God’s Word for You
Psalm 119:9 Guard your way with the Word
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Sunday, March 12, 2023
BETH ( ב )
In this stanza, our author demonstrates how he loves and delights in God’s word.
9 How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it with your word.
This is the only time in the Great Psalm that the author mentions a “young man” (na‘ar). Does he mean himself? In verse 99, he also says that he has more wisdom than all his teachers. Are these indications that he was still young when he wrote this masterpiece?
He wants to keep his ways pure. Except for the usual translation of paz in verse 127, “pure gold,” this is the only reference to being pure. To keep one’s way pure, he uses the piel verb zikkeh. In the (simple) qal conjugation, it means to be pure or clean. In the piel, it means to cause something to be pure or clean. This is an example of the piel verb being used for another conjugation (in this case, the hifil). Doubtless the speaker thought of keeping something clean as an ongoing, continuous task (another use of the piel). One does not sweep a floor, make a bed, or shovel a sidewalk only once, but again and again.
He says orach for “path” rather than derek. This is a more poetic word, and we will encounter it again in verses 101, 104 and 128. It might be related to the word arach “wander,” as in the word “traveler” in Nathan’s parable to David (2 Samuel 12:4). I don’t think that it suggests that the young man is taking an unusual path or a potentially sinful way. Either it captures the thought that for the young, all pathways are a new experience, or else it is just a poetic variation. We should not read too much into the word.
It is guarding the way that is important, and this is done with the word of God. The young are unsure of their footing. A young man who is a believer, firm in his faith, is still prone to all sorts of temptations and pitfalls. He will be preyed upon. He will be drawn by alluring eyes and driven by lust and desire. He will be seduced by the smooth speech of the adulteress (Proverbs 5:3) whose paths are crooked and who gives no thought at all to the way of life. “Her steps lead straight to the grave” (Proverbs 5:5). And the natural inclination of all human hearts leans toward sin and whatever is unclean (Genesis 6:5). But his question, “How can I keep my way pure?” is wholesome and honest. His desire is to please God, and he knows in his head that the Word will guide him, but he might not yet know it in his heart. Experience will teach him just how valuable the Word is, how priceless a reference and tool kit it can be.
Solomon’s advice to the young is, “Be happy while you are young… Follow the ways of your heart” (Ecclesiastes 11:9). Solomon, are you thinking of the pursuits of wisdom, or the temptations of the flesh? But you also say, “Banish anxiety from your heart” (11:10), and you counsel the young to “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth” (12:1), and those things are good pieces of advice.
This winter we have had more snow, deep and drifting snow, than normal. Driving has become difficult and in some cases (such as the night before last Christmas Eve), impossible. The driver has to be aware that around every curve there might be a sudden snowdrift that the car cannot pass through. This is much like life for the young. Who knows what the next corner or turn in the road will bring?
The Word of God is our guide. The Ten Commandments, for the believer, are the guide for the way God wants us to live and act toward one another. Re-read Luther’s explanations to the commandments and consider how each one gives clear advice for Christian living, including things like this:
- Call upon God’s name in every trouble.
- Do not dishonor or anger our parents and others in authority.
- Help and befriend our neighbor in every bodily need.
- Husband and wife love and honor each other.
- Help your neighbor to improve and protect his property.
- Take his words and actions in the kindest possible way.
- Urge your neighbor’s spouse to stay and do their duty.
And remember whatever clear and helpful verses you have learned, and consider them every day. “Goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6).
Pastor Timothy Smith