24–30 May 2015.
As Psalm 119 comes to a close, the writer cries out to God, asking for his help. Like the writer, we too know that God loves and cares for us, and that he answers our prayers. But here the writer still reflects an older, Jewish understanding of God’s care, one that is very different from the faith we receive through Christ.
In verses 153 and 157, the writer stresses his righteous obedience and constant devotion to the law, and sees that as making him worthy of God’s salvation and help. But we Christians know that this way of thinking quickly leads to a type of proud exclusivism, a self-righteousness that sees the self as so much better than others and more “worthy” of God’s love. “God, save me because I’m so much better than her!” So it’s no surprise that we indeed find this kind of proud self-righteousness here in v. 158, where the writer describes the way he looks at the faithless “with disgust”.
The approach that the psalm’s writer takes here – stressing his self-righteousness, his own holiness, and his rejection of others – is exactly what Jesus criticises in Luke 8:9–14. Jesus directly criticises those who, like this psalm’s writer, depend on their own self-righteousness and “regard others with contempt” (v.9).
Through Christ we know that none of us are worthy. If God’s salvation only came to those who completely obeyed the law, or to those who deserved it, then no one would be saved. Through Christ we know that God loves us despite our sins. This is his amazing grace!
Despite these problems in the psalm, the writer still gives us many great reminders. In verses 153–4, God is saviour and redeemer, the one who rescues us and gives us the trustworthy promise of life. In v. 156, we hear of God’s great mercy and justice, through which we receive his salvation. And most wonderful of all, in v. 159 we read of God’s amazing, steadfast love, his trustworthy and faithful care for us throughout our lives.
So in times of trouble, call on God’s mercy and love. Don’t be afraid because you are not perfect, or worry that you are not “holy” enough to deserve God’s love. And in times of joy, don’t look down on others “with disgust” and think of yourself as better. Instead praise God again for his amazing grace and love. Because our whole lives depend on the mercy and grace of this incredible God of Love.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis