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.
The Psalmist is now at the: last section of the psalm, and his petitions gather still more force and fervency; he seems to break into the inner circle of divine fellowship, and to come even to the feet of the great God whose help he is imploring. This nearness creates the most lowly view of himself, and leads him to close the psalm, prostrate in the dust, in deepest serfhumiliation., begging to be sought out like a lost sheep.
"Let my cry come near before thee, O Lord.'" He is tremblingly afraid lest he should not be heard. He is conscious that his prayer is nothing better than the "cry'" of a poor child, or the groan of a wounded beast. He dreads lest it should be shut out from the ear of the Most High; but he very' boldly prays that it may come before God, that it may be in his ear, under his notice, and looked upon with his acceptance. Yea, he goes further, and entreats, "Let my cry come near before thee, O Lord'": he wants the Lord's attention to his prayer to be very close and considerate.
He uses a figure of speech and personifies his prayer. We may picture his prayer as Esther, venturing into the royal presence, entreating an audience, and begging to find favor in the sight of the blessed and only Potentate. It is a very sweet thing to a suppliant when he knows of a surety that his prayer has obtained audience, when it has trodden the sea of glass before the throne, and has come even to the footstool of the glorious seat around which heaven and earth adore. It is to Jehovah that this prayer is expressed with trembling earnestness our translators, filled with holy reverence, translate the word, "O Lord.'" We crave audience of none else, for we have confidence in none beside.
"Give me understanding according to thy word,'" This is the prayer about which the Psalmist is so exceedingly anxious. With all his gettings he would get understanding, and whatever he misses he is resolved not to miss this priceless boon. He desires spiritual light and understanding, as it is promised in God's word, as it proceeds from God's word, and as it produces obedience to God's word. He pleads as though he had no understanding whatever of his own, and asks to have one given to Him. "Give me understanding.'" In truth, he had an understanding according to the judgment of men; but what he sought was an understanding according to God's word, which is quite another thing. To understand spiritual things is the gift of God. To have a judgment enlightened by heavenly light and conformed to divine truth is a privilege which only grace can give. Many a man who is accounted wise after the manner of this world is a fool according to the word of the Lord. May we be among those happy children who shall all be taught of the Lord!
"Let my supplication come before thee.'" It is the same entreat>, with a slight change of words. He humbly calls his cry a supplication, a sort of beggar's petition; and again he asks for audience and for answer. There might be hindrances in the way to an audience, and he begs for their removal "Let my supplication come.'" Other believers are heard by the Great Lord himself .let my prayer come before thee: let me also have audience of my God.
"Deliver me according to thy word.'" Rid me of mine adversaries, clear me of my slanderers, preserve me from my tempters, and bring me up out of all my afflictions, even as thy word has led me to expect thou wilt do. It is for this that in the previous verse he seek,; understanding. His enemies would succeed through his folly, if they succeeded at all; but if he exercised a sound discretion they would be baffled, and he would escape from them. The Lord in answer to :prayer frequently delivers his children by making them wise as serpents as well as harmless as doves.
He will not always be pleading for himself, he will rise above all selfishness, and render thanks for the benefit received. He promises to praise God when he has obtained practical instruction in the life of godliness: this is something to praise for, no blessing is more precious. The best possible praise is that which proceeds from men who honor God, not only with their lips, but in their lives. We learn the music of heaven in the school of holy living. He whose life honors the Lord is sure to be a man of praise. David would not be silent in his gratitude, but he would express it in appropriate terms: his lips would utter what his life had practiced. Eminent disciples are wont to speak well of the master who instructed them; and this holy man, when taught the statutes of the Lord, promises to giro all the glory to him to whom it is due.
"My tongue shall speak of thy word.'" When he had done singing he began preaching. God's tender mercies are such that they may be either said or sung. When the tongue speaks of God's word it has a most fruitful subject; such speaking will be as a tree of life, whose leaves shall be for the healing of the people. Men will gather together to listen to such talk, and they will treasure it up in their hearts. The worst of us is, that for the most part we are full of our own words, and speak but little of God's word. Oh, that we could come to the same resolve as this godly man, and say henceforth, "My tongue shall speak of thy word'"! Then should we break through our sinful silence; we should no more be cowardly and halfhearted, but should be true witnesses for Jesus. It is not only of God's works that we are to speak, but of his word. We may extol its truth, its wisdom, its preciousness, its grace, its power; and then we may tell of all it has revealed, all it has promised, all it has commanded, and all it has effected. The subject gives us plenty of sea-room; we may speak on for ever: the tale is for ever telling, yet untold.
"For all thy commandments are righteousness.'" David appears to have been mainly enamoured of the preceptive part of the word of God, and concerning the precept his chief delight lay in its purity and excellence. When a man can speak thus from his heart, his heart is indeed a temple of the Holy Ghost.
He has said aforetime (verse 138), "Thy testimonies are righteous,'" but here he declares that they are righteousness itself. The law of God is not only the standard of right, but it is the essence of righteousness. This the Psalmist affirms of each and every one of the precepts without exception. He felt like Paul "The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.'" When a man has so high an opinion of God's commandments, it is little wonder that his lips should be ready to extol the ever-glorious One.
"Let thine hand help me.'" Give me practical succor. Do not entrust me to my friends or to thy friends, but put thine own hand to the work. Thy hand has both skill and power, readiness and force: display all these qualities on my behalf. I am willing to do the utmost that I am able to do; but what I need is thine help, and this is so urgently required that if I have it not I shall sink. Do not refuse thy succor. Great as thy hand is, let it light on me, even me. The prayer reminds us of Peter walking on the sea and beginning to sink; he, too, cried, "Lord, save me,'" and the hand of his Master was stretched out for his rescue.
"For I have chosen thy precepts.'" A good argument. A man may fitly ask help from God's hand when he has dedicated his own hand entirely to the obedience of the faith. "I have chosen thy precepts.'" His election was made, his mind was made up. In preference to all earthly rules and ways, in preference even to his own will, he had chosen to be obedient to the divine commands. Will not God help such a man in holy work and sacred service? Assuredly he will. If grace has given us the heart with which to will, it will also give us the hand with which to perform. Whenever, under the constraints of a divine call, we are engaged in any high and lofty enterprise, and feel it to be too much for our strength, we may always invoke the right hand of God in words like these.
"I have longed for thy salvation, O Lord.'" He speaks like old Jacob on his deathbed; indeed, all saints, both in prayer and in death, appear as one, in word, and deed, and mind. He knew God's salvation, and yet he longed for it; that is to say, he had experienced a measure of it, and he was therefore led to long for something yet higher and more complete. The holy hunger of the saints increases as it is satisfied. There is a salvation yet to come, when we shall be clean delivered from the body of this death, set free from all the turmoil and trouble of this mortal life, raised above the temptations and assaults of Satan, and brought near unto our God, to be like him and with him for ever and ever.
"I have longed for thy salvation, O Jehovah; and thy law is my delight.'" The first clause tells us what the saint longs for, and this informs us what is his present satisfaction. God's law, contained in the ten commandments, gives .joy to believers. God's law, that is, the entire Bible, is a well-spring of consolation and enjoyment to all who receive it. Though we have not yet reached the fullness of our salvation, yet we find in God's word :;o much concerning a present salvation that: we are even now delighted.
"Let my soul live.'" Fill it full of life, preserve it from wandering into the ways of death, give it to enjoy the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, let it live to the fullness of life, to the utmost possibilities of its new-created being. "And it shall praise thee.'" It shall praise thee for life, for new life, for eternal life, for thou art the Lord and Giver of life. The more it shall live, the more it shall praise, and when it shall live in perfection it shall praise thee in perfection.. Spiritual life is prayer and praise.
"And let thy judgments help me.'" While I read the record of what thou hast done, in terror or in love, let me be quickened and developed. While I see thy hand actually at work upon :me, and upon others, chastening sin, and smiling upon righteousness, let me be helped both to live aright and to praise thee aright. Let all thy deeds in providence instruct me, and aid me in the struggle to overcome sin and to practice holiness. This is the second time he has asked for help in this portion; he was always in need of it, and so are we.
This is the finale, the conclusion of the whole matter: "I have gone astray like a lost sheep"' often, willfully, wantonly, and even hopelessly but for thine interposing grace. In times gone by, before I was afflicted, and before thou hadst fully taught me thy statutes, I went astray. "I went astray'" from the practical precepts, from the instructive doctrines, and from the heavenly experiences which thou hadst set before me. I lost my road, and I lost myself. Even now I am apt to wander, and, in fact, have roamed already; therefore, Lord, restore me.
"Seek thy servant.'" He was not like a dog, that somehow or other can find its way back; but he was like a lost sheep, which goes further and further away from home; yet still he was a sheep, and the Lord's sheep, his property, and precious in his sight, and therefore he hoped to be sought in order to be restored. However far he might have wandered he was still not only a sheep, but God's "servant,'" and therefore he desired to be, in his Master's house again, and once more honored with commissions for his Lord. Had he been only a lost sheep he would not have prayed to be sought; but being also a "servant,'" he had the power to pray. He cries, "Seek thy servant,'" and he hopes not only to be sought, but forgiven, accepted, and taken into work again by his gracious Master.
Notice this confession; many times in the psalm David has defended his own innocence against foul-mouthed accusers; but when he comes into the presence of the Lord his God, he is ready enough to confess his transgressions. He here sums up, not only his past, but even his present life, under the image of a sheep which has broken from its pasture, forsaken the flock, left the shepherd, and brought itself into the wilderness, where it has become as a lost thing. The sheep bleats, and David prays, "Seek thy servant.'"
His argument is a forcible one, " for I do not forget thy commandments.'" I know the right, I approve and admire the right. What is more, I love the right, and long for it. I cannot be satisfied to continue in sin, I must be restored to the ways of righteousness. I have a homesickness after my God,, I pine after the ways of peace; I do not and I cannot forget thy commandments, nor cease to know that I am always happiest and safest when I scrupulously obey thy law and find my joy in doing so. If the grace of God enables us to maintain in our hearts the loving memory of God's commandments, it will surely yet restore us to practical holiness. That man cannot be utterly lost whose heart is still with God. If he be gone astray in many respects, yet still, if he be true in his soul's inmost desires, he will be found again, and fully restored. Yet let the reader remember the first verse of the psalm while he reads the last: the major blessedness lies not in being restored from wandering, but in being upheld in a blameless way even to the end. Be it ours to keep the crown of the causeway, never leaving the King's highway for By-path Meadow, or any other flowery path of sin. May the Lord uphold us even to the end. Yet even then we shall not be able to boast with the Pharisee, but shall still pray with the publican, "God be merciful to me a sinner'"; and with the Psalmist,'" Seek thy servant.'"
Let the last prayer of David in this Psalm be ours as we close this book and lift our hearts to the Chief Shepherd of the sheep. Amen.