Psalm 119:17-19~Help for Pilgrims


Psalm 119:17-19 reminds us that the grace of God is essential for obedience to his Word and understanding of his Word. The Psalmist understands that he is weak and blind. He knows that God’s Word requires much of him. He knows that God’s Word is often shrouded in darkness. The meaning and the application of it can be hard to discern. He knows the human heart is like a rock unable to receive the seed of the Word. He knows that we are fallen, weak men who need God’s strength to help us obey.  Therefore he begins this third section of Psalm 119 with a plea for help.

He asks God to deal bountifully with him. This word is used in several other Psalms to express God’s great kindness (Psalm 13:6, 116:7, 142:7). The psalmist is asking the Lord to open up the treasures of his grace and pour out his goodness upon him. The psalmist is a servant of the Lord. But what does he ask God to do for him? He wants God to be kind to him by helping him walk according to God’s Word. What a great prayer!  Oh, Lord show me your grace so that I might obey your commandments. The Psalmist understands that grace, God’s unmerited kindness, precedes obedience. If he is going to live and keep the Word, grace must come first. 

Next the psalmist cries out to God for understanding of his Word. The phrase translated “wondrous things” means something that is surpassing in its greatness, but at times hard to understand. God’s Word is wonderful and filled with treasure beyond all the wealth of this world. But it can be difficult to grasp. There are passages that we must think about a long time before we come to understand them. Sometimes we understand what a passage means, but are not sure how it impacts our lives.  The psalmist knows that he is blind. He needs God to remove the scales so that he can understand and obey. Verse 18 is a great little prayer to recite prior to reading God’s Word or hearing the Word preached.

Finally the psalmist asks God to unveil his Word because he is as stranger in this world.  He, like all Christians, is passing through looking for that final house whose builder is God.  It is the nature of man to find himself too at home in the world. He forgets eternity and his own immortality. He becomes too entangled in the affairs of this earth and the end becomes blurry. An older author described this as putting anchors down in the world. We become tied to this world by a thousand ropes. While Christians can and should enjoy the many gifts God gives in this life, our eyes should not lose sight of the final destination. Calvin says we are to “aspire after the place we are invited.” We are to long for our heavenly home. But why does this lead the psalmist to pray that God would not hide his commandments from him? What is the connection between being a stranger in this world and seeing God’s commands rightly?

Any stranger in a foreign land needs maps and brochures to keep him from straying and to bring him safely back home. God’s Word furnishes us with a map for navigating this world. We are strangers, but the Word can give us direction. It tells what to believe and not to believe. It provides us with a picture of sin and death. It reminds us of God’s purposes for this world and how it can be used to his glory. But it also reminds us that our final home is not here, but there.  The Word provides comfort when we grieve in this fallen world by pointing us to the next world.  Finally, the Word draws our eyes forward to the new Heavens and Earth when we will swim in the glory of God, when all things will be made new, when all pain, death, and sorrow will be eliminated, when our old bodies will put on incorruption, and when we shall Christ as He is.  He prays Psalm 119:19 because God’s Word provides direction, comfort, and vision for wandering pilgrims, like us. 

The key point of these three verses is that we need the grace of God to obey his Word, to understand his Word, and to use his word to guide us in this world. 

Other Posts on Psalm 119
Psalm 119:2-4
Psalm 119:7
Psalm 119:9
Psalm 119:11
Psalm 119:13
Psalm 119:14
Psalm 119:15-16