God’s Word for You
Psalm 119:38 Your sayings
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, June 10, 2023
38 Confirm your sayings to your servant,
that I may fear you.
This verse sends us right into the middle of the Ten Commandments as if we have fallen into a bush of nettles. Except that the bush does not sting, on account of Christ. To say, “the sayings of the Lord” is the broadest possible brush to paint with. The Hebrew term means “speech, things that have been spoken or uttered.” So in this verse, our poet is describing everything God has said. This could be categorized in many ways, but let’s consider it in these terms: (1) Everything God spoke before the fall, (2) the law spoken after the fall but before Christ came, (3) the gospel spoken after the fall but before Christ came, (4) the law spoken through Christ and since Christ came, and (5) the gospel spoken through Christ and since he came. This will be followed by everything God speaks in and after the final judgment, but this has not happened yet. We will consider the poet’s second line of the verse (just two words in Hebrew) “that I may fear you” or “which is your fear / the fear of you” in each case.
(1) Everything God spoke before the fall. These are the words of creation, the words that carried God’s power into the world and made, shaped, formed, and finished his will in the world. It also includes the gracious things he said to Adam and Eve, the commands and also the promises to them.
What about the fear, that is, the fear and respect for God? Even then, his words carried a threat of punishment, for he also said, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17, 3:3). But God also spoke words of blessing and his will for man’s benefit, showing Adam that “it is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18) and commanding him “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden” except the one (Genesis 2:16). God has our eternal good at heart.
(2) The law spoken after the fall but before Christ came. Here are all the threats of the Law of Moses and the corrections of the prophets: “When the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sins” (Exodus 32:34). He is to be feared because of his power to punish both in this world and the next.
(3) The gospel spoken after the fall but before Christ came. God’s threats did not stand alone, for whenever his people were crushed on account of their sins, they reached out to him for forgiveness. Their forgiveness was shown in a way they could understand, which was blood for blood: “The priest will make atonement for them, and they will be forgiven” (Leviticus 4:20). But God also promised a Savior who would come from the family of Abraham, through Judah and David. “It is he who will save us,” they were promised (Isaiah 33:22). Since it was God himself who would be incarnate as their Savior, he is to be feared, loved, honored, respected, and worshiped above all.
(4) The law spoken through Christ and since Christ came. Jesus explained the law in great detail during his ministry to help us understand the depths of sin in our hearts and lives. For where Moses had permitted that a man could divorce his wife, Jesus assures us that this is not just permission to dissolve marriage for any and every reason. “Anyone who divorces his wife except for marital unfaithfulness,” he said, “causes her to become an adulteress,” and the same would be true of the man who divorced her, and anyone who married either of them (Matthew 5:32). These and all of God’s laws strike fear into our hearts when we see just how far we are from being holy and righteous. When we look into our lives and see nothing there but sin and unrighteousness, we know true fear and the terror of punishment. This causes us to cry out for forgiveness.
(5) The gospel spoken through Christ and since he came. The sacrifices of the Old Testament only pointed the way to Jesus, to the one sacrifice of the Son of God for all mankind. The good news of the gospel assures us that faith, which is trusting in Jesus the Savior, means “your sins are forgiven,” as Jesus told the paralyzed man (Matthew 9:2). Then he silenced the men who doubted by healing that same man, saying, “Which is easier? To say, ‘Your sins are forgiven?’ Or to say, ‘Get up and walk?’” This was to prove his authority and to teach a lesson, but the man’s sins were already forgiven (Matthew 9:8-9).
This verse of the Great Psalm teaches us to embrace every part of the word of God, law and gospel. It is there for our good. Not one word must fall to the ground (1 Samuel 3:19). “Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you” (Romans 13:3). But since we cannot do what is right in a truly right and perfect way, we have the gospel of the forgiveness of our sins. This is the message of righteousness through faith in Christ, by the grace of God, the faith that is the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Pastor Timothy Smith