This is the second Bible Study from my series on Psalm 119. Each study focuses on a particular stanza of this Psalm. Fun facts: Each stanza is named with a letter from the Hebrew alphabet and, in the original language, these stanzas were an acrostic–each line of the stanza beginning with that particular letter. This poetic form is lost in translation to English, but the truth and passion for God and His Word transcend the confines of language.
“How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Praise be to you, O Lord; teach me your decrees. With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word”
( Psalm 119:9–16, NIV).
I loved recess when I was a kid. I remember counting the hours and minutes until I could go outside to play and talk with my friends (without whispering or passing notes—something I was often lectured about in the classroom). On the first day of fourth grade, I remember Mrs. Tempe, the new playground monitor, gathering everyone around her, like a hen with her chicks, to tell us the rules of recess. She was a big, gruff woman with a big, gruff voice and a shrill whistle she wore around her neck—we were terrified of her. The rules were written on a sign posted by the door: No pushing or rough play; no fighting; take turns with the school equipment. The list went on. So long as we followed the rules, we could enjoy the freedom of recess. In time, I discovered Mrs. Tempe was a kind woman with a big smile who took her job seriously. She wasn’t being mean with the playground rules; they were there to help us understand what behavior was safe and what would cause us harm—or detention!
The Lord of all creation gave us the rules of His playground, the Law, for our benefit, so that we could live in peace with Him and with each other. While the Law cannot save us—only Jesus could ever do that—without the law, we wouldn’t see a need for a Savior. And in our natural human state, right and wrong are often foggy gray areas, subject to our feelings and circumstances.
The psalmist starts this stanza of Psalm 119 with the question, “How can a young man keep his way pure?” The idea of longing for purity goes against everything my culture tells me. We appreciate purity in a bottle, but when it comes to our lives and relationships it seems old-fashioned and “goody-goody.” Even in a Christian context, whenever I read about purity in the Bible, I think strictly of sexual relationships. I’m happily married, so is this verse even applicable?
I looked up “pure” in Strong’s Concordance. Pure, or zakak (H2135), means transparent, clean. The psalmist is not stating his struggle with lust, he is prayerfully contemplating how to live a transparent life of integrity. In the midst of a generation of people who are no longer ok with the status quo and seek greater levels of transparency in everything from food production to politics, this passage of Scripture is increasingly applicable today!
How can a person live a life of integrity? By living according to God’s Word. By actively seeking God in our every day lives. In the verses that follow, the psalmist passionately advocates seeking God in every aspect of his life. One of the verses I memorized in my childhood Sunday School class is found here: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (v. 11). Committing Scripture to memory has proven to be extremely valuable to me over the years. I have never been the best at memorizing, but the Holy Spirit is so good to bring to mind just the right verse at just the right time. The moment I’m tempted to gossip, to let my thoughts wander in forbidden zones, to take the easy way out and lie or “fudge” the truth a little, when I want to refuse to forgive…verse after verse comes to mind. I can ignore them. Yes. The verses cannot, in and of themselves, make me do the right thing. But the tools are there to show me how to keep my integrity.
Like the playground rules and Mrs. Tempe (and her whistle) when I was in elementary school, God’s standards give me the tools to know which behaviors, thoughts, attitudes are pleasing and honoring to Him, and what will get me into trouble. It’s my job to humbly seek His ways and to follow with the help of the Holy Spirit to guide me along the way.
Read Psalm 119:9–16. Make a list: What action words/phrases does the writer use in reference to his passion for God’s Word?
Read Mark 12:28–31. In your own words, write out the commands that Jesus lays out.
How do these commands lead us toward a life of transparency and integrity?
While the law itself cannot make us pure, it is faithful to show us where we fail and how we need saving. We cannot use it as a crutch to make our lives look better, we NEED Christ’s redeeming work in our hearts to change us from the inside out. As our hearts change, we have a responsibility to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in doing the right thing. And what is the right thing? See Mark 12:28–31.
What benefits are there in following these commands? Where do you need to pray for the Spirit’s help?