Thou art my portion, O Lord: I have said that I would keep thy words.
Psalm 119 is the prayer of a pilgrim facing the ups and downs of life. Facing these things, our temptation is to approach life from a horizontal perspective, looking only on the earthly plane. The psalmist, however, teaches us to take a vertical perspective, looking at life in the light of our relationship with Jehovah God. In his prayer, he declares his delight in God’s love to him as well as his love to God. He confesses his neediness, expresses his thanksgiving to God, and calls upon God for grace and mercy along the way. Especially is he full of praise for Jehovah, who made Himself to be the psalmist’s portion.
The truth that Jehovah is our portion ought to touch every square inch of our lives. Life without this portion would be the definition of misery. But when Jehovah is our portion, then all is well. A proper perspective on the whole of our pilgrimage will have as its starting point the truth that Jehovah is our portion. So, the psalmist begins the section with that idea. Literally, the psalmist says in the original Hebrew, “Portion mine, Jehovah,” showing the emphasis of this section.
The portion for an Israelite in the Old Testament was the inheritance that was allotted to him. One’s portion was his greatest and most treasured possession, the one thing he would choose to keep if he had to give up everything else. What makes the inheritance of the land of Canaan so precious to the saints of old was the fact that God put His temple there and dwelt among His people. That raises the question, what is our greatest and most desired possession? What, above all else, is most precious to us?
The wicked seek after the things of this world. Their most precious possessions are their houses, cars, investments, influence, and pleasure in eating, drinking, and making merry. They hate God and His law; He is not their portion.
But, by God’s grace, Jehovah has made Himself our portion through His rich mercy in Jesus Christ. The glorious nature of God’s mercy makes the psalmist proclaim “The earth, O Lord, is full of thy mercy” (v. 64). He sees that Jehovah God, the great I Am, the faithful covenant God, is a God who shows abundant mercy. It is God’s mercy that delivers us from our deepest woe and gives to us the greatest good. Although we continue to be plagued by the old man of sin and are often drawn after the idols of this world, nevertheless, Jehovah remains our portion. He, above all things, is most precious to us! How precious is that mercy of God to take rebellious sinners into covenant fellowship with Himself!
That Jehovah is our portion will inevitably manifest itself in our lives. In particular, when we are of God’s party, we will join with others who are of God’s party and separate ourselves from those who are against God!
On the one hand, then, the reality of our relationship with Jehovah will influence who we have as our friends. That is evident when the psalmist says, “I am a companion of all them that fear thee” (v. 63). It makes sense that we, who have Jehovah as our portion, want to join with others who have Jehovah as their portion. We are united and bound together to others who share the same reverence and awe of God. We want to unite with them in the church institute, glad when they say with us “Let us go into the house of the Lord” (Ps. 122:1). What a joy to be part of the communion of saints in which we rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Similarly, we want to be joined in marriage to those who are “heirs together of the grace of life” (I Pet. 3:7). Indeed, the truth that Jehovah is our portion ought to regulate all of our relationships.
On the other hand, when Jehovah is our portion, we will also experience separation from the wicked who stand against God’s party. That separation occurs in part because they set themselves to afflict us in their hatred of God and His people. The psalmist says, “The bands of the wicked have robbed me” (v. 61). Not that they stole his money; rather, they encircled him in order to oppress him and destroy him spiritually. We are assailed by the wicked through so many different means, electronic or otherwise. By God’s grace we respond to the wicked, “Depart from me, ye evil doers: for I will keep the commandments of my God” (v. 115). Our love for God manifests itself in the fact that we do not want to fellowship with those who hate Him. Having Jehovah as our portion, we want “no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness” (Eph. 5:11).
When Jehovah is our portion and we belong to His party, it also follows that we will be committed to keeping God’s Word. We see this commitment in the psalmist when, immediately after confessing “Thou art my portion, O Lord,” he adds this promise to God: “I have said that I would keep thy words” (v. 57). He commits himself to giving careful attention to and exercising great care over God’s words.
God’s words include everything He says to us, a record of which we have in holy Scripture. The central message of these words of God is the promise of salvation in Jesus Christ. When we think on these words of promise, we say with the psalmist, “How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (v. 103). We want to give careful attention to these glorious words concerning God’s love to us.
Not only do we want to keep those words that express God’s love to us; we also desire to keep those words that express our love to God. When Jehovah is our portion, the law of God will not be a burden but rather a delight (v. 77). We want to keep those words that show us the way to express our love to God.
That commitment to keep God’s words will necessarily manifest itself in a life of daily repentance. The psalmist says, “I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies” (v. 59). By God’s grace, we take heed to our ways in the light of God’s words and respond by turning our feet into the way of obedience. When we consider the glorious word of God’s love proclaimed in the gospel, thankfulness makes us want to turn away from sin and turn in love to God. Indeed, the more we love God the less we will hesitate to obey Him. That is evident from verse 60 where the psalmist says, “I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments.”
When the wicked tempt us to turn aside from God, the fact that Jehovah is our portion will show itself in a steadfast desire to resist temptation and to walk in His ways. So it was, when the “bands of the wicked… robbed” the psalmist, he responded “but I have not forgotten thy law” (v. 61). Snares beset us, but we do not want to stray from God who has been so merciful to us.
Jehovah being our portion goes hand in hand with a commitment to keep God’s words and walk in His ways to the glory of His name.
And yet, we understand that salvation is never accomplished by our own strength. So, the fact that Jehovah is our portion will make us those who pray to Him. The psalmist understands this well, hence the prayer that makes up the whole of Psalm 119. We see some of the major elements of prayer in this psalm, summarized with the acronym A-C-T-S (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication).
Adoration ought to stand on the foreground of all our prayers. Jesus teaches us that in the first petition of the model prayer: “Hallowed be thy name.” When God makes Himself to be our portion, we will want His name to be praised. Not surprisingly, we find words of praise throughout the psalm. In verse 7, the psalmist proclaims, “I will praise thee with uprightness of heart.” Verse 171 says, “My lips shall utter praise, when thou hast taught me thy statutes.” And, from this section of the psalm, “The earth, O Lord, is full of thy mercy” (v. 64). Over and over, the psalmist utters words of adoration to God.
Secondly, knowing Jehovah as our portion, we make willing confession of our sins and neediness. The psalmist implies he is sinful when he says, “I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies” (v. 59). When he thought on his ways, he understood he fell short and needed to turn his feet back toward the way of obedience. We find that more explicitly in other sections of the psalm. In verse 9, he understood he needed grace and therefore asks, “Wherewithall shall a young man cleanse his way?” (v. 9). Also, at the end of the psalm, we find the confession, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep” (v. 176). How good for us to confess our need of grace when we pray to God!
The third element of prayer that flows from knowing Jehovah as our portion is thanksgiving. The psalmist shows his thankful heart when he says, “At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee because of thy righteous judgments” (v. 62). He understands that God’s righteous acts of judgment are also for our salvation. Thankful for his salvation, he cannot keep these thoughts of thankfulness from swirling around in his head, even at midnight. He is so thankful he is not willing to turn over and go back to sleep. Rather, he rises to give thanks to his faithful covenant God.
Finally, the knowledge that Jehovah is our portion will lead us to make supplication to Him. He alone can give grace and mercy and everything we need for body and soul. Not surprisingly, we find the psalmist making a multitude of requests throughout the psalm: “O forsake me not utterly” (v. 8); “O let me not wander from thy commandments” (v. 10); “Deal bountifully with thy servant, that I may live, and keep thy word” (v. 17), and so on. Also, in this section of the psalm: “I intreated thy favour with my whole heart: be merciful unto me according to thy word” (v. 58). When Jehovah is our portion, we will look to Him for His favor and mercy. We make these supplications to God, not because we are worthy of anything. Rather, we ask these things “according to thy word;” that is to say, according to God’s word of promise, which promise is yea and amen in Christ Jesus.
Every element of life flows out of Jehovah the Giver of life. Having a personal relationship with Him will therefore affect our attitude towards Him who is our portion and towards others with whom we have contact in this world. Having Jehovah, the God of love, as our portion, we will be committed to keep all His words that declare His love to us and the way to express our love to Him. Having Jehovah as our portion we will pray to Him, from whom all blessings flow. He above all things is most precious. Blessed be His holy name!