Beckett: Delight in the Law, Trust in the Promise

Psalm 119:33-40
Teach me, O Yahweh, the way of Your statutes; and I will keep it to the end.
Give me understanding, that I may keep Your law and observe it with my whole heart.
Lead me in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it.
Incline my heart to Your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in Your ways.
Confirm to Your servant Your promise, that You may be feared.
Turn away the reproach that I dread, for Your rules are good.
Behold, I long for Your precepts; in Your righteousness give me life!

In this section of the acrostic poem, the psalmist calls for God’s action to cause several things in him toward a common goal: “teach me,” “give me understanding,” “lead me,” “incline my heart,” “turn my eyes,” “confirm to Your servant Your promise,” and “turn away the reproach that I dread.”

The reasoning for these petitions, according to the causal clauses, is that the psalmist might keep/observe God’s Law and that He may be feared. What is most noteworthy of this section in the psalm is that the psalmist—a Jew—relies on God to allow him to keep the Law rather than his own ability.

The major fault of the Jews of Jesus’ day is that their trust was in the Law and their works rather than their God and His promise. The psalmist’s ultimate trust is in God’s promise and he acknowledges life comes from God’s own righteousness, not the righteousness of the Law, though he desires to keep it.

(After all, what true believer does not desire to keep God’s Law, since it is holy, righteous, and good? Cf. Romans 7:12. For a true believer says, “Why shouldn’t I believe in God alone? Why shouldn’t I keep the Sabbath? Why shouldn’t I refrain from murder and theft? These are all good things of God!” Thus, he does the Law with joy, thanks to the freedom of the Gospel in Christ Jesus.)

As Christians, we ought to do the Law. Why? As the Lutheran Confessions say:

Since, however, believers in this life are not perfectly, wholly… completely, or entirely renewed—even though their sin is completely covered by the perfect obedience of Christ so that this sin is not reckoned to them as damning, and even though the killing of the old creature and the renewal of their minds in the Spirit has begun—nonetheless, the old creature still continues to hang on in their nature and all of its inward and outward powers… Therefore, in this life, because of these desires of the flesh, the faithful elect, reborn children of God need not only the Law’s daily instruction and admonition, [and] its warning and threatening. Often they also need its punishments, so that they may be incited by them and follow God’s Spirit, as it is written.

FC SD VI, 7, 9; cf Galatians 5:17; Romans 7:18-23; Psalm 119:71; 1 Corinthians 9:27; Hebrews 12:6-8

In other words, we still need and delight in the Law because so long as we remain in this sinful flesh, we still need the Law to help restrain our sin, reveal to us our sin, and to do the Law for our neighbour’s sake. Thus, it is good to delight in the Law and pray to God that He gives us the ability to carry it out, as the psalmist does.

Yet also like the psalmist, we must ultimately trust in and rely on God’s promise in Christ and the life He gives according to His own righteousness rather than our own through the Law, which He gives His righteousness to us via Baptism (Galatians 3:27).

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