The Longest Chapter – Part 3 Jan. 26, 2016


This week’s study is on the third section of Psalm 119, verses 17-24

Be good to Your servant that I may live and obey Your Word.

Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in Your instructions.

I am only a foreigner in the land.  Don’t hide your commands from me!

I am always overwhelmed with a desire for Your regulations.

You rebuke the arrogant; those who wander from Your commands are cursed.

Don’t let them scorn and insult me for I have obeyed Your laws.

Even princes sit and speak against me, but I will meditate on Your decrees.

Your laws please me; they give me wise advice.

One of the morning blessings that devout Jews proclaim every morning is this: ‘Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who opens the eyes of the blind.’  This does not refer primarily to physical blindness but rather praises God for opening our spiritually blind eyes.

Spiritual blindness is the inability of a person to perceive, grasp and internalize spiritual truth.  Such a person is unable to draw the proper conclusions from their reading of biblical passages.  They may understand certain facts but the message or personal application of what is read is not translated into spiritual growth for the one who is spiritually blind.  David, the sweet psalmist of Israel, understood this and cried out to the Lord, ‘Open my eyes to see…’  His is a prayer each of us needs to echo.

Have we not all had the experience of reading a familiar passage but suddenly ‘seeing’ something in it that we’d never realized before?  My friends, that new insight is not a result of our intelligence but is rather an occasion to give thanks for it is a moment when our Heavenly Father ‘opened our eyes to wonderful truths in His instructions.’

In II Kings 6, we read that the King of Aram sent a massive army to seize the prophet Elisha.  The prophet’s servant awoke in the morning and saw a great army with chariots and horses surrounding the city where they were staying.  In a panic, the young man cried, ‘Oh what will we do now?’  Elisha answered him: ‘Don’t be afraid for there are more on our side than on theirs!’ Then Elisha prayed, ‘O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!’ And the Lord opened the young man’s eyes and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire.’  (II Kings 6:15-17)

The warriors of the Almighty were there all along, but Elisha’s servant saw only the physical army of Aram’s king.  It was only when God opened his [spiritual] eyes in response to Elisha’s plea that the servant was able to see the true reality of their situation.

Spiritual blindness is what causes us to live mediocre lives, to excuse our failings and weaknesses and to indulge our ego. Spiritual blindness confuses our priorities and justifies our compromises.  Spiritual blindness, simply put, blocks our spiritual growth. Lord, open my eyes that I might see.

I will meditate on your decrees. Your laws please me; they give me wise advice.

At different times in my life, I have made use of Bible reading plans that guide one through the Bible in an orderly fashion throughout the year.  They can be very helpful but they can also be limiting IF they remain simply ‘a reading plan’.  To read is not enough. I can read and an hour later, not remember what I read, just as I may listen to a powerful sermon or teaching and soon forget what was said.

The psalmist declares, ‘I will meditate on your decrees…’ From the viewpoint of spiritual growth, it is far better to read one or two verses and spend time pondering over their meaning for my life right here, right now, then to read five chapters without giving any time to personal application.  We are then like a person who seeks advice from a financial expert and then goes and does whatever he wishes, ignoring the ‘wise advice’.  To do the same with spiritual ‘advice’ from God’s Word is far more catastrophic than failing to follow the financial expert’s advice.  The Bible’s ‘advice’ has eternal implications while this world’s advice is at best temporary.

This concept reinforces a verse from last week’s study: ‘I will study Your commandments and reflect [meditate] on Your ways.’

After the death of Moses, God spoke to Joshua, the man called to lead the children of Israel into the Promised Land.  In part, the Almighty exhorted Joshua as follows:  ‘Study this book of instructions continually.  Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it.  Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.’ Joshua 1: 8

What is true ‘success’ in life?  Is it really a high powered career? A substantial bank account? A mini mansion in a prestigious neighborhood? Coming up with a world-changing invention?

Not one of these will go with you into the next world.  True success in life is measured by the degree to which you and I conform our lives to God’s Word and His ways as taught to us in His book, the Bible.  That – and only that – will count in His Kingdom which is everlasting, as the prophet Daniel proclaimed, ‘His rule is eternal – it will never end.  His kingdom will never be destroyed.’  Daniel 7:14b

May the ‘sound advice’ of God’s Word never be far from our consciousness as we go about our daily life.

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The Longest Chapter – Part 2 January 19, 2016

In part 2 of our study of Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, we are looking at verses 9-16 of the psalm:

 9  How can a young person stay pure? By obeying Your word.

10 I have tried hard to find you; don’t let me wander from Your commandments.

11 I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You.

12 I praise You, O Lord; teach me Your decrees.

13  I have recited aloud all the regulations You have given us.

14  I have rejoiced in Your instructions as much as in riches.

15  I will study Your commandments and reflect on Your ways

16 I will delight in Your decrees and not forget Your word.

Each verse could yield pages of commentary and provide food for meditation for many days.  Three of the verses in this second section of Psalm 119, however, strike me specifically.

I have tried hard to find You, the psalmist cries. Don’t let me wander from Your commandments.

How hard have I tried – really? It’s a valid question to ask ourselves. To put it another way, how much of an investment do I consistently make in my spiritual growth?  Am I as consistent in seeking to grow closer to God as I am in going to work each day?

Something to ponder…..

In the next verse, we pray, I have hidden Your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You.

There are three key phrases within this verse:

  1. Your word – that is, the revelation of God in His written word. The psalmist proclaims that the path to living free of sin is to read, study, learn and commit to living by the revealed Word of the living God.  So, when we read in the Torah, that ‘you shall not go about as a tale-bearer’ or as a modern translation renders it: ‘Do not spread slanderous gossip among your people,’ that verse, committed to memory is a restraining force designed to help us avoid the sin of gossiping.  But it will only do so if we have been faithful to read, study and absorb the instructions of our heavenly Father.
  2. I have treasured – in the days before banks had vaults and safe deposit boxes for their customers, people hid their valued possessions in caves or holes in the ground.  The more valuable the possession, the more carefully did they choose a secure hiding place, exerting every effort to prevent the treasure from being stolen.  Compared to your bank account, your home or anything else of value you possess, your Bible is your MOST valuable earthly possession for man does not live by bread alone, but be EVERY WORD that comes from the mouth of God, says Deuteronomy.  Do we treasure it enough that we make every effort to keep it ‘safe’? And where is that safe place? Within your heart and mind. In the West, we often take our Bibles for granted but in many countries of the world, even in the 21st century, a Bible is a rare possession.  I’ll say it again – and urge you to ponder this truth: Your personal Bible is your MOST valuable possession for it gifts you with the opportunity to know God and His ways.  Do we treasure it as David did?
  3. in my heart – Note: the phrase does not read ‘in my mind’ but ‘in my heart’.  There are academicians who can quote the Bible backwards and forwards at the blink of an eye but it is not ‘hidden in their heart’.  How can I say such a thing? Because by their own confession they consider the Bible a piece of literature, not the revealed Word of God.  Intellectual knowledge of God’s Word is not enough; to translate His Word into our lifestyle requires that we plant it deep within our heart.  If we indeed have done so, it will show in our daily life. Faith, kindness, gentleness, inner peace, patience and the like develop in the soul of the person hiding God’s Word in his heart.  It behooves us to make sure that our knowledge of God’s Word is more than intellectual but is actual – having a direct effect on the way we live.

Finally, I have rejoiced in your instructions as much as in riches.(vs. 14)  Wow – now there’s something to think about.

Imagine for a moment that you receive an unexpected inheritance of several million dollars.  You would rejoice – and rightly so. You would probably consider it a gift from heaven and give thanks to God.

But…has it ever crossed your mind to hold your Bible in your hands and declare, “This is more valuable to me and brings me greater joy than an inheritance of several million dollars ever could”?  Be honest with yourself: could you say that, right now, today?

May God grant to all of us a deeper appreciation for His revealed Word.

Know someone who could use a spiritual lift? Invite them to join this Bible Study and….don’t forget to leave a comment below.


The Longest Chapter

come-away-Bible-coffeeWelcome to our first Bible study of 2016.

Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible, containing 176 verses divided into 22 sections, each beginning with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  For the next 22 weeks, we’ll study section by section and I hope you will add your comments, insights, questions and observations as we proceed. I am using a modern translation which I find particularly inspiring and I hope you will as well.  Let’s begin, shall we?

Psalm 119:1-8 

Joyful are people of integrity who follow the instructions of the Lord.
Joyful are those who obey His laws and search for Him with all their hearts.
They do not compromise with evil, and they walk only in His paths.
You have charged us to keep your commandments carefully.
Oh, that my actions would consistently reflect your decrees!
Then I will not be ashamed when I compare my life with your commands.
As I learn your righteous regulations, I will thank You by living as I should!
I will obey your decrees. Please don’t give up on me!

The psalmist doesn’t mince words; he is straightforward, even blunt.  Genuine and abiding joy is the fruit of a vibrant and personal relationship with the Lord of heaven.  It’s not a matter of routine religion, but a relationship in which you and I invest the time required to get to know God and His Word.

The Torah tells us that man does not live by bread alone.  Physical food nourishes the body but we are much more than a body.  It is the Word of the living God that nourishes the soul and for that ‘food’ we need to hunger far more than we do for our favorite pizza or chocolate cake.

The opening section of the psalm sets the bar high.  Live according to God’s commandments, search for an intimate relationship with Him, refuse to compromise with evil, walk carefully in His paths – this is not for the casual or apathetic. It’s for the one whose heart says, ‘Oh that my actions would consistently reflect your decrees!’ (vs. 5)

The psalmist is also realistic about our humanity.  He acknowledges our need to ‘learn Your righteous regulations’ and appeals to the Lord, ‘Please don’t give up on me!’

I love that, don’t you?  Haven’t You said that to God at some time or other?  I sure have.

The appeal encoded in these eight verses is clear: don’t be fooled into thinking that true joy is found anywhere else but in knowing God and living according to His standards. Oh, you may experience occasional flashes or periods of happiness, but joy is something different. Happiness comes and goes, depending on situations and experiences.  Joy is an inner quality which God means for you and I to possess consistently.  He has shown us the way; the ball is in our court.

From every direction, religious and secular, we are hearing warnings that 2016 may be a difficult year.  Bloomberg Business, hardly a biblical commentary, published a headline on December 27, 2015 that read in part: 2015, The Year that Nothing Worked.  Market Watch followed up two days later with this headline: Wall Street’s Forecast for 2015: Worse than 2015’s.  And that’s just the economy.  What about terrorism, global conflicts, the unprecedented public rapes and violence Europe is experiencing?

If you and I are going to thrive spiritually in 2016, it will be because we not just renew but increase our meditation and study in the Word of God and prayer.

When the outlook is bleak, go for the uplook.

I will lift my eyes to the hills, from which comes my help.  My help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.   Psalm 121:1

Know someone who could use a spiritual lift? Invite them to join this Bible Study and….don’t forget to leave a comment below.