57 You are my portion, O LORD;
I have said that I would keep Your words.
58 I entreated Your favor with my whole heart;
Be merciful to me according to Your word.
59 I thought about my ways,
And turned my feet to Your testimonies.
60 I made haste, and did not delay
To keep Your commandments.
61 The cords of the wicked have bound me,
But I have not forgotten Your law.
62 At midnight I will rise to give thanks to You,
Because of Your righteous judgments.
63 I am a companion of all who fear You,
And of those who keep Your precepts.
64 The earth, O LORD, is full of Your mercy;
Teach me Your statutes.
When God chose Aaron and his sons to serve in the tabernacle, He set them apart from the other tribes of Israel by having them anointed with oil. But the Levites were also to have no inheritance in the Promised Land, no portion of Canaan set aside for them. While Judah inherited the big, south-central portion, and little Benjamin a small one, while Naphtali got the Sea of Galilee and the half-tribe of Manasseh was split by the Jordan, the descendants of Levi were to have nothing but a town here and there throughout the land. They were to be supported not by their own farms and herds but by the tithes and offerings of the other tribes. And the sons of Aaron, the priests, were to live off the offerings made in the tabernacle. No land, no riches, no flocks, only the Lord.
20 Then the LORD said to Aaron: “You shall have no inheritance in their land, nor shall you have any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the children of Israel.
21 “Behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of meeting.”
Of course, as long as the faith of Israel was strong, so would be their offerings. The first and best of their flocks and fields would go to the Levites, and the Levites would never want for any necessity such as food or shelter or protection. But if the people turned away from the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then the Levites would suffer. It is not stated aloud in Scripture, but it is clear that the prosperity and safety of the Levites was directly linked to the faithfulness of the people.
But God had chosen the Levites because of Aaron’s faithfulness. Some later generations of Levites muddied the waters with their lack of faith, turning to pagan gods and evil sacrifices along with many of the Israelite people. And several hundred years later, only a faithful few kept the fires of faith burning as the Jews were marched off into slavery in Babylon. As slaves, no one really wanted for anything, but they had no freedom, no inheritance. By the waters of Babylon, they wept as their cruel masters asked them to sing holy songs for their masters’ amusement. (Psalm 137:1-3) But seventy years later, as they returned to Jerusalem, those few who remembered the psalms and laws of God returned to find they needed not only to rebuild the city and God’s temple, they also needed to rebuild the people’s faith – and maintain their own.
Today’s verses from Psalms 119:57-64 are a prayer to keep one’s faith strong and to thank God for His mercy. The psalmist acknowledges that he has nothing apart from God, and he notes that he has sought God’s will and God’s ways willingly. He doesn’t hesitate to turn to God in all things. Even in the middle of the night he rises to give thanks to God for His mercy and His righteousness. The psalmist keeps company with those who fear God and keep His precepts – His law, commandments, and ordinances. But most importantly, look at the words that bookend these verses:
57 You are my portion, O LORD, …
64 … Teach me Your statutes.
The psalmist seeks nothing more from God than His continuing mercy and His Word. David expresses a similar sentiment:
5 O LORD, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup;
You maintain my lot.
6 The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;
Yes, I have a good inheritance.
7 I will bless the LORD who has given me counsel;
My heart also instructs me in the night seasons.
8 I have set the LORD always before me;
Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.
David and the writer of the 119th Psalm (whom many believe was the priest Ezra), both believe that all their blessings come from the Lord, and they seek Him night and day. Their hearts are instructed by God all the time because they seek His Word. And as the later psalmist says, even when bound by “the cords of the wicked,” he does not forget God’s law – nor the promises contained therein. For as Moses noted, the law contains life and death, blessing and cursing. When we choose God’s ways and God’s will, we find blessings. When we reject His will, we find only cursing and death.
The greatest blessing to be found in faithfulness to God’s Word is the blessing of eternal life in Christ Jesus, His Son. Jesus came to fulfill the law, to fulfill centuries of prophecies and promise, to be the descendant of Abraham through which all nations are blessed. When we seek God’s Word, we are also seeking His Son, seeking to know more about His way, His truth, His life. When we give thanks for God’s mercy and righteousness, we are also thanking Him for His Son, who expressed God’s perfect love and forgiveness in facing the sentence for our sins on the Cross.
We all ought to follow the psalmist’s example. We ought to keep God’s Word, to entreat God’s favor with our whole hearts, to think about our ways and turn our feet toward God’s way and God’s will. Let us make haste and not delay to keep God’s commandments, and although we face persecution and oppression, let us never forget His law. Can we say we rise at midnight to give thanks to God? Are we companions – literally those who are “knit together” – with those who fear and love the Lord God? Do we understand that the earth is indeed FULL of God’s mercy and grace?
Seek God every day. Seek Him, and thank Him. Thank Him for His Word, His Son, His grace, His forgiveness, and His many blessings. Thank Him for being with you in the worst of times. Thank Him for providing you with the best of times. Keep His Word close to you and never forget the simple commandments He passed on to us twice – to love the Lord our God, and to love each other. And finally, keep faith in Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son, whose death paid the price for our sins, and whose resurrection now brings us eternal life.
Thank You, Heavenly Father, for Your unending mercies. As our Lord’s Prayer says, we seek Your forgiveness for our sins every day – not because there are any that are not forgiven, but because there are many we need to repent. We seek Your Word and Your truth today, O Lord, and we rely on You to be our portion forever. Your grace is indeed sufficient for us. Praise be to Your holy name! Amen.