The Lord's Day Evening
January 20, 2013
“Not By Bread Alone — Consumed with Longing…for God's Word”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Psalm 119 as we continue our way in this study called, “Not By Bread Alone.” We’re going to be looking at verses 17 to 24 tonight and I'd like you to notice just a couple of things about this passage as we prepare to read it. One is the prayer form of the passage. You see it especially in the first four verses, 17, 18, 19, and 20, that the psalm exists very much in a form of spiritual petition with the psalmist asking the Lord to do certain things for him. As we work through this psalm tonight I want you to also notice, and if you’ll look at verses 21 to 24 I think you’ll see this, that the context of these prayers that the psalmist is asking the Lord to answer, is trouble.
So often as we have studied the Psalms together we have noted that the prayers of adoration, the prayers of thanksgiving, the prayers of confession, the prayers of petition are located in a situation in which the psalmist is overwhelmed with trouble in his life. And that is indeed the context of the spiritual petitions that we encounter in the first four verses in the psalm. You actually get ahead of it, don't you, in the first part of the psalm, but especially in the second part of the psalm where he speaks of the insolent, the accursed, those who have scorn and contempt, princes that are plotting against him. You see the context of trouble that he's in. Once again he is pursued. He tells us earlier in the psalm that he feels like a stranger, that's in verse 19, and so you get the sense there is trouble but it's clear when you get to verses 21 to 24. So I don't want you to miss that as we read together tonight.
As we work through the psalm together I especially want you to note, and we're going to spend most of our time on the four petitions that we meet in verses 17, 18, 19, and 20. The first petition is for God's favor so that the psalmist can live by the Word. You’ll see that in verse 17. The second petition is for God, by His Spirit, to open the psalmist's eyes so that he could see the glories of the Word. The third petition, you see it in verse 19, is that even as he is living as a pilgrim in this world, that God's Word would be his sure guide. And the fourth petition that we're going to study is this one, this announcement of being enthralled with the Word of God and his desire for God to grow his delight in the Word of God. We’re going to look at those four petitions in the context of trouble as we study this psalm together tonight.
But before we do, let's look to God in prayer and ask for His help and blessing. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank You that we are once again in the Psalms together and that we are once again in Psalm 119. We ask that You would enrich us as we study Your Word. We understand trouble, O Lord, and we ask for Your help in trouble. And we pray that You would instruct us in how we should live in the midst of trouble even from this psalm, in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it:
“Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word. Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not your commandments from me! My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times. You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones, who wander from your commandments. Take away from me scorn and contempt, for I have kept your testimonies. Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes. Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Troubles will try us whether we fear God or not. The Scriptures say, “Man was born for trouble as the sparks fly upward.” But if you’re like me, you still get surprised by trouble. When trouble strikes, when tribulation comes, when trials rise, somehow I'm not expecting them. And the Word of God in general and this psalm in particular reminds us that that is a grave spiritual mistake. And it is so important for us to understand. And I want to say again to the young people who are here tonight, we gather Lord's Day after Lord's Day not to play a religious game. We are having a deep and profound interaction, not only from the minister to the congregation and the congregation to the minister, but from the living God through His Word to His people to prepare us for the troubles we will face in life because we will face troubles, we will encounter disappointments, some so great that we think that our hearts cannot stand them.
And it is vital for us to understand that context if we're going to appreciate the petitions that are lifted up in this psalm. Jesus once said to His own disciples on the night that He was betrayed, “In the world you have tribulation.” Now that's the Savior speaking to His disciples. He's not being pessimistic; He's being realistic. And He's saying to His disciples, “In the world you have tribulation. You will encounter tribulation. You will live in tribulation, but in Me you have peace. In the world you have tribulation but take courage, I have overcome the world.” And it's so important for us to understand that. And as we read the Scriptures together it is so important for us to relate the troubles of Scripture to our troubles lest we think somehow that the troubles of Scripture are unreal and our troubles are real. The irony of that is it will only rob us of the comfort God intends for us.
So when we are reminded of this context of trouble we should relate it to our troubles. If our hearts have been broken by a child, if our hearts have been broken by a parent — we have been trying to serve that parent so faithfully and it's hard, it's hard. They’re at a stage in life where it's very challenging and they’re un-appreciative and very frankly they’re antagonistic and it's breaking your heart. Or maybe it's a vocational trouble or a marital trouble and on and on and on. There could be financial troubles and all manner of things, but relate that trouble to the counsel of the Word of God about trouble because that's what the Word is there for. So the petitions of this psalm about the Word of God are located in a context of trouble and we need to relate that to ourselves. All of us will face trouble, whether we fear God or not. The only question is, “Will we have the peace that God intends His children to have, even in trouble?” “In the world you have tribulation, but in Me, you have peace,” Jesus said. And so as we approach these four petitions tonight I want you to remember that context of trouble. It's out of the midst of trouble that the psalmist lifts up these four petitions.
PRAYING FOR FAVOR
And the first one is this. You’ll see it in verse 17. “Lord, show me your favor that I may live by your word. Lord, show me your favor so that I may live by your word.” The psalmist asks the Lord to deal bountifully with him that he may live and keep the Lord's Word. Understand what the psalmist is saying here; this is a profound prayer. Repeatedly in the Psalms and elsewhere in Scripture, prayers like this indicate a desire for the Lord to bestow life, real life, a quality of life that is worthy of the name, a spiritual life that is found only in fellowship with God. And the psalmist is saying, “Lord, would You graciously, would You generously, would You kindly deal with Your servant so that I may have real life in the keeping of Your Word.” And remember, set that in the context of the serpent's temptation. To Eve and to Adam he said, “If you want to have real life you've got to disobey His Word.” And the psalmist's prayer, out of the midst of trouble, is blocking out that word of temptation from the serpent and he's saying, “No, no, Lord. Deal bountifully with me and deal bountifully with me this way, that I may have real life in living out Your Word because I know that Your Word is not for a curse and Your Word does not inhibit life; Your Word gives life. So show me Your favor that I may live by Your Word.”
The psalmist here, notice again, asks that the Lord would deal bountifully with him. It's a plea to God's free grace. He's not asking for the Lord to give him what he deserves; he's asking the Lord to deal with him in free grace. He's not pleading his merit or his worthiness; he's coming to the Lord and he's saying, “Lord, You’re generous, so out of Your bounty give me this gift.” And I want you to think about this for a few moments because no matter what kind of trouble you are in, if you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ the Lord has dealt bountifully with you. Think of it. The humblest and poorest of us possess unsearchable riches that the greatest pagan kings and rulers of this world cannot begin to comprehend. We possess unspeakable blessings — life, real life is yours, forgiveness is yours, acceptance with God is yours, renewal, new life is yours, the world is yours, “the meek shall inherit the earth,” God is your Father, Christ is your brother, the Holy Spirit is your sanctifier and comforter and guide. All the wealth of the world is not worth half of one covenant blessing, and all of those blessings are yours.
Take your hymnals in hand and turn with me to number 707. Henry Lyte is a man who knew trouble. I've told you this story before. You know, Henry Lyte's mother died when he was a young boy and his father remarried and I don't know all of the details but it's very clear that there was not a good relationship between Henry Lyte and his stepmother and Henry Lyte was sent off to boarding school. While he was away at boarding school his father wrote to him and said, “Henry, I think it would be better if you no longer call me ‘Father,’ but that you call me, ‘Uncle.’” I can't imagine how devastating that would have been to, by that time, a teenage or almost teenage boy. But listen to what Henry Lyte says in this hymn we love so much, “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken.” Look at the fourth stanza. He's preaching to himself. “Take, my soul, thy full salvation; rise over sin, and fear, and care.” So he wants to conquer his sins and his fears and his worries. “Joy to find in every station” – in every situation in life there is joy to find —“something still to do or bear” — Lord, I know You have called me to do something or to bear up under something. And then how does he encourage himself? “Think what Spirit dwells within thee” — the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, Paraclete of God dwells in me, Henry Lyte writes. Think of that. “What a Father's smile is thine.” I always have a hard time singing that line knowing what Henry Lyte experienced in life. But what's clear is, Henry Lyte did understand that he had a heavenly Father that loved him and would never say, “Henry, I think you need to call me ‘Uncle’ from now on.” He knew that he could cry, “Abba,” to his Father and his Father would always be there. And listen to what he says. He knows his Father's smile. So he has the Spirit dwelling in him and he has his Father's smile. “What a Savior died to win thee.” Think of the Savior who died to save me. “Child of heaven, why should you repine?
Henry Lyte is reflecting exactly the context of Psalm 119 verses 17 to 24 throughout that whole hymn. He knows the deep, hard, dark, troubles of life, but what does he look to? He looks to God and he says, “Lord, deal bountifully with me.” And then he thinks, “Lord, You've given me Your Spirit, You've given me the smile of a Father that I have not know in this life and You have given me a great Savior who has died for me. I have no reason, I have no reason, why I should lie in sackcloth and ashes when You have given me those unsearchable riches and those unspeakable blessings. You have dealt bountifully with me.” And you know, the Bible, my friends, the Bible is filled up with those kinds of descriptions of the blessings that God has given you. Mark Windham prayed tonight from that glorious passage in Paul in Romans 8:32 where God says, “He who spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him freely give us all things?” Those are yours. They are yours as surely as Christ is yours. Use them in the fight in the midst of trouble. That's what the psalmist is doing. “Deal bountifully with me, O Lord, that I may live and keep your word.” Show me your favor so that I may live by your word.” That's the first thing I want you to see.
PRAYING FOR ILLUMINATION
Here's the second thing; look at verse 18. This is a prayer you hear me pray regularly at the time of a Scripture reading. “Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” What's the sense of that petition? The psalmist is saying this, “Lord, don't let my blindness, don't let my spiritual dullness, allow me to miss a word of Your Word! Don't let my dimness, my dullness, and my blindness let me miss one word out of Your Word!” And let me just illustrate for you the power of this particular petition. If you have your Bibles in your hand turn back with me to Numbers chapter 22. Now many of you are going to recognize, because you know those stories, that Numbers 22 is the story of Balaam, the false prophet, who wanted to curse Israel and the donkey that he was riding. And you will remember that that donkey saw something that Balaam did not see. The donkey saw an angel ready to strike down that false prophet and Balaam's eyes were completely blind to the spiritual reality that was in front of him. And in Numbers chapter 22 verse 31, Balaam's eyes are opened and he sees what the donkey saw. It wasn't that it wasn't there before; it was that he was blind to the spiritual perception of it.
Have you ever had that experience with the Word of God? You've read it a hundred times and the warm comforting truth of the passage has never ministered its powerful balm to your heart and on the hundred and first time the Lord opens your eyes and it's like thunder, the power of His promise. Or, you've never seen the warning and off you go, trailing after your own desires, and then suddenly, in reading the Word, the warning comes home to your heart and your eyes are opened and you realize the danger to your soul. Or, turn with me forward in your Old Testament to a passage in 2 Kings chapter 6 verse 17. You’re going to recognize, many of you, that passage as well, because that's the passage when Elijah or when Elisha and his servant are surrounded on a mountain by their enemies. And Elisha's servant is very nervous about this situation. And Elisha said to his servant, “Why are you so scared, because those who are with us are more than our enemies?” And Elisha's servant looks around and he says, “Okay, there are two of us, Elisha, and there are a lot of them!” And Elisha says, “Lord, open his eyes.” And suddenly the servant sees a mountain filled with servants of the Lord. Not the greatest army of the world could have penetrated one step to them. His eyes were opened! That's what the psalmist is saying. “Lord, open my eyes! The words of life are here! Don't let me miss a word!”
Doesn't it remind you a little bit of that encounter at night with Nicodemus and Jesus? Nicodemus is the great teacher of Israel, he's the great teacher of the Law, but he's blind! And the conversation is even comical. Jesus says to him, “Unless the Holy Spirit opens your eyes, you can't understand to see the kingdom of God, you can't see the truth of His word.” And Nicodemus responds, “I don't understand.” Right! Because the Holy Spirit has to open your eyes. Commentaries are good, good commentaries are better, but don't ever read those commentaries without craving God to open your eyes that you may see wonderful things in His Word. You see, out of the midst of trouble the psalmist knows that the thing he most needs is a word from God and that word is in God's Word and he doesn't want to miss it and neither should we. That's the second petition.
PRAYING FOR GUIDANCE
Here's the third one; you’ll see it in verse 19. “I am a stranger on the earth; hide not your commandments from me.” You see the petition? “Lord, I am a stranger in this world; let Your Word be my guide. I'm a stranger here, Lord; I don't belong here. This is not where my treasure is, this is not where my home is. I don't know the way in this world because this is not my home. If it were my home I would know the way; it's not my home, though, so I need Your Word to be my guide. I'm a stranger here.” I love it when I hear our young people singing, “On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand.” Do you know how the lyrics of that old hymn go? And by the way, we opened by singing a hymn, “How Firm a Foundation,” that comes out of John Rippon's Hymns and Selections from 1787. “On Jordan's Stormy Banks” came out of that same hymnal. And then it came to the southern United States and the old southern harmony and it's been passed down to this day and now there's an RUF tune that's sung to it. So that hymn has been around since 1787. And here's what it says. “On Jordan's stormy banks I stand and cast a wishful eye, to Canaan's fair and happy land where my possessions lie.”
To my young people, when you sing that song and when you gather in youth group with Justin and Greg and the others and you sing that song, do you believe that line? That it's in Canaan where your possessions lie? Because so often we live in this life like here is where our resting place is, here is where our possessions are, here is where our home is. But you sing it's in Canaan, it's in the Promised Land, it's in glory, it's in the new heavens and the new earth where my possessions lie. This world is not my home. The whole song is about this:
“I am bound for the Promised Land! I am bound for the Promised Land! Who will come and go with me? I am bound for the Promised Land! Oh the transporting rapturous scene that rises to my sight, sweet fields arrayed in living green and rivers of delight. There generous fruits that never fail on trees immortal grow, their rocks and hills and brooks and veils with milk and honey flow. Over all those wide extended plains shines one eternal day; there God the Son forever reigns and scatters night away. No chilling winds or poisonous breath can reach that healthful shore; sickness and sorrow, pain and death, are felt and fear no more. When I shall reach that happy place, I’ll be forever blest, for I shall see my Father's face, and in His bosom rest.”
Do you believe that? Do you really believe that you’re a pilgrim here, bound for the Promised Land? That song is playing out the petition of verse 19. “I am a sojourner here. This world is not my home,” as the old spiritual sings. “Lord, I'm a stranger in the world; let Your Word be my guide.”
PRAYING FOR AN INCREASE
IN DESIRE FOR GOD’S WORD
One last thing that I want to look at and we’ll see it in verse 20. Here is an aspiration. It's a declaration but it's also an aspiration. “My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times. My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times.” The psalmist is saying, “Lord, I am utterly enthralled by, I yearn and ache for Your Word.” Grace plants in us an insatiable desire for the Word of God. It's plants in us an insatiable desire for the Word of God so that we can say indeed that we do not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. And when grace is at work in you, far from Laodicea and lukewarmness, the grace filled believer follows hard after God, pursuing the enjoyment that only God can give following the way that only His Word reveals. And that enjoyment, far from taking the edge off of that enthrallment and that desire and that delight in God's Word, only makes you yearn and ache for it more.
Is that how you feel about the Word of God? Do you have an appetite? Do you need to hear His promises? Do you need to hear them over and over and over so that they get deeper and deeper into your heart? You know, I think one reason why God's comforting Word doesn't penetrate into our situations of trouble like we need it to is not because of its lack of power but because our lack of pursuit of that Word. We don't stay with it long enough till its principles have permeated every molecule of our being and changed the way that we look at the trouble that we're in. And the psalmist has given us a recipe for sorrowing, yet rejoicing, for facing trouble, and yet believing, for living as a pilgrim in a strange land, but at the same time as one who possesses the whole world in Christ. Don't you want to know how to do that? Don't you want to live in His Word? Let's pray.
Our Lord and our God, You know the troubles that surround Your people here tonight. There are medical diagnoses, there are family problems, there are deep, deep broken hearts over lost and broken friendships, worries over children, aches when we see the ones that we love unhappy and we're unable to do anything about it. But in these troubles, we so often try and control our way back into a sense of equilibrium and hope and You’d think we’d learn, Lord. We've tried it a million times and it's failed a million times. So teach us the lesson of the psalmist to desire Your Word, to believe Your Word, to live in Your Word, even in the midst of trouble. And if we do, O God, we will learn what Paul meant when he said, “You are more than conquerors through the One who loved you and gave Himself for you.” We pray in Jesus' name, amen.
Would you stand for God's blessing?
Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, until the daybreak and the shadows flee away.