The second stanza starts with a question which it immediately answers. Then in the next seven verses the psalmist opens his heart speaking to God about what he has done in taking heed to His Word.
Verse nine begins asking, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.”
“Wherewithal” simply means “that with which to do something.” It refers to the necessary means for fulfilling the purpose or meeting the need. The psalmist asks, “What’s it going to take for a young man to cleanse his way?” This Hebrew word for cleanse, zakah, is used only eight times in the Old Testament, and all but one is in the piel (active intensive conjugation). This cleansing is ardent, something you really have to get after. It takes extra effort, diligence, intensity.
The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says zakah is used only in poetry and always in a moral sense. This question is also asked in Job and Proverbs. The term appears twice in Job (Job 15:14; 25:4), and both times Job’s miserable comforters are asking how a man can be pure in the sight of God. A similar question appears in Proverbs 20:9 where one may wonder if it is even possible. Reading from Job and Proverbs, it becomes obvious that there is some difficulty attached to this. In these three verses the questions are rhetorical. They are to cause us to think. They are not designed to breed defeat and discouragement, but to spur us on to focus our attention on the matter at hand so we can get the job done. That this cleansing can be accomplished is established in Isaiah 1:16 where God demands that His people do so. He wouldn’t ask us to do something we couldn’t.
However, the question is both asked and answered in Psalm 119:9. We cleanse ourselves by taking heed to God’s Word. “Taking heed” was used in the previous verse (verse eight) where it is translated “keep.” In verse eight the psalmist promises to keep God’s statutes, and in the very next verse he acknowledges that by doing so he will cleanse his way. Those who walk in accordance with God’s Word can be cleansed. At times the wicked appear to be happier and more prosperous than the one who keeps his heart pure (Psalms 73:13), but in the end, it’s really not so.
With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments.
Here the psalmist declares his undivided allegiance to God, recognizing that His Word provides the avenue to reach his desire. Seeking God with our whole heart has great reward. The psalmist could make his request in the second half of the verse because of his declaration in the first part. Whether or not we wander from God’s Word is not His responsibility, but ours. The psalmist asserts his resolve to pursue God with his whole heart and emotionally rests in the Lord’s graciousness to help him in his pursuit. “Whole heart” occurs six times in this psalm. Taking heed to God’s Word requires and deserves our whole heart. A half-hearted effort won’t do.
Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.
Spurgeon says of this verse that we find the best thing―Thy Word―hidden in the best place, mine heart; for the best of purposes―that I might not sin against Thee. Our hearts will be kept by God’s Word because we keep God’s Word in our hearts. The treasuring of scripture by memorization allows us to have it ever with us. We may not always have the book in our hands, but we can always have the Word in our hearts. Hiding the Word in our hearts is a must if we are to take heed unto it, for it allows us to have it ever with us.
Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes.
That’s the kind of longing that will serve one well―“O LORD: teach me thy statutes.” For the second time in this stanza, we find an “O.” This exclamation shows earnestness, emotion and passion. The psalmist addresses God directly, and because of his recognition of God’s blessedness he asks, “Teach me thy statutes.” Taking heed to God’s Word is made easier when our attitude is appropriate. Meekness to God and His Word is seen in our frequent requests to be taught.
With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth.
In verse 13 we find the reason for his request of verse 12. We want to be taught of God so we can make known the judgments of His mouth. Receiving, retaining, and releasing God’s Word are all involved with taking heed to it, keeping it. We find here one of the purposes for hiding it in our heart―one of the purposes for wanting to be taught―so that we can declare it. This also provides a barometer of how well we are taking heed unto it. If we neglect to declare it, we have neglected to take heed unto it, for God repeatedly asks us to do so.
I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches.
What we cherish, we return to regularly. Our attitude either helps or hinders our actions. We cleanse our way (verse 9) as we rejoice in His ways. When the way of His testimonies becomes dear to us, we will not be stubborn or defiant. Rejoicing is clear evidence that we have given heed to His Word.
I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways.
16 I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.
The stanza closes with four affirmations. (“I will” occurs at least twenty times in the King James Version of Psalm 119.) These serve a purpose similar to an oath. The psalmist declares his resolve and solemnly pledges to meditate in God’s precepts, have respect unto His ways, delight himself in His statutes, and not forget His Word. In these assertions the psalmist confirms or ratifies that he acknowledges what God requires from verse 9. He pledges to take heed to God’s Word, and he sets off on his adventure to cleanse his way.
By Wayne Clapp