God’s Word for You
Psalm 119:32 God’s hounds at work
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Sunday, May 21, 2023
32 I run in the path of your commandments,
for you have opened my heart wide.
This verse ends a neat string that describes the life of the believer, who has “chosen” the way of truth (v. 30), “holds fast” to it (v. 31) and now “runs” in it (v. 32). To run along a path is to travel it with ease, confidence, and certainty. What stones there are can be easily seen; what obstacles there might be cannot be missed. It’s tempting (in a good way) to apply this verse to modern sports: running track or cross country, or baseball, and even sports like basketball, football, soccer, lacrosse, and cricket can be sought for good illustrations. But our poet doesn’t seem to have sports in mind. For that we can look to Paul, who isn’t afraid to let us know he likes the races (1 Corinthians 9:24) and boxing (1 Corinthians 9:26) among other things. Our poet probably has in mind the kind of running that a messenger does (Numbers 11:27; 1 Samuel 4:12).
Consider the path of the commandments. Each of God’s commandments has pitfalls to the right and to the left, the “You shall not” part of each commandment. But each one also has a positive, true path: “This is what you should do,” that the Christian follows with joy. For example, the Fourth Commandment tells us that God’s will is that we will honor our parents and others in authority over us. This is the clear, straight-ahead path. To the left is the temptation to “dishonor or anger our parents and others in authority.” To the right is the temptation to usurp their authority for our own when it is not our place to do so.
But maybe someone will say, “But the path is clear in the Fourth Commandment, because it doesn’t say ‘You shall not.’” True enough. The Fourth and the Third are stated differently from the rest. But if we take one of the others, like the Seventh Commandment, “Do not steal,” we still see the temptations and the clear path. The temptation to one side is to steal, of course. And to the other side, it is to get our neighbor’s property by dishonest dealing, as we see in the Catechism. But the clear path that guides us in our run is also clear: “to help our neighbor to improve and protect his property and means of income.” God illustrates this in the law: “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it” (Exodus 23:4-5). Notice that in both cases, the neighbor is someone who is an enemy or someone who hates you. This defines our neighbor as everyone in the world, because if I help a man who hates me, I will surely help a man who is a friend, or a man I’ve never met. The Lord has shed light on the clear path for us to run, and what the pitfalls are as we live for him, serving him while we serve one another.
When we fall to one side or the other of the clear path and sin, our Lord shows us what we have done, and he shows us what the penalty will be. This is the work of the law and makes us stop in our tracks in fear. But the Lord doesn’t have just that on his mind. He also calls us by the gospel to turn from our sin, and that gospel shows us that we have a Savior. Our gratefulness is for his mercy and forgiveness. This message is simple and familiar, and praise God that it is! We need it every day. He never tires of healing us with his grace. May we never grow tired of hearing it—or sharing it.
This is also how our hearts are opened wide. When we show mercy and even friendship to those who hate us, we do it because we love Christ. He loved us while we were still enemies (Romans 5:10), and he died, laying aside his divine power and dying a physical death to present us to his Father as holy and free of any accusation (Colossians 1:21-22). He inspires us and models for us what it is to love, to truly love even our enemies, to give glory to God and if possible to win souls for eternal life. This is always on God’s mind and heart; this is always his plan. In this way you and I are a little bit like the dog who used to help me when I herded goats. Bandit was a good companion, and he might not always have understood every one of my instructions, but he always helped me bring the goats in to be milked. Run the path of faith with me as if you and I are God’s hounds, herding the goats and the sheep to keep to the right field and the right path. He gives us our instructions, and we do our best to carry them out. And when evening falls and the work of the long, hot day is done, and the creatures each have their reward, we will have ours, too, with the “Well done” from our Savior’s lips that we listen for, our whole lives through.
Pastor Timothy Smith