God’s Word for You
Psalm 119:17-18 Open my eyes
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, April 22, 2023
The third stanza of the Great Psalm describes the life of the Christian among unbelievers, especially in the second half of the stanza. Each line begins with the third letter of the alphabet, gimel, and so we will find words like gamal “do,” gal “open,” gar “alien,” and ga’ar “rebuke.” The believer relies on God’s word for guidance as he navigates the difficult path of life in the fallen world. He sees himself as a stranger, an alien, a traveler just passing through until he arrives finally at his destination: Paradise.
17 Do good to your servant and I will live;
I will obey your word.
Here is the whole doctrine of salvation, justification and sanctification, in six Hebrew words. “Do good to your servant and I will live” is a simple condition: O God, if you alone deal with me, provide for me, rescue me, bear me up, and save me, then and only then will I live. This also means a complete and correct proclamation of law and gospel, for how can the gospel mean anything to mankind without the law?
There are teachings similar to those of the Bible in many religions. What religion does not teach men to love God and one’s neighbor? The golden rule is known in some form even to the heathen. Muhammed and Zarathustra both talk about men facing a final judgment. Ascetics and monks are common in Eastern religions, and the hope of immortality is taught in the mystery cults. But the forgiveness of sins? This is found only in Jesus Christ. The true and proper role of the Christian Church is to proclaim this message: Forgiveness through Christ alone. This pure teaching of the Gospel and the correct administration of the sacraments are the true marks of the church (Augsburg Confession VII:2).
But the verse does not end there. The poet goes on to say, “I will obey your word.” This is the life of sanctification, which always follows justification. The sinner who needs to know about Christ and the cross every day is also a forgiven saint. He is forgiven, yet he sins. He sins, yet he is forgiven. This is the Bible’s teaching of the Christian being “at the same time saint and sinner” (simul iustus et peccator). Luther says: “Where there is forgiveness of sins, there are also life and happiness” (or “life and salvation,” Small Catechism VI:6, Holy Communion, secondly). The desire to respond to Christ’s forgiveness is the new life kindled in the believer; the gratitude we show with our newly and daily changed hearts that sing, shout, and happily labor in God’s service. “There is no justification without sanctification, no forgiveness without renewal of life, not real faith from which the fruits of new obedience do not grow. The Christian lives only from the daily forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake, but it is a real life which he thus enjoys, sinner and justified (forgiven saint) at once” (Hermann Sasse).
18 Open my eyes
that I may see wonderful things in your law.
The prayer of every minister is for his people to know Jesus Christ better through their study of his word (Ephesians 1:17-18; Philippians 1:9-10; Colossians 1:9). This should also be the prayer of every Christian for himself: “Teach me, O Lord” (Exodus 33:13; Psalm 25:4-5, 27:11, 86:11). Our Lutheran Confession, the Formula of Concord, points out that the poet does just this over and over again: “In Psalm 119, David asks God more than ten times to give him understanding so that he might rightly comprehend and learn the divine doctrine.” But there are whole denominations that are opposed to letting their people read the Bible, despite Jesus’ words, “Search the Scriptures” (John 5:39). They often cite the Ethiopian eunuch, who said to Philip, “How can I (understand what I am reading) unless someone explains it to me?” (Acts 8:31). But his lament does not teach us that the Scriptures are incomprehensible. He only shows that this individual, who has no knowledge of the New Testament, had difficulty with a passage in Isaiah.
The Christian is right to ask God to enlighten him with the Word, and the Christian is right to read the Bible expecting to discover delightful truths for everyday living whether reading from the Old Testament or the New. For the New Testament guides our understanding of the Old. The New Testament does not shut the door on the Old, but rather flings the door open wide so that everything in the Word of God can be comprehended and understood more clearly in the light of Jesus Christ. Otherwise David is a sinner for asking what he asks with these words. Peter might say that some things Paul writes about are hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16), but he only says that “some things” in Paul are hard, and that “ignorant and unstable people distort” them—which is certainly what anyone is doing who claims that if some things are hard, that all of it is incomprehensible. Otherwise, it would follow that if some things in mathematics are hard, then all of mathematics is incomprehensible. Or that if it is difficult to cook certain dishes, then cooking itself is impossible. And we know these things are not true. The Apostle tells us about his Gospel: “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).
It is when sinners look to other means for forgiveness apart from Christ, away from the Bible, that they are truly led astray into a dark wilderness of confusion and hopelessness. We pray that the Good Shepherd will go and seek for them (Matthew 18:12) and call them back to repentance and faith. But woe to those wicked shepherds who lead their people away from Christ into such confusion and doubt. They have taken away the key of knowledge (Luke 11:52), and they load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, but they don’t lift a finger to help them (Luke 11:46).
Pray with the poet that God would open your eyes to wonderful things in his word. He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.
Pastor Timothy Smith