God’s Word for You
Psalm 119:40 Part 1
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, June 17, 2023
40 How I long for your precepts!
Preserve my life in your righteousness.
Here is a simple English verse that has one of the rarest Hebrew words. Ta’av, “long for,” occurs only here and in Psalm 119:174, “I long for your salvation.” The Greek translations understand this as to desire or long for a thing with a common word (ἐπιθυμέω) that in a negative sense can mean to covet (Romans 7:7) or lust for a thing (1 Thessalonians 4:5). But the Greek word can also mean to “eagerly desire” something, as when Jesus said, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15).
We might long for God’s word (here, his precepts) in a number of ways:
1, I long to know more of your word.
2, I long to know more about your word.
3, I long to be guided by your word.
4, I long to understand the depths of myself (and my sin) through your word.
5, I long to understand the true nature of the gospel in your word.
First, to long to know more of God’s word is a fine goal; a godly desire. Each of us learns differently, and therefore we come to know the word of God in many different ways. Some need pictures, some need conversation, others simply need study and discipline. But the most important thing to remember in the desire to get to know the word of God is to read and expose oneself to it. We don’t learn about it by dreaming away our days wishing for it.
To read the word of God little by little is excellent. It brings the word into our hearts so that it percolates and bubbles there in the mind all day long. Of course, to read it with proper understanding is also vital, and so we also need to remember to sit at the feet of our pastors, who point out both our sins and our Savior, but more about that tomorrow and the later parts on this verse.
The best parts of the Word of God to learn are the Ten Commandments (these are listed in Exodus 20 and in Deuteronomy 5), the life of Christ (in the four Gospels), and the letters of Paul, Peter and John. We learn a great deal about trust and faith in the Psalms, about daily living in the Proverbs, and about the early church in Acts. In a simplified way, these are the things the Catechism teaches us in the Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. But let’s take a few simple passages and see how meditating on them help us in our longing for God’s precepts:
“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate it” (Genesis 3:6). The fall into sin was a monumentous act, but it was also a very ordinary moment. But see Eve’s descent into sin: First, she threw away God’s simple command and desire, which was that they would not eat from the tree. She let her own desire and opinion rule: “It was good for food,” although there was other fruit (indeed, all other fruit) that was permitted. Second, she allowed the prettiness of the fruit to be more important than the ugliness of the sin. Third, she had all the wisdom of the universe in her heart with the word of God for them, and God would answer any question, teach them anything, explain everything. But her choice, her decision, was to sin. Her husband, who we see was right there with her, allowed all this to happen, and therefore as she usurped his role as head of their family, he also gave up his responsibility. Here was an act of sin that prompted other acts; not just one sin, but many, all at once.
Or consider this: “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him” (Nahum 1:7). Here the prophet is about to preach the most stinging and agonizing law and judgment on the people of Nineveh, but he does not fail to hold out the simple and clear gospel.
And again, “Jesus answered him, ‘Amen, I tell you, today you will be with me in the paradise’” (Luke 23:43). The comfort in this verse is overwhelming. Jesus is speaking directly to a man who had no time to be baptized and who had the firmest preaching of the law: nails driven into his hands and death the only outcome. Yet Jesus reached out to him with the promise of heaven. Why? The man in his hopelessness turned to Jesus in hope. The man overwhelmed by his own guilt turned to Jesus for forgiveness. And that is what he received.
To long for God’s precepts is surely to do more than simply to long to know more of God’s word, and yet knowing more and more of God’s word is an excellent desire. To write it down, to commit some of it to memory, to hang parts of it on our walls, and to include the word itself in our prayers are all excellent ways of getting to know more of it. Read it. Take it to heart. Do not be afraid to skip around, to read it out of order of the books, or to alternate New Testament with Old Testament. If you want another suggestion for study, consider that all of the most important matters of the whole Bible are contained in three chapters: Romans 3, 2 Corinthians 5, and 1 Corinthians 15. In Romans 3 we learn about sin and its deadly seriousness. In 2 Corinthians 5 we learn about our Savior and about just how thoroughly and completely he rescued us from all sin. In 1 Corinthians 15, we learn all about the resurrection of the dead, what that meant for Jesus, what that meant for the early church, and what it means for us. Those three chapters number 3, 5, and 15, a pleasing sequence, and are from Paul’s longest three letters. But be assured: When you understand those three chapters and those three doctrines: sin, salvation, and the resurrection, you understand everything of vital importance in the Bible.
If you have and know your confirmation verse, ponder it and learn it. If it is forgotten or if you were not assigned one, don’t fret about it; ponder your wedding verse, or your parents’ wedding verse, or some other passage like John 3:16, or a simpler one like 1 John 3:16: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”
This is the word that holds out God’s love to us. The work of Christ, the riches of God’s mercy, and salvation which comes gently and yet with Almighty strength to us by God’s grace and compassion—these are the precepts we long to know.
Pastor Timothy Smith