Note: this week I’m reversing my normal schedule for Wednesdays and Fridays, since a brief illness left me unable to finish the recording over chapter 2 of The Mortification of Sin. That post should certainly be ready for Friday, so for today we continue our verse-by-verse meditations through Psalm 119.
Confirm to your servant your promise,
that you may be feared.
Psalm 119:38 ESV
Having prayed in the previous verse for the LORD to turn his eyes away from worthless things, the psalmist here prays for assurance of the worthwhile thing upon which he has set his gaze: God’s promise. By promise, I do not believe that the psalmist has one particular promise from the Scriptures in view; instead, he is using it as another term for referencing the whole of Scripture. As we have seen, each term in this psalm is used to highlight a particular function or characteristic of God’s Word. For example, testimonies emphasize how God reveals Himself through His Word. In the same way, he calls all of Scripture God’s promise because it is only within the Bible that the promises of God are made known to us.
His prayer for confirmation of God’s promise is an understandable one. Of course, we know that God will bring about every one of His promises to prefect completion, yet as we wait, it is all too easy for discouragement to creep upon us. We see this in the life of Abraham, the man of faith. At seventy-five-years-old, Abraham was given the promise of a child by God, yet that child was not born until Abraham turned one hundred. What was already impossible was compounded by two and a half decades of waiting, and in the midst of that waiting, Abraham attempted to fulfill the promise himself by impregnating his wife’s maidservant. Nevertheless, God’s promise remained unmoved, and in due time, Abraham was given his son, Isaac. Indeed, the account of Abraham and Hagar (Genesis 16) is surrounded by two accounts of God confirming His promise to the patriarch (Genesis 15, 17). Just as the man of faith required assurance of God’s unswerving faithfulness, so do we. The promises of God are firmer than the ground we stand on, yet we wade through this life of shades and shadows that make even such a stable reality difficult to see.
The second line is a bit perplexing. Why would the confirmation of God’s promise lead to the fear of God? Psalm 130:4 has a similar structure: “But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” Like forgiveness and the fear of the LORD, the two parts of this verse seem to be rather unrelated, but they are not so. A proper understanding of both the unfathomable goodness of God’s promises and our utter unworthiness should rightly cause our fear of the LORD to grow. When holding a newborn for the first time, we rightly feel a kind of fear since something of immense value rests in our arms. In a similar way, the staggering grace of God’s promises to us, in the midst of our sin, should increase the awe with which we gaze upon our LORD.