitor.” It is used frequently by the prophets in condemnation of the chosen people of God who had turned to idolatry. It would therefore seem that what broke the psalmist’s heart was the observation and realisation that those graced by God to be his unique possession dismissed this with traitorous behaviour.

Rather than loving and keeping God’s good law, they trespassed it with contemptuous indifference. This not only broke psalmist’s heart, but also disgusted him.

Those who had been blessed with a special relationship with God, who had been graced with God’s self-revelation as found and received in his word (see Exodus 33:13; 34:5ff), and who had been redeemed by God’s powerful hand (Exodus) and preserved by his steadfast love were refusing to keep God’s law. Those who had experienced God’s grace were turning away from him and the waterspouts of this man’s heart and eyes began to flow. His heart was broken over spiritual infidelity (no doubt often evidenced by moral infidelity).

Disgusting Disobedience

The Hebrew word for disgust, appearing seven times in the Old Testament, means what it says. It means, to loathe or to detest something.

Yahweh himself uses the word when speaking of Israel’s unfaithfulness in the wilderness (Psalm 95:10). David uses the term to describe his feelings towards those who hate the Lord evidenced by rising up in rebellion against the Lord (Psalm 139:21). Ezekiel uses the term when prophesying that unfaithful Israel would loathe themselves because of their loathsome unfaithfulness demonstrated by their idolatry (6:9; 16:47; 36:31).

When we consider the glory and the grace of God being trampled upon by those who profess to know God, this should both break our hearts and sicken our stomachs. Watching those who profess to know God trample underfoot the blood of the Son of God should burden and bother us. How much more when, upon self-discovery, we find ourselves unfaithful. In the words of Isaiah, “Woe is me!” And therefore, “God, forgive me! God, redeem me! God, rescue me! God, have mercy on me!” Our condition should break our hearts and bring streams of tears to our eyes.

Let me apply this as we conclude.

First, we really do need to examine what breaks our heart and why it does so. This is revealing of what is important to our hearts: God’s glory or our own (see John 5:42–44). Too often, what was said of the Pharisees is true of us as well: “They loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:43).

Jesus wept (John 11:35) because of what sin brought to the Father’s creation and because of the hardness of hearts of those who should have believed (see also Mark 8:12–13). We should be more grieved over apostasy than about government corruption.

Second, we should ask God to give us the right kind of tears. Ask God for a heart that breaks at what breaks his. Too often, sentimentality can reign in the church. Be careful. Think. Meditate. Pray.

We would be missing the point of this verse if we ignored its wider context. It is found in the longest chapter of the Bible; a chapter devoted to extolling the authority, sufficiency, and priority of Scripture.

The author’s heart and mind were moved by the things most important to God because he knew what was most important to God. And he knew what was important to God because he meditated on those things revealed that are most important to God. If you want to be a person after God’s own heart, then learn God’s heart. And there is no easy path to this. You must read, think, meditate, and pray.

Your quiet time will require wrestling with your heart and with the struggle between your “inner man” and your “outer man.” In other words, your quiet time may prove to not be so quiet after all!

Third, faithful Christians and church members will have their hearts broken. It is true that those closest to you can grieve you the most. Church life can be disturbing, discouraging, and, yes, disgusting at times. Horrible sins might be committed by those who profess to be God’s people. So, how do we deal with this?

Humble yourself, acknowledging that you are prone to wander. This is how the psalmist ends the chapter: “I long for your salvation, O LORD, and your law is my delight. Let my soul live and praise you, and let your rules help me. I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments” (vv. 174–176).

Be sure your heart is broken over your own faithlessness before being disgusted and broken over another’s faithlessness. Stop complaining about the government’s failed stewardship if you refuse to fulfil your own. Remove the beam from your own eye before helping others remove the splinter from theirs.


It has been said that Jesus died of a broken heart (John 19:33–34). He was treated as disgusting because, by taking our sins on himself, he appeared as something disgusting and to be discarded by a holy God. This, indeed, broke his heart. He who always kept the law of God was treated as a lawbreaker. And yet he was willing to do this because he knew that it would please his Father’s heart. And it did, proven by the Father raising Jesus from the dead.

Therefore, he can, and he will, forgive you for a hardened heart. Repent and begin to live with a heart that breaks over the right things, to the glory of God and for the good of your soul.