Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
and observe it with my whole heart.
Psalm 119:34 ESV
The fifth stanza of Psalm 119, he, continues with this second verse that very clearly parallels the previous one. Where in verse 33 the psalmist prayed to be taught God’s statutes, now he prays to be given understanding, and while in that verse he prayed to keep them to the end of his life, in this verse he prays to keep God’s law with all of his heart. Thus, these two verses together show that the psalmist longed for an understanding that was both deep and wide. Deep enough to penetrate the entirety of his stubborn heart, and wide enough to continue to the very end of his life.
Give me understanding. Again, following on the heels of the psalmist’s prayer to be taught God’s statutes, this prayer seems a first bit repetitive, since the desired effect of being taught is to gain understanding. Yet in the Bible, we should hold close the principle that repetition means pay attention. When the eternal and infinite God chose to say something more than once in His Scriptures, we should take notice. Indeed, this prayer for understanding easily presents a twofold rebuke. It, first, rebukes those who claim to be limited in their understanding of the Bible by its difficulty, but it also rebukes those who think they have already searched out the Bible’s depths. Both mentalities, while the opposites of one another, are ultimately similar in that both categories of people have ignored the Spirit’s illuminating work as we read the pages of Scripture. No matter how difficult, the Spirit can give understanding to the simplest mind, and no matter how studied one is, the Spirit can reveal new depths of understanding that pierce the heart as well as the mind.
That I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Once more, this prayer for perseverance runs parallel to the previous verse’s prayer to keep God’s statutes until the end. But while that verse prayed for width and breadth, this verse prays for height and depth. The psalmist longs to keep God’s commandments throughout his whole life, but to do so with his whole heart. This should immediately bring to mind the greatest commandment: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). Here the psalmist acknowledges that he cannot fulfill this commandment on his own. God’s grace must come to his aid.
Indeed, we know that Christ, who is the embodied Word of God, did come to give us a greater understanding of God our Father, for Christ is the perfect revelation of God, the image of the invisible one. Yet He also came to give us new hearts (Ezekiel 36:26), ones that actually desire to fulfill the greatest commandment. Although we will always still have much sanctifying work to do in this life, our salvation in Christ rests upon His finished work. Just as He once for all justified us, so too will He one day, once for all, glorify us. Until that day comes, we should, with the psalmist, cry to our Savior for the grace of understanding and the grace of full-hearted obedience.