God’s Word for You
Psalm 119:4 Your precepts
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, March 4, 2023
4 You have commanded that your precepts
are to be fully obeyed.
One of the chief themes of the Great Psalm is our attitude toward God’s law. The Christian is especially fond of the gospel, but in our state of forgiveness and searching for ways to serve God according to his will, we also find delight in his law. All good works conform to God’s will and God’s law. In this verse the precepts of the Lord are presented as commands to be fully obeyed.
“Precepts” (piqqudim) is a way of describing God’s Word as supervising our life. It is in charge, not like a deputy or even a sheriff, but in the way that the entire body of laws of a nation are given by a wise ruler. And the wise ruler is of course God himself (Luke 11:49; Ephesians 3:10). These precepts are right (Psalm 19:8, 119:128), they are trustworthy (Psalm 111:7), and they give good understanding (Psalm 111:10). Also, God has commanded that they be fully obeyed. The Hebrew verb “command” (tsavah) always occurs in the specially intensive piel conjugation. This verb form often shows repetitive or intensive action. Perhaps this word always occurs in this form because to the Hebrew mind, to lay a charge or to give orders always means to attend to the very many details of an arrangement, and to use authority to see to it that they are always followed to the letter. It commands obedience, such as the rich man imagined he had been able to do: “All these I have kept since I was a boy!” (Mark 10:20). But he discovered that he had failed, and the law exposes this failing in us all.
Ma’od “fully, greatly” carries the idea of doing a thing right up to the very top, to the end, all the way; very much. This is the “very” of Cain being “very angry” (Genesis 4:5); and of the water rising “much, very much” (ma’od ma’od) in the flood until it covered the mountains (Genesis 7:19), and to be “utterly” despised (Obadiah 1:2). The law of God is to be carried out fully, completely, utterly, and “much, very much” without leaving out any detail.
So this verse proclaims the law of God clearly: “precepts that are to be fully obeyed.” This shows God’s glory and holiness, and it also exposes our sinfulness and mankind’s failure to live perfect and holy lives. Man’s obedience to the law is not optional, but mandatory. Our obedience, God commands, must be perfect (Matthew 5:48). There are two kinds of perfection described in Scripture. The first is the kind that almost all of mankind would think of, the attempt at being very very good, but which falls to ruin as soon as it faces any kind of genuine adversity. Who wants to be genuinely good, perfect, and righteous in the face of someone who is evil and ungrateful? Therefore this perfection is always imperfect; it fails because man’s inherited nature is flawed, unholy, and sinful. But the second kind of the perfect Christian obedience, which remains the same whether one is dealing with those who are grateful or those who are ungrateful, is only perfect obedience to God on account of Christ, and according to his merits, and not to do at all with the one through whom Christ works. For just as we do not praise the shovel for clearing the snow but the one who wields the shovel, so also we should not praise the believer through whom Christ accomplishes this or that good in the world, but Christ himself who works through us.
This verse also proclaims the gospel, for God’s holy precepts are not explained to the unbelieving world (Isaiah 6:9-10). They are there, written down for all to see and read, but only the believer applies them to his life through the blessing of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit only lives and dwells within those who have faith. The Faith-Bringer comes to us in Baptism and in the preaching of the word, and he resides in us, making us into his shrines, temples, chapels and cathedrals, so that we may serve God and live for Christ (1 Corinthians 6:19).
Since this Psalm is a hymn expressing the believer’s love of God’s Word, including his precepts, this verse also sheds light upon the Bible’s doctrine of justification. God does not charge mankind’s transgressions against them (2 Corinthians 5:19), but he credits those who believe with the righteousness and obedience of Christ. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is held up as the payment for our sins (2 Corinthians 5:21). It is only under the bright light of this justification that we can bring ourselves to look upon his holy laws. We stand in awe of what Jesus Christ has done for us and we love him for it.
This leads to our human response, the thanks we give for what has been done in our place. Here the Bible’s teaching of sanctification follows justification. That is to say, our thanks follows Christ’s forgiveness. Then our lives are laid down at the feet of Christ, and everything we do, we only want to do in keeping with his will. Or as Moses instructed: “Be careful to do what the Lord your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left” (Deuteronomy 5:32). This leads the believer to ponder the word of God and the will of God, and to say: “You have commanded that your precepts are to be fully obeyed. Therefore, how may I obey them, and fully obey them, today?” The Christian will stumble on this path, but he asks God for help, guidance, strength, resolve, and whatever else he may need. For the Lord, who commanded his apostles to go out into the world without purse, bag, or sandals (Luke 22:35), supplied them with everything they needed. And he will do the same for us, giving us even love and encouragement from one another.
Pastor Timothy Smith