Psalm 119:33-40, “Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes;
and I will keep it to the end.
34 Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
and observe it with my whole heart.
35 Lead me in the path of your commandments,
for I delight in it.
36 Incline my heart to your testimonies,
and not to selfish gain!
37 Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
and give me life in your ways.
38 Confirm to your servant your promise,
that you may be feared.
39 Turn away the reproach that I dread,
for your rules are good.
40 Behold, I long for your precepts;
in your righteousness give me life!”
The Word of God regularly celebrates its own power in the life of the Christian. See, for instance, Isaiah 55:10-11 and Hebrews 4:12. Psalm 119 is in itself an extended catalog highlighting the power and effectiveness of the Word of God. Nearly every verse in this the longest of the Psalms speaks of something God’s Word can do in the life of the Christian.
One of the most consistent refrains in Psalm 119 is that God’s Word gives life. The Psalmist repeatedly implores God, “Give me life according to your word” (vv.25, 37, 40, 50, 88, 93, 154, 156, 159). Two of those requests show up in this particular stanza.
What is this “life” that the Psalmist so desires? It is the fullness of what we were made to experience in relationship with God. The human soul is hungry for that fullness. The problem is that, in our fallen state, we are inclined to seek satisfaction elsewhere (vv.36-37). But there is no life in those other places. As Augustine so famously said to God, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.” Real life is found only in God and God gives us that life through his Word (Deut. 8:3).
We might think of the time when Jesus was teaching a crowd about his being the bread of life. That message was hard for people to understand and many of them began to depart. Jesus turned to his disciples and asked, “Will you go away too?” Peter in a moment of Spirit-inspired brilliance said, “Lord, where else would we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:66-68). Peter did not mean that Jesus simply spoke about life. Peter had come to understand that Jesus was God and that in him was life, and that this life had been mediated to him and the other disciples through Jesus’ words.
The primary theme of Psalm 119 is that the Christian knows and experience this devotion for God’s Word because they understand what God’s Word is and what it can do in their lives. Verses 33-40 show, in particular, God’s desire to give us life through His Word. Every verse in this stanza is a request, a prayer. May, these prayers become our prayers as we open God’s Word, “Give me life.”