Walking in the Words, the Ways, and the Works of God
It may seem like a strange question but why would a Lutheran focus on Psalm 119? Doesn’t that Psalm talk at great length about the Law of God?
While Law is one of the words running through it, Psalm 119 builds its focus around the idea of the Word of God. (Even the word translated Law is actually the word Torah.) As Lutherans we say the Word of God is a “Means of Grace” thing. This is the stuff God uses to work in our hearts and bring us to faith. So a psalm of 176 verses built around treasuring the Word of God is a natural for devotion for us.
Celebrating the Word!
In all but one verse the psalmist uses one of the following words connected with the revealed Word of God:
Just Decrees Torah (usually translated as Law)
They are underlined.
Throughout the Psalm “Law” is the translation for Torah, the revealed word and will of God in the first 5 books of the Bible. The meaning is not quite the same as we think of in the word “law.” In fact there are many places where those books point to Jesus and the cross. For that reason they are marked not with * but with †.
Adapted and updated from the Knox Translation, using the ESV translation, Brown, Driver Briggs Hebrew Lexicon, and Funk & Wagnall’s English Dictionary.
Copyright © 2015, Mark S. Willig
1 Absolutely blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law† of the LORD.
2 Altogether blessed are those who keep His testimonies,
who seek Him with their whole heart.
3 Also they do no wickedness,
but walk in His ways.
4 Appointed have You, Your precepts
to be kept diligently.
5 Ah, that my ways may be steadfast
in keeping Your statutes!
6 As a result I would not be put to shame,
having my eyes fixed on all Your commandments.
7 Acclaim You with an upright heart, I will
as I learn Your righteous ordinances.
8 Attend to Your statutes I will;
do not forsake me beyond enduring!
Psalm 119 starts with an amazing thought, a remarkable idea. What does it mean to walk in the “Torah” of the LORD? Torah is the word that is almost always translated as Law. And once we hear “Law” we immediately think of commandments – the should’s and should-not’s. But what the psalm is talking about is so much more. In fact the Torah is the first 5 books of the Bible and everything that is in them.
It is God revealing Himself, God creating, God blessing Adam and Eve and through them all humanity (Genesis 1:26 ff). It is the story of how God, when He found Adam and Eve having wandered off and rebelling, did not sweep them and us away into destruction; but instead promised a Savior, the Seed of the woman. He would be born for us and would conquer sin and death; and He would be wounded in the battle. It is the story of God calling Abraham to go to the mountain of God and act out “the sacrifice”—the one that only God the Father would actually go through with. So Abraham goes three days, puts the wood on his son, answers Isaac by saying, “God Himself will provide the Lamb,” and then receives his son, his only son whom he loves, back from the dead.
It is the story of God redeeming His people, through the blood of the lamb, bringing them through the waters, and saying to them, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out . . .” At the mountain God tells them who they are and calls them to walk with Him and walk in His ways. We could go on endlessly, but . . .
So we ask: what does it mean to “walk in the Torah of the Lord?” When we see all the parts of how God has revealed His love, His will, and His plan of salvation; walking in these things is very special. It goes way beyond rules and commandments. It is a much deeper experience. It is at the beginning of everything we are and everything in our lives.
Think of it this way. To walk in the Torah of the Lord is to journey through life, from one day to the next with the things of God all around. It is to have our world within our souls look a certain way – filled with the promises of Eden, the drama of God talking with Abraham, the promise of the lamb “who takes away the sin of the world,” and the word of God as our map through all the questions of right and wrong. It is to live in the relationship that God has given us in our creation and in Jesus Christ.
And then we look at the world all around us; and we see the hand of God in so many things that happen in our lives. We go through the day with an awareness of God. He is present with us. And at the end of the day we rest from all the turmoil. We commit ourselves into the hands of God, and trust in His mercy and His goodness.
Walking with God also means that this world is not our home. We have an amazing relationship with God and all the promises of eternity. So we look back on our history (thinking again of Abraham) and say, “My father was a wandering Aramean” and it is both part of our family history and the hope of our future. As Abraham did we also “look forward to a city . . . whose designer and builder is God;” a city, right now being formed and gathered by Jesus Christ.
That is why v. 1 that talks about walking in the Torah of the LORD, leads right into v. 2. “Blessed are those who keep [who treasure, who hold in their memories] His testimonies.” God has told us about His love and His plan for us. He has witnessed to His Grace and Mercy through every act and part of the plan of salvation. And the witnesses and the testimonies are more than we could ever list. Read Hebrews 11, and then remember the “faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead” Jesus Christ. Included in His testimonies is the one written in the flesh of His own hands.
Lord and Savior, You walked with Abraham, showing Your plan of salvation. You walked with Moses and led the people of Israel through the wilderness. And then You walked with Your disciples, feeding, healing, praying, dying and rising. You did all this so I might walk with You forever. As You filled their lives so fill our days with the things of God. Let us understand Your ways and Your purpose in gathering Your kingdom. Lead my heart and mind that they may be filled with Your words and may I see Your hand and Your mercy in every part of life. In Your holy name I pray. Amen.
Verses 3-8 “Sinner/Saints Finding Our Hope In the LORD”
Can our lives fit the words of v. 3 “they do no wickedness”? It is a question we cannot escape. V. 3 sets the mirror of the perfect law before us and we fall short. We are condemned. But God stoops down with His mercy. The second half of v. 3 says “but walk in His ways.” What are God’s ways?
Look closely at the ways of the One who said, “follow Me.” His ways are mercy, grace, forgiveness and so much more. Jesus said, “Come to Me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls . . .” These are the ways and the works that God loves to do.
Our psalm called to us and invited us to walk in the “Torah” of the LORD – to have our world filled with the things and the acts of God. Now it calls us to walk in His ways. This means to go through life with God’s ways and His doings all around us.
The next 3 verses (4-6) are prayers voicing desire and longing – to be keeping His precepts (God says how I am to live); and to be steadfast in His statutes (God declares what is to be).
If I could only be in complete in harmony with God’s ways, His precepts, and His statutes; why then I would never be put to shame. If only . . .
But again, God stoops down to me. He comes into our lives and into our world. Jesus gives us His words. His words do not tell me what I must do to win eternal life. They point to His mercy. They tell how He has won the victory for me. Now I find myself being built on His words; and on His words I am like a house built on the rock. No matter what comes; no matter the wind, the storm, the floods even – we are built on His words, and they are a firm foundation. They are eternal. (Matthew 7:24-25)
He is the One who said about the Law, “until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away” (Matthew 5:18) He says to us, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” (Matthew 24:35) The word of the Lord endures forever. But those words are words of life and words of promise to us. They are intended to be in our soul. And when the eternal word of God is in my soul – that is eternal life! We thank and praise and celebrate what Jesus has given us! (How can we do anything else?) So we say with the psalm, “I will” “acclaim You;” and “I will” “attend to Your statutes.” This Word of God truly is our life and salvation!
God sets His Promises, His words, and hopes before us in so many ways. He tenderly invites us. He calls to our hearts. But I am a sinner. I know that I am not worthy to have Him stay in my life. The last prayer in Part “Aleph” is “do not forsake me” – specifically “do not forsake me beyond enduring!” (Verse 8) “Beyond enduring” would mean to be left by God, to have an eternity of being without Him. The sinner cries out with this prayer and yet knows: It is actually what I deserve!
But again God is there with His mercy. Jesus came to take what we have deserved, even taking up the very word “forsake.” If there was ever a thing beyond enduring it was for the sinless Son of God to be forsaken and condemned for others’ sins. He was forsaken so I would never have to be. In this way, the most extreme of all acts of salvation, He has taken us sinners brought us in, given us His own holiness and made us His saints. To God alone be the glory!
Lord, Your word calls, Your word restores, and You surround me with Your words and promises. Help me to treasure the “Yes!”, the “Amen!”, and the promises in Jesus; so the sustaining, strengthening promises I have in Him may fill my hours and moments, my days and nights. Amen.