Originally each division and verse began with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In the Hebrew, each verse begins with the respective Hebrew letter/name for that division. There are 22 divisions
of 8 verses each, for 176 verses. Naming goes as follows:
ALEPH, BETH, GIMEL, DALETH, HE, VAU, and on
for 22, completing the Hebrew alphabet.
All the verses of this section begin with the seventeenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet; but each verse with a different word. This seventeenth letter is the letter P. The section is precious, practical, profitable, powerful; peculiarly so. Let us pray for a blessing upon the reading of it.
"Thy testimonies are wonderful'" Full of wonderful revelations, commands, and promises. Wonderful in their nature, as being free from all error, and bearing within themselves overwhelming self-evidence of their truth; wonderful in their effects, as instructing, elevating, strengthening, and comforting the soul. Jesus the eternal Word is called Wonderful, and all the uttered words of God are wonderful in their degree. Those who know them best wonder at them most. It is wonderful that God should have borne testimony at all to sinful men, and more wonderful still that his testimony should be of so heavenly a character, so clear, so full, so gracious, so mighty.
"Therefore doth my soul keep them.'" Their wonderful character so impressed itself upon his mind that he kept them in his memory: their wonderful excellence so charmed his heart that he kept them in his life. Some men wonder at the words of God, and use them for their speculation; but David was always practical, and therefore the more he wondered the more he obeyed. Note that his religion was soul work; not with head and hand alone did he keep the testimonies; but his soul, his truest and most: real self, held fast to them. The Psalmist was so charmed with the revealed will of God that he felt bound to exhibit its power in his daily life. His wondering and pondering produced reverential obedience.
"The entrance of thy words giveth light.'" No sooner do they gain admission into the soul than they enlighten it: what light may be expected from their prolonged indwelling! Their very entrance floods the mind with instruction, for they are so full, so clear; what brightness must their abiding bring! On the other hand, there must be such an "entrance'" or there will be no illumination. The mere hearing of the word with the external ear is of small value by itself; but when the words of God enter into the chambers of the heart, then light is scattered on all sides. This is the work of God: he alone can give entrance to his word. We knock at the door in vain till grace opens it. The word finds no entrance into some minds because they are blocked up with self-conceit, or prejudice, or indifference; but where due attention is given, divine illumination must surely follow upon a knowledge of the mind of God. O Lord, make a clear entrance into my soul! Grant that thy words, like the beams of the sun, may enter through the window of my understanding, and dispel the darkness of my mind!
"It giveth understanding unto the simple:'" The sincere and candid are the true disciples of the word. To such it gives not only knowledge, but understanding. These simple-hearted ones are frequently despised, and their simplicity' has another meaning infused into it, so as to be made the theme of ridicule; but what matters it? Those whom the world dubs as fools are among the truly wise if they are taught of God. What a divine power rests in the word of God, since it not only bestows light, but even gives that mental eye by which the light is received " It giveth understanding'"! Hence the, value of the words of God to the simple, who cannot receive mysterious truth unless their minds are aided to see it and prepared to grasp it.
"I opened my mouth, and panted.'" An enlarged desire is one or' the first fruits of an understanding given us of the Lord. So animated was the Psalmist's desire, that he looked into the animal world to find a picture of it. Men restrain their expressions; but in the animal world all is natural and therefore truthful and forceful; and therefore, being; filled with an intense longing, holy David was not ashamed to describe it by a most expressive, natural, and yet singular symbol. Like a stag that has been hunted in the chase, and is hard pressed, and therefore pants for breath, so did the Psalmist pant for tile entrance of God's word into his soul. Nothing else could content him. All that the world could yield him left him still panting with open mouth. His soul panted for God, for the living God, and for grace to walk with him in the way of holiness.
"For I longed for thy commandments.'" Longed to know them, longed to obey them, longed to be conformed to their spirit, longed to teach them to others. He was a servant of God, and his industrious mind longed to receive orders; he was a learner in the school of grace, and his eager spirit longed to be taught of the Lord. Oh for more of this eager hungering, thirsting, pining, panting!
"Look thou upon me.'" A godly man cannot long be without prayer. During the previous verses he had been expressing his love to God's word, but here he is upon his knees again. This prayer is specially short, but exceedingly sententious: "Look thou upon me.'" While he stood with open mouth panting for the commandments, he besought the Lord to look upon him, and let his condition and his unexpressed longings plead for him. He desires to be known of God, and daily observed by him. He wishes also to be favored with the divine smile ,which is included in the word "look.'" If a look from us to God has saving efficacy in it, what may we not expect by means of a look from God to us?
"And be merciful unto me.'" Christ's look at Peter was a look of mercy, and all the looks of the heavenly Father are of the same kind. :[f he looked in stern justice, his eyes would :not endure us; but looking in mercy, he spares and blesses us. If God looks and sees us panting, he will not fail to be merciful to us.
"As thou usest to do unto those that love thy name.'" Look on me as thou lookest on those who love thee; be merciful to me as thou art accustomed to be towards those who truly serve thee. There is a use and wont which God observes towards them that love him, and David craved that he might experience it. He would not have the Lord deal either better or worse with him than he was accustomed to deal with his saints worse would not save him, better could not be. In effect he prays, "I am thy servant; treat me as thou treatest thy servants. I am thy child; deal with me as with the rest of thy children.'" Especially is it clear from the context that he desired such an entering in of the word, and such a clear understanding of it, as God usually gives; to his own, according to the promise, "All thy children shall be taught of the Lord.'"
Reader, do you love the name of the Lord? Is his character most honorable in your sight? most dear to your heart? This is a sure mark of grace; for no soul ever loved the Lord except as the result of love received from the Lord himself.
"Order my steps in thy word.'" This is one of the Lord's customary mercies to his chosen, "He keepeth the feet of his saints.'" Thus he useth to do unto those who love his name. By his grace he enables us to put our feet step by step in the very place which his word ordains. This prayer seeks a very choice favor, namely, that every distinct act, every step, may be.' arranged and governed by the will of God. This doe.:; not stop short of perfect holiness, neither will the believer's desires be satisfied with anything beneath that blessed consummation.
"And let not any iniquity have dominion over me.'" This is the negative side of the blessing. We ask to do all that is right, and to fall under the power of nothing that is wrong. God is our sovereign, and we-would have every thought in subjection to his sway. Believers have no darling sins to which they would be willing to bow. They pant for perfect deliverance from the dominion of evil, and being conscious that they cannot obtain it of themselves, they cry unto God for it.
Taken in connection with the former clause, we. learn, that to avoid all sin we must observe all duty.. Only by actual obedience can we be preserved from falling into evil. Omissions lead to commissions: only an ordered life; can save us from the disorder of iniquity.
"Deliver me from the oppression of man.'" David had tasted all the bitterness of this great evil. It had made him an exile from his country, and banished him from the sanctuary of the Lord: therefore he pleads to be saved from it. It is said that oppression makes a wise man mad, and no doubt it has made many a righteous man sinful. Oppression is in itself wicked, and it drives men to wickedness. We little know how much of our virtue is due to our liberty; if we had been in bonds under haughty tyrants we might have yielded to them, and instead of being confessors we might now have been apostates. He who taught us to pray, "Lead us not into temptation,'" will sanction this prayer to be delivered from oppression, since it is of much the same tenor. To be oppressed is to be tempted. Lord, preserve us from it.
"So will I keep thy precepts.'" When the stress of oppression was taken off he would go his own way, and that way would be the way of the Lord. Although we ought not to yield to the threatenings of men, yet many do so; the wife is in many instances compelled by the oppression .of' her husband to act against her conscience: children and servants, families and societies, and even whole: nations, have been brought into the same difficulty. Sins committed through intimidation will be largely laid at the oppressor's door; and it usually pleases God ere long to overthrow those powers and persons which compel men to do evil. The worst of it is, that some people, when the pressure is taken off from them, follow after unrighteousness of their own accord. These give evidence of being sinners in grain. As for the righteous, it happens to them as it did to the apostles of old, "Being let go, they went to their own company.'" When saints are freed from tyrants, they joyfully pay homage to their Lord and King.
"Make thy face to shine upon thy servant.'" Oppressors frown, but do thou smile. They darken my life, but do thou shine upon me, and all will be bright The Psalmist again declares that he is God's servant; and therefore he values his Master's smile. He seeks for no favor from others, but only from his own Lord and Master.
"And teach me thy statutes.'" He seeks holy education as the chief token of divine love. This is the favor which he considers to be the shining of the face of God upon him. If the Lord will be exceeding gracious, and make him his favorite, he will ask no higher blessing than still to be taught the royal statutes. See how the good man craves after holiness 1 this is the choicest of all gems in his esteem. As we say among men that a good education is a great fortune, so to be taught of the Lord is a gift of special grace. The most favored believer needs teaching; even when he walks in the light of God's countenance, he has still to be taught the divine statutes, or he will transgress.
He wept in sympathy with God to see the holy law despised and broken. He wept in pity for men who were thus drawing down upon themselves the fiery wrath of God. His grief was such that he could scarcely give it vent; his tears were not mere drops of sorrow, but rivers of waters torrents of woe.
In this sacred grief the man of God became like the Lord Jesus, who beheld the city, and wept over it; and like unto Jehovah himself, who hath no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, but that he turn unto him and live,. The experience of this verse indicates a great advance upon anything we have read before in this divine song: the psalm and the Psalmist are both growing. That man is a ripe believer who sorrows because of the sins of others. Mourners in Zion are among the chief of the saints. In verse 120 his flesh trembled at the presence of God, but here it seems to melt and flow away in floods of tears. a Teach me thy statutes'" is followed by an expression of great tenderness of heart. None are so affected by heavenly things as those who are much in the study of the word, and are thereby taught the truth and essence of things. Carnal men are afraid of brute force, and weep over losses and crosses; but spiritual men feel a holy fear of the Lord himself, and most of all lament when they see dishonor cast upon his holy name.