The Psalm of the Word (Part 17): Grace

The Psalm of the Word

Your testimonies are wonderful;
Therefore my soul observes them.

The unfolding of Your words gives light;
It gives understanding to the simple.

I opened my mouth wide and panted,
For I longed for Your commandments.

Turn to me and be gracious to me,
After Your manner with those who love Your name.

Establish my footsteps in Your word,
And do not let any iniquity have dominion over me.

Redeem me from the oppression of man,
That I may keep Your precepts.

Make Your face shine upon Your servant,
And teach me Your statutes.

My eyes shed streams of water,
Because they do not keep Your law.

(Psalm 119:129-136)

We typically think of grace as a New Testament feature, and it is certainly emphasized there. “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). However, grace still existed in the Old Testament and this passage reminds us of that fact. Let us notice how God’s grace and God’s word are related.

We Must Recognize the Need for God’s Grace

Turn to me and be gracious to me, after Your manner with those who love Your name” (Psalm 119:132).

Make Your face shine upon Your servant, and teach me Your statutes” (Psalm 119:135).

David appealed to God to turn to him (Psalm 119:132). Of course, he needed to turn to God as well (more on this point later); but nothing he would do would matter if God did not turn to him. Paul reminded the Gentiles, “Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:12-13). If the Gentiles had turned to God, but God had not accepted them, they would still be “far off.” God, through His grace, must be willing to accept someone, otherwise nothing they do will be of any consequence.

Fortunately for us, God has extended His grace to all. But sadly, not all will receive it. Paul said, “The grace of God has appeared, bring salvation to all men” (Titus 2:11). However, we know that not all will be saved (Matthew 7:13-14). In order to receive His grace, we must be among those who “love [His] name” (Psalm 119:132). We must recognize the need for God’s grace because He does not owe us anything – except punishment for our sins (Romans 6:23) – and respond with gratitude and obedience. “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17). Love, gratitude, and obedience are essential; but they mean nothing without God’s grace first being offered to us.

The psalmist also said, “Make Your face shine upon Your servant” (Psalm 119:135). This is another appeal for grace. This phrase is used several places in the Old Testament to refer to God’s grace (cf. Numbers 6:25; Psalm 67:1; 80:3, 7, 19).

David then tied this back to the word of God: “Teach me Your statutes” (Psalm 119:135). God extends His grace through His word, not apart from His word. The gospel is “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24) and is, therefore, “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16). But if we “do not obey the gospel” we will be lost (2 Thessalonians 1:8). We cannot be saved without grace, but we cannot respond to God’s grace without His word.

We Must Remember That God’s Word is Good

Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul observes them” (Psalm 119:129).

I opened my mouth wide and panted, for I longed for Your commandments” (Psalm 119:131).

The psalmist described God’s word as “wonderful” (Psalm 119:129). We need to remember that God’s word is part of His grace (cf. Acts 20:24). Therefore, it is not only good, but is also for our good. Paul said, “The word of His grace…is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). There is no other word or message to which we could turn that would provide this benefit. God’s word is, and always will be, better than the word of man (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:25).

Because God’s word is good, we must observe His testimonies (Psalm 119:129). Grace and works of obedience are not mutually exclusive, even in the New Testament. Paul told the Ephesians that we are saved by grace, then in the same context explained how God expected them to engage in good works (Ephesians 2:8-10). Obeying God is not a disregard of His grace as if we are attempting to “earn” our salvation. Jesus said, “When you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done’” (Luke 17:10). Obeying God is what we “ought to” do. But even after doing that, we are still “unworthy slaves.

As the psalmist pointed out, we must long for God’s word: “I opened my mouth wide and panted, for I longed for Your commandments” (Psalm 119:131). Likewise, we must “long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it [we] may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). God’s word is good for us and we must use it to sustain us (cf. Hebrews 5:14).

God’s Word Gives Us Light

The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130).

Remember what David wrote earlier in this psalm: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). The revealing of the word of God to provide a light for our path is an act of God’s grace for two reasons. First, the word of God gives us understanding (Psalm 119:130). God’s people can be “destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). Therefore, without understanding we will be lost.

Second, the word of God gives us direction, lighting the path which we are to take (Psalm 119:105). The wise man said, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12). Without direction, we will never find the path that leads to life.

The word of God provides us with understanding to help us avoid destruction and gain life. Therefore, the revealing of it is an act of God’s grace.

Redemption Must Be Followed by Continued Obedience

Redeem me from the oppression of men, that I may keep Your precepts” (Psalm 119:134).

The psalmist asked God to “redeem [him] from the oppression of men” (Psalm 119:134). The King James Version uses the word “deliver.” The term means to rescue or ransom. As David hoped to be delivered from his oppressors, we have been redeemed by Christ. “Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold…but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

The Hebrew writer explained how Christ redeemed or rescued us this way: “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (Hebrews 2:14-15). Without Christ, we were all under “bondage to sin” (Romans 7:14). But Jesus came and offered His life on the cross in order to “free” us from the “slavery” of sin (Hebrews 2:15; cf. Romans 6:3-7).

It is important to remember that those who have been redeemed are expected to continue in obedience. Just as David appealed for God to “redeem” him that he could “keep [His] precepts” (Psalm 119:134), we must do the same. Jesus “gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:14). Redemption – like grace – does not exempt us from engaging in good deeds. Instead, the Lord expects His redeemed people to obey Him. More than that, we are to be “zealous for good deeds.” We are not to serve God “grudgingly or under compulsion” (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:7), but with an earnest desire to do all things that are pleasing to Him.

We Must Have the Right Attitude Toward Sin

Establish my footsteps in Your word, and do not let any iniquity have dominion over me” (Psalm 119:133).

My eyes shed streams of water, because they do not keep Your law” (Psalm 119:136).

Remember the theme we have noticed in this stanza – grace. Understanding grace will shape our attitude toward sin.

Many religious people like to talk about grace, but they do not understand it. Many treat grace as though it was a “license for immorality” (Jude 4, NIV). They have the attitude of some in Rome who believed they could “continue in sin so that grace may increase” (Romans 6:1). They see God’s grace as permission to sin, yet this is a perversion of grace (Jude 4; Romans 6:2).

David made two points about the attitude that God’s people should have toward sin. First, he wrote, “Do not let any iniquity have dominion over me” (Psalm 119:133). We must not allow ourselves to become “slaves to sin” (Romans 6:6). “Sin shall not be master over you” (Romans 6:14). The way to keep sin from ruling over us is to be established in God’s word. (Psalm 119:133). Paul showed the contrast between those who are “slaves of sin” and those who are “obedient from the heart to that form of teaching” (Romans 6:17). After listing the various traits we must add to our faith (2 Peter 1:5-7), the apostle said, “As long as you practice these things, you will never stumble” (2 Peter 1:10). He continued, “Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you” (2 Peter 1:12). Having God’s word firmly planted in their minds would help them to practice what they were taught, which would help keep them from engaging in sin. If we are to keep sin from having dominion over us, we must “establish [our] footsteps in [God’s] word” (Psalm 119:133).

Second, the psalmist wrote, “My eyes shed streams of water, because they do not keep Your law” (Psalm 119:136). Sin should be something that causes us to mourn. This is what the brethren in Corinth should have done regarding the sin that existed among them (1 Corinthians 5:2). Sin should not be tolerated, accepted, or celebrated – even with God’s grace being extended to us. Paul wrote, “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Ephesians 5:11, KJV). After listing several sins in his letter to the saints in Rome, the apostle said, “And although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:32). Approving of sin places us under the same condemnation of those committing the sin.

We must have the proper attitude toward sin – it is to be avoided and mourned. Grace, when properly understood, will not allow us to indulge in or celebrate sin.


Without God’s grace, we are without hope. But without God’s word, we cannot take advantage of His grace. Let us humbly respond to the grace that God has extended by faithfully obeying His word.

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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