We don’t like laws. In our fallen condition, we bristle at commands, rules, and ordinances. Just thinking about HOA guidelines makes me cringe. So when we read Psalm 119 and see how many times the Psalmist says he loves and delights in God’s laws, precepts, and statutes, we scratch our heads and wonder—why?
The answer is expounded throughout the 176 verses, but we see a glimpse in the first three, a sort of prologue to the Psalm. This introduction is brief, but it sets the tone for everything that follows. In a way, it is a lens by which we need to view the whole Psalm. These three verses declare that a person is “blessed” as they “walk in the law of the Lord” (v. 1). That sounds a little legalistic, doesn’t it? But it’s not, and that’s because of what follows in verse 2.
In so many ways, verse 2 is key for our understanding of the Psalm. The verse reads:
“How blessed are those who observe His testimonies,
Who seek Him with all their heart.”
If we just take that first line, we might give up in despair. Because of the old man still raging within believers, we cannot perfectly fulfill the law of God. That is why our hope rest firmly on the grace of Jesus, not our own works (praise God!). But still we wonder—why is keeping God’s Word so important? Our good deeds don’t save us, so why does this Psalm place so much stress on keeping God’s laws and statutes?
The answer is in the second line of the verse. God’s Word is our guide as we “seek Him with all [our] heart.” God is not primarily interested in us conforming to a list of rules. In fact, He uses quite strong language when His people give Him praise “with their lips” while “their heart is far away from” Him (Matthew 15:8; see also Isaiah 1:10-17). Mere outward adherence to a list of rules is not what God is after.
He wants our hearts, and that is what we ought to give Him. The Scripture reveals to us—through the laws, statutes, etc.—that we cannot perfectly fulfill the commandments. The Bible shows that we do indeed need a Savior. But after salvation, the Word of God leads us in our relationship with Him. Not that we earn or keep our salvation by dotting I’s and crossing t’s, but we walk in ever closer fellowship with the Lord as we conform more to His ways revealed through Scripture. Like Paul, “we” should “have as our ambition…to be pleasing to Him” (2 Corinthians 5:9).
That is why we can delight in the law of God—in the entire Word of God, in fact. The Scripture reveals who God is, shows us the way of salvation, and guides us in our relationship with the Lord after we believe. In short, it leads and guides us to seek God with all of our heart. That is what God is after, and the rest of the Psalm continues to expound this theme in many ways. No matter the circumstances we find ourselves in, the Word of God leads us as we seek the Lord. The statutes, precepts, testimonies—they are the guides in that relationship, showing us the way that pleases our God.
So when we look at Psalm 119, we shouldn’t grow discouraged. God is not holding some high requirement over our heads as if He would reject us if we don’t measure up. We can’t perfectly obey Him, and that’s why Jesus offers us forgiveness. The Word of God reveals these truths to us and guides us in our relationship with Him, a relationship from the heart based on love, not law. As we come to the Bible, let us always bear this truth in mind. He wants our hearts. Let us give them to Him.