The psalmist prays, “Remember the word unto thy servant” because he sees himself as God’s friend-servant saved by grace. The psalmist is not a servant against his will; God has made him a willing servant. Not surprisingly, he identifies himself as God’s servant thirteen times throughout the psalm, the only title he uses more than once. How good it is for us to see ourselves as God’s friend-servants.
Adam was God’s friend-servant and God was his Friend-Sovereign in the garden. Adam fell from that position and instead became the servant of sin and Satan. Now, by nature, we are all servants of sin and under the devil’s power. But, God’s faithful Servant, Jesus Christ, kept the law in perfect love to God. He was willing to bear our sin and be afflicted even unto death, and thus to purchase for us the privilege of being God’s friend-servants.
Now, in thankfulness that God has made us His servants, we pray to Him. Thankfulness causes the psalmist to pray, “O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes” (v. 5). Thankfulness causes him to pray, “I will praise thee with uprightness of heart” (v. 7). Thankfulness makes him confess, “Thy testimonies also are my delight and my counsellors” (v. 24). Thankfulness for God’s gracious salvation moves him to pray, “Teach me, O Lord, the way of thy statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end” (v. 33).
In thankfulness, we will also call upon Him in time of affliction, as the psalmist does in this section of the Psalm: “Remember the word unto thy servant.” When God gives us to see that He has fulfilled His promises toward us, we will pray to Him, confidently expecting that He will continue to keep His word to us even in time of affliction. That prayer will be spurred on by our remembrance of God’s faithfulness. At the same time that remembrance will be a source of great comfort.
The prayer, which the psalmist puts in our mouths, is his prayer to God in the midst of affliction. That theme comes up throughout the psalm; for example, in verse 50: “This is my comfort in my affliction.” For various reasons, he found himself in distress. For one, the proud had scorned him for confessing his trust in God. His affliction is a result of living antithetically in the world. Verse 53 records his horror as the wicked forsook God’s law. On the one hand, his horror represents his vehement zeal for the glory of God, for which reason the wicked hate and afflict him. On the other hand, his horror expresses indignation against the wicked for their hatred and affliction against the righteous. Affliction is our portion in this valley of tears.
Affliction will drive the hypocrite away from God. But the wonderful thing about affliction in the lives of God’s people is that God uses that very affliction to bring us closer to Him in earnest prayer. If everything went smoothly in life, we would forget we need God every moment. Affliction drives us to God in prayer.
In affliction, we learn to pray like the psalmist, “Remember the word unto thy servant.” He goes on to describe that word as that “upon which thou hast caused me to hope” (v. 49). So important is this hope in the word that the psalmist expresses the thought multiple times throughout the psalm (vv. 43, 49, 74, 81, 114, 116, 147). What word is the object of our hope? It is the word according to which God quickens us (vv. 25, 50, 107), the word according to which God strengthens us (v. 28), the word according to which God has dealt well with us (v. 65), the word that is forever settled in the heavens (v. 89), and the word that gives light and understanding to the simple (v. 130). That word of hope is nothing less than the word of the gospel. Ultimately, the word is Jesus Christ Himself, who is God and who was in the beginning. The word is God’s promise to save us to the uttermost in and through Jesus Christ.
That word is what we pray for God to remember. Not that God ever forgets; He does not need us to remind Him of His word and of His counsel that stands forever. But our prayer for God to remember asks Him to think upon and act upon His word. We want God to think upon His promises of old and to act upon them. In thankfulness for salvation already received, we pray that God would perfect His salvation in us according to His unchangeable promise. God will certainly accomplish what He promised; He does not depend upon us to save. But, we still pray for His salvation, knowing that God Himself has worked that prayer in us and uses it as a means by which He accomplishes His word of promise.
Of course, affliction alone would never drive us to ask God to remember His word of promise. In our affliction, God works in us a remembrance of His judgments and His glorious name (vv. 52, 55). As He gives us to remember Him, we pray that He would remember His word to us.
By nature, we never would pray for God to remember His word of promise. By nature, we would only forsake and rebel against God and His law. The only way we would pray for the perfecting of our salvation is if God Himself has worked that prayer in us. The psalmist confesses that when he says, “thou hast caused me to hope” (v. 49). We do not come to hope in God’s Word through our own wisdom; God causes us to have a confident expectation and trust in His promises. And, when He causes us to hope, our prayers cannot but be earnest prayers.
The first thing God made the psalmist remember is God’s judgments: “I remembered thy judgments of old” (v. 52). God’s judgments are His acts of governing. From the moment God created the heavens and the earth, He has been governing all things according to His sovereign rule.
The psalmist remembers God’s execution of justice upon the wicked in days gone by, in which judgments God destroyed the wicked who oppressed His people. And he remembers God’s judgments in chastising and correcting us. God knows exactly what we need to bring us to Himself. He brings us low and then raises us up again. God faithfully governs all things in order to bring us good.
Remembrance of God’s judgments of old leads him to pray that God would remember His word.
The second thing God brought the psalmist to remember is Jehovah’s name: “I have remembered thy name, O Lord” (v. 55). Jehovah’s name is the sum total of all His revelation to us. His name includes His revelation of Himself as the sovereign Ruler in creation and history as well as His revelation in Scripture.
But nowhere is Jehovah’s name so wonderfully revealed as in Jesus Christ. God shows us His glorious perfections in Jesus Christ. Christ is the revelation of God who shows us He is merciful and gracious and long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth. Christ is the revelation of God who keeps mercy for thousands of generations, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. Christ is the revelation of God’s perfect justice satisfied on our behalf on the cross.
The more God gives us to know Him as our faithful covenant God, the more we will trust Him in all our circumstances and for all our needs. And, in that trust, we will call upon Him to remember His word of promise.
This knowledge of God is a source of great comfort: “This is my comfort in my affliction” (v. 50). This word of God’s promise, which word cannot be separated from the faithful God, gives comfort in affliction.
This comfort is not for everyone. It is not for the wicked, who forsake God’s law (v. 53), and who scorn us and God in proud contempt (v. 51). This comfort is for us who have the life of Christ given to us: “for thy word hath quickened me” (v. 50). As we have the life of Christ, the word becomes to us a savor of life unto life so that we are comforted by that word. We are comforted in that quickening knowing that the work God has begun He always brings to completion.
Not only do we receive comfort in affliction from God’s quickening, but we also do from the fact that God has manifested and continues to manifest His judgments. God’s hand governed all things for the good of His people in the past. He will surely do the same for me in present and future circumstances. So, we comfort ourselves with the psalmist: “I have remembered thy judgments of old, O Lord; and have comforted myself” (v. 52).
And having that comfort, we continue in the race God has set before us. Afflictions remain and bring difficulties along the way. But we know that our faithful Father leads us. That is why the psalmist speaks of the house of pilgrimage in verse 54. Even though we are exiles, away from our permanent home, God is with us. Even though the difficulties remain, the service of God is still a joy. In derision and persecution, we rejoice not in those things per se; but we rejoice that we are God’s friend-servants given the privilege of keeping His precepts.
In thankfulness, we continue in the blessed way of God’s precepts because He has quickened us and made us His servants. In thankfulness, we look to God in prayer asking Him to remember His word of promise, upon which He Himself has caused us to hope.