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God’s Word for You

Psalm 119:2-3 What ways are his ways?

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Sunday, February 26, 2023

2 Blessed are they who keep his testimonies.
  They seek him with all their heart.

“Testimonies” is the plural of ‘edah (עֵדָה), the second synonym for law or word of God in the Psalm. Sometimes translations use “decree” for this word, but we will use “testimony” since these are not always commands, but can be the message of God for his people: “Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors” (Psalm 119:24). Such testimonies enable his people to “walk in his ways” (verse 3). God wants us to follow his commands, and to keep them diligently (verse 4). Yet we understand that in our fallen condition, we cannot keep God’s decrees and laws perfectly as he would have us do. Instead, we must throw ourselves down at his feet and beg for his mercy. Only through his merciful love can we hope to have a place with him in heaven. Only through his merciful love do we receive any blessings at all from him here on his beautiful created world.

How blessed a man is to have your testimonies, O Lord! They begin before Moses brought down the stone tablets and named them your testimonies (Deuteronomy 4:45). Abraham showed what a testimony is when he gave the Philistines the seven ewe-lambs as a testimony, a proof and a reminder, of his own work in digging the well of Beersheba (Genesis 21:40). For all of God’s holy Word is a testimony, a proof and a reminder of what he has done: a holy declaration of his acts on behalf of the crown of his creation: mankind.

To keep the Lord’s testimonies is surely to seek after him with all one’s heart. What would God have me do? He declares this in his word. What has God done for us? He reveals this in his word. What will God do for us? He promises this in his word. He would have me fear, love, and trust in him above all things, and love my neighbor as myself. He has created us to be his own children, and he has sent his Son Jesus Christ to atone for all our sins, so that on the Last Day he will raise us from the dead (for death is the certain result of sin in the world) and he will bring us forever to himself in eternal life.

What is it to seek God “with all my heart”? It is the whole heart; the whole person: body, mind, spirit, strength, will; thought, word, and deed. It also means seeking and searching after God with an undivided heart. The godly search out his testimonies “not because they are already living well, but that they may know how they ought to live” (Augustine). This is surely when the sinner repents, horrified at the sin that has been committed, frightened perhaps that his fellow man will find out but terrified to realize that God already knows and that punishment is reserved for him on account of his sins “like tongues of fire licking up straw and as dry grass sinks down in the flames… the Lord’s anger burns and his hand is raised to strike them down” (Isaiah 5:24-25). But the sinner is drawn by the gospel of forgiveness and turns to God with all his heart, his whole being, and there in that act we see the words here of the second verse. For a broken heart (as Spurgeon observes) may be whole, just as a heart may be divided and not broken; “And it never can be whole until it is broken.” Therefore, grieving sinner, “groan with a broken heart and bitter grief” (Ezekiel 21:5), with a broken heart and trembling bones (Jeremiah 23:9), for “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). For the work of Jesus was to come into the world as the atonement to “bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1).

3 They do nothing wrong.
  They walk in his ways.

The Lord calls us to follow him. “What does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all our heart and all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees?” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13). So we walk in his ways.

“Ways” is plural, but it is not a reference to multiple paths to heaven, since there is only one (John 14:6). Yet this is a question that must be asked, for wherever the term “his ways” occurs (Deuteronomy 8:6, 19:9, 26:17, 28:9, 30:16; 1 Kings 2:3; Psalm 119:3, 128:1 and Isaiah 42:24) it goes without comment in almost all of our commentaries and sermons. Does it stand as a “metaphor for the demands of God’s covenant” (NIV Study Bible, note on Psalm 25:4)? It would seem wiser to take the plural as, on the one hand, a reference to the law and the terrors of the law that leave the believer with no path apart from repentance, followed by the gospel of forgiveness in Christ, after which (then and only then) the multiple ways and paths in which the law permits us to walk in step with God in our good works follow. There are many good works available to the Christian, but all of them must align with God’s will (God’s law) or else they are not good at all, for breaking the law is lawlessness, which is sin (1 John 3:4). Therefore the “ways” of this verse and all the others like it are the one way through Christ to salvation and the many responses we have in faith to this salvation. For whether I am a doctor, lawyer, office worker, lumberjack, longshoreman, soldier, sailor, tentmaker, painter, herdsman, cowboy, or minister, I can serve God by serving God’s people, by loving my neighbor beginning with my family, and in a life of prayer and repentance.

In infancy, we are each born without the love of God in our hearts. We are born as enemies of God, little heathens all, selfish pagans with no knowledge or love of our Creator or Savior. But then baptism comes to us and washes us clean of our sins. “Whoever believes in Christ is not condemned” (John 3:18), and baptism creates saving faith in our hearts. There is no possible way for a human being “to do nothing wrong” (Psalm 119:3) except that faith covers us with the blood, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and his obedience stands in place of our disobedience.

Our love and gratitude for Christ motivates us to want to keep his decrees diligently, but our obedience is not what saves us. Our obedience is merely our response, like the wake of a great ship churning out through the ocean in new and clearly visible waves and little whitecaps. But the waves of our wake are soon overwhelmed by the aimless “wild waves of the sea” (Jude 1:13), obscuring what we once did out of love for Christ, and so we come about and continue our lifelong patrol, leaving a wake of gratitude and good deeds again and again wherever we go, guided by our good Captain, Jesus our Lord.

Notice the pattern of the verbs in these two verses: Keep, seek, do, and walk. This is the life of the believer: Keep his testimonies (O believer who is forgiven by Christ). Seek him with your whole (but broken) heart, for he will mend your broken heart. Do nothing wrong, that is, know that your wrongdoing is forgiven and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you away from temptation and sin. And walk in God’s ways. He has brought you through the only way, the lonely way to the cross that will lead out of your own grave, and now he has opened up countless ways of saying thanks with your life.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

 

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