GOD’S WORD FOR YOU
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10 With my whole heart I seek you;
Do not let me wander from your commandments.
Here the poet writes as if he has never heard of the teachings of the Reformed churches of our day (which is of course true), and as if, good believer that he is, he knows that seeking the Lord and desiring not to wander from the commandments is a thing only possible for the one who is already a believer; already saved by the grace of God and according to the righteousness of Christ. For now that Christ has come it makes no difference whether we are describing the faith of Abraham before Christ came or the faith of my mother, who lived as long after Christ’s birth as Abraham lived before it. On account of the historical fulfillment of Jesus Christ atoning for the sin of mankind, all who trust in him are saved. Whether their bodies are buried in Macpelah or in Arlington, their spirits are with God in heaven because they put their trust in Christ and in all of his promises, and God credited their faith as righteousness.
The poet knows this, and wants to praise God and thank him for what he has done. So he seeks him with his whole heart, and he prays that he will not stray or wander away from God’s commandments.
Seeking the Lord means seeking him in his holy Word, the Bible, and not through other channels or means. The treasured writings of other religions claim to be sacred, but they do not have God as their ultimate author. The Bible does. The Bible authenticates itself. Jesus Christ himself pointed to the whole Old Testament and said, “these (Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms) are the Scriptures that testify about me” (John 5:39; Luke 24:44). The early church accepted the writings of the Apostles as Scripture (Matthew, Peter, and John), and Peter refers to Paul’s writings as the word of God: “Our dear brother Paul wrote to you with the wisdom God gave him… which ignorant people distort, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16). Paul in turn quotes from Luke as the inspired word of God (“The worker deserves his wages,” 1 Timothy 5:18, is a quotation of Luke 10:7). Mark was accepted as a sort of condensed version of Matthew’s Gospel. The ancients also accepted the letters of Jesus’ brothers, James and Jude. Since the ancients also accepted the book of Hebrews as the work of Paul (and which attests to its own authenticity), this accounts for all 66 books of the Bible, the Old and New Testaments.
So when he says “your commandments,” he means the law as recorded in Scripture, and not any additional commands that are the inventions of men (Mark 7:7). But the outward works of the law, having no idols, going to worship, honoring my parents, and refraining from adultery, murder, stealing, and coveting, are not the whole law. The Lord wants our inner devotion and not only our outward obedience. So there is the inner heart, the mind, the will of the believer, that needs to turn in repentance and be drawn to Christ. “Take me away with you!” is our prayer (Song of Solomon 1:4), because we have not yet grasped him with our whole heart. “Seek his face always” (Psalm 105:4), because he is the only way to the Father (John 14:6). And he invites us: “If you want to ask, go ahead and ask” (Isaiah 21:12).
So the poet prays, asks, and begs: “Do not let me wander,” because he knows he will certainly wander. The life of the human being is a life under the curse of original sin and pitfalls into actual sins. But we ask our Shepherd to look after us, to come rescuing us, because we cannot live or survive without him. This is the meaning of the third line of David’s confession: “He restores my soul, and he guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3). A soul that has not sinned does not need to be restored, if ever a human soul could be like that. But mine needs restoring; I need guiding in the paths of righteousness. And I need to be guided all the more because there are people in the Lord’s flock that follow after me as their under-shepherd, so that if I stray off the path, they may be led astray, too. So guide me, Lord God! Guide me through your holy word.
Guide me, O thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak but thou art mighty;
Hold me with thy pow’rful hand.
Bread of heaven, feed me till I want no more!
11 I have treasured your word in my heart,
so that I might not sin against you.
These are encouraging words when things are going well, but they are more importantly a comfort when things are not going well. The word of God is secure, it is “life for you… then you will go on your way in safety, and your foot will not stumble” (Proverbs 3:22-23). When we are not sure about our pathway, we are guided by the word: “Like a horse in the wilderness (NIV “open country”), they did not stumble” (Isaiah 63:13).
It is in the word of God that we learn what the word of God means. For Paul says: “Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘Do not covet’” (Romans 7:7). For by uncovering and revealing God’s will to us, the word of God casts light on our own sinful lives, and we shrink and stumble backward in horror at the wickedness we see in ourselves when we are lit up with God’s word.
Luther sometimes compares our journey of sanctification with the journey of Israel out of Egypt (LW 11:502). The devil (like Pharaoh) releases us to go worship God, but right away he wants to drag us back into slavery again, and he sends out his armies of chariots and riders, the world and our sinful nature, to overtake us and capture us all over again. If we carry the analogy further, we see that God drowned these enemies of ours in baptism just as Pharaoh’s troops were drowned in the Red Sea (Exodus 14:28; 15:1); “both horse and chariot lie still” (Psalm 76:6). But while we continue on our way, the human nature is roused by Satan and grumbles form in our throats like they did from Korah the Levite and the Reubenites Dathan, Abiram, and On (Numbers 16:1). The law proclaims the guilt of our sin, and we are led to fear again and again because our unrighteousness is revealed. We are miserable sinners, unable to serve God perfectly, cleanly, willingly. We should be prized horses pulling God’s wagons, but we are stubborn mules at best, crazy rebellious she-camels who can’t run in a straight line (Jeremiah 2:23).
The law crushes our arrogance and stops us dead in our tracks. “God comes with the hammer of the law and smites our soul,” as Walther said to his students. No matter how someone tries to avoid the blues of a hurting conscience, he can’t get rid of it himself. He can try to shrug it off, or drink away his grief, or get angry at someone else, or bury his head in work or projects at home. But deep down he will be terrified for his soul. He will have nowhere to turn. He will be like Peter weeping bitterly (Matthew 26:75).
If he tries to get rid of his sin on his own terms, he won’t be any different than Judas haggling with the high priests. In the end he will make some equivalent of throwing his coins into the temple (Matthew 27:5), but without faith in Christ. He won’t believe that he could be forgiven because he won’t believe that Christ forgives. But the gospel calls us back with the forgiveness Christ constantly offers. This is what happened to Peter when Jesus came for him and invited him back into his circle: “Do you love me, Simon? Simon, do you love me? Simon, do you even like me?” (John 21:15,16,17). With questions, with offers, with hands outstretched, the Lord calls us back to faith, and he reveals to us that he loves us, truly loves us, and that his forgiveness covers all of our sins. This is what motivates our love in return. This is the soil in which our good deeds grow. I do not want to sin, but I do. And although I do, and do, and do, he has forgiven me, and forgiven, and forgiven. This is the love of Christ for me.
Pastor Timothy Smith
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Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota
God’s Word for You – Psalm 119:10-11 Do not let me wander