Psalm 119 is the longest psalm in the Bible with 176 verses. Despite its length, it focuses on one main theme – God’s Word. With the exception of verses 122 and 132, the Word of God is mentioned under one or another of its many names – “word”, “truth”, “ways”, “law”, “sayings”, “statutes”, “testimonies”, “precepts”, “commandments” and “judgments”.
“The scope and design of it is manifest, to commend the serious and diligent study, and the steadfast belief and the constant practice of God’s word, as incomparably the best counsellor and comforter in the world, and as the only way to true blessedness. And this the psalmist confirmeth by his own example, which he proposeth to them for their imitation; and he declareth the great and frequent experience which he had of its admirable sweetness and manifold benefits in all conditions, and especially in the times of his distresses. And because it was a hard thing rightly to understand this word in all its parts, and harder to put it in practice, he therefore intermixeth many prayers to God for his help therein, thereby directing and encouraging others to take the same course” (Matthew Poole).
Two oft-quoted verses from Psalm 119 – verses 9 and 11 – are full of instruction addressed particularly to the young:
“Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word” (v 9).
Though the above counsel may be applied to believers of any age, it is applicable specially to the young who are often exposed to peculiar temptations because of their wilful and impatient spirit. Many are the snares and dangers that threaten their vulnerable souls. The apostle Paul warned his young charge, Timothy, to “flee also youthful lusts” (II Tim 2: 22). Even when awakened by God’s grace, their hearts are inclined to cater to their old nature, to wander from God, and to gratify their fleshly lusts. They are prone to rush into forbidden indulgences, and thus fall into sin!
But there is a sure way of escape from the defilement of sin. In verse 9, the psalmist pondered soberly – “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?” How shall he maintain a pure and upright life in the midst of this ungodly world? How will he overcome every temptation and the weaknesses of the flesh?
Even as he considered these crucial questions (v 9a), the psalmist had a ready answer (v 9b) – let him take “heed thereto according to thy word”. We read in the Old Testament of faithful young believers who took heed to God’s Word and kept themselves pure. Held as captives in the Babylonian court, young Daniel and his godly companions cleansed their way by refusing to defile themselves “with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank” (Dan 1: 8). Thus did the God-fearing slave Joseph “cleanse his way” when he boldly rejected the advances of his master’s wife: “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen 39: 9). How precious, therefore, is God’s Word, as the means of cleansing and purifying the hearts of the young! It is also the most effective shield against the darts of the devil, the allurements of the world and the corruptions of the flesh.
“Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (v 11).
This verse shows the psalmist’s high regard for God’s Word in his heart. It “constituted the secret power by which he was governed; it was permanently deposited there, as the most valuable of his treasures” (Albert Barnes). Indeed, God’s Word hidden deep in our heart will keep our ways safe from sin. Here it “dwells … richly in all wisdom” (Col 3: 16), and serves as a constant warning against sin.
The psalmist reiterated this comforting truth in another psalm: “the law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide” (Ps 37: 31). The Christian who loves God’s Word and makes it his constant guide will be steadfast and firm in his faith. Invariably, God will preserve his steps in safety.
How do we keep God’s Word in our heart? By prayerful meditation and daily study. “Holy Scripture requires searching – much of it can only be learned by careful study. There is milk for babes, but also meat for strong men. … No man who merely skims the Book of God can profit thereby; we must dig and mine until we obtain the hid treasure. The door of the Word only opens to the key of diligence” (C H Spurgeon).
God’s Word is a safeguard against sin. When kept in the heart, it will see us through every trial and temptation. Let us cherish this incomparable Guidebook and live by its light daily. May the Lord help us to keep His Word in our heart that we might not sin against Him.