Sometimes we make things more complicated than they need to be, don’t we? For example, take Bible study. It can seem like we have to have all this training and all these tools in order to study Scripture. Yet while those things are helpful, they aren’t necessary. A very simple technique is to ask questions of the text. Doing so enables us to dig deeper and also helps direct our study. For example, consider Psalm 119:129—
“Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul observes them.”
What are God’s testimonies? Why are they “wonderful,” and how does our “soul” keep them? There are other questions we could ask of the verse—and the stanza—but these are some key ones I wrestled with when I was studying this passage. As I considered these questions, I had a guide of how to focus my study and was led to an understanding of the verse.
Let’s take the first one: what are God’s testimonies? Now if you’re like me, you might be thinking that “testimonies” refer to acts of God. We have times of ‘testimony’ in church where we stand and share about how God has worked in our lives. While that sense is contained in this particular Hebrew word, that is not the primary meaning. Rather, the word refers to God’s commands, specifically those contained in the covenant (Exodus 25:21; 31:18; Joshua 4:16; 2 Kings 17:15). So while it is absolutely true that the acts of God are wonderful, that is not what verse 129 is focusing on.
With this new understanding of “testimonies,” we are now able to examine more of what the rest of the passage says. We understand how wonderful God’s testimonies are as we consider the greatness of the Word. Verse 130 says that Scripture “gives light” and “understanding.” God’s commands are for our good. Furthermore, following God’s commands are the opposite of being dominated by “iniquity” (v. 133).
Yet the Psalmist isn’t saying that if we just try harder to follow the commands, we’ll fix all our problems. He isn’t saying our worth is found in how well we can follow the commands. Though he desperately longs to follow the rules of Scripture, he also earnestly pled with the Lord, “Be gracious to me” (vv. 131, 132). If he could perfectly fulfill all God commanded, he wouldn’t need grace. Yet he knew he couldn’t do that. This was another reason he loved God’s Word: it revealed the grace we need. He knew that grace characterized God’s “manner with those who love Your name” (v. 132).
The rest of the stanza describes numerous ways God’s grace is poured out on those who turn to Him. He gives steadiness to our steps (v. 133a). God gives deliverance, both from sin and from oppressors (vv. 133b, 134). God shows His favor by teaching us His ways (v. 135). God doesn’t have to do any of these things for His people, but He does because of His grace. Yes, we must strive to follow the commands of God, but praise the Lord, He gives us grace.
And in the final verse, the Psalmist shifts to focus on the glory of God. The commands of Scripture are not arbitrary; they are for our good and God’s glory. The Psalmist wept intensely because other people didn’t follow God’s Word (v. 136). This sounds a lot like Paul “weeping” over those who “are enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18). A lot of times, our first reaction to those who rebel against Scripture is one of anger. Yet the Psalmist wept. There is a time for anger, but we should grieve that others are not giving God the glory HE deserves. Take it a step further—we should grieve when we rebel and fail to glorify the Lord. This isn’t a false humility, and it certainly isn’t softness toward sin. Rather, it is a perspective shift that keeps a desire for the glory of God at the center. God’s Word shows us how to glorify the Lord, and as we keep His commands and bear fruit, we will bring Him glory (John 15:8).
There are other conclusions we can draw from the text of Psalm 119, but these are three main themes from verses 129 through 136. We serve an incredibly gracious God, and we should strive to serve Him from our innermost being, from our “soul” as the verse puts it (v. 129). He is worthy of all our devotion, so let us strive to give Him the glory He deserves.