God’s Word for You
Psalm 119:26-27 confession and forgiveness
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Sunday, May 7, 2023
26 I recounted my ways and you answered me;
teach me your statutes.
My friend Rev. James Sonnemann wrote: “Psalm 119 teaches us in a fascinating manner what might otherwise become dry doctrinal lessons. We are permitted to listen in on the intimate devotional conversation of a sainted sinner with our loving and merciful Lord.” In this verse, the sainted sinner has “recounted his ways.”
Can this possibly mean that he wants to number his good works for God to see? How could any of us hope to recount over and over the good deeds that we think would stand up before the holy presence of God?
First, none of our deeds measures up to God’s perfection. “We have sinned against you” (Daniel 9:11); “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
In addition, all of our deeds are tainted by the stain of sin. “Their sins engulf them” (Hosea 7:2). Some of this is our original sin, which clings to us and is a part of our fallen nature every bit as much as the color of our hair or eyes, or like our blood type or fingerprints, or like all of the minute flecks and freckles that are spattered upon our flesh.
And again, we sin by omission all the time, leaving undone many things God has set in our path for us to do. And some of this is terribly our own doing, when we fall into the habit of a sin so much that we don’t see any other way of living or breathing without that sin being a part of the way we must recount before the Lord. “Even if you scrub yourself with cleanser and use a lot of strong soap, the stain of your guilt is before me, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 2:22).
We also fall prey to the sin of leaving our lives unexamined. We should recognize the sin we commit, the deeds we do or fail to do, but we avoid studying the mirror of the law. We let it go cloudy so that we will not have to see our imperfections. “You did not consider these things or reflect on what might happen” (Isaiah 47:7).
Sin, in fact, is a tumbling fall even for us who are born into it since the time of Adam and Eve. It begins with a lack of trust in God, which truly is unbelief. “See to it that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12). This is followed by errors in judgment, or a wandering heart, “error or impure motive” (1 Thessalonians 2:3), coupled with a strong desire (“do not gratify the desires of the sinful nature,” Galatians 5:16). This sinful desire is transgression (Romans 4:15), crossing the line of God’s command, and pays no regard to the holy will of God. Such disobedience reveals enmity, the sinful hatred against God, “for the sinful mind is hostile to God” (Romans 8:7). Man’s desire, we must realize, is absolutely self-centered. “Concerning the sinfulness of the wicked,” David says, “There is no fear of God before his eyes. For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin” (Psalm 36:1-2).
The penitent Christian will ask, “Have I done something to offend Almighty God?” The wise man refrains from laughing at this, keeping himself from saying, “Surely there is not just ‘something’ I have done, but everything I do offends God in some way, and in almost every way, apart from faith in Christ.” Job’s younger friend proposed: “Suppose a man says to God, ‘I am guilty but will offend no more. Teach me what I cannot see; if I have done wrong, I will not do so again” (Job 34:31-32). Teach me, and I will not do it again.
The Lord answers this recounting of ours with his judgment: “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:20). This is his statute. Statutes are the things he wants to be taught, both his will and the consequences for disobeying his will. We have seen that statutes (huqqim) especially means God’s word in its eternal permanence. Nehemiah called the law that came down from Mount Sinai in the hands of Moses “decrees and commands that are good” (Nehemiah 9:13). Moses used the same word when he was preparing to repeat the Ten Commandments to the Israelites at the end of their journey (Deuteronomy 4:14). How is it that we can learn more about the holy will of God unless we study the true meaning of his law? For the gospel shows us our Savior, but if we offend God without realizing that we have sinned, his anger will continue to burn against us.
Where, then, is God’s mercy? Where is the gospel? For this we are invited to read on; just one more verse:
27 Make me understand the way of your precepts.
Then I will meditate on your wonders.
Happily, the English translation “precept” has a hint about the Hebrew word. Hear how “precept” contains the particle “pre,” which means “before” or “beforehand.” And the Hebrew word means a thing that is appointed, and therefore must have happened beforehand. The greatest precept of our holy God is the plan of salvation for mankind. This was spoken directly to Satan in the hearing of Eve when God condemned the serpent: “I will put enmity (bitter hatred) between you and the woman, before your seed and her seed. He (the woman’s seed) will crush your head, and you (O Satan) will snap at his heel” (Genesis 3:15). This Gospel promise was of the cross, when a single event would fulfill everything God promised to our first mother. Christ crushed the head and power of Satan over us when he offered his life as a sacrifice on the cross. At the same time, the devil hurt our Lord by killing him, which is also his goal with us all (Mark 9:22).
“Make me understand the way of your things appointed beforehand.” Make me understand this gospel plan: “Decreed to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, and to bring in everlasting righteousness” (Daniel 9:24). But the act of understanding is beyond the sinful heart. In his mercy, God asks and invites man simply to believe. “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31a). Is this possible only for a few who are wise, educated, learned, and brighter than most? No, it is “for you and your household” (Acts 16:31b). So “The obedience that comes from faith” (Romans 1:5; 16:26) is not a law statement or a demand. It is a gospel promise and a statement of God’s merciful grace. The Lord makes demands of us, but then he supplies what he demands. Like the husband in the Song of Solomon, he simply praises what the bride has been given and not what she does (Song of Solomon 4:1-3). “How beautiful you are and how pleasing, daughter of delights” (Song of Solomon 7:7).
Meditating on God’s wonders, his wonderful gospel most of all, is a delight that continues from this lifetime into the next. We will praise God for his wonders forever. “He rescues and he saves. He works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth” (Daniel 6:27). “You will have plenty to eat. You will eat until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you. Never again will my people be put to shame!” (Joel 2:26). Meditate on God’s holy word day and night (Joshua 1:8), and know that your loving God has your good in mind always—your wonderful and everlasting good.
Pastor Timothy Smith