God’s Word for You
Psalm 119:21-22 Roll their scorn away
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, April 29, 2023
21 You rebuke the insolent, the cursed,
those who wander from your commandments;
22 roll their scorn and contempt away from me,
for I have kept your testimonies.
Here the stanza shows that our poet is surrounded by unbelievers. He describes them in several ways: First, they are insolent. The poet’s word for insolence can also mean a wicked presumption, an open rebellion against God’s word and God’s way. Next they are cursed on account of their insolence and also because they wander from God’s commandments. More than this, they show scorn and contempt for God’s word, God’s will, and for God’s people.
These are Third Commandment sins that ultimately come from the First Commandment sin of unbelief. The Third Commandment commands that we remember and keep the Sabbath day, which the ancient Jews took to mean that they should not break a sweat on Saturdays, judging certain distances to be “a Sabbath day’s walk,” and so on (Acts 1:12; John 5:9). But the true keeping of the Sabbath day is the desire to be fed by the Word of God, not to despise preaching and his Word, but “to regard it as holy and gladly hear and learn it.”
The Lord rebukes those who despise his word; and of course he normally does this through his people who are the sinner’s contemporaries (Leviticus 19:17). Abraham and Isaac cannot rebuke me today, for they are long since dead and their spirits rest in the Lord. But my friends and neighbors can rebuke me. A newcomer to a village might be forgiven for not knowing the local customs, but God demands perfect obedience from all mankind for all his commands. He rebukes the believer and the unbeliever alike (Proverbs 17:10, 10:17; Ecclesiastes 7:5). He rebukes sinners for secret sins as well as open transgressions (Job 13:10), and his rebuke may be magnified as the sin is magnified (Malachi 2:2-3). But how wise was the ancient believer who said: “It is better to rebuke than to fume!”
The earthly punishment on those who wander away from God’s commandments and from his word is that the word itself will be removed from them so that they no longer have it or understand it. “They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it” (Amos 8:12). And Paul warns: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
This earthly punishment finally includes the death of the wicked. So while God threatens, “I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you have not kept my ways” (Malachi 2:9), this will end. “Such to you are those with whom you have labored, who have trafficked with you from your youth; they all wander about in their own paths; there is no one to save you” (Isaiah 47:15). And finally: “After this they will become dishonored corpses, and an outrage among the dead forever.” And the condemnation of everlasting punishment awaits: “He will never see the good things I will do for my people, declares the LORD, because he has preached rebellion against the LORD” (Jeremiah 29:32).
Knowing the judgment that Lord threatens for all who despise preaching and his word, what does the Psalm writer urge us to do as we live in the fallen world surrounded by those who wander far from God’s commandments? He demonstrates the right course. He turns to God in prayer. “Roll their scorn away from me,” he says. Send them away, O Lord! And at the same time, to ask God to cause their departure is also to want to tend to one’s own faith, to nurture it, to prune it, to tend it, and to cut away the weeds. For, as we learn from the Fifth Petition, “We daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment.” Therefore “we pray that our Father in heaven would not look upon our sins or because of them deny our prayers.”
And we add from the Third Petition our sincere prayer that he “breaks and defeats every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh, which try to prevent us from keeping God’s name holy and letting his kingdom come. And God’s will is done when he strengthens and keeps us firm in his Word and in the faith as long as we live. This is his good and gracious will.” And we pray that our own sins and failings would not keep him from sending us the assurance of his forgiveness through the means of grace, the Gospel in word and sacrament.
How deeply the Law stabs at us all! How shallow our defenses! How hopeless is our case as we argue before the throne of God! But the very word that God urges us to hear and love is the word that reveals his love to us. He forgives our sins, our shallow, hopeless rebellion, our excuses to do anything other than listen. He invites us to put our trust in Christ, for “to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe in him” (Large Catechism I:2). For we can easily find flaws in others, and it hardly takes any special insight to see that the world all around us is full of unbelief and wickedness. But the Christian is truly blessed who recognizes sin in his own life, who takes God’s warnings to heart, and repents of his sins, and trusts in Jesus.
Pastor Timothy Smith