God’s Word for You
Psalm 119:19-20 Consumed by longing
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Sunday, April 23, 2023
19 I am an alien on earth;
do not hide your commandments from me.
An alien (gar) is someone from outside; someone who does not belong. Sometimes an alien will join with a group and become one of them, but the Christian takes Abraham for his example. Abraham lived among the Hittites (Genesis 23:3) and Amorites (Genesis 14:13). He befriended them, but he did not take a wife from among them and he did not want his son Isaac to marry into their group. So also the Christian lives among the unbelievers of the world, but he needs to keep his faith pure.
The Christian recognizes that we are aliens on this world. We are in it, and like a man walking on a muddy road, we will be soiled by it from time to time. But we don’t need to wallow in it, and the righteousness of Christ covers us when we do slip and fall (Psalm 51:2,7; Jeremiah 33:8). And just as one unbeliever can kill the faith of many, we must also remember how much good the Lord can bring about through the quiet, faithful labor of one believer, sharing her faith, encouraging her family, seeing to it that little ones get up and get ready for church on Sunday, getting them into the good habits of getting an offering envelope ready, of going to Sunday school and then to Catechism class and then to adult Bible class. She looks forward to the day when her little grandchildren will be baptized, and she encourages their faith. She can be a fountain of righteousness (Proverbs 10:11), of wisdom (Proverbs 18:4), of encouragement (Philemon 1:7; Song of Solomon 4:15), of the word of Christ (Philippians 2:16), for a lifetime.
20 My soul is consumed by longing
for your judgments at all times.
Most readers will not be very interested in the difficulty of the first word of this verse in Hebrew, which is translated “consumed” here. We won’t explore it deeply, but the idea is of grinding teeth, or of being worn down or worn out with anxiety.
No one can do everything that there is to do in the world. No one can go everywhere, see everything, do everything. Some things take a lifetime to accomplish, and therefore one can’t do it all. But one can do the task that has been given and also search deeply into the word of God.
Consider our good works, which follow after justification and comprise a large part of our life of sanctification. God demands perfection from man, and holiness (Leviticus 19:2). For Christ our Lord says: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). This is not possible in this life in this fallen world because even the best of our good works is dirtied with the filth of sin. If God judged our works only on their own merits, he would reject them all because nothing we do would please him. All of us sin at all times: “Every inclination of man’s heart is evil from childhood” (Genesis 8:21). But Christ’s righteousness covers our imperfection, “and the clinging filth of sin can be pardoned.” Therefore faith in Christ is the basis for all good works, because all good works must be covered by his blood as much as all of our sins must be so covered. We are capable of nothing but sin on our own.
Therefore the Christian longs for God’s word, whether law or gospel, promises or judgments, at all times. This is religion in its true sense. True religion is revealed, not invented. Religion is in the soul and heart (and this means the mind of man), which is the center of the spiritual life of the believer. Willing, thinking, and feeling are all involved in true religion. The faith which God seeks in us, justifying faith, is knowledge of God combined with assent and trust. Knowledge by itself can be had by any unbeliever; it is essentially an assemblage of facts about the history of God working in the world, especially the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. An unbeliever can say “I know this, but I don’t believe it,” or “I don’t believe that it matters to me.” But someone who says, “I agree that this happened, and I am saved; I have a place in heaven on account of Christ”—this is a person with saving faith. It is knowledge combined with assent (I agree that this happened) and trust (Christ died for me, and I will go to heaven). This truth can be suppressed by wickedness (Romans 1:18), but it is renewed and refreshed every day by the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace (Acts 5:42). Even the natural knowledge of God is refreshing to the believer (Psalm 19:2), but the word of God is especially delightful, because this is how the Lord restores man’s soul (Psalm 23:3; Zechariah 10:6).
The more the believer learns about Christ, about himself, about sin and grace, the more he will want to know Christ, to be assured of forgiveness. This is the one who says, “My soul is consumed by longing.”
Pastor Timothy Smith