Summary: A Christian perspective on Torah.
A STATE OF BEING WHICH GIVES RISE TO ACTIVITY
We begin our study of the selected passage with the observation that the word for “blessed” is not a verb, but a noun. It is a state of being, not an activity. We are “blessed” not because “we walk in the law of the LORD”; but rather we “walk in the law of the LORD” because we are “blessed” (Psalm 119:1).
In Adam we cannot attain the ideals of Torah, God’s ‘law’ or ‘instruction’, which is celebrated in so many ways in this Psalm. Striving to keep the law serves only to highlight our inability to keep the law without Christ (cf. Galatians 2:16). Thank God, then, that the believer is saved by grace through faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9).
So what happy event brought about this happy, blessed state of being? It was something outside of ourselves. It was something forensic, whereby we were proclaimed to be “the undefiled” (Psalm 119:1).
That event was the Cross of Jesus. By it we are made ‘right with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Romans 5:1). In Him there is the perfect substitution which set man anew upon the right path (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Jesus said, ‘I am the way…’ (John 14:6). So the “undefiled” are those who are found in Him, and consequently “walk in the law of the LORD” (Psalm 119:1). This is the positive counterbalance to Psalm 1:1, which tells us that the blessed man is the one who ‘walks not in the counsel of the ungodly’.
There are eight different words for the instructions of the LORD used throughout the 119th Psalm. They are translated variously, but probably stand for more or less the same thing throughout. Variety makes good poetry, and is an aid to memory for those who wish to see the many different hues of the subject matter.
A second beatitude follows, in which the blessed are now described as “those who keep His testimonies, and seek the LORD with the whole heart” (Psalm 119:2). It is not enough to be saved, if we will not walk the walk with Jesus. We must take up the cross daily and follow Him (Luke 9:23).
Those who are joint-heirs with Christ do not strive to enter into the kingdom of heaven by good works, for they are already its citizens. On the contrary, they demonstrate their faith by their works (James 2:18). They are God’s workmanship, first and foremost – but saved UNTO good works (Ephesians 2:10).
The forensic statement follows: “they also do no iniquity: they walk in His ways” (Psalm 119:3). This is not just hyperbole, but it is the way that the great Judge of all views His people. An artist may paint us, ‘warts and all’, and we are all well enough aware of our imperfections: but when the Father looks upon us He sees only the perfection of the indwelling Jesus (John 14:20).
The Psalmist continues, “You have commanded us to keep your commandments diligently” (Psalm 119:4). Is there a little tinge of regret in the exclamation that follows: “O that my ways were directed to keep your statutes!” (Psalm 119:5)? None of us keeps the law perfectly, but ‘if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous’ (1 John 2:1).
Our desire is to keep all God’s commandments, especially as they are summarised in the one great commandment to love (cf. Luke 10:27). Then we need not be ashamed (Psalm 119:6). We must make all due diligence to learn God’s righteous judgments, and to praise Him with a pure heart (Psalm 119:7).
The section ends with a resolution: “I will keep your statutes.” This is followed by a wistful, almost regretful, petition: “O forsake me not utterly” (Psalm 119:8). We may always have regrets for past failures, but we must not dwell on that: rather we must resolve to do better in the present, and in the future.