God’s Word for You
Psalm 119:36-37 Turn my heart, turn my eyes
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Sunday, June 4, 2023
36 Turn my heart toward your testimonies
and not toward selfish gain.
37 Turn my eyes away from worthless things.
Give me life according to your way.
The pairing of heart and eyes is so common in the Old Testament that we are led to understand that this was a typical way of thinking for almost everyone in those times. A man would either follow the heart (the inner man) or his eye (the attractions of the outside world). In Numbers 15:39, the Lord commanded tassels to be worn by Israelites “so that you will remember all of the Lord’s commandments, and you will carry them out. Then you will not prostitute yourselves by chasing after your own heart and your own eyes.”
Our poet prays that both his heart and his eyes would remain faithful to the Lord, and by doing so he brings us especially into the realms of the Seventh, Ninth and Tenth Commandments.
“Selfish gain” violates the Seventh Commandment in particular, when any means is used to “take a man’s money or property (or business), or get it by dishonest dealing.” In his personal prayer book, Martin Luther listed all these as ways of breaking the Seventh Commandment:
- Whoever steals, robs, and practices usury.
- Whoever uses short weights and measures (Deuteronomy 25:15), or who passes off poor merchandise as good.
- Whoever gets an inheritance or income by fraud.
- Whoever withholds earned wages (Deuteronomy 24:15) and whoever refuses to acknowledge his debts.
- Whoever refuses to lend money without interest to a needy neighbor.
- All who are avaricious and want to get rich quickly.
- Whoever in any way keeps what belongs to another or keeps for himself what is only entrusted to him for a time.
- Whoever does not try to prevent loss to another person.
- Whoever does not forewarn his neighbor against possible loss.
- Whoever hinders what is advantageous to his neighbor.
- Whoever is vexed by his neighbor’s increase in wealth.
Instead, the Lord leads us to be poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3), generous, willing to lend or give of our possessions, and to live free of greed and covetousness.
Verse 37, like verse 3, substitutes “way” for any of the ususal names for the word of God. This verse warns against sins of the eyes, which especially involve the Ninth and Tenth Commandments. Of all the commands in the second table of the law, these two cut to the heart the most. This is because a man might say, “I have honored my parents, I have not committed adultery or stolen or sworn falesly in court.” But the commandments are about more than actions. They are about the workings of the inner self, including the heart and the eyes. Therefore if coveting is on the same level as stealing in God’s eyes, then we see the great truth in Jesus’ words, that lust is the same as adultery (Matthew 5:28), that casual oaths are the same as taking the Lord’s name in vain (Matthew 5:34-35), that anger without cause is the same as murder (Matthew 5:22), and so on. Therefore any sinful desire for a thing is the same as stealing, whether money, inheritance, house, or spouse, employees, animals, possessions, or anything else that belongs to our neighbor. True riches are the wealth we find in the word of God (Matthew 13:44-46); these lead us to set proper values, priorities, and goals for our lives.
However the law is presented, it cannot fail but expose man’s shortcomings and our own personal sins and failures. There are some sins which, due to their place in the past or having been committed against someone who is now dead, cause extreme guilt and pain in the life of the living. Those who agonize in this way are not souls who need to hear even more law preached to them. They need the comfort of forgiveness. In the words of C.F.W. Walther, “To make a miserable, contrite sinner the subject of Law-preaching is to commit a grievous sin against him.” Those who are crushed by past sins, especially those sins that seem to hang forever in the sky above their heads like a black and terrible storm about to fall on them; they are invited to listen to the simple words of Jesus: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). There is no exception in that verse apart from “whoever does not believe,” and that does not touch the heart or the eternal condition of those who do believe. And Paul told the jailer at Philippi, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). And the Lord asked the woman caught in adultery, “Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” “Then neither do I condemn you,” he replied (John 8:10-11). For if God forgives a sin, who has the right to retain it or say that it remains unforgiven? Be at peace with God and with yourself.
Pastor Timothy Smith