Psalm 119:34

The verses of this section contain, apparently, an enumeration of various facts which rendered it essential that the Lord should teach him, if ever he were to learn. As it has been said, the man who wrote this psalm knew two things - first, that there was something he must and would learn, for all his well-being depended upon it; and this something was the Word of God, which he calls now by one name and now by another. But he knew a second thing, and that was - he could never teach himself; God must teach him. This is the burden of his prayer, not only in this section, but throughout the psalm. For the difficulties in the way of his acquiring this knowledge were many and great. He suggests some of them here.

I. LACK OF PERSEVERANCE. What knowledge he already had gained was sufficient to make him set out on the way; but soon he became ready to halt, and did halt. God must instruct him if he were ever to continue steadily on to the end. "Ye did run well; who did hinder you?" So said St. Paul to some of his converts: and how often the like has to be said still (cf. the seed on the stony ground, Matthew 13.)!

II. HALF-HEARTEDNESS. (Ver. 34.) Here was another difficulty, as it is to this day. People can be got to keep part of the Law of God, but not all of it - they will make some reserves. And if they are not conscious of this, they know that it is not with the "whole heart" that they serve God. The psalmist confesses his failure here, and prays that God would so give him understanding that he may observe God's Law with his whole heart.

III. INABILITY TO DO WHAT HE WOULD. He delighted in the path of God's commandments (ver. 35), but yet was unable "to go" therein. No doubt he could talk about it, pray about it, feel warmly, speak fervently, and desire sincerely about it, but then came this miserable powerlessness which he asks God to overcome, and to make him "go in," etc. (Romans 7:14-19). Here is another reason for seeking the help of God, and it exists still.

IV. COVETOUSNESS. (Ver. 36.) If the Lord does teach the soul, then there will follow "understanding" (ver. 34) - power of will (ver. 35) and inclination of the heart to God's testimonies (ver. 36), so that all these requests are but different forms of that with which the section begins, "Teach me, O Lord." And here in this thirty-sixth verse he names another hindrance - covetousness. St. Paul speaks of it as "the root of all evil," as indeed it is (cf. 1 Timothy 6:9, 10; Colossians 3:5; Matthew 13:22). It so drags the heart away from God, that only he can turn it back again.

V. LOVE OF VANITY. (Ver. 37.) The runner in the race that does not keep his eye fixed steadily on the goal, but turns his eyes now to this side and now to that, whenever they are attracted by some vanity, will indeed need quickening in God's way. This wandering gaze of the soul, how many failures in the Christian race is it answerable for!

VI. INSTABILITY. Here it is again, as in vers. 35 and 40 - delighting in the path of God's commandments, yet needing power to go; so now here is the soul devoted to God's fear, but yet needing to be established. The Word of God is not insecure and unstable, but the soul is so m regard to it. As to its truth, as to its value, as to its power, Lord, make it sure to us!

VII. FEAR OF REPROACH. This does, indeed, bring a snare. How many know God's judgments are good, but yet fear "reproach"!

VIII. LACK OF SPIRITUAL ENERGY. (Ver. 40.) Longing, yet unable to attain. Longing without God's quickening will not avail. - S.C.

Give me understanding, and I shall keep Thy law; yes, I shall observe it with my whole heart.
I. THEIR ORDER. Knowledge must necessarily precede obedience, since there can be nothing chosen by the will but what the understanding has first allowed; the will being destitute of all light save what is borrowed: for as the stars derive their light from the sun, so does the will her light from the understanding, that directive faculty of the soul, "the candle of the Lord," that light whereby we discern good from evil.


1. Knowledge and obedience are not things inseparable, for one may be without the other; we may have understanding, and yet not keep God's law; for knowledge does not change the will, but direct it; it does only rationally persuade, not effectually convert it; so that the will must he sanctified, as well as the understanding illuminated, before our obedience to God's law can be answerable to our knowledge of it.

2. We may both understand God's law, and keep it. God that employs, enables us; lie that calls us gives us a power to come, otherwise His invitation would be a mockery; tie that saith, "Depart from evil, and do good," has doubtless made us capable of so doing.

III. THE MAIN SCOPE AND DESIGN OF THE WORDS. Do this for me, and I do promise on my part to keep Thy law, to meditate upon Thy precepts, and to have respect unto Thy ways, to delight myself in Thy statutes, and not to forget Thy Word. Our obedience must be —

1. Sincere. This renders our endeavours acceptable to God, and profitable to ourselves.

2. Universal. Catholic faith without catholic obedience is of little value.

3. Constant. If we faint, we shall never reap; if we are weary of running, we shall never obtain the prize.

(E. Lake, D. D.)

"Understanding." That is what he urgently prays for. If only the poor man could understand what God was about; if only he could detect the track, catch the clue, hear the voice behind him saying, "This is the way"? what a relief, what a strength it would be. He is ready, eager, willing; his heart is aflame; he desires keenly to do the right, to walk with God — so, at least, it seems to him; so he thinks. He may discover, later on, that his will is not so strong as he imagines. But, at any rate, as he stands, it is his head, rather than his heart, which he feels to be at fault. He feels, but cannot see; he desires, but cannot decide. That will of God which he would so delightedly follow refuses to pronounce itself and give clear utterance. It vanishes. It hides itself. It is dissipated into hesitating and disappointing negations. Just when he fancied he had got his grip upon it it slips through his fingers. What ought he to do? What ought he not to do? How much does God ask of him? or how little? What is the rule he must obey? If he did but know, he would be loyal enough. "O give me understanding, and I shall keep Thy law! Yea, I shall keep it with my whole heart." "His whole heart," for then the whole man would go along with what it saw to be so right. The fitness, the meaning, the method, the end would all commend themselves. As the reason joyfully assented, the heart would commit itself to a plan so sound and so intelligible. And there would be no disappointing blunders to check the heart's advance; no slips, no doubtful experiments, no foolish hesitation in moments of uncertain suspense. The heart would not cringe in fear, trying its road before it with trembling anxiety. It would go with a swing, sure of itself; sure of its direction, sure of its success. Oh! to have this confidence, this security, this understanding — then he would keep the "law with all his heart and soul." "Give me understanding!" A true prayer for us all! What a lot of harm is done in the world by the folly, the stupidity, the blindness of those who are on God's side, and genuinely desire to keep His law! We make so little way in carrying God's law into effective action, because our grasp on its principles is so frail, our apprehension of its height and depth is so cheap, and poor, and thin. A whole world of assumptions, moral and religious, are under challenge; and are undergoing the transformation which such challenges enforce. We are compelled to reconsider our familiar language; to recast our phrases; to review our apologetics. A resettlement of the entire position is proceeding, in the sense that the proportion and balance of our modes of expressing and defending our convictions are shifting. It seems as if the world of spirit and of grace had slipped out of our ken — as if we had lost our way in it, and could not move in it with any confidence. It has grown to feel far-off and out of touch — a strange land, where we are not at home. So our religious life conies to a halt, gets in a tangle, grows timid and dolorous. If we did but know better what it is that God is saying to us! If our ears were but open, if our apprehension of Him were but more firm and clear! "Understanding," moral insight, spiritual intelligence, an instructed conscience, a purer and truer judgment, a power to decide, to resolve, a skill in discernment. Oh, pray for that — our grievous lack! It can come from God only. He not only commands, but enables us to understand His commands. Yet this is left us — to bring our faculties under His handling, under His discipline. We have got minds; we have got the gift of reason. We can set these to work, with a little more seriousness and efficiency. First, we can recognize that this law of God which we do genuinely desire to keep with our whole heart is no light and easy affair, to be known straight off at a hearing. It is a serious business; and calls upon our reason to search it out. Can we apply the moral law, as Christ gave it to us, to modern life, to commerce, to luxury, to social intercourse? Can the modern conditions of big cities allow for Sunday? Can the Christian ideal of marriage stand the strain of the present freedom of relationship between man and woman? Can it justify its rigidity? Can we say why, or how. it should be when we are asked? These questions cannot be answered without thought and care and trouble; they cry out for an intelligent understanding. Oh, grant us understanding "that we may keep Thy law." Secondly, it is a prayer that implies the incessant revelation of fresh law to be kept. We desire to serve God not only better than we now do, but better than we yet know how to serve. He has a law for us which is far above out of our sight. His law is making demands of us of which we have as yet no intelligence. Oh, if we saw and knew, how bitter would be our shame at failing Him so totally! Oh, pray to understand more of what He wants of us! Be ever occupied in lifting your standard, in pushing forward your moral frontiers, in raising the demands.

(Canon Scott Holland.)

Let us survey,, one by one, the characteristic marks of wisdom; and examine whether they are not, singly and collectively, exemplified in the conduct of the man who fixes his heart upon God through Jesus Christ.




1. Consider the point first with regard to present satisfaction.

2. With respect to the life to come, comparison cannot be mentioned. Whether the blessedness of heaven or the pains of hell be preferable; whether it be wisdom to choose the future rewards of religion, or the future punishments of guilt; these are questions which require not an answer.

IV. WISDOM OCCUPIES ITSELF IN THE PURSUIT OF EFFICIENT REMEDIES FOR EVILS ACTUAL OR PROBABLE. Is this position descriptive of religion? Evils are temporal, or spiritual. Compare as to evils of each class the advantages of the righteous and of the unrighteous.

V. WISDOM FIXES HER ATTENTION ON THOSE DESIRABLE OBJECTS WHICH, OTHER CIRCUMSTANCES BEING EQUAL, ARE THE MOST DURABLE. Is this characteristic of wisdom to be found in religion? How long do the pleasures of sin continue? Suppose that the wicked man grasps his good things, be they what they may, until death. The righteous man, travelling by his side, enjoys his delights unto the same period. So far as to duration, the servant of God is not under any disadvantage. But from the instant of death how stands the comparison? That instant which for ever extinguishes the pleasures of the wicked, sees the happiness of the righteous only in its commencement.

(T. Gisborne, M. A.)

Heth, Nun, Psalmist
Cause, Heart, Law, Obey, Observe, Understand, Understanding, Wisdom, Yea, Yes
1. This psalm contains various prayers, praises, and professions of obedience.
2. Aleph.
9. Beth
17. Gimel
25. Daleth
33. He
41. Waw
49. Zayin
57. Heth
65. Teth
73. Yodh
81. Kaph
89. Lamedh
97. Mem
105. Nun
113. Samekh
121. Ayin
129. Pe
137. Tsadhe
145. Qoph
153. Resh
161. Sin and Shin
169. Taw

Dictionary of Bible Themes
Psalm 119:34

     5015   heart, and Holy Spirit
     5036   mind, of God
     8227   discernment, nature of
     8281   insight
     8355   understanding
     8365   wisdom, human
     8367   wisdom, importance of

Psalm 119:33-36

     8235   doctrine, nature of

Psalm 119:34-37

     8150   revival, personal

Notes on the First Century:
Page 1. Line 1. An empty book is like an infant's soul.' Here Traherne may possibly have had in his mind a passage in Bishop Earle's "Microcosmography." In delineating the character of a child, Earle says: "His soul is yet a white paper unscribbled with observations of the world, wherewith at length it becomes a blurred note-book," Page 14. Line 25. The entrance of his words. This sentence is from Psalm cxix. 130. Page 15. Last line of Med. 21. "Insatiableness." This word in Traherne's time was often
Thomas Traherne—Centuries of Meditations

Life Hid and not Hid
'Thy word have I hid in my heart.'--PSALM cxix. 11. 'I have not hid Thy righteousness in my heart.'--PSALM xl. 10. Then there are two kinds of hiding--one right and one wrong: one essential to the life of the Christian, one inconsistent with it. He is a shallow Christian who has no secret depths in his religion. He is a cowardly or a lazy one, at all events an unworthy one, who does not exhibit, to the utmost of his power, his religion. It is bad to have all the goods in the shop window; it is just
Alexander Maclaren—Expositions of Holy Scripture

A Cleansed Way
Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to Thy word.'--PSALM cxix. 9. There are many questions about the future with which it is natural for you young people to occupy yourselves; but I am afraid that the most of you ask more anxiously 'How shall I make my way?' than 'How shall I cleanse it?' It is needful carefully to ponder the questions: 'How shall I get on in the world--be happy, fortunate?' and the like, and I suppose that that is the consideration
Alexander Maclaren—Expositions of Holy Scripture

'Time for Thee to Work'
'It is time for Thee, Lord, to work; for they have made void Thy Law. 127. Therefore I love Thy commandments above gold, yea, above fine gold. 128. Therefore I esteem all Thy precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way.' --PSALM cxix. 126-128. If much that we hear be true, a society to circulate Bibles is a most irrational and wasteful expenditure of energy and money. We cannot ignore the extent and severity of the opposition to the very idea of revelation, even if we would;
Alexander Maclaren—Expositions of Holy Scripture

A Stranger in the Earth
'I am a stranger in the earth: hide not Thy commandments from me.... 64. The earth, O Lord, is full of Thy mercy: teach me Thy statutes.' --PSALM cxix. 19, 64. There is something very remarkable in the variety-in-monotony of this, the longest of the psalms. Though it be the longest it is in one sense the simplest, inasmuch as there is but one thought in it, beaten out into all manner of forms and based upon all various considerations. It reminds one of the great violinist who out of one string managed
Alexander Maclaren—Expositions of Holy Scripture

May the Fourth a Healthy Palate
"How sweet are Thy words unto my taste." --PSALM cxix. 97-104. Some people like one thing, and some another. Some people appreciate the bitter olive; others feel it to be nauseous. Some delight in the sweetest grapes; others feel the sweetness to be sickly. It is all a matter of palate. Some people love the Word of the Lord; to others the reading of it is a dreary task. To some the Bible is like a vineyard; to others it is like a dry and tasteless meal. One takes the word of the Master, and it
John Henry Jowett—My Daily Meditation for the Circling Year

Inward Witness to the Truth of the Gospel.
"I have more understanding than my teachers, for Thy testimonies are my study; I am wiser than the aged, because I keep Thy commandments."--Psalm cxix. 99, 100. In these words the Psalmist declares, that in consequence of having obeyed God's commandments he had obtained more wisdom and understanding than those who had first enlightened his ignorance, and were once more enlightened than he. As if he said, "When I was a child, I was instructed in religious knowledge by kind and pious friends, who
John Henry Newman—Parochial and Plain Sermons, Vol. VIII

A Bottle in the Smoke
First, God's people have their trials--they get put in the smoke; secondly, God's people feel their trials--they "become like a bottle in the smoke;" thirdly, God's people do not forget God's statutes in their trials--"I am become like a bottle in the smoke; yet do I not forget thy statutes." I. GOD'S PEOPLE HAVE THEIR TRIALS. This is an old truth, as old as the everlasting hills, because trials were in the covenant, and certainly the covenant is as old as the eternal mountains. It was never designed
Charles Haddon Spurgeon—Spurgeon's Sermons Volume 2: 1856

The Dryness of Preachers, and the Various Evils which Arise from their Failing to Teach Heart-Prayer --Exhortation to Pastors to Lead People Towards this Form Of
If all those who are working for the conquest of souls sought to win them by the heart, leading them first of all to prayer and to the inner life, they would see many and lasting conversions. But so long as they only address themselves to the outside, and instead of drawing people to Christ by occupying their hearts with Him, they only give them a thousand precepts for outward observances, they will see but little fruit, and that will not be lasting. When once the heart is won, other defects are
Jeanne Marie Bouvières—A Short Method Of Prayer And Spiritual Torrents

Of Deeper Matters, and God's Hidden Judgments which are not to be Inquired Into
"My Son, beware thou dispute not of high matters and of the hidden judgments of God; why this man is thus left, and that man is taken into so great favour; why also this man is so greatly afflicted, and that so highly exalted. These things pass all man's power of judging, neither may any reasoning or disputation have power to search out the divine judgments. When therefore the enemy suggesteth these things to thee, or when any curious people ask such questions, answer with that word of the Prophet,
Thomas A Kempis—Imitation of Christ

Seven-Fold Joy
"Seven times a day do I praise Thee because of Thy righteous judgments."--Ps. cxix. 164. Mechthild of Hellfde, 1277. tr., Emma Frances Bevan, 1899 I bring unto Thy grace a seven-fold praise, Thy wondrous love I bless-- I praise, remembering my sinful days, My worthlessness. I praise that I am waiting, Lord, for Thee, When, all my wanderings past, Thyself wilt bear me, and wilt welcome me To home at last. I praise Thee that for Thee I long and pine, For Thee I ever yearn; I praise Thee that such
Frances Bevan—Hymns of Ter Steegen and Others (Second Series)

And in Jeremiah He Thus Declares his Death and Descent into Hell...
And in Jeremiah He thus declares His death and descent into hell, saying: And the Lord the Holy One of Israel, remembered his dead, which aforetime fell asleep in the dust of the earth; and he went down unto them, to bring the tidings of his salvation, to deliver them. [255] In this place He also renders the cause of His death: for His descent into hell was the salvation of them that had passed away. And, again, concerning His cross Isaiah says thus: I have stretched out my hands all the day long
Irenæus—The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching

The Christian Described
HAPPINESS OF THE CHRISTIAN O HOW happy is he who is not only a visible, but also an invisible saint! He shall not be blotted out the book of God's eternal grace and mercy. DIGNITY OF THE CHRISTIAN There are a generation of men in the world, that count themselves men of the largest capacities, when yet the greatest of their desires lift themselves no higher than to things below. If they can with their net of craft and policy encompass a bulky lump of earth, Oh, what a treasure have they engrossed
John Bunyan—The Riches of Bunyan

Excursus on the Choir Offices of the Early Church.
Nothing is more marked in the lives of the early followers of Christ than the abiding sense which they had of the Divine Presence. Prayer was not to them an occasional exercise but an unceasing practice. If then the Psalmist sang in the old dispensation "Seven times a day do I praise thee" (Ps. cxix. 164), we may be quite certain that the Christians would never fall behind the Jewish example. We know that among the Jews there were the "Hours of Prayer," and nothing would be, à priori, more
Philip Schaff—The Seven Ecumenical Councils

The Daily Walk with Others (I. ).
When the watcher in the dark Turns his lenses to the skies, Suddenly the starry spark Grows a world upon his eyes: Be my life a lens, that I So my Lord may magnify We come from the secrecies of the young Clergyman's life, from his walk alone with God in prayer and over His Word, to the subject of his common daily intercourse. Let us think together of some of the duties, opportunities, risks, and safeguards of the ordinary day's experience. A WALK WITH GOD ALL DAY. A word presents itself to be
Handley C. G. Moule—To My Younger Brethren

The Talking Book
In order that we may be persuaded so to do, Solomon gives us three telling reasons. He says that God's law, by which I understand the whole run of Scripture, and, especially the gospel of Jesus Christ, will be a guide to us:--"When thou goest, it shall lead thee." It will be a guardian to us: "When thou sleepest"--when thou art defenceless and off thy guard--"it shall keep thee." And it shall also be a dear companion to us: "When thou awakest, it shall talk with thee." Any one of these three arguments
Charles Haddon Spurgeon—Spurgeon's Sermons Volume 17: 1871

How to Read the Bible
I. That is the subject of our present discourse, or, at least the first point of it, that IN ORDER TO THE TRUE READING OF THE SCRIPTURES THERE MUST BE AN UNDERSTANDING OF THEM. I scarcely need to preface these remarks by saying that we must read the Scriptures. You know how necessary it is that we should be fed upon the truth of Holy Scripture. Need I suggest the question as to whether you do read your Bibles or not? I am afraid that this is a magazine reading age a newspaper reading age a periodical
Charles Haddon Spurgeon—Spurgeon's Sermons Volume 25: 1879

The Obedience of Faith
"Is there a heart that will not bend To thy divine control? Descend, O sovereign love, descend, And melt that stubborn soul! " Surely, though we have had to mourn our disobedience with many tears and sighs, we now find joy in yielding ourselves as servants of the Lord: our deepest desire is to do the Lord's will in all things. Oh, for obedience! It has been supposed by many ill-instructed people that the doctrine of justification by faith is opposed to the teaching of good works, or obedience. There
Charles Haddon Spurgeon—Spurgeon's Sermons Volume 37: 1891

HABAKKUK, ii. 4. "The just shall live by faith." This is those texts of which there are so many in the Bible, which, though they were spoken originally to one particular man, yet are meant for every man. These words were spoken to Habakkuk, a Jewish prophet, to check him for his impatience under God's hand; but they are just as true for every man that ever was and ever will be as they were for him. They are world-wide and world-old; they are the law by which all goodness, and strength, and safety,
Charles Kingsley—Twenty-Five Village Sermons

What the Truth Saith Inwardly Without Noise of Words
Speak Lord, for thy servant heareth.(1) I am Thy servant; O give me understanding that I may know Thy testimonies. Incline my heart unto the words of Thy mouth.(2) Let thy speech distil as the dew. The children of Israel spake in old time to Moses, Speak thou unto us and we will hear, but let not the Lord speak unto us lest we die.(3) Not thus, O Lord, not thus do I pray, but rather with Samuel the prophet, I beseech Thee humbly and earnestly, Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth. Let not Moses
Thomas A Kempis—Imitation of Christ

That the Body and Blood of Christ and the Holy Scriptures are Most Necessary to a Faithful Soul
The Voice of the Disciple O most sweet Lord Jesus, how great is the blessedness of the devout soul that feedeth with Thee in Thy banquet, where there is set before it no other food than Thyself its only Beloved, more to be desired than all the desires of the heart? And to me it would verily be sweet to pour forth my tears in Thy presence from the very bottom of my heart, and with the pious Magdalene to water Thy feet with my tears. But where is this devotion? Where the abundant flowing of holy
Thomas A Kempis—Imitation of Christ

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