In this section we find passionate prayer as its first three verses record his cries to God. Passion in prayer isn’t captured heaping up grand-sounding words and phrases. Jesus reminds us that we will not be heard for our many words (Matthew 6:7). Rather, passionate prayer is built on permanent promises. The psalmist rose before dawn and cried for help because he hoped in God’s words. His eyes were awake before the night watches so that he might meditate on God’s promise. His prayers were built on God’s Word and promise.
However, prayer can be passionate and still pointless. Remember the showdown on Mount Carmel from I Kings 18? The prophet Elijah confronts the prophets of Baal and sets up two sacrifices with the challenge, “ . . . the God who answers by fire, let him be God” (verse 24). The prophets of Baal show plenty of passion: crying out until they’re hoarse, dancing around the altar, even cutting themselves; yet it was pointless.
The psalmist’s prayers were anything but pointless. He relished the privilege of speaking directly to his El Shaddai, the Creator of the universe!
Psalms 119:145,146 [KOPH]:
I cried with my whole heart; hear me, O LORD: I will keep thy statutes.
146 I cried unto thee; save me, and I shall keep thy testimonies.
This section contains the only three uses of “cried” in Psalm 119, although “cry” is used once in verse 169. The psalmist cried with his whole heart. Perhaps he was following the example of Hannah when she knelt in the house of the Lord at Shiloh, weeping because she had no son; or of Job when he came before the Lord, as it says in 16:20, “My friends scorn me: but mine eye poureth out tears unto God.” The intensity and earnestness of his prayer has been established in these first two verses.
I prevented [preceded] the dawning of the morning, and cried: I hoped in thy word.
148 Mine eyes prevent [precede] the night watches, that I might meditate in thy word.
A third use of “cried” completes the picture. His prayer was not mundane. His hope was sure. (“Hope” occurs eight times in Psalm 119 using 3 synonyms. This is the seventh.) We see him going to God before dawn and in the middle of the night. The matters that drove him to his knees often kept him awake at night. We see here that the passion in his prayer proceeds from his hope in God’s Word.
The period between sunset and sunrise was divided into watches rather than hours. This was primarily for military purposes. In Old Testament times there were three watches during the course of a night, each lasting about four hours, thus marking time through the night in a general way. The first watch was approximately from sunset to about 10 p.m., another from 10 p.m. until about 2 a.m., and another from 2 a.m. until sunrise. The psalmist didn’t just wake before dawn to pray; he woke before the changing of the guard and took those opportunities to pray and meditate on God’s Word, too.
Hear my voice according unto thy lovingkindness: O LORD, quicken me [make me to live] according to thy judgment.
150 They draw nigh that follow after mischief: they are far from thy law.
The psalmist doesn’t plead for life based on his own merit or the quality of his prayers. Rather, he pleads for life on the grounds of God’s steadfast love—this is that wonderful word chesed (lovingkindness), the word that refers to the everlasting, steadfast, and never-ending love and mercy and kindness of God. God hears our voice because of His steadfast love. He responds to us according to His Word. The psalmist’s request to be heard comes out of the earnestness of his cry. Two of the three uses of “hear” occur in this section of Psalm 119, also. The fact that we “cry” and God “hears” are both emphasized in this section. God hears our cries.
In verse 150 we see some of the background to this prayer. Part of the reason his prayer was so earnest here is because his enemies were drawing near, but notice what verse 151 says:
Thou art near, O LORD; and all thy commandments are truth.
152 Concerning thy testimonies, I have known of old that thou hast founded them for ever.
His enemies were drawing near, but God was already near to him, and the truth of His presence gave him strength. The section closes with a great encouragement to us to pray passionately based on God’s promises, precisely because they are permanent. Verse 152 is saying, “Long have I known from your testimonies that you have founded them forever.” The word of our God endures forever—what God has said, He continues to say. So we can build our life on it; we can pray according to it. We can place our hope for the future on it. What a delight to come boldly to your Heavenly Father in passionate prayer based on His permanent promises.
By Wayne Clapp