The Good You Need: Psalm CXIX Part 9
A commentary on Psalm 119:65–72.
You have dealt well with your servant, O Lord, according to your word. Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. You are good and do good; teach me your statutes. The insolent smear me with lies, but with my whole heart I keep your precepts; their heart is unfeeling like fat, I delight in your law. It is good for me that I was afflicted, I might learn your statutes. The law of your mouth is better to me thousands of gold and silver pieces.
The psalmist begins the 9th section of his song in praise of the Lord’s statutes, and what is found therein is a monument to the mountainous goodness in the character of the Godhead. This portion of Scripture is a witness from experience, testifying God’s abundant goodness. Indeed, all that God does is good. The psalmist states as such when he says, “You are good and do good.” (Ps. 119:68) This truth is, of course, the summary and testimony of the Christian’s life — God is good, regardless. What a testimony of grace the psalmist displays here.
The Immutable Fact of Grace
He begins, though, by celebrating the Lord’s promised faithfulness: “You have dealt well with your servant, O Lord, according to your word.” (Ps. 119:65) From the universal goodness in the creation (Ps. 119:64) comes this declaration of personal goodness in the individual. Yes, the Creator and Sustainer of the stars and galaxies, the same Ruler who governs the seas and all the animals, is the same Sovereign who cares for you and desires to speak goodness unto you. In everything, God has “dealt well” with us.
God’s grace isn’t happenstance. His goodness is imparted unto us through his Word, through his divine promises, which are immutable facts. God the Father doesn’t deal with his servants in empty words but in vibrant assurances of goodness and grace. “God’s benefits are tokens of his love bestowed on us according to his word,” says Richard Greenham. (in Spurgeon, 167) All of God’s doings are good. Whether we’re in trouble or triumph, ease or calamity, prosperity or adversity, the goodness of God never varies, wanes, or fluctuates. God has a monopoly on goodness, such that nothing is good apart from him. Anything connected with him invariably is made good by proximity to him. Thus, the psalmists prays for knowledge and sound discretion be imparted to him. (Ps. 119:66) His request is to be graced with a deeper knowledge of God and then the judicious discernment to apply it.
Affliction & Absolution
A knowledge of this goodness is unnatural to us, hence the psalmist’s prayer for it. But the result of this imparted judgment is a love for the law of God: “Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments.” (Ps. 119:66) The goodness of God enables the psalmist to cheerfully embrace God’s law, knowing that its ultimate fulfillment has already been satisfied. Therefore, he can rightfully say, “I delight in your law.” (Ps. 119:70) It’s his happiness and sustenance.
God’s law is his accusatory Word, whereby all are incriminated. God’s law is his afflicting word whereby he brings sinners to himself. It exposes and uncovers all that seek to stray from God. Mankind reviles and revolts against God, yet God resolves to redeem them. “God seeks to bring us to a sense of our sins,” writes Scottish divine Thomas Guthrie, “that we may flee to the Saviour; breaks down that he may bind up; wounds that he may heal; kills that he may make alive.” (272)
It is this word of condemnation and affliction that now reminds him of his absolution. The psalmist relates, “Before I was afflicted I went astray,” yet when the affliction came, it was “good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Ps. 119:67, 71) — that is, it was good for me to be oppressed that I might learn Your truth. God’s Word of affliction and accusation softens us to obedience. Our humiliation is the dayspring to our confirmation, by the very words that emanate from the Heavenly Father. By the greatest afflictions the Lord has sealed the sweetest instructions. Why should we care how bitter the tonic be that brings the remedy? The medicine may be sharp and unpleasant, but it pales in comparison to the precious relief we’re given by the Word. Nothing in the world compares to the richness, preciousness, and beauty of the Word of God. The leaves of Scripture are like the “leaves of the tree [of life] are for the healing of the nations.” (Rev. 22:2 NIV) The Word both fosters and fortifies grace. It’s a perpetually flowing river that can’t be dried up, an inexhaustible storehouse of goodness that can’t be drained.
The Book of the Afflicted
Nevertheless, we often baulk at God’s remedies, at his afflictions, deeming them too coarse, too hard for people of grace. The mistake is to misinterpret grace for ease, as if the divine beneficence of the Father makes room for the affable and casual soul. Grace doesn’t promise immediate tranquility and escape from the throes of life but it does assure you of sustenance, support, and solace all along the way. Believers aren’t immune to the travails and troubles of life. We, too, are afflicted. And therein lies our hope, for “God’s Word is the book of the afflicted.” (Winslow, 269)
“If the children of God did but know what was best for them, they would perceive that God did that which was best for them.” (John Mason, in Spurgeon, 167)
The goodness and grace of God assures that our worst is better for us than the sinner’s best. We are cured by sickness, enriched by poverty, and strengthened by weakness. “The way to grow rich is to become poor — the path to honour lies through shame — to enjoy rest we must plunge into a sea of troubles — peace is only to be enjoyed in a state of war — who would live must die — and who would gain must part with all that men hold most dear.” (Guthrie, 16–17) Even more than that, God’s children, says Spencer, “are then most triumphant when most trampled, most glorious when most afflicted; often most in the favour of God when least in man’s; as their conflicts, so their conquests; as their tribulations, so their joys; they live best in the furnace of persecution, so that heavy afflictions are the best benefactors to heavenly blessings, and when afflictions hang heaviest corruptions hang loosest.” (Spencer, in Winslow, 107–8)
This is why the psalmist can say, “It is good for me that I was afflicted” — even confessing that God’s Word “is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.” (Ps. 119:72) Yes, the wealth of the Word is superior to the wealth of the world. This is true for one all-surpassing fact: because the Word tells about Jesus. Jesus is the beginning and end of the Word. He is the sum and substance of all the Psalms. His abundance meets your absence — “his fulness meets my emptiness — his blood cleanses my guilt — his grace subdues my sin — his patience bears with my infirmities — his gentleness succours my weakness — his love quickens my obedience — his sympathy soothes my sorrows — his beauty charms my eye. He is just the Saviour, just the Christ I need.” (Winslow, 19)
Thomas Guthrie, The Parables: Read in the Light of Present Day (London: Alexander Strahan, 1867).
Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Vol. 3 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1988).
Octavius Winslow, The Precious Things of God (New York: Robert Carter & Bros., 1867).