Deal bountifully with your servant,
that I may live and keep your word.
Psalm 119:17 ESV
With this verse, we begin Psalm 119’s third stanza, which is titled gimel because each verse begins that Hebrew letter. Like Beth (verses 9-16), Gimel (verses 17-24) continues the psalmist’s prayer for God’s instructing grace to guard him, while also resolving to hold fast to God’s law. Verses 17-18 form the opening invocation for God to act on the psalmist’s behalf: first to deal bountifully and second to open his eyes. Let us consider the first prayer in verse 17.
The psalmist begins with a simple prayer for God to deal bountifully with him. That is, he is calling upon God to be gracious to him, to show him the favor and blessing that the psalm opened by exulting. Such a prayer may elicit two opposite responses. For some, the notion of praying for God’s blessings and favor is normal, regular request. For others, such prayers may seem self-focused rather than God exalting. Yet notice how the psalmist gladly petitions for bountiful dealings from the humble position of being God’s servant. He fully realizes that the LORD is not a wish-granting genie for him to exploit, but neither is He without benevolence and generosity. Instead, the Creator almighty delights in giving “good things to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:11).
Indeed, the psalmist’s humble servitude is further displayed in the second line of the verse, which gives the reason for desiring God’s abundant treatment: that I may live and keep your word. He longs for God’s gracious provision to continue obeying as a faithful servant with every breath in his lungs. He desires God’s favor so that he may further serve and obey the LORD. This too should be our utmost desire: that our blessedness in God would fuel our keeping of His Word. Of course, from verses 1-3, we observed that blessedness is found through keeping God’s testimonies. Thus, the psalmist is longing to enter a positive feedback loop wherein he finds blessedness in obedience and finds obedience in blessedness.
Yet consider that he also prays for life. I believe that this prayer is significantly deeper than simply praying for more days upon the earth. Indeed, as one rock group noted, “there’s more to living than being alive.” Many are alive today without truly possessing life. Conversely, many have died upon whom the grave holds no claim. The psalmist rightly prays to the God of the living to give him life. Likewise, this verse should ultimately take us to Jesus, the embodied Word of God, who came to give us life abundantly in Him (John 10:10).