I will keep your statutes;
do not utterly forsake me!
Psalm 119:8 ESV
This verse concludes the first stanza of Psalm 119 in which every verse begins with the Hebrew letter, aleph. It immediately also concludes the two part pledge of action that began in verse 7, but it further parallels verse 4, which began his prayer to God and concluded the first half of the stanza, that said, “you have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently” and also verse 5, which began the second half by saying, “Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!” Thus, the psalmist has moved beyond simply acknowledging the obedience that God demands or longing to be obedient; he now resolves to keep God’s statutes.
Yet the second half draws greater clarity upon the psalmist’s pledge to obedience. He is not here making a resolution to finally and once for all stop his pesky habit of sinning. No, his ways have not been steadfast in the past, and every ounce of evidence declares that he will not be steadfast in the future. He will inevitably break his resolve. He will fail to keep God’s statutes. He will forsake the blessedness of God’s ways. He will still sin.
Therefore, knowing his own frailty, he cries out to the LORD, “do not utterly forsake me!” This heart cry reveals the psalmist’s true and lasting hope, and it is not in his own ability to obey God’s commandments. In light of his sinfulness, he can only cast himself upon the mercy of the LORD, begging not to be forsaken.
We are no different. If our salvation was determined by our obedience, we would be undone. Yet we are not forsaken precisely because our hope is found in another. As the hymn notes, “Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to the cross I cling.” We cling to the cross of Jesus Christ, and in Him, we are safe. We are not forsaken, for in Him we have become sons and daughters of God the Father almighty. By this grace, we are saved, and in Christ alone, we hope.
Yet notice that the psalmist’s final plea for God’s mercy does not erase his resolve to keep God’s statutes. Rather, his reliance upon grace will serve to better fuel his obedience. And so it must be with us as well. We are not saved by good works, but we have been saved in Christ to do good works. Although we cannot obey in perfect steadfastness, our Lord will not forsake us; therefore, we press onward in keeping His statutes because He is the One who is keeping us.