Psalm 119:65-72, “You have dealt well with your servant, O Lord, according to your word. Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. You are good and do good; teach me your statutes. The insolent smear me with lies, but with my whole heart I keep your precepts; their heart is unfeeling like fat, but I delight in your law. It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.”
When we come to these verses within this lengthy Psalm, we already know that the author’s love for God and His Word is vital to his life and character. In fact, this love that he has for God and His Word could very well be considered his defining characteristic. Yet, we should not get caught thinking that his love for the Lord and His Law came easy and is perfect.
When we read through our text, we find the author telling us that he has had his shortcomings; that he has struck out against the Law that he now holds dearest. As he pens his heart, through the inspiration and the power of the Holy Spirit, he tells us that he had to endure discipline and affliction. Where did this affliction and discipline come from? It came from God Himself.
Throughout the Scriptures we see many accounts of God, the sovereign Creator and Sustainer of all things, turning many servants of wrath into servants of glory. We also see Him disciplining and allowing affliction, to bring glory to His name and good to His people (Rom. 8:28). And it is no different here; the Psalmist is telling us that he had to go through these things so that he could be made right to go forth and do great things for the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Example of Paul
Let me give you an illustration, a very familiar one, to draw out this point. Think to the life of the Apostle Paul. Actually, let us just read his testimony for a moment. In Acts 22: 1-16, Paul tells us about his encounter with Christ,
“Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.” And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet. And he said: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished. “As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus. “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there,  came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’”
Here is an example unparalleled! Paul was seeking to destroy the Christians, but then, in God’s sovereign salvation and grace, he saw Christ on the road to Damascus and was changed. His heart of stone was replaced with a heart of flesh (Ezek. 36:26)! But, take just a minute, notice this, there was affliction and discipline to be experienced by the Apostle to make him fit to go forth and serve the Kingdom.
Christ confronted Paul, He took him to the ground, He admonished him for his sins, and he blinded him. All of this was bringing glory to the name of the Lord and working good in the life of Paul, for he was a chosen by God for a specific purpose.
The Lord’s Discipline
Going back to our passage, the Psalmist refers to this discipline from our Lord two times. The first of these references comes in verse 67. Here the Psalmist says that he went astray before being afflicted. This shows us that he did not always know the sweetness of the Lord and His Word. In fact, he was so hostile to it that it took much suffering and hardship to awaken him from his unbelief and rejection. After this, he saw the beauty of God’s revelation to him.
Let me point to another character in our Bibles, Jacob, the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham, refused to submit to the Lord’s plan. Instead, he practiced deceitfulness until the Lord Himself wrestled away the patriarch’s defiance, leaving him to live the rest of his days with a limp (Gen. 32: 22-32). After this discipline by God, Jacob was renamed Israel, and he would be a patriarch in the nation that gave us Jesus Christ.
The Psalmist’s learning of God’s statutes followed his affliction (v. 71). He was incapable of receiving instruction from the Law of the Lord until he experienced discipline from the Lord.
We can understand this truth because we live in a fallen world. God’s Law tells us repeatedly what is right and what we should do; yet we still do it (Rom. 7:15-20). C.H. Spurgeon says in his sermon “Two Good Things” that “we learn, I hope, something in the bright fields of joy, but I am more and more persuaded that we do not learn a tenth as much, there, as we do in the Valley of Death-Shade!”
God’s Love Disciplines for a Purpose
What we must remember is that God disciplines those whom He loves. Therefore, if we endure affliction at His loving hand, take joy! Why? For we are loved more than we can ever imagine, and we are being conformed more and more to the image of Christ.
The author of Hebrews tells us that God’s discipline may seem painful at the moment, but the lasting conforming to righteousness that is taking place is well worth all the discipline we will endure (Heb. 12). I understand, not all of the pain we endure is direct discipline for particular sins, but the Lord is sovereign in it all and uses it all to conform us to His Word and to enable us to learn, live, and love, His law.
It is when we understand this, we can joyously say with the Psalmist in Psalm 119:71-72, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.”