How I Love Thy Law
February 5, 2017 / No. 3866
Dear radio friends,
It is a privilege and delight for me to be back on the air for several months. It is my prayer with you that the radio messages that I bring will be a blessing to you and that God will use these broadcasts for the spread of the gospel and of truth; that they will be used for the gathering of His church; and that they ultimately will bring glory to His name.
It is my plan in the coming weeks to bring a series of messages on the law of God, that is, on the Ten Commandments. I believe this is a relevant topic, especially in our day, not only because of the immorality in our society, but also because the law of God is neglected and misunderstood in the church and among Christians.
I want to begin today not by looking at the law itself (next week we will begin with the first commandments), but I want to look at what the psalmist says about the law in Psalm 119:97ff. I want to read this entire section of the Psalm, verses 97-104. The psalmist says:
O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day.
Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me.
I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts.
I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep thy word.
I have not departed from thy judgments: for thou hast taught me.
How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way.
Before we explain these words, let us have a word of prayer.
Father in heaven, we pray that Thou wilt open our eyes to understand wondrous things out of Thy law, out of Thy Word; that our ears may hear and our hearts may receive Thy Word today. We pray it for Jesus’ sake, Amen.
Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible and the most beautiful of all of the Psalms. It is the Bible’s commentary on itself and describes the beauty and treasure of God’s Word. It was very likely written by David when he was a young man. In verse 9 he asks this very important and profound question: “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?” And he answers: “By taking heed thereto according to thy word.” In that verse we understand why this psalm was written—as an explanation of God’s Word.
The psalm is an elaborate acrostic poem—twenty-two sections, corresponding to the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Each section has eight verses, all of which begin with the same letter of the alphabet. This shows us that every detail of God’s Word is carefully worked out—every jot and tittle, every minute part of it is inspired by God.
The theme of this psalm is the Word of God, and every verse in this psalm, with the exception of one, mentions the Word of God. So the psalm says one hundred and seventy-five different things about God’s Word.
The psalm uses many synonyms to describe the Word of God. These are some of them: the word, the law, God’s decree, commandments, testimonies, ordinances, precepts, judgments, paths, name, and so on. Each of them gives a unique perspective on the Word of God.
In the text that we consider today, the psalmist exclaims, “O how love I thy law!” What he loves here is the law. We can understand that more broadly to refer to the books of Moses, the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, or to refer to the different kinds of law and commandments that God had given to Israel: the moral law, the civil law, and the ceremonial law. But it also has application specifically to the law of the Ten Commandments. We want to think especially about that today.
He calls this law “thy law,” that is, God’s law. This means that the law comes from God. We remember that in the book of Exodus, when God came down on the mountain, He thundered the law from the mountain and the people did not want to hear the voice of God because it was so dreadful. God wrote this law with His own finger in two tables of stone as a permanent statute. So the psalmist says in verse 102, “thou has taught me,” that is, God Himself teaches in the law. That is important to remember as we come to the commandments: God Himself speaks and teaches from the law.
Calling the Ten Commandments the law of God also reminds us that the law is a revelation of God Himself. The Ten Commandments do this. They not only tell us what we must be, but they show to us something of the holiness and the character of God. Through the law we come to know God Himself. There is nothing more important for us than this: to know God.
Because the law comes from God, the law comes with authority and the law comes without error. That is true of all the Scriptures, but especially now of the Ten Commandments. Concerning this law, the psalmist expresses a deep and a sincere love: “O how love I thy law!” A great exclamation. This is not an isolated statement in the psalm. There are at least six or seven different places in the psalm that the psalmist speaks of this love. I will read just a few verses. Verses 162-165: “I rejoice at thy word, as one that findeth great spoil. I hate and abhor lying: but thy law do I love. Seven times a day do I praise thee because of thy righteous judgments. Great peace have they which love thy law.” The whole psalm is really an expression of the believer’s love for the Word and the law of God.
The idea of love in the Bible is much more than a feeling and much more than words. If all we had is a good feeling about the law of God and about the Word of God, that is not love. Love is a commitment, and love is action. Think about marriage love. It is a commitment to spouse principled on one’s love for God, which shows itself in action, in serving, in selflessness, in forgiveness. A love for God’s Word is the same. It is a commitment to God’s Word that shows itself to be sincere in action.
In this section, the psalmist shows the sincerity of his love for God’s Word in several ways. At the end of verse 97 he says: “it is my meditation all the day.” He means that the law of God fills his mind, that he cannot think about anything else. It is not just a matter of feeling, but he thinks through the law of God. He thinks through the Word of God, not just on one day a week, perhaps Sunday, but every day. The law of God is in his mind, the law of God controls his thinking and controls His emotions. Emotions are fickle. They are easily fed. They change easily. But the mind is solid and the mind is stable, harder to teach but almost impossible to unteach. The psalmist says he “meditates on the law of God.” If you love the law of God, you will meditate on the law of God.
The psalmist also shows the sincerity of his love for God’s law here when, in verse 103, he expresses his deep satisfaction in the law of God. “How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” He does not think of the commandments and the Word of God as something like bad medicine that tastes horrible and does awful things to your body, but in the end has a good result. The Word and the law of God are not like that. To the believer they are sweet to the taste. On entrance, they are sweeter than honey, sweeter than every earthly pleasure. Job says, “I have esteemed the words of thy mouth more than my necessary food.” The spiritual food is more important than any physical food. Now we know that that is not true for all, but this is the result of the regenerating work of the Spirit who gives us a taste and the desire for the Word of God.
The psalmist also shows that his love for the Word of God is genuine in his walk. This is not just a matter of words or a feeling, but of his life. So the psalmist says in verses 101, 102: “I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep thy word. I have not departed from thy judgments.” One of the main ways that we show our love for God and our love for the Word of God is by obedience to that Word. Jesus says in John 14, “He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings.” And again, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” This is expressed in I John 2 quite strongly when John says, “Whoso keepeth his word, in him, verily, is the love of God perfected. Hereby know we that we are in him.” Again, in I John 5, “By this we know that we love the children of God when we love God and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” A life that is directed by love for God is not a life that finds the Word of God to be grievous and heavy, but rather loves to walk in obedience to God’s commandments and finds this to be the way of communion and of fellowship with God Himself.
There is one more proof of the psalmist’s love here for God, and that is in verse 104 when he says, “I hate every false way.” He means by this that he hates sin. Every false way is every evil way, every way that is contrary to the Word of God, every doctrine and teaching that disagrees with the truth of God’s Word, every choice and action and Word that is against the commandments of God. The psalmist is saying that, as he draws his conviction from the law of God, he is sensitive to sin and it stirs up in him a reaction against sin. The more he loves God’s law, the more he meditates on God’s law; the more he learns God’s law, the more he hates what is against God’s law because, as he learns God’s law, he learns the mind of God Himself, which is opposed to all wickedness.
Do you love the law of God as the psalmist did? This is a personal expression: how I love Thy law. If you love God, you will truly love His law. Every believer will say with the psalmist, “How love I thy law.” We cannot be lukewarm to the law and the Word of God. If you are lukewarm towards the Word of God and the law of God, you are lukewarm in your love towards God.
In this section of the psalm, the psalmist also explains to us why he loves the law of God. He gives us here at least two reasons.
First, he loves the law of God because it gives him wisdom. He says that through God’s commandments he is wiser than his enemies. He says he has more understanding than his teachers, for God’s testimonies are his meditation. He says he understands more than the ancients because he keeps God’s precepts. The enemies are those who are opposed to him because he loves the Word of God, because he stands by the Word of God. There are people who oppose the truth of God’s Word and will become the enemies of God’s people who love God’s Word.
The psalmist speaks of teachers. We should think of those who are experts in knowledge: professors, educated people. The psalmist says he knows more than the ancients. By this he means not able people of history whose ideas have carried through into the current world. He says, because I have the law of God in my heart and meditate on it, I am wiser than all of these. Now, we have to understand here that he is talking about people who are worldly wise—the teachers and the ancients—people who are marveled at for their skill and knowledge, people who do not have the Word of God in their minds and whose wisdom is only worldly, people who are really fools who say in their heart, “There is no God.” What he is saying is not that he has more knowledge in his head or more understanding even of science and how things work in this world, a book knowledge. But he is saying that he, as one who has the law of God, has an understanding and an insight into life that goes way beyond the understanding of the natural man. That is because, with the law of God in his mind, everything in life is put into its eternal perspective. He is saying that he can look at the realities of life, the issues that face us in this world, the dilemmas that man faces, with the Word of God, and he can understand all these things better than anyone in the world because the law of God brings us to God. It reveals God to us and it brings us before God. That is a marvelous thing. It puts everything into an eternal perspective.
You watch the evening news, you read the Press, you go to college and you hear about politics and history and social issues. As a believer who has internalized the Word of God by faith, you can understand these things in light of God and things eternal. This is what the psalmist means. This brings the whole world before God and puts everything into its eternal perspective. That is why he loves the law of God. Here is the reason to love God’s commandments: they give us wisdom beyond the understanding of man.
The second reason that the psalmist gives is here in verses 101 and 102, where he speaks of refraining his feet from every evil way and not departing from God’s judgments. He says the reason for this is that God has taught him. He means that God’s teaching through the law restrains him from sin. It has a sanctifying power in his life. It guides him in the way of obedience.
There are two ways for a person to walk through life. One way is the broad way of sin and pleasure that leads to eternal death and hell. The other way is the narrow way of obedience that leads to life. The psalmist is saying not only that he desires to walk on that narrow way, but that he does walk on it. “I have not departed from thy judgments” (v. 102). How does he do that? Very often when a person deviates from the way of obedience, when he falls into sin, he says something like this: “I couldn’t help it. I didn’t have the power to stop myself from sinning.” That is right. We do not have the power. We cannot help ourselves. We are inclined to all sin. But here is the psalmist’s answer, here is what gives the power to resist and to overcome sin: the law, the commandments of God. Back to verse 9: “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?” How does a person young or old keep his life holy? In verse 11 the psalmist answers it: “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” The psalmist, because he loves the Word of God and loves the commandments of God, meditates on them. This keeps him from sin. As he treasures the Word of God in his heart, as he internalizes it, possesses it, has it ever with him, there is a power that God uses by His Spirit in the heart of the believer to give him grace and strength to resist sin and to fight temptation.
We know the stories of Jesus’ temptations. He was hungry and He said, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone.” He was tempted to fall down and worship Satan. He said, “It is written: Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and him only shalt thou serve.” He was tempted to throw Himself down from the temple and the devil encouraged him: “He’ll give his angels charge over thee.” And He answers with the Word of God again: “It is written, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” It is written, it is written, it is written. Because He had studied, meditated on, knew and treasured the Word of God, He had the power to resist temptation. This is the way to answer the devil and to answer evil and sin. Is that your experience, that the Word of God keeps you from trouble, that it restrains you? How I love Thy law! It is my meditation all the day!
That does not mean there are not going to be times of temptation in our life when Satan will fight against us. In fact, the more we are in the Word, the more valiant Satan’s attacks on us will be. But the law of God in my heart restrains me from sin. It keeps my feet from going where they should not go. It keeps my eyes from looking at what they should not see. It keeps my hands from doing what they should not do, my mouth from saying what it should not say, my ears from hearing what they should not hear. God’s law is the guide that keeps me on the straight and narrow. It is a powerful tool that God has given to direct me in a way of love and obedience.
Do you see here a great reason to love the law of God? That is what the psalmist is saying: “I love thy law, O Lord. It restrains my feet from every evil way.”
There is one more great reason in this psalm to love the law of God. It comes out especially in the very last verse of Psalm 119, verse 176. I find this to be a very striking way for the psalmist to end this psalm in which he expresses his love for God’s Word. He says: “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments.” What is he saying? He is saying that the law of God leads him to see his need of the Shepherd. Like a sheep, he has gone astray. As we stand before the commandments of the law of God, this is what we see. Over and over we see our disobedience; we see our sinfulness. We say, “I cannot keep the law of God. It’s requirements are too difficult. It demands love; it demands a heart and attitude towards God and the neighbor, a heart and attitude of love. And these are beyond me. And here is the humble approach towards the law of God: I do not keep Thy commandments; I have gone astray like a lost sheep. Lord, seek me.
We always need the Shepherd, and the Word of God leads us to Him. The law leads us to Him. It reveals to us our sinfulness. At the end of the psalm, all the psalmist can say is: “I’m a sinner.” The law is, as Paul says, a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ. What a great reason to love the law of God. As we look at the Ten Commandments, I expect that we will see in each one of them at least these five things: something about God and His glory and majesty; something about ourselves and our sin and sinfulness; Jesus Christ as the answer in the gospel to our great need; who we are as a result of grace—what God makes us to be; and then, the way of thankful obedience.
As we think about those things and the revelation of those things to us in the commandments, we say: “O how love I thy law! It is my meditation, all the day.”
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy law. We love Thy law because we love Thee. We love Thy law because it brings us to Thee. We love Thy law because it shows us our need of the Shepherd, Jesus Christ. We pray that as we study the commandments in the coming weeks, they will give us life. The entrance of Thy Word, we know, gives life. We pray this for Jesus’ sake, Amen.