49 Remember the word to Your servant,
Upon which You have caused me to hope.
50 This is my comfort in my affliction,
For Your word has given me life.
51 The proud have me in great derision,
Yet I do not turn aside from Your law.
52 I remembered Your judgments of old, O LORD,
And have comforted myself.
53 Indignation has taken hold of me
Because of the wicked, who forsake Your law.
54 Your statutes have been my songs
In the house of my pilgrimage.
55 I remember Your name in the night, O LORD,
And I keep Your law.
56 This has become mine,
Because I kept Your precepts.
Do you remember the first time you prayed when you were afraid? Like me, you were probably a child, and your parents had reassured you that there were no monsters in the dark. But after they left the hall light on, and you were alone again, you started praying for Jesus to keep you safe from the dangers you were certain were there in the shadows. I suppose such fear of the dark is a racial memory of the very real lions that lurked beyond the campfires of our ancient ancestors. Whatever its source, a little paranoia can be a good thing, especially when it keeps us watchful for evil and reminds us to rely upon the Lord. Then, when darkness and evil do overtake us, when the wicked forsake God’s law and come to hurt and oppress us, then we are not surprised and we find strength and solace in our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus.
In today’s verses from Psalms 119:49-56, I can almost hear the scribe Ezra praying by his bed in the evening after the Jews had returned from the Babylonian captivity. Like David’s famous psalm that begins “The Lord is my Shepherd,” Ezra’s heartfelt plea is that the Lord should watch over him. But Ezra does not just seek help through his prayer, he also seeks help by reflecting upon God’s Word. And what does he find there? He finds hope, life, comfort, and familiar songs while in a strange place.
I remember the first time I sat down to read the Old Testament a few years ago, and I kept seeing Jesus and His gospel all over the place. Some people may not see the Savior in Genesis or Leviticus or Esther, but I kept noticing that forward-pointing message of hope throughout the ancient testimonies. It’s as if God had spoken to those ancient writers and prophets and said, “Here’s the end of the story, where My Son brings salvation. Don’t tell that story yet, but always remember it is coming.” And so they did! So it is no wonder that the writer of Psalms 119 had found hope in God’s Word.
One cannot read the end of Deuteronomy and NOT see the coming of Christ. If you miss Him there, you’ll miss Him everywhere.
15 “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil,
16 “in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the LORD your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess.”
But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
“The words of eternal life” are the very law and promise of God in Christ Jesus, that “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) These two Testaments which we call “the Bible” and which we know are God’s Word, these are the words of Life – life in our hearts when darkness threatens, life in our souls which shrink in fear, and life in our bodies which are renewed through faith in Jesus. As Paul reminds us, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17) Faith restores us, renews us, gives us strength when we have none. That faith comes from the very mouth of God, His Word being the bread of life we need every day.
I know firsthand the comfort found in the Word of God. In my darkest times, I have always turned to the Bible, and while I have not always found a particular passage that speaks to my afflictions, I have always found an unnameable peace, a quiet and warm relief. We need not always turn to the 23rd Psalm for such comfort, nor even to the Lord’s Prayer, but those are good places to start. When my wife died in early 2008, I dove headlong into the Psalms, and when I got here to the 119th Psalm, it all seemed so familiar – as if an old friend was saying to me, “I have been there. I know your pain. Place your burden on me, and I will give you rest.” Yes, I know there are words like that elsewhere in the Bible, but I found them here, too, in the midst of the longest chapter in the Bible, in words set down almost four-hundred years before our Savior said to Simon, “Follow Me.” I read the law of God and I know He cares for us so much that He gave us a guide for living well. I read the commandments of God and I see how men have tried and often failed to live so righteously, and yet still we strive to get it right, we don’t give up. I read the testimonies of God’s faithfulness and I see how we are not alone in our afflictions – and I see we are not alone in the peace He brings to us who are heavy laden. I read the songs of David, Moses, the descendants of Aaron, and even Ezra, and I find that their words are my words, their prayers my prayers, their hopes my hopes, and so their comfort becomes my comfort.
And those songs! What honesty and glory and hope and vision and fear and courage! When I was studying Shakespearean acting in college, my professor told me, “Shakespeare is meant to be read aloud.” The same is true for the Psalms! In fact, the language of the King James version of the Bible is from the same time as Shakespeare himself! Coincidence? Perhaps, but one cannot deny that the poetry of the King James Bible is far easier to remember than the prose of newer translations of the Bible. Read the Psalms aloud and let them become real words in your mouth, real songs from your tongue. Say aloud, “The LORD is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation.” (Psalms 118:14) Let His name be the praise that rings forth, let His name be the prayer that we speak.
We are just travelers in this word, these bodies but tents as our souls move on. As C.S. Lewis said, we live among immortals, and the only question is whether they are immortal with God or immortal in hell. While we are here in this “mortal coil” (as Shakespeare called this life), we can either live lives of despair and loneliness, or we can grasp hold of our eternal life and bring it into this mortality. God’s Word is eternal, and although men wrote it down over centuries, it has always existed. God spoke a Word and the world was created. God have His Word to Moses and others. Jesus came as the very Word incarnate, God become Man, Emmanuel – “God with us.” God’s Word is truth and love and life, and (with apologies to Shakespeare) the love He expresses through His Word is “an ever-fixèd mark” toward which we can always look, a place wherein to affix our hope. So, even as we live and move from day to day – growing older, our children becoming adults, our jobs, our homes and our friends always changing – the Word of God is a constant companion, a bit of heaven here on earth, a ceaseless song in the house of our pilgimage.
Let the Word of God become yours. Read the Bible and speak it aloud, knowing that God’s intent has always been that His Word be shared and not kept secret. Despite our indignation at wickedness, despite our affliction and trouble, despite the temporary nature of our worldly existence, we can find hope and life and comfort in speaking and keeping the words of God. Come to His Word again and again, and always remember His name – by day or by night – and speak the name of His precious Son, Jesus Christ. Know that there is power unto life in the gospel, and if we would share that life with others, we must speak the Word of God without fear, without shame, and without hesitation. Let us always share the hope, the life, the comfort, and the songs to be found in the Word of God.
Heavenly Father, blessed be Your holy name! May Your Word be ever upin my lips, Your songs ever in my heart. I remember Your words to Zephaniah, that in our affliction You will rejoice over us with singing. Sing in my life today, Lord God, and teach me Your will, Your commandments, Your statutes, so that I will ever keep them. Mold me into the image of Your Son, so that I may better serve You. Amen.