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God’s Word for You

Psalm 119:28-29 Three griefs

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, May 13, 2023

28 My soul melts with grief.
  Strengthen me according to your word.

What grief had hold of the poet? Man is subject to certain griefs, some on account of sin in the world, and others on account of one’s own sin. First, there was the deep black grief the disciples felt at the death of Jesus, which he himself had foreseen and told them would not last long on account of his resurrection (John 16:22).

Then there is the righteous grief of those who suffer on account of their faith. This is the grief that comes “in all kinds of trials” for Christians (1 Peter 1:16). There is also the grief of the believer who, through no fault of their own, suffers and agonizes over a hole in their life. This is the grief of the barren woman who wants a child more than anything (1 Samuel 1:16), the grief of the widow who cannot be consoled (Lamentations 1:1), the grief of the parent who loses a young child (Zechariah 12:10) or that of a young child who loses a mother or a father (2 Samuel 18:33; Psalm 82:3). And there is the grief of the sick person who is dying and who knows it (Genesis 35:18).

These griefs and those that are like them are strengthened by the word of God in all its comfort. For the faithful are assured: “You have upheld my right and my cause. You have never forsaken those who seek you” (Psalm 9:4,10). And the prophet says: “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him” (Nahum 1:7).

But there is the other grief, the grief that truly melts the soul. “Melts” here is an uncertain word. It surely means “weep” in Job 16:20 (“my eyes drip tears to God”) and the dripping of rain in Proverbs 27:15. Here it seems to be connected to the dripping or melting of wax or snow, which are clear enough expressions (Psalm 27:14, 68:2; Job 6:16, 24:19). This is the grief that sin brings, the grief and fear that is the first part of repentance. “Wash your hands, your sinner,” James says, “and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn, and wail” (James 4:8-9). The heart grieving over sin and frightened of the wrath of God is the heart that needs the gospel of forgiveness.

The poet dares to command the Lord with the words, “Strengthen me!” This isn’t just a request to build the body’s strength with food (Song of Solomon 2:5) or for the whole body and spirit to produce a single mighty act like Samson did (Judges 16:28), but the strengthening of the gospel to heal the sad spirit of the sinner. God does not want to see us wallowing in our grief, and prolonged grief over sin is not like the long and lasting grief over the death of a young wife. Christ came with the specific task of overcoming our sin. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8). So prolonged grief over sin that has been forgiven is nothing but “a plague of Satan.” Luther said to a friend: “It is bad enough to know that you made a mistake (in this matter). Now do not let your sin stick in your mind, but get rid of it. Quit your despondency, which is a far greater sin. Listen to the blessed consolation which the Lord offers you” after which the Reformer rattles off passage after passage of gospel comfort.

We are comforted by the word of God because this is the way God has communicated with mankind. Visions and dreams were for individuals. Direct appearances of God took place in certain emergencies. But in our time, living after the appearance and ministry of God’s holy Son, we have the full and complete word of God. In the word is all of the comfort of God’s love for God’s holy people. God declared: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:31). And “where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin” (Hebrews 10:18). Your prolonged grief does not make you more forgiven than you were when God first comforted you in your repentance. Set aside showy displays of grief. Love your Lord Jesus, for he loves you.

29 Turn me away from a false way
  and be gracious to me through your law.

The “false way” is contrasted with “the way of truth” in the next verse (30). The poet is really saying, “Turn the false way from me,” but this isn’t the way we talk in English. This is a pity, because it leaves English readers with the impression that God might give me a push in the right direction, and the rest is up to me. This is a false doctrine called Semi-Pelagianism, and it leads many people away from the truth. No, in all things God works for our good (Romans 8:28) according to his compassion and goodness (Isaiah 63:7).

The false way is false in every way. It is false to God, because Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Any way that is not God’s way is a lie and a trap set by the devil. Therefore God is indeed gracious to us through his law, because the law shows his gracious will and the pathway that is sinless. Choosing another path, any other path, is the way of sin, and death, and eternal damnation.

The false way is also false to our fellow man, because we can easily lead one another astray. This happened briefly in Antioch, when Paul says in Galatians that he discovered that some pietistic men from Jerusalem (“from James” means from the church where James was pastor, not that James was responsible for their actions) began to separate themselves from the Gentile believers, and that Peter joined them even though he knew better, and that “by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray” (Galatians 2:13). Isaiah had lamented seven centuries before: “Youths oppress my people; women rule over them. O my people, your guides lead you astray; they turn you from the path” (Isaiah 3:12). When any of us has hurt the faith of another, we should be struck as if with a leather strap by remorse, for we can damage lives and even souls with our mistakes. Charles Spurgeon in his great commentary on the Psalms writes in this place: “Holy men cannot review their sins without tears, nor weep over them without entreating to be saved from further offending.” Cursed is the man who leads the blind astray on the road, Moses said (Deuteronomy 27:18).

Finally, the false way is also false to oneself, the person who follows that way. Paul warns that the love of money is often to blame, “a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10). Another source of this First Commandment sin is the desire for a false knowledge, a quest for greatness in the field of scholarship and higher learning that so often turns men from their faith. Paul ends his first Pastoral Epistle with these words: “Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith. Grace be with you. Amen” (1 Timothy 6:20-21).

For the poet, the grace of God was seen in the giving of the law, but the law itself cannot save anyone, “for if righteous could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing” (Galatians 2:21). Yet we can appreciate that the word of God is filled with God’s promises of comfort and salvation in both the Old and New Testaments. But what is concealed in the Old is revealed in the New. The promise for the poet of our Psalm was delightful, but we have the fulfillment of that promise, and the knowledge of Jesus himself, who has saved us from our sins.

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 visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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