Deal bountifully with thy servant, that I may live, and keep thy word. Psalm 119:17
The outstanding self-designation of the psalmist throughout Psalm 119 is the title “thy servant.” Thirteen times in this prayer to God he calls himself “thy servant.” That is the way we must ever see ourselves: as friend- servants of our covenant God. As His servants, our great desire is not to escape God’s law. Our great desire, like that of the psalmist, is to live and keep His Word. So, our prayer to God is, “Deal bountifully with thy servant.”
We want God to deal bountifully with us because, apart from His gracious goodness, we deserve to be cast out of His presence for our sins and sinfulness. By God’s grace, we have a great desire to live and to keep His Word. By God’s grace, we humbly pray to God because we understand that life can be found in Him alone through Jesus Christ. Wonderfully, our request to God indicates that He has already given us life and abundantly blessed us. So, in thankfulness for bounties past, we pray, “Deal bountifully with thy servant.”
We go to great lengths to keep ourselves alive. We eat healthy food and go to the doctor because we want to live long. In and of itself, that is not a wrong desire. The psalmist asks God to deal bountifully with him because he wants to live, and he knows that God is the Giver of life. But the question we need to ask ourselves is, “Why do I want to live?” Often we are motivated only to live for the wrong reasons. We seek the things here below and get caught up in so many byways. We need to be reminded that God did not place us here to live like brute beasts seeking only after earthly things.
Why does God give us life in this world? The psalmist was not interested in living for his own sake. But he understood that true life is inextricably bound up with keeping God’s Word. He wanted to live in order that he might keep God’s Word.
God’s Word is His revelation to us. His Word reveals His perfect righteousness and holiness. His Word points us to the glory and honor He deserves and how to direct our lives to that end. His Word is the means by which we cleanse our way. His Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light to our path. His Word strengthens us when our souls melt for heaviness. His Word is full of promises to us that give us hope in a lost world. His Word comforts us in affliction. How sweet is God’s Word to our taste!
What does it mean that we want to keep God’s Word? To “keep” means to guard, to observe, to give attention to, or to watch something. With the psalmist we want to pay careful attention to God’s Word, including the obligations He sets before us in the covenant.
Why do we want to serve God? Why did the psalmist want to serve God? The psalmist was no legalist; he did not want to keep God’s Word in order to obtain life. Just the opposite: He wanted life in order that He might keep God’s Word. Keeping God’s Word is an expression of covenant fellowship with God. We want to keep His Word because He has graciously made us His friend-servants.
The psalmist had such a great desire for God’s Word that his soul was crushed in his longing. He wanted to walk in the right way of God’s commandments. But he knew he fell far short. So, his soul was worn down and languishing in his desire: “My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto thy judgments at all times” (v. 20). His longing was not for a minute, or a day, or a week. Rather, he longed for God’s judgments “at all times.” He regularly thought about and yearned to know and sought to walk in God’s paths of righteousness to the glory of His name.
Such a prayer to God shows that He has humbled us to see our misery. He has humbled us to recognize that we are still sinners who fall far short of the holiness to which He calls us. We are blinded to so many wonderful things declared in God’s Word. We need our eyes opened up by the gracious operation of the Holy Spirit. We face reproach and contempt because of the wicked world that surrounds us. We pray to God because we are needy people. The more God gives us to recognize that about ourselves, the more earnestly we will pray that God would deal bountifully with us. That is what the psalmist does in this section of the psalm.
When God has humbled us to see our great need, we will pray “Deal bountifully with thy servant.” When we see our great need for mercy, we do not want it in small drops; we want mercy to be poured out upon us so that our cup overflows. We will pray, “Deal bountifully….” Our prayer for God’s bounty is the prayer of those who have been humbled by God.
Secondly, our prayer manifests God’s work of humbling us in the fact that we see ourselves as God’s servants. God is not our servant; we are His servants. He does not exist for us; He created us for Himself. So we pray these things, but not for ourselves. We pray for God’s bountiful provision because we belong to Him body and soul, in life and in death. We pray for God’s bountiful dealing in order that we may serve Him more faithfully.
The psalmist continues to manifest his humility when he prays, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law” (v. 18). God’s law here is not merely the Ten Commandments; it is all of God’s teaching that gives direction to us. The psalmist’s humility comes through in his recognition that his eyes are still closed to many wondrous things in God’s Word. So often we read God’s Word and fail to see its wondrous truths. We read about God’s mighty power that created the world out of nothing. Or, we read about a mighty miracle of Jesus feeding five thousand. But we fail to see the wonder of these things. We read of Jesus’ promise to come again to receive us to Himself, but we are distracted with mundane thoughts. We have the wisdom of God revealed in the Scriptures, but we are captivated by the wisdom of the world. Our eyes are closed to so many wondrous things in God’s Word.
Like the psalmist, we need to be humbled so that we pray, “Open thou mine eyes.” We cannot open them ourselves. By nature, the way we are born into the human race, we are blinded and cannot see the light that shines out of God’s Word. We do not need simpler Bible translations; we need God to open our eyes to understand His Word. Only if God opens our eyes will we behold wondrous things in His law. Only then will we see the glory of God in His justice, and mercy, and compassion, and longsuffering, and abundant goodness to us in Jesus Christ.
The third petition in this section shows the psalmist’s humility when he prays, “Hide not thy commandments from me” (v. 19). When God humbles us in light of His commandments, we will acknowledge our sinful natures. The psalmist recognizes that his own intelligence and wisdom are not enough to fathom the will of God as it applies to every area of life.
So often we cannot see the wisdom of God’s ways. We feel at home in this world. We are still blinded by the old man so that we imagine our abode is on the earth. We live as if this world was all that there is. When we forget we are strangers here, we do not see the joy in keeping God’s commandments. We need God to give us wisdom so that we see and humbly confess, “I am a stranger here.”
The fourth petition in this section of the Psalm that manifests the psalmist’s humility is, “Remove from me reproach and contempt” (v. 22). Reproach is the strong expression of disapproval and disappointment. The wicked world talks about us with reproach. Contempt is worse, as it expresses the attitude that someone is worthless and worse than useless. The world calls us bigoted and hateful.
Despite the experience of hatred and persecution, the psalmist desired to keep God’s testimonies in humble submission to God (v. 22). He did not keep them perfectly, but he regarded them highly, guarded them in his heart, and sought to obey them. He was determined to show his loyalty to God. Even when princes sat and spoke against him, he kept meditating on God’s statutes. Although we are willing to put up with reproach and contempt and even slander, we pray that God would remove them from us. Humbled by reproach and contempt, we see that our own attempts to stand up and clear ourselves will fail unless God renders His aid.
God certainly answers the humble prayer for His assistance.
The psalmist had prayed that God would deal bountifully with him. Indeed, before the words even came off his lips, God had already begun to answer his prayer. While he was yet speaking, God heard him (cf. Is. 65:24). That is the way God works. He answers our prayers even before we call because He Himself worked those prayers in us. He causes us to see our great misery. He reveals to us the only Deliverer. He gives us thankful hearts. Salvation is His work from beginning to end.
How do we know God answered the psalmist abundantly? The evidence is in the Psalm. The very fact that the psalmist wanted to keep God’s Word is evidence of God’s abundant work in him. The fact that he saw himself as a stranger in the earth; the fact that he longed greatly for God’s judgments; the fact that he was willing to be reproached and slandered even by rulers;
the fact that he meditated upon God’s statutes; the fact that God’s testimonies were his delight and counselors; the fact that he prayed, “Deal bountifully with thy ser- vant”—all these things point to God’s bountiful dealing in the heart of the psalmist even before he offered up the petition.
This is the gracious God who has made us His servants.
This is our gracious covenant God to whom we confidently pray, “Deal bountifully with thy servant, that I may live and keep thy word.”