The Psalm of the Word (Part 9): Affliction

The Psalm of the Word

You have dealt well with Your servant,
O Lord, according to Your word.

Teach me good discernment and knowledge,
For I believe in Your commandments.

Before I was afflicted I went astray,
But now I keep Your word.

You are good and do good;
Teach me Your statutes.

The arrogant have forged a lie against me;
With all my heart I will observe Your precepts.

Their heart is covered with fat,
But I delight in Your law.

It is good for me that I was afflicted,
That I may learn Your statutes.

The law of Your mouth is better to me
Than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

(Psalm 119:65-72)

It may sound strange when we read it, but the psalmist said that it was good that he was afflicted. How could affliction be considered a good thing? And what kind of affliction was he talking about? Let us consider these questions.

What is “Affliction”?

Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word” (Psalm 119:67).

There are many ways in which we can use the term affliction. This is also true for the Hebrew word (anah). The context must determine the meaning. But the term carries with it the idea of being humbled (put to shame). It is from a root word which means a browbeating (verbal attack). Remember, this is found in this psalm that has the word of God as its overall theme. Therefore, in this context, affliction refers to the discipline that comes from the word of God.

We can remember a time when David – the inspired author of Psalm 119 – received this type of affliction/discipline. After his infamous sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11), God sent the prophet Nathan to David in order to confront him about his sin. He told a parable about the sin of a rich man against a poor man and David immediately understood the injustice that had been done and the sin that was committed (2 Samuel 12:1-6). But Nathan continued, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7). He said, “Why have you despised the word of the Lord by doing evil in His sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon” (2 Samuel 12:9). David felt the sting of the prophets words. He confessed, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13). It took the word of God, delivered by the prophet, to correct him of his sin.

We also receive discipline from the word of God today. Paul told Timothy, “Preach the word; be read in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with great patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2). The same apostle told Titus, “These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority” (Titus 2:15). The “things” Paul was referring to were the instructions that came down from God (Titus 2:11-12). Jesus had John write a letter to the church in Laodicea – a church in need of correction. After pointing out their sin (Revelation 3:15-17), the Lord said, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19). The discipline and call to repentance that the Laodiceans received came through the word of God. The word of God does the same for us today.

Affliction Should Lead Us to Repentance

Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word” (Psalm 119:67).

It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (Psalm 119:71).

Why does the word of God discipline us? It is so that we will turn back to the Lord when we sin. Sin is always a danger for God’s people. We understand that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Yet too many of God’s people “go on sinning willfully,” which, without repentance, leads to “a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:26-27). Sin should never be taken lightly.

The psalmist indicated that affliction (discipline from the word of God) comes after we sin (Psalm 119:67). Sometimes, preachers are so skilled with their words that they can make Christians feel guilty, even when they have done nothing wrong. This is not what the preachers did who are found in the New Testament record. Preaching and teaching should be both instructive and corrective. Paul told Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. […] Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 3:16-4:2). Before sin is committed, we need to be encouraged/exhorted (Hebrews 10:24). After sin is committed, then we need to be rebuked/reproved/corrected (Luke 17:3).

The ultimate goal of the affliction/discipline/correction from the word is repentance. Paul wrote to Corinth, “For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it—for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while—I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:8-9). Discipline is meant to turn one back to obedience, just as the psalmist wrote, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word” (Psalm 119:67). God wants us to love Him and “keep His commandments” (1 John 5:3). Discipline is also meant to lead one to a deeper understanding of God’s word. David wrote, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (Psalm 119:71). We are to “grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). The discipline that comes from God’s word is designed to keep us on the right track.

God is Good and Does Good

You have dealt well with Your servant, O Lord, according to Your word” (Psalm 119:65).

You are good and do good; teach me Your statutes” (Psalm 119:68).

Jesus said, “No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18). God is good (Psalm 119:68), not because He fits the definition of goodness, but because He is the definition of goodness.

God is good and does good. Every good thing we have comes from Him. James wrote, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (James 1:17). The good that God does includes His discipline. The Hebrew writer said, “And you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives’” (Hebrews 12:5-6). After drawing a parallel with the discipline we receive from our earthly fathers, the Hebrew writer continued, “[God] disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:10-11). The Lord’s discipline is not pleasant, but it is good because of the end result – training in righteousness (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16).

Sadly, many consider the reproving/rebuking from God’s word as “negative.” They do not like this type of “negative” preaching. But it is not “negative,” it is “for our good” (Hebrews 12:10). Teaching that comes from the word of God is always for our good, whether we realize it at the time or not.

Different Responses to God’s Law

Teach me good discernment and knowledge, for I believe in Your commandments” (Psalm 119:66).

The arrogant have forged a lie against me; with all my heart I will observe Your precepts. Their heart is covered with fat, but I delight in Your law” (Psalm 119:69-70).

In the verses above, there are two basic responses to the word of God. The right response – as is found in the attitude of the psalmist – and the wrong response.

Notice how David responded to God’s law:

  • Belief – After hearing God’s law, David said, “I believe in Your commandments” (Psalm 119:66).
  • Desire to learn – “Teach me good discernment and knowledge” (Psalm 119:66). These are found “according to [God’s] word” (Psalm 119:65).
  • Resolve to obey – No matter what others said or thought about it, David said, “With all my heart I will observe Your precepts” (Psalm 119:69).
  • Delight – “I delight in Your law” (Psalm 119:70). He recognized that it was good.

His response is the one we must have. We must believe God’s word (John 5:24), have a desire to learn it (Acts 17:11), resolve to obey it (James 1:22), and delight in it (1 Peter 2:2).

In contrast, the psalmist described those who respond to God’s word in the wrong way:

  • Love lies over truth – “The arrogant have forged a lie against me” (Psalm 119:69), even though the psalmist was righteous. They preferred to concoct a lie against him than to believe the truth about him.
  • Heart is covered with fat – When David used this phrase, “Their heart is covered with fat,” he was using a Hebrew expression that described them as stupid. The wise man said, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1).

This type of response will cause us to be lost. If we do not “love…the truth” we will not “be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:10). If we are “stupid” when it comes to God’s law, we will be lost. Those who idolize the “wisdom of the world” will see “the word of the cross” as “foolishness,” even though it is “the power of God” to save (1 Corinthians 1:18-20; cf. Romans 1:16). But “the wisdom of the world is foolishness before God” (1 Corinthians 3:19). Those who foolishly reject God’s word for the wisdom of the world will perish (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:3).

God’s Law is Better Than Riches

The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (Psalm 119:72).

This comparison between God’s word and precious metals is made elsewhere as well. Later in this psalm, David said, “Therefore I love Your commandments above gold, yes, above fine gold” (Psalm 119:127). In another place, after praising the law, testimony, precepts, commandment, fear, and judgments of God, the psalmist wrote, “They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:7-10). We must always remember the great value of God’s word.

This is important in this particular context as well. The affliction and corrective discipline that comes from God’s word is valuable. When God disciplines us through His word, the goal is to make us better. When Paul disciplined the Corinthians, it produced “a repentance without regret, leading to salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:10). Besides this, Paul said this correction produced earnestness, vindication, indignation, fear, longing, and zeal (2 Corinthians 7:11). Being afflicted by the word of God is meant to make us better. Riches do not make us better.

Conclusion

When we sin, God’s word is there to afflict/discipline us. This is not to drive us further away, but to bring us back to Him. Whether or not this result is achieved depends on how we respond to God’s law. Do not be like the arrogant (Psalm 119:69). Instead, be like the psalmist who resolved to humbly and faithfully obey the Lord.


This entire series is available in paperback. Click on the link for more information – The Psalm of the Word: A Study of Psalm 119.


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