Consider the Context

It’s one of those Christian pet phrases we’ve all heard: “You’ve got to look at the context.” We hear that, smile, and go on. How much do the verses around a particular line really impact our understanding of it? While we mentally acknowledge the importance of context, we sometimes doubt whether it is all that it is made out to be. However, context is crucial for us to grasp the meaning of God’s Word. One particular “stanza” of Psalm 119 brings this out in vivid detail.

For many of us, we love verse 68—

“You are good and do good; teach me Your statutes.”

Beautiful. The Lord truly is good in every way. Amen. All too often, however, we read that one verse and move on. We should ask what is the specific “good” that God has done in the Psalmist’s life. That verse doesn’t specify, so…we look at the context.

The answer—God’s discipline of the Psalmist. That’s not the answer we would expect, but the Psalmist says things like, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word,” and “It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (vv. 67, 71). He was grateful that God brought disciplining affliction, and he gave God praise for that. To see why he responded this way, we need to look beyond the pain and see the results God brought through it.

There was a time when the Psalmist “went astray” (v. 67). He may not have deliberately chosen to rebel; he may simply have taken his eyes off of the Lord and relied upon his own wisdom and understanding. The trouble is that our hearts are “deceitful” and the path that “seems right” in our own eyes leads to “death” (Jeremiah 17:9; Proverbs 16:25). He needed to come back to the right path, and the affliction he experienced restored him to proper fellowship with God.

This restored relationship also gave the Psalmist a right perspective—a right perspective of God. He immediately follows verse 67 with 68 by declaring that the Lord “is good and [does] good.” He acknowledges he had lost focus and believed the lie that something else would satisfy him. Through the discipline he experienced, he began to realize more of who the Lord is, and he stood in awe.

The results of discipline didn’t stop there, either. That awe he experienced created the right attitude within him. He humbled himself and admitted he needed the Lord to teach Him the right way (vv. 66, 68, 71). He now had a new attitude about himself that humbly cried out for the Lord’s guidance.

This proper perspective and right attitude weren’t mere mental activities. They went all the way to the heart and restored him to a correct love. Notice that after declaring the goodness of God, he commits to keep God’s Word “with all my heart” (v. 69). Despite the prosperity of the wicked, he chooses to “delight” in God’s Word (v. 70). Then he climaxes in verse 72 by valuing God’s Word far above “thousands of gold and silver pieces,” more than any wealth he could imagine. His heart seemed to burst with love for the Lord and a desire to know and serve Him.

But why did he have such love? Well, his heart was stirred because of the reason for God’s discipline. God’s chastisement is not merely retributive—it’s corrective. The Lord used disciplining affliction to restore the Psalmist to a right perspective, attitude, and love, and God Himself did all that because of His love. In fact, Hebrews 12:6 says, “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines.” He disciplines us because He has started a work of molding us to Christ’s image, and He will not stop until it is completed (Philippians 1:6; Romans 8:29). He is our Father, and He will not leave us to our own devices. When we have this perspective of the Lord and the discipline He brings, we can echo the words of the Psalmist and declare from the heart that God indeed is good. And all that came from simply considering the context.

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