PSALM 119:107 (GIVE ME TRUE LIFE)
A Research Paper
Dr. James Yuille
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for Spiritual Awakenings and Revival
Matthew Douglas Woodburn
Psalm 119:107 says, “I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to your word!” Of this verse Saint Augustine comments, “He doth not say, I have humbled myself, so that we must needs understand that humiliation which is commanded; but he saith, “I was humbled above-measure;” that is, suffered a very heavy persecution, because he swore and was steadfastly purposed to keep the righteous judgments of God. And, lest in such trouble faith herself might faint he addeth, “Quicken me, O Lord, according to Thy word:” that is, according to Thy promise. For the word of the promises of God is a lantern to the feet, and a light to the paths. Thus also above, in the humiliation of persecution, he prayed that God would quicken him.” This is a picture of the tension in which an individual can live.
The asking for life or for “quickening” is fundamental to Gospel theology. The fact that an individual does not make this cry in the dark shows, the love and sovereignty of the Heavenly Father. The psalmist does not make this request lightly, instead he literally screams from a “severally” afflicted self. He does not simply ask for healing, but for life. He views himself not as hurt, but as dead. He then makes the case that his affliction can be lifted through the word of God. The Word of God as described in the first chapters of the Gospel of John allows a careful reader to understand that this “Word” in vs. 107 is Jesus Christ. Although this essay does not allow for the charting of poetry by ancient Jewish standards, the content discussed will thoroughly set verse 107 in the context of its surrounding structure. By studying Psalm 119:107 in its context, along with its supporting verses in chapter 119, cross-referencing its verbiage with other sections of scripture, and making informed observations, it will be clear that Psalm 119:107 is a picture of the Gospel in action. The concluding implications of the Gospel message in this verse will prove to be primary, ahead of all other wisdom gleaned from the study of this verse.
The life of a believer is filled with both pain and victory. Too many have people flooded alters seeking salvation from the trials in their lives, only to stand and realize affliction is still present. The alter call has become taboo in our our culture. A false gospel of present prosperity coupled with eternal salvation has taken its place. In the same way, this gospel leaves its believers confused to pain that persists in this life. There is a doctrine of “affliction” that must be taught within the overall explanation of the Gospel. Affliction is experienced. An individual can be said to have experienced a past event that has left them in a state of affliction or it can be said that they are currently being afflicted by a force outside of their soul. Negative in this sense, it is to be defined as anything unholy. As it is understood, when the soul is exposed to things unholy it is wrong, thus painful causing affliction.
A soul can be afflicted by a variety of actions, caused by different process’s. Affliction must also be understood as being brought about through a variety of ways. Like Job, affliction can overwhelm the soul by an unforeseen and uncontrollable event. Although God remains sovereign over all, these events take place in the human experience. In contrast to a specific event, affliction can be caused by an ongoing uncontrollable source of pain in one’s life. Affliction may also be the result of an individual’s immoral decision which render ongoing consequences. Immediate affliction may be caused directly following a sinful act, a type of guilt. Affliction can be experienced by the individual dealing with ongoing spiritual, emotional, or physical pain in which they are not responsible, yet continue to feel. In the deepest sense, what the psalmist’s basic meaning of affliction is a deep yearning of the emptiness experienced while in existence, void of the life only God provides.
The Psalm implies that there are different levels of affliction. This can be derived from the use of an extreme adjective in both the original and English translations. The English Standard version says the Psalmist is “severely” afflicted. This language suggests that it is possible to have greater and lesser affliction experiences. Although the different levels may be hard to specifically identify, it is understandable that affliction while always being defined the same, can vary in intensity. The Psalmist indicates that his affliction is the deepest kind. His entire self is consumed with affliction. The pain and emptiness he feels is neither momentary or changing in its level of anguish. This Psalmist’s affliction is all consuming. It is irreversible without outside care. It is a burning sensation that will not quit. It outweighs all that is good. It is both leading to death and death at the same time. There is no relief and through this he cries out, “give me life, O Lord, according to your word!”
While staying in the bounds of reason, we may surmise that there is a bottom to the downward levels of affliction that can be felt. There is a “worst” affliction. There is a most severe affliction. It is helpful to break down the types of affliction into three categories and then give them value, assuming some types of affliction are more damaging or all consuming than others. There are no doubt, more precise categories for types of afflictions, but these three categories will do. First, there are physical afflictions. These afflictions happen to and are chiefly felt in the body, the flesh. Two, there are emotional afflictions. These afflictions are brought about by reactions to the world and relationships that are natural, but can cause both joy and pain. Three, is the spiritual affliction. These are the afflictions that have to do with a person’s soul. Let’s take a closer look at these three types of affliction. Without a clear understanding of these three distinctions, it is impossible to understand the what “life” or types of “life” that God will give through His Word.
The Physical Affliction
There are physical afflictions. Many theologians believe that the apostle Paul had some sort of physical affliction given Paul’s admittance of a thorn in his side. Interestingly, it seems that God chose not to relieve Paul of this pain. Most people who claim to be “afflicted” are referring to there physical health. This is not to be downplayed as human beings consist of physical bodies. It is easy for these types of afflictions to become primary. The preaching of healing and health being proof, of God’s work in one’s life solidifies this view of physical affliction as primary. While keeping the former in check, it is appropriate to call out to God for physical healing. The scripture is full of physical healing. No promise is made that a cry for the alleviation of physical affliction will be done. Jesus, in the Gospels, continually heals a physical body only to express that the forgiveness of sins be the goal of the exchange.
The Emotional Affliction
There are emotional afflictions. Although there is a spiritual aspect to many terms that would fall under the banner emotionalism, it cannot be argued that human beings deal with a variety of non-spiritual emotions. Examples of emotions are anger, fear, disgust, happiness, sadness, surprise, and contempt. These emotions at times, can be wallowed in, especially the negative emotions. An individual can also alter their emotions for the better through positive thinking and a correct understanding of the world around them. An observation of the volume of self-help books, speakers, ted talks, and alternative remedies for negative emotions proves that many are afflicted and seeking help. Unfortunately, these ways of dealing with the correcting the course of negative emotions are a band aid, working only for a short amount of time.
A person afflicted by or with continually fear or sadness must turn to the truth of Psalm 119:107. In other words, a Christian must first validate that afflation that affects the emotional state of an individual. But, only in order to implore them to call out for a life and freedom, or true healing through God’s Word. Emotional healing, through the Word of God, manifests itself in Paul’s letter to the Galatian church, concerning the fruit of the Spirit such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Paul goes on to say, “against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Although this portion of Paul’s letter to the Galatian church is not limited to emotional healing, it is clear about both the remedy of emotional affliction and the means by which health is achieved. This process may take time. Even so, affliction is dealt with by engaging in the truth of Psalm 119:107.
The Spiritual Affliction
The majority of this essay will deal specifically with spiritual affliction. The Christian positon is that the spiritual portion of a person’s self is foundational to everything other part. The physical and emotional parts of a person can be afflicted and can be dealt with through crying out to the Lord. Throughout time, the spiritual makeup of a human serves as the most important aspect. Some cultures, like the Gnostics of the early church and the Hindus of today believe that everything is spiritual, including the self. A Christian view denies that, admitting that people are physical, emotional, and spiritual beings. Although there is not enough time in this essay to properly make an argument, the scripture shows the person of Jesus as an example of the human self being both physical and spiritual. Jesus, in contrast to every other human being was fully God and Fully man. This paradox does not exist in human beings, but instead, they are separately spiritual and physical.
The spiritual aspect of self can be understood as the foundational and primary part of a human being infiltrating every part of its self. This does not take away from the Christian understanding that the spiritual side of man is the most important and only eternal aspect of the present self. They are partly man, wholly spiritual, and deeply flawed. Here in lies the affliction. So then, the removal of physical and emotional afflictions is only temporary and ultimately fleeting. True healing, removal of affliction, and the gifting of true life can only come from spiritual attention. This healing comes through a call to the Lord, the admittance and helplessness concerning affliction, a call for true life or the quickening of one’s spirit, and the Lord’s decision to completely heal and give true life by the power of His word.
Affliction (A note concerning the modern world)
In a modern changing world, it is increasingly difficult to understand when and how someone is afflicted. Sometimes the lines are blurred between physical, emotional, and spiritual afflictions. As an example, debates rage among evangelicals concerning the spiritual verses physical state of mental health. This debate, of course is ridiculous, given the clear clinical results. After years of testing, the brain’s afflictions are caused by chemical imbalances and development. The brain is a part of the physical body, and can be afflicted like a body that is afflicted by diabetes. With that said, a mental health diagnosis can affect the not only the physical, but the emotional and even spiritual human state. How can this be reconciled? How is one to cry out when dealing with a mental illness? The answer is, in the same way one is to cry out with the emotional or spiritual afflictions. A follower of Christ cries out “I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to your word!” The follower of Jesus should be less concerned with reconciling types of affliction and focus on living a life with the understanding that God has the power to deal with all afflictions through the power of His word. With the initial spiritual healing prominent, the Christian is to live a life of dependence on the sovereignty of God. It is also important to note that individuals may live their entire lives with certain physical afflictions. The true life that the Lord provides, allows for believers to have life while experiencing pain.
A Clear Gospel
Although it has been hinted at within this essay, it is appropriate to end this portion with an overview of the beautiful picture of the Gospel within Psalm 119:107. The verse is arguably, a perfect roadmap to both understanding the Gospel and engaging with it. The verse when broken down, in a general sense, captures the heart of the sinner and the saved. This in turn, leads to salvation and forgiveness. These large concepts are the final and most important implications of this text. Understanding what it means to call out to the Lord, the meaning of affliction, lament, true life, and God’s word along with cross-referencing the verse with the other verses is the key to reading the passage correctly. Previously in this essay, the ultimate salvific meaning in this verse has been address in purely academic or general theological terminology. It is important to end this essay with a challenge to personally engage with the Gospel as demonstrated by the author. The final implications will be a call for you, as the reader, to not simply understand the meaning of Psalm 119:107, but answer its call to action. Verses can be understood with human minds, but the true gospel message within them and how the human heart responds is the work of the Holy Spirit. We will continue and return to this important challenge.
Affliction as depravity
Psalm 119:107 says, “I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to your word!” Therein lies the gospel. It can be said that every passage, some scholars would argue, every verse contains the entirety of the Gospel. Psalm 119:107 beautifully lays out the Gospel from beginning to end. To make the text personal, one must understand the severity of his/her affliction. The author’s tone lends itself to desperation not simply a fleeting pain or annoyance. This man is devastated.
In this regard, it is worth noting that throughout scripture, God reveals Himself to individuals, thus beginning an awareness that a call to be quickened is needed. The Bible makes clear that even within human inaction, He stills brings about His will. For example, Proverbs 16:1 says, “the plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue belongs to the Lord.” Another example of the Lord’s sovereignty in the matters of the heart is found in the Old Testament story of Abimelech. Genesis 20:6, “God said to Abimelech, the pagan king who had not committed adultery with Sarah, “It was I who kept you from sinning against me.” There are many examples of of God’s will remaining sovereign even within the actions of men and women.
To the sinner who is not saved, it is important to understand the Biblical process of crying out. As the Psalm says, a lost soul has the ultimate affliction. This affliction is the type that will remain forever without the intervening of the Heavenly Father. This affliction is a depravity that is total. The author clearly feels this pain. He knows a depth or its totality we cannot know. Regardless, we understand through other scriptures the overwhelming affliction of the soul that the author either feels directly or warns the reader of.
Life with depravity is what our soul cries to heal. As John 10:10 says that God wants to give us life and life abundantly. But, the depravity remains. John 3:19-21 speaks to the state of ultimate affliction, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” Romans 1:8 goes on, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” The text personalizes the state of the afflicted soul in Romans 3:23 and 1 Kings 8:46 saying, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and “There is no man who does not sin.” A few psalms past our focus verse we read, “And do not enter into judgment with Your servant, for in Your sight no man living is righteous.” (Psalm 143:2) If we entertain that we have no sin, we can be reminded in 1 John 1:8 that, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” This verse can be perplexing given its tense. It seems that salvation at one moment is complete for all time, but sin still persists as for the believer as an affliction to be dealt with. Affliction comes in many forms, but the root of the deepest affliction is the depravity of man. Only crying out to the Lord can change an afflicted life.
Crying out to a Sovereign Lord
An individual can cry out for a variety of reasons. The lost soul calls out for true life, ultimate salvation. The believer may find himself needing to cry out to the Lord because for the forgiveness of sin or help in a desert season of life. Both types of calls are worth examining. It seems as though the author’s intensity would suggest that his call for life comes from a deep understanding of a need.
The Bible is clear that a cry for salvation coupled with repentance will be met with saving grace given by God through His Word. In fact, the work of healing affliction was already done. Romans 3:23-26 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” 2 Corinthians 5:21 goes on to say, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 1 Peter 3:18 speaks to the scope of God’s grace over all depths of affliction, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God.”
Romans 5:9-10 speaks of the distance and emptiness an afflicted person may feel and God’s overcoming, “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” As will be investigated further, it is appropriate to understand Jesus as “the Word” in Psalm 119:107 and what that means in Romans 8:23, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”
When considering the call for a lost individual, there is no clearer teaching than these scriptures. When the deep affliction comes from a depraved heart yet to be saved, only the saving grace of God and faith in His son’s life, death, and resurrection will bring about life. The popular John 3:16 verse, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,” shows belief as a heart’s inner cry. Belief is both the speaking of a creed and faith to bet your life on that creed. This mirrors the Psalmist when he cries out, not simply in pain, but directly to a source in which he believes there can be healing. Romans 10:9-10 says, “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Paul goes on to assure that those who put their faith in Jesus will be saved, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13)
In medical terminology, to be revived is to be brought from the grips of death to life. Revivals have begun with individuals praying prayers like Psalm 119:107. Revivals can take place in a group of people or in a personal way. Some verses speak to both such as in 2 Chronicles 7:14,“from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” It is helpful to see other passages in scripture that give more detail to the call that is made, even required for true life to come about. Read the beauty of these verses concerning the interaction between the cry to the Lord and His answer. Psalm 80:18, Then we shall not turn back from you; give us life, and we will call upon your name! Again in Psalm 85:6, “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” Ezekiel 29:21says, “On that day I will cause a horn to spring up for the house of Israel, and I will open your lips among them. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” Isaiah 57:15 speaks of the eternality of revival, “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.
There are two passages, one from the Old and one from the New Testament that, for our purposes solidify the truths discussed in this portion of the essay. Namely, that when an individual calls out in surrender to the Lord, He answers in a supernatural, gracious way. The first of these passages is Acts 3:19-20, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus.” The second of these passages is 2 Chronicles 7:14, “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” The heavenly Father is not only the author, but giver of life.
According to several popular dictionaries, life is, the condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death. This is a secular definition lacking much of what life is meant to be in Psalm 119:107. Before moving into that discussion, it is worth examining an interesting principles found in the previous definition. Psalm 119:107 implies that human beings are lifeless without the working of God. The text suggest that we are not born with “life”. We instead, need life given to us. In the secular definition, the capacities by which a person who is alive are as follows; growth, reproduction, functional activity, and even continual change preceding death. When this definition is read in light of the life of a disciple of Jesus as described by Paul in the New Testament, it begins to seem like an analogy. For example, the Bible is clear that we are spiritually dead before we are saved by grace. This would mean that our capacities as a living being are non existent. This is why Paul says while we were still sinners Christ died for us. When we were dead, Christ gave us life. When spiritual life is given to the spiritually dead, the one with life is immediately separated in capacity from all that is dead. As an alive being, the follower of Christ begins to grow. This process may be one step forward, two steps back, and will take a lifetime. This process is, in theologian terminology, is called progressive sanctification. The life filled Christian naturally multiplies. An example of this is when Jesus told his newly called disciples that they would be “fishers” of men. Life filled Christians are reproductive in that they lead other people to the Lord. The functional activity of a life filled follower of Jesus is to be more like Jesus. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he packages a good list of the type of functions a life filled Christians will have. Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” The Christian is always changing and growing before death and experiencing Jesus following death.
LIFE in the Spirit
Speaking of the affliction, a call for relief, the Lord, and the Word as described in Psalm 119:107 but, ignoring the implication the verse has on the role of the Holy Spirit would fool hearty. The life that comes from the Father is the Holy Spirit or the Holy Spirit’s carrying out. Romans 8:4 says, “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Paul goes on in the next verse, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” The text tells us that the Holy Spirit will accompany the Christian throughout their lives. It is the “life” of Psalm 119:107. The Believer is to continue with his or her focus on where the life came from. Further down in Romans, Paul elaborates, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Romans 8:13-14) Romans 8 also beckons us to remember the Heavenly Father as the giver of life. “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:15-17) Most importantly, Paul tells the Roman Church that the Spirit is faithful throughout the believer’s life, always giving life. Not only will the Spirit be faithful to every individual Christian, but the church until the end. Romans 8:22-25 says, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
Life through the Word, of the son, Jesus
Psalm 119:107 says, “I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to your word!” The “word” in this verse has a primary meaning as the written law observed by the author. In the overall narrative of scripture, it must be understood as the embodiment of Christ. Quickly breaking down John chapter 1 explains this. John begins by saying, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This verse harkens back to Genesis chapter stating, “the Word was in the beginning with God.” John’s gospel, over and over again, shows that all of the wisdom and importance of the law manifest in Christ. Christ says that He did not come to abolish the law, but rather bring it upon Himself. John goes on, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Again connecting Jesus as the Word to the genesis of all things. Most importantly in connection to Psalm 119, John emphatically states, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
The psalmist goes to great length urging his readers to observe the law and even love it as it is the Word of God that gives life. John, many years later shows us that in Jesus, as the Word of God, gives life. This is the same “life”. The psalmist who cries out because of his severe affliction is given life by the Father, through his word. The Word in which the Father speaks is Jesus. Jesus, then is the one who takes the law upon Himself. The Psalmist clearly is not aware of the details of the coming of Jesus Christ. We cannot know if he understands the connection between Jesus and the word by which power is given. The modern reader can make this connection. With this connection in mind, the modern reader should both understand the Word as Jesus Christ and the beauty of the law implored by the psalmist.
The author spends the most time admitting his own short falls and moments of disbelief. He begs the Lord to show Himself and set his feet on the right path, the way of the good and perfect law. This back and forth is beautifully captured in verses 25-30, “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word! When I told of my ways, you answered me; teach me your statutes! Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works. My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word! Put false ways far from me and graciously teach me your law! I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I set your rules before me.” The author clings to the scripture, regardless his foe. Willmington’s Bible Handbooks says: “Though consumed with anguish over the wickedness around him (119:139), the psalmist found delight in God’s word. Though many sinful people were near him, the psalmist found the Lord near as well as he arose before dawn and stayed awake at night contemplating the Scriptures. Amid persecution, the true believer can trust in a God whose words are totally trustworthy and will not change.”
Quickening in the present, a deeper look
The excitement of Psalm 119:107 comes from the pronouncement, request, and the answer. First, the Psalmist declares, “I am severely afflicted!” This is not a nonchalant pronouncement of a nagging affliction. The language used here is that of desperation. The author believes that without the intervening power of God, he will die. We know that his concern is death, based on his request, “give me life!” The Hebrew word for “life” used here is חָיָה. A brief study into the depth of this word gives us an even deeper understanding of what the author is asking for.
We will not look at every use of this word, but it is important to look at a few, to understand the true meaning of this word. The word occurs 262 times in the OT; it translates as “live” 153 times, “alive” 34 times, “save” 13 times, “quicken” 14 times, “revive” 12 times, “surely” 10 times, “life” nine times, “recover” eight times, and translated miscellaneously nine times. It is also translated, to live, have life, remain alive, sustain life, live prosperously, live for ever, be quickened, be alive, be restored to life or health.The Psalmist is asking not just for momentary “life”, but a powerful revival that would remain and sustain his soul. Matthew Henry Says, “The recourse he has to God in this condition; he prays for his grace: “Quicken me, O Lord!make me lively, make me cheerful; quicken me by afflictions to greater diligence in my work. Quicken me, that is, deliver me out of my afflictions, which will be as life from the dead.” He pleads the promise of God, guides his desires by it, and grounds his hopes upon it: Quicken me according to thy word. David resolved to perform his promises to God (v. 106) and therefore could, with humble boldness, beg of God to make good his word to him.”The Psalmist knows that to cling to the Word of God is to be sustained and quickened toward supernatural revival. Only a few translations use the word “quicken” in their translation of verse 107.
Even so, it may be the best word to use in light of the passage. “Quicken means to give life. The Word gives us eternal life when we believe (1 Peter 1:23). It is the living Word (Heb. 4:12). But the Word also quickens us when we are weak, discouraged, and defeated. Revival comes when we yield to God’s Word.”As did the psalmist, we want revival. We do not want a momentary fix for temporary pain, but a quickening of our lives to be set upon the precepts and commands of God word. Rival is to be made alive. The author wants the ignition and sustainment of his soul. He believes the revival he seeks is to be found by living through and by the word of God.
True life, to be quickened
Let us examine Psalm 119:107 in its chapter context. Even a general reading of the entire chapter of Psalm 119 reveals that its content supports verse 107 and specifically gives emphasis to the concept of “word” and its priority in the giving of life. The author is crying out for true life. This is not a life that could pass away and it definitely is not a temporary removal of affliction. True life comes from the Lord through the Word. Some English translations say the psalmist asked the Lord to quicken his heart. Both “life” and “quicken” are helpful. From an ancient Hebrew tradition, the combination of these words gives a more complete understanding of what the author is asking for.
I ask, I do
There are several important themes found in the chapter. We will look at two. The author’s cry for release from affliction takes on two forms. At times, the author asks specifically for the Lord intervening. Several verses may read like imperatives, but should be considered cries for help not commands. The author understand that he is in no place to make demands. He asks and hopes for life. Other times, he states what he has done. When the author states what he has done, it is not in the sense that he is trying to earn his help. On the contrary, the author is humbly speaking in terms of surrender.
Examples of the author’s clear asking for help can be seen in Psalm119:17, “Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word.” Another example is, Psalm 119:88, “In your steadfast love give me life, that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth.” In Psalm 119:159, “Consider how I love your precepts! Give me life according to your steadfast love,” the author presents, humbly his love for the law. This passage is extraordinarily interesting. The love of the law shows the author’s commitment to his understanding of the power by which his afflictions are healed. Psalm 119:37, “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways,” shows that the author desires that the same God who gives him life, would help keep him focused. There is a theological truth in this verse. Some say that perfection is obtainable during a human life. The author clearly does not believe this. The cry of verse 37 shows that the author continues to be drawn to “worthless” things even though he has received life. Christians must understand that returning to the Lord in prayer is prudent and should not be forgotten.Verse 119:175 is a verse of worship. Just as the author prayerfully desires the Lord to help him turn his eyes from worthless things, in the same way, he asks that God’s word would guide him in worship. This is not so that he worships the law, rather that he is guided in his worship. He says, “Let my soul live and praise you, and let your rules help me.”
As mentioned, the author spends time in his writing telling the Lord what he is doing. A careful reading shows a deeper truth than just a declaration of intent and action to the Lord. The author joyfully shares with his Father what he is able to do because of the life that has been given to him. In Psalm 119:93 he states, “I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life.” He goes on to say, “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!” Again the emphasis is on the author’s love for the Word of God. The author’ comfort is knowing God’s mercy is on him. He conveys this in Psalm 119:156 saying, “Great is your mercy, O Lord; give me life according to your rules.” Ultimately the author thanks the Lord in advance for answering his cry in verse 107, in Psalm 119:50, “This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.”
The Text Within the Text (an introduction to lament)
Verse 107 of Psalm 119 must be considered as part of a stanza that clearly defines the outside forces a follower of Christ may encounter. These forces are both positive and negative. “The psalmist is afflicted by the schemes of the wicked (v. 110).”He is also aware, thus he asks for, God to “give him life.”
Psalm 119 consists of twenty-two stanzas corresponding successively to the letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The eight verses of each stanza all begin with the same letter. This pattern is maintained throughout the psalm until the alphabet is complete. The often-used term “law” has the idea of teaching, direction, or instruction. The law is the gracious revelation of what God wants in order for believers to have fellowship with Him. It reveals who He is in holiness and justice. The wicked are insensitive to the ethical ideals set forth in the law (119:70).Although the main focus of our study has to do with verse 107 of Psalm 119, it is important to spend time putting the verse in context within the entire chapter and even its stanza. The Psalmist calls for the Lord’s sovereign help in more than 20 stanzas and in twice as many verses. The Psalmist describes in detail his distress at the hands of his persecutors. He also admits that some of his wounds are self-inflicted. Interestingly, the psalmist only periodically asked for immediate intervention.
As a general rule, the Psalmist asks for God’s help in direction as he searches the Holy Law and precepts therein. It is informative that the Psalmist values the law of God so much that he has both searched for answers in the law, and asked for the help of the Father to guide him in his search. It is important to note, that the Psalmist seems to first consult the law before directly calling out to God. In this way, we see the the linear theology of the Word of God being an extension of God Himself.
Many times the lament and action are coupled. An example can be found in verses 69 and 70: “The insolent smear me with lies, but with my whole heart I keep your precepts their heart is unfeeling like fat, but I delight in your law.” The way the chapter is written is in line with classic Hebrew poetry. Hebrew poetry rests not on rhyme and rhythm but on parallelism (repetition and sequencing of thoughts) and on imagery. While English poetry cannot be easily translated into another language, Hebrew poetry has been rendered into every language, with none of its power or passion lost.
What is lament?
The author laments. The author asks for help, through the law or direct intervention from God. As a result of the direct revelation he receives from the Lord and from searching the law, the author experiences revival in his heart. This list is not to be taken in the order given. Usually the author simply states his lament and then how he will change his course of action. Breaking this mold, the author writes entire sections with calls to the Lord, asking for His direct action. Verses 132-135 are an example of the author’s direct call to God without a lament or declaration of his own intention, “Turn to me and be gracious to me, as is your way with those who love your name. Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me. Redeem me from man’s oppression, that I may keep your precepts. Make your face shine upon your servant, and teach me your statutes.” If the law and Word of God are terms synonymous with God Himself, no matter the intensity of lament, the author believes that only God himself can revive him, give him life, and set his feet on solid ground. The theme of this chapter directly confronts the concept that through positive thinking and strong morals, individuals can experience revival in their lives. Emotionalism may trick some into thinking that their laments can be cured with positive thinking and actions, but the author of Psalm 119 is clear. Our lives are full of pain, hopelessness, hard hearts, and brokenness. Through humility and honesty, we lament these things. We lament the pain caused by others and pain we inflict upon ourselves. The only answer to the lament of our heart is to call directly upon the Lord and His word to direct our steps and desires. Through following God’s word and His work, and God’s speaking directly to an individual’s heart, revival can take place.
The trials in life are real. Psalm119 makes this clear. Specifically, in verse 107 we read, “I am severely afflicted.”Henry states “The representation David makes of the sorrowful condition he was in: I am afflicted very much, afflicted in spirit; he seems to mean that especially. He labored under many discouragements; without were fighting, within were fears. This is often the lot of the best saints; therefore, think it not strange if sometimes it be ours.”Many times in modern Christianity the Gospel is coded with an understanding that to follow Christ means to separate one’s self from pain and affliction.
A simple look at Scripture, at any point in Biblical history, shows much to the contrary. The path of following God’s law is a path of sacrifice and pain. The psalmist does not expect complete deliverance from affliction, but understanding and help through the power of God’s Word and presence. Throughout church history, we see those who follow Christ suffer deeply and harshly. Paul warns the church of this saying in Romans 5:3-5 that, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Reflecting on Psalm 119:107, Gregory the Great preached of the great reality of suffering as well, “But, because it was beyond his powers to continue the keeping which he swore, straightway, being troubled, he found his weakness. Whence also he all at once betook himself to the aid of prayer, saying, I am humbled all together; quicken me, O Lord, according to Thy word(Ibid. v. 107).
But sometimes Divine government, before advancing a soul by gifts, recalls to it the memory of its infirmity, lest it be puffed up for the virtues it has received.”We must surmise that to walk with God is not to walk in the absence of suffering, but with the grace God has given us to endure. Although it is true, that we are met with some suffering without any explanation to its origin, suffering is always near and present to the follower of God and His word. We must also freely admit that some suffering is brought about intentionally or unintentionally because of an outside action. Some suffering is brought about by persecution.
The author shows his concern for God’s care in the face of persecutors in verses 21-24, “You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones, who wander from your commandments. Take away from me scorn and contempt, for I have kept your testimonies. Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes. Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.” At times, suffering is caused by Satan and His relentless attacks on God’s people. Addressing this, with a traditional understanding of Satan as the Father of lies, the author writes in verses 41-43, “Then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me, for I trust in your word. And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your rules.”
The Gospel Revisited, LIFE!
Psalm 119:107 says, “I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to your word!” This great gospel verse sits within a cluster of truths yet stands out because of its clarity. All are seriously afflicted. They lament. They mourn. They cry out to the things of this world to no avail. But when one cries out to the author of all life, He is faithful and just to give life, to heal. He quickens the soul through the power of His Word. His Word which is Christ. Christ was there at the beginning of time and was perfection even as the law was given to Moses. Christ lived the life we should have lived, died the death we should have died, rose from the dead, and ascended to the right hand of the Father. The author of this psalm was given life by the Lord through the power of the Lord’s Word. Now, the believer is saved by grace through faith in that very same Word. Now that Word is no longer just a law, but a great king. The Lord still gives life, quickens the spirit. He as the Word has conquered sin and death. The Spirit has been sent to lead, comfort, exhort, and remind Christians of the life they have been given. This is the life they will carry on into eternity. Psalm 119:107 leads to 1 John 5:20, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”
Augustine of Hippo. Expositions on the Book of Psalms. In P. Schaff (Ed.), A. C. Coxe (Trans.), Saint Augustin: Expositions on the Book of Psalms(Vol. 8, p. 578). New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888.
Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. Faithlife Study Bible(Ps 119:107). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press., 2012, 2016.
Hughes, R. B., & Laney, J. C.. Tyndale concise Bible commentary(p. 224). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001.
Richards, L., & Richards, L. O. The teacher’s commentary(p. 331). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1987.
Hywel Jones, Psalm 119 for Life: Living Today in the Light of the Word. Evangelical Press, 2009
Henry, M.. Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume(p. 923). Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994.
Gregory the Great. The Book of Pastoral Rule of Saint Gregory the Great, Roman Pontiff, to John, Bishop of the City of Ravenna. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), J. Barmby (Trans.), Leo the Great, Gregory the Great(Vol. 12b, p. 72). New York: Christian Literature Company, 1895.
Willmington, H. L. Willmington’s Bible handbook(pp. 323–324). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1997.
Walter Brueggemann, Spirituality of the Psalms. Minneapolis: 2002
Strong, J. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1995.
Henry, M. Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume(p. 923). Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994.
Charles Bridges, Psalm 119: An Exposition, New York: Banner of Truth Trust, 1987.
Charles Spurgeon, The Golden Alphabet: A Devotional Commentary on Psalm 119. Pilgrim Publishing, 1980.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1993). Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the Old Testament(Ps 119). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1993.
George Zemek, The Word of God in the Child of God: Exegetical, Theological, and Homiletical Reflections.New York: Wipf & Stock, 2005.
Will Soll, Psalm 119: Matrix, Form, and Setting.New York: Catholic Biblical Assn of Amer, 1822.
Augustine of Hippo. (1888). Expositions on the Book of Psalms. In P. Schaff (Ed.), A. C. Coxe (Trans.), Saint Augustin: Expositions on the Book of Psalms(Vol. 8, p. 578). New York: Christian Literature Company.
Willmington, H. L. (1997). Willmington’s Bible handbook(pp. 323–324). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume(p. 923). Peabody: Hendrickson.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1993). Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the Old Testament(Ps 119). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible(Ps 119:107). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Hughes, R. B., & Laney, J. C. (2001). Tyndale concise Bible commentary(p. 224). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
Richards, L., & Richards, L. O. (1987). The teacher’s commentary(p. 331). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume(p. 923). Peabody: Hendrickson.
Gregory the Great. (1895). The Book of Pastoral Rule of Saint Gregory the Great, Roman Pontiff, to John, Bishop of the City of Ravenna. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), J. Barmby (Trans.), Leo the Great, Gregory the Great(Vol. 12b, p. 72). New York: Christian Literature Company.