First Mennonite Church
July 30, 2023
An Ode to the Word of the Lord
Text: Psalm 119:129-136
If you noticed, my preaching this month has been from passages in the book of Psalms. Today, I will be closing this short series by focusing our attention on the segment the psalmist dedicated to the Law of the Lord—the Torah, which is found in chapter 119. This chapter is constructed as an acrostic poem using the Hebrew alphabet. The Hebrew alphabet consists of 22 consonants. (FYI: this alphabet does not contain vowels.) The psalmist wrote eight verses for each letter; therefore, we have 176 verses in this chapter. The first word, in each of these segments of eight verses, begins with the corresponding letter in the order of the alphabet. Our passage corresponds to the 17th letter and that is the letter “pe.”
Another feature of this chapter is that because the theme is the instruction of God, also called the Torah, you will find eight synonyms for Scripture: “your decrees,” “your words,” “your commandments,” “your promise,” “your precepts,” “your statutes,” and “your law.”
In this stanza of eight lines, each verse begins with a different “pe” word: “wonderful” (pila’ot), “unfolding” (petach), “my mouth” (pi), “turn” (pe’amay), “my steps” (pe’ami), “redeem” (pedeni), “your face” (paneyka), and “streams” (palgey).
But also, seven of the eight synonyms for God’s instruction appear in this stanza: decrees (129), words (130), commandments (131), promise (133), precepts (134), statutes 135), law (136).
This stanza begins with a description of the decrees of God: they are wonderful. A decree is an order given by someone in a high place of authority, like a judge, government officer, or representative of an institution. Thus, the decrees the psalmist is referring to are the rules for life according to God’s covenant with Israel: to have one God, worship only Yahweh, teach his decrees to their children and to their children’s children, and to love God and neighbor, for example.
This perspective about God’s decrees as being beautiful is only possible when we are convinced that God’s word is given for our benefit. God’s commandments were not given for the sake of making life impossible or inconvenient but for our utmost benefit. When scriptures are seen from that perspective, a desire to surrender our lives to the will of God is the most natural response.
For the person who does not have a relationship with God, God’s words are anything but beautiful. They might see the contents of the Bible as antiquated rules, too restrictive, or irrelevant to modern life.
But for the believer, the command to love the Lord is not burdensome nor an inconvenience. This is what the apostle John says, “In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome” (1John 5:3).
It is easier, sometimes, to rejoice and give thanks to God for his promises than to seek to do his will. In that regard we can become like children who like dessert, but not spinach.
Your decrees are wonderful, says David. Throughout the Psalms, God’s deeds are also described as wonderful (9:1; 26:7; 75:1; 105:2). The refrain in Psalm 107 calls to praise God “for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind” (v. 8, 15, 21, 24, 31).
The unfolding of your word gives light; it gives wisdom to the simple (130). The imagery here is like unveiling a source of light, spreading upward and outward. The unfolding of the scroll is also like the opening of a guidebook for those who are seeking wisdom. As the scroll is being unfolded, light shines and wisdom is imparted. That is what happens when we come around the word of God.
I pray this moment of reflection is one of those. It also happens when we come for Sunday school class or when we attend Bible study. We open the word of God. We digest the word and give our input as we discuss it together. We grow in our understanding as long as we remain open to learning. To my Sunday school class, I want to say, “Stay focused on the Word when we come together.” That is the attitude of the psalmist, when he says, “With open mouth I pant, because I long for your commandments.” He is eager to learn God’s commandments.
This week, I read the story of a nurse who during the pandemic came to the Lord in a Mennonite Church in PA. She had hand surgery in the middle of the pandemic and during her recovery time she said, “As I was lying on my bed, with a lot of time to devote to thinking, I started my search for faith. The quest started with a question: “Do I believe in Jesus because I have been told to believe? Or do I believe in Jesus because I believe?” Then she felt a growing thirst to know God as revealed in Christ. Through FB she found a church live-streaming their services. She got connected with someone from that church and shortly when the church held an outdoor service she was invited to attend. “I almost chickened out,” she said about attending. But when she shared with a friend, who had been her mentor during her nursing training, she found out that this friend attends the church she had been watching over in FB. Her friend offered to be her host. Jesica says, “I continue to have affirmation after affirmation that I am where the Lord wants me and with the people God has sent for me to, so I can grow in relationship with God. . . My purpose became clear: I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I joined the Lowville Mennonite Church in April 2022. I chose to be baptized in August 2022.” Jesica also mentions the hunger she felt to know more about the Lord.
In this chapter, David also wrote:
Oh, how I love your law!
I meditate on it all day long (v. 97)
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth! (v. 103)
How I love your law! Love is a very complex reality. There can be real “love at first sight” as people sometimes talk about. To truly love requires the involvement of all our faculties, our mind, will, and affections or emotions. True love is rooted and grows out of knowledge of the one we love. Love requires a willingness to engage and interact with the other. Love also involves our emotions. We are happy to be with the person we love. We trust each other.
Therefore, to love the word of God also involves our entire being. We begin by knowing the word. Obviously, this requires us to read, memorize, and be familiarized with the Holy Scriptures. We learn where the books of the Bible are. This love for the word is as 1John says: this is love for God: to keep his commands. But, fundamental to having a love for the word of God is having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. And this starts by asking him to enter into your heart, to give you peace through the forgiveness of your sins.
It is until we discover that the word of God brings meaning, hope, and comfort to our lives that we begin to savor the sweetness and beauty of the word of God.
But the psalmist also experienced pain and disappointment when he found that not everyone shared with him the same passion, respect, and appreciation for the word of God. In verse 136, he writes:
My eyes shed streams of tears
because your law is not kept.
Here is a word of wisdom for us, especially when we see that not everyone has the same perspective, response, and love for the word of God. When we see the effects of sin and evil in the world we feel sad. That is what the psalmist experienced when he saw God’s word being violated. My eyes shed streams of tears because your law is not kept, he says. He expresses an even stronger response in verse 53, where writes: Indignation grips me because of the wicked,
who have forsaken your law.
Although David felt sadness because the word of God was violated and even when he felt indignation because God’s word was forsaken, he kept at peace before God. He asked God:
132 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
as is your custom toward those who love your name.
133 Keep my steps steady according to your promise,
and never let iniquity have dominion over me.
134 Redeem me from human oppression,
that I may keep your precepts.
135 Make your face shine upon your servant,
and teach me your statutes.
So, whenever you find things that you do not like about the ways of the world, do not fight them. As I said in one of our Sunday school sessions, God has not called us to be the “police of the world.” God has called us to be “the light of this world, so that they may see our good deeds and glory our Father in heaven,” Jesus says.
I want to invite you to take time to get familiarized with the Word of God. I want to invite you to seek to know more about the Bible. Attend Sunday school. Join the Bible study when we get started again in September. There are beautiful stories in the Bible. Discover God’s promises. Read the Gospels. If there is something I can do to help you understand a passage, please ask me. I want to thank those who have written to me asking to help them understand certain passages or concepts. Let us join together in the quest to know more about the word of the Lord to the point where we can say with the psalmist:
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth! Amen!
 www.mennoniteusa.org/menno-snapshots/blessings-amid-pandemic/ (Jesica Lynn Nichols)