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God’s Word for You

Psalm 119:45 A narrow path but a wide place

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Sunday, August 20, 2023

45 Then I will walk about in wide places,
  for I have sought your precepts.

A second result for the poet of having God’s word in his mind and on his lips is that he will walk back and forth and all around in “wide places.” It would be best to describe these two things (the verb and location) in reverse order. First: “the wide places.” This is any large space, especially an unexpectedly large space. Job describes a “gaping breach” in the ruins of a wall (Job 30:14), and Isaiah prophesied that hoards of Assyrians would be like a flooding river covering “the wide breadth of your land” (Isaiah 8:8). Here, the poet’s wide places are the freedom to live a life of faith where he had once known only opposition and oppression. It is freedom he rejoices over—his wide places are what he means when he also says, “the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance” (Psalm 16:6).

Therefore his wide places are the whole condition of his heart. He has forgiveness for his sins (“When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgression,” Psalm 65:3). He knows that he is blessed in many different ways (“I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God,” Psalm 52:8). It doesn’t matter whether his life on earth will be long or short, “a mere handbreadth” (Psalm 39:5), because he has all eternity stretching out before him. He has learned to let go of the joys and pleasures of the earth. Such things are placed here by our God for our delight and for our use, but we should not be attached to them. Such things are like the view from a hotel window. It might be pleasant for a short while, but it isn’t home.

What does he mean by “I will walk about”? I have spoken before about some of the different stems or forms of the Hebrew verb. Here we have one that’s always interesting and can genuinely be fun to fully understand. It is called the hithpael (as if your name is “Ell,” and your Ma, in a playful mood, tells you to “hit Pa, Ell”). This stem tells us that the verb involves a back-and-forth or even reciprocal action. It happens here and it happens over there and then way over there. When the Lord asks the Devil where he’s come from, the Devil misses the truth of the Lord’s question (before he fell into sin, he came from the Lord himself) and he says, “From roaming through the earth and going (hithpael) back and forth in it” (Job 1:7, 2:2). Asaph also describes God’s lightning as being like arrows that “flash back and forth” (Psalm 77:17). And in the book of Esther, we see the queen’s worried cousin Mordecai “pacing back and forth” near the courtyard of the harem to see how she is (Esther 2:11). So our poet is about to walk all around, as much as he likes, in this wide open space of his spiritual freedom with God’s word in his heart and on his lips.

But wait—isn’t it a narrow path we walk in this lifetime? Jesus said, “Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life” (Mark 7:14). The narrowness is on account of sin’s pits and traps all around. The way to heaven is narrow because it leads through the door that is Christ alone (Luke 13:24). But when we trust in him and obey his word, and submit to our God above all things, we find that there are many ways to serve him that he places before us. Even along unfamiliar pathways he will guide us (Isaiah 42:16).

When we know the word of God and treasure it, the world that was formerly filled with sinful traps and pits is now a cobblestone path of potential good deeds and fine choices, all laid out by God for our feet to tread upon. Are there three choices or four? If they are all set out by God, then they are all good choices, and I will make the choice that suits my abilities or the one that suits my desire to stretch my service in his name. He will be pleased with me.

There was a moment in my life when I did not know whether I could continue to serve God as I was, and I felt drawn to make a change for him. That change could have been anything. Should I take up music composition once again and make a deeper study of music fundamentals? Or should I take a workshop to improve myself as a Sunday school teacher? These things were open to me. Or should I go back to college and study theology, and see whether the Lord might have something else in mind? All of these were good options, and the Lord blessed the choice I finally made. When we know that God is with us, that he upholds us with his righteous right hand, we have a whole world of ways to serve him. For when we know what choices will please him, he will bless our choices.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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