Psalm 119:73-80, “Your hands have made and fashioned me;
give me understanding that I may learn your commandments.
74 Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice,
because I have hoped in your word.
75 I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous,
and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.
76 Let your steadfast love comfort me
according to your promise to your servant.
77 Let your mercy come to me, that I may live;
for your law is my delight.
78 Let the insolent be put to shame,
because they have wronged me with falsehood;
as for me, I will meditate on your precepts.
79 Let those who fear you turn to me,
that they may know your testimonies.
80 May my heart be blameless in your statutes,
that I may not be put to shame!”
The road to glory is difficult, lined with many afflictions. One cannot read Scripture honestly and conclude otherwise. We see, for example, in the life of Joseph that his rise to the role of Egypt’s prime minister passed through betrayal, slavery, and unjust imprisonment before Pharaoh discovered and exalted him (Gen. 37–50). Christ, of course, is the supreme example of this truth, for the path to His ascension to God’s right hand was marked by humiliation and death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:5-11).
Divine revelation tells us that sometimes affliction is the consequence of our sin, as the Lord uses hardship and suffering to chasten us. Psalm 119:65-72, for instance, shows us a psalmist who had to be disciplined for his sin so that he would stop going astray and instead submit to the statutes given by our Creator. This does not seem to have been the case for Joseph, for while he does come across in Genesis 37 as the “bratty little brother,” we never read that his suffering was the consequence of his own sin. For Jesus, it is certainly the case that His suffering was not due to His own sin, for He had no sin (1 Peter 1:21-23). Such examples indicate that even holy people can endure affliction under the sovereign providence of God in order to learn His Word. After all, Hebrews 5:8 reveals that Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered.”
In Psalm 119:73-80, we find much of the same teaching. As in the previous section of this psalm, the author speaks of affliction, but the kind of affliction with which he concludes today’s passage is the same kind of unjust affliction that Joseph and Christ suffered. Verse 78 points to the psalmist as having suffered slander of some kind. But the author is confident that those who fear the Lord will rejoice when they see him (v. 74). This points us to the final exaltation of the psalmist. He knows that our Creator will finally honor him for loving and keeping His commandments. What is more, the psalmist sees that his affliction and his prayers for the Lord to grant him understanding will finally enable him to help others in knowing the divine testimonies (v. 79). This is something of which all godly people can be confident. Let us, then, strive to walk in what John Calvin refers to in today’s passage as the two marks of true godliness: “the fear, or the reverence of God” and “the knowledge of Divine truth,” which are “inseparably connected” in the lives of all those who know our Lord and serve Him faithfully.
Fear of the divine without knowledge of divine truth is superstition, for superstitious people have some kind of “fear” or “anxiety” regarding divine forces. Knowledge of divine truth without fear of the divine is dead orthodoxy, knowledge about God without knowledge of God. If in our affliction we do not return to God’s Word, we are in danger of the former. But if we do not seek His face as we return to God’s Word, we are in danger of the latter.