Feast On The Word (Psalm 119)
American Christians are facing a period very unlike anything that they have gone through for a few generations. If Christendom were to be defined as those states and countries that are Christian majority, where Christianity prevails, then one could make the case that we are living at the end of Christendom in the West.
Think about it with me for a moment. I’m going to give an oversimplified view of history right now in hopes that it paints this picture.
Christianity grew in Rome until the empire itself allowed Christians to worship freely. And Christianity continued to grow. When the Roman Empire fell Christianity did not disappear, it shaped what we now call the Western World. Western European countries are always in that list along with the countries they birthed. These countries had a Christian heritage that allowed the rise of the many freedoms that we hold dear in our own country.
This is exactly where the problem of today hits us. The beliefs that undergirded the West are disappearing. The common understanding of God’s Law are disappearing. And most people, don’t know what is in God’s Word.
It is not for you to decide what era you were born and what time you will live. That was chosen for you. It is for you to decide to be faithful in the time you live in. And if you are going to be faithful in this day and time, you are going to need to know and feast upon God’s Word. It needs to be deeply embedded in you, if you are going to live faithfully in this increasingly dark world. And so, I believe it to be very important for us to all know and understand God’s Word well. We must be a community centered around God’s Word. Everything we do here as a community and in our lives at home should be centered around the Word. But that is increasingly difficult when people today don’t know the Word, and that includes professing believers. This should not be so. Therefore, as a church we are going to endeavor to read God’s Word together in 2023. All of it. And it is my desire that we would do so prayerfully, thoughtfully, and as a community of believers that want to be faithful to God’s Word together.
And in Psalm 119 we gain an understanding on how to feast on the Word. We are going to see how to read and study God’s Word in such a way that we grow to not only understand it but feast upon it and apply it to our lives.
Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible. Fascinatingly, the longest chapter in the Bible was written to be memorized. We know this because it was written in the form of an acrostic using the Hebrew alphabet, which is why your translation has a strange word written above each strophe. It is about God’s Word, from Aleph to Taw. As a seminary professor, Deitrick Bonhoeffer made his students memorize the entire psalm. Others throughout history have thought it to be as important as Bonhoeffer did. And, we find Martin Luther giving us the reason this was the case. King David taught us how to feast upon God’s Word with three rules that are found throughout Psalm 119. He stated them as Oratio, Meditatio, and Tentatio. They are prayer, meditation, and struggle. The Latin word “tentation” means “tension”, but was usually used as an intense internal struggle. As a seminary student I had to sit down with Psalm 119 and categorize each of the verses in Psalm 119 and after a little effort and thought I agreed with Luther on the matter.
We feast upon God’s Word through prayer, meditation, and struggle.
We Feast Upon God’s Word Through Prayer
When we think of reading the Bible, we think about the physical act of reading the Bible. We think about the plan we will use, and the time spent physically reading the Word. What we don’t usually do is consider our need for God’s aid to understand and apply God’s Word rightly to our lives.
When we understand our nature as human beings rightly, we understand that we need God’s aid in order to understand and apply God’s Word. Notice what Paul says about natural man and his ability to understand God’s Word.
“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV)
Because the Christian is redeemed, they have the Holy Spirit in their life and are able to understand. But what does this mean? It means that without the work of the Holy Spirit in our life, we are unable to understand.
We don’t read the Bible independently of the Lord and His aid. We read God’s Word in dependence upon God Himself to give us understanding and to apply God’s Word rightly to our lives. Notice a few of the verses from Psalm 119.
Some of the texts simply ask the Lord to give aid in understanding God’s Word.
“Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.” (Psalm 119:33-34 ESV)
“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalm 119:18 ESV)
But this is not the only sort of prayer that David offers concerning the study of God’s Word. He prays also that God would order his life according to the Word and not his own selfish desires.
“Incline my heart to Your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!” (Psalm 119:36 ESV)
We are wicked and sinful creatures. And we understand only a little of the wickedness of our own desires. We know that we need God’s help to order our lives aright and to incline us to His Word rather than our own “selfish gain”. So not only does David pray for God to open his eyes to understand God’s Word, He prays for God to order his life in such a way that he loves God’s Word more than selfish gain in this life.
Similarly, David also prays for God to keep his life on the path of God’s Word rather than allowing sin to rule over him.
“Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me.”(Psalm 119:33 ESV)
What does this mean for us?
It means that we don’t just pick up the Bible and start reading it. We prayerfully pick up God’s Word, we read it prayerfully, and apply it to our lives prayerfully. We try to approach every aspect of reading God’s Word in dependence upon the Holy Spirit because it is only as God works in us that we will understand and apply God’s Word rightly.
Here is my suggestion at this point. It is to memorize Psalm 119:18 and pray it every day before you read God’s Word. This has been my custom, for many years at this point and it is a tremendous blessing.
“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalm 119:18 ESV)
Most of the time that does something to me. Suddenly I am moved to read the Word with a humble dependence. That simple and short verse moves me to see that I am in need of God’s aid as I read the Word. And I read it seeking for God to give me light and understanding.
But this is not enough. It is not enough to just pray that God would open our eyes to understand His Word. We must also plead with the Lord to help us to desire to love and obey God’s Word over the other things in this life. So, we pray for light, but we also pray for God to do a work in our heart.
If you have a problem with other believers in this congregation, read God’s Word faithfully, but do not have a desire to make it right then you need for God to do a work in your hard heart. Your selfish pride is keeping you from doing what God’s Word calls you to do.
If you are a man and are not leading your family in faithfulness to Christ but you read your Bible every day, then you need for God to do a work in your heart today. You need for the Lord to move you toward being faithful to lead your family in holiness and righteousness.
It is through dependence upon the Holy Spirit that we will understand God’s Word. And it is through dependence upon the Holy Spirit that we will apply God’s Word rightly to our lives, or even desire to do so.
We Feast Upon God’s Word Through Meditation
I do not, and the Bible does not, advocate for some Buddhist version of meditation. In Buddhism and Hinduism meditation is to empty the mind. That is not the Christian understanding of meditation.
Meditation, especially when used of God’s Word, is the thoughtful rumination of what is taught to us in God’s Word. Meditation is very active throughout Psalm 119. David is thinking on God’s Word constantly and incorporating that into other activities. His meditation is very active. And some of this meditation involves memorizing, dancing, singing, and writing.
David sought to meditate upon God’s Word constantly. It was not just a few moments of the day. It was something that he attempted to do both day and night. He didn’t just read the Word and leave it behind for the day. He read the Word and ruminated on the Word day and night.
“Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.” (Psalm 119:97 ESV)
“I will meditate on Your precepts and fix my eyes on Your ways.” (Psalm 119:15 ESV)
“I remember Your name in the night, O LORD, and keep Your law.” (Psalm 119:55 ESV)
And, as has already been mentioned, his meditation was not just emptying his mind of everything else. This was an active meditation on God’s Word. Look at some of David’s active meditation.
“I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules.” (Psalm 119:7 ESV)
“I will lift up my hands toward Your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.” (Psalm 119:48 ESV)
“Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my sojourning.” (Psalm 119:54 ESV)
“I have stored up Your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You.” (Psalm 119:11 ESV)
In the verses listed above we have praising, lifting up hands in worship, singing, and memorization. This is not sitting cross legged and saying “ohm”. This is true and biblical meditation. This is thinking on and actively meditating upon God’s Word. This is doing something that allows you to creatively ruminate on the Word of God.
And this meditation seems to render the Word of God as not just something to do, but as something beautiful and precious.
“The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.” (Psalm 119:72 ESV)
“How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:72 ESV)
“I rejoice at Your word like one who finds great spoil.” (Psalm 119:162 ESV)
Reading the Bible is a task that we all need to partake in. We need to hear God’s Word preached to us faithfully over the course of a lifetime. And we will find tremendous benefit to reading God’s Word ourselves and within our families. But it is not enough to mark this off of the checklist. We need to meditate upon God’s Word. We need to think through the text and try to understand it. And then we prayerfully attempt to apply that truth to our lives.
The first thing we do is approach all of this prayerfully. As has already been mentioned, we cannot do this on our own. We need the Lord’s aid.
Second, we think on the text. We ask questions about the text in front of us. And they are simple questions. What does this text mean? In some sense, you are reading this like you would read a novel. What do these words mean? What would this mean for the people in this situation? What would they have meant to the people who first read these words? Sometimes background information helps us here. What does it mean? I don’t apply the text to my life first, I first strive to understand the text.
Third, what does this mean for me? Or, how do I apply this to my life?
When I read Genesis 1-3 and I see that God created the world and everything in it and it was good and that mankind fell and brought devastation, what does it mean? The bare meaning is that God created the world perfect and good. It also means that mankind sinned and brought corruption. What does it mean for me? It means that God created my species as good, but my first parents fell into sin. And now that has been passed down to me.
When I read that God created a chaotic mass and then from there created the whole world, what does it mean? It means that God created out of nothing and that God brings order from chaos. What does it mean for me? It means I should worship the Lord who can do such a thing and also that I should mimic Him as much as I can by bringing order out of the chaos that surrounds me.
And next, how is it that I see Christ in the text? Read the Bible as a Christian. Understand that Christ has come and look for how Christ is revealed in the text. Jesus taught that all of the Scriptures were about Him, therefore we should seek to find Christ in the text (Luke 24:27, John 5:39). In today’s reading we see Genesis 3:15, which is an obvious reference to the work of Christ. In the middle of the curses, we find this promise of redemption and destruction of the serpent.
“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.”
(Genesis 3:15 ESV)
One day, many years after Adam and Eve fell, a child was born and we celebrated His coming during Christmas time. God the Son took on human flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary many years ago. He lived a perfect life and died on the cross having accomplished the salvation of wicked sinners. And He rose from the grave three days later. All those that trust in Him are saved from Satan, sin, and death. They are given eternal life, which is to be brought into communion with God. And they will have this for all eternity, one day in the New Heavens and Earth.
Sometimes it is not that obvious. Sometimes we see our failings and are moved to find forgiveness in the One who accomplished it for us. Sometimes we see the failings of individuals in the narrative and see God’s grace in keeping them with Him, and we are called to see our own failings and God’s grace in keeping us. Sometimes we read of sacrifices and understand that we don’t do that anymore because Christ fulfilled the meaning of all of those. Read the text like a Christian and attempt to see how this points us to Christ. Let your meditation on the text lead you to Christ.
There is a simple method for meditation. First consider, what is the bare meaning of this text? Then consider, how do I apply this text to my life? And, how does this point to Jesus? But that is not all. We can do much more than that, but this seems to me to be where we start.
Meditation is not just sitting still and thinking about one thing for an extended period of time. Meditation is active and meditation can be creative.
I like to write and writing things down by hand is incredibly helpful to me. In fact, I have to write the entire sermon word for word before pairing it down to notes for preaching and the reason is that it helps me get my thoughts in order. Writing is a form of meditation for me. And so, I apply this to my personal Bible reading. Something within the text I have read may strike me as something to ponder. And so, I write it down along with a few thoughts about it. I think about how that applies to me personally.
But this is not the only way.
I have known people that are very artistic, and they like to incorporate this into their meditation. They will write a poem or draw a picture in a journal as they meditate upon God’s Word. I have known people that write down one thing they gained from their Bible reading that day and place it somewhere that they will see it often. I have known other people that do better when they talk through a text with a friend or friends. I have known other people that stop and sing praises to the Lord. Those are all forms of meditation upon God’s Word.
Don’t just read God’s Word and mark that off your checklist for the day. Meditate upon the Word. Think through what it is that God is teaching you through His Word. And feel free to do so creatively.
We Feast Upon God’s Word Through Struggle
It is not easy to live God’s Word in our everyday life. And that is especially true when times are hard. But it is through these trials that we find ourselves feasting most upon God’s Word.
The first thing to notice about his text is that David attempts to do what it is that God has commanded, not matter the circumstances of his life. Notice the beginning of Psalm 119, what would be considered the title of the psalm.
“Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord.” (Psalm 119:1 ESV)
The person that is blessed is the person that walks in God’s ways. This is similar to something Jesus said,
“As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”” (Luke 11:27-28 ESV)
We don’t just read and meditate upon God’s Word, we seek to apply it to our lives. We understand that God did not just say these things so that we would read them, but we have God’s Word so that we will seek to apply it to our lives.
“You have commanded Your precepts to be kept diligently.” (Psalm 119:4 ESV)
In good times and it bad times we seek to do what God commands. No matter the circumstances we find ourselves in, we are to seek to apply God’s Word to our lives. But Luther used the word “tentatio” for a particular reason. It carries the meaning of a deep internal struggle. He would describe it as what happens to a believer when they pray, meditate, and seek to apply God’s Word to their lives. That is when Satan attacks, according to Luther. And I have oftentimes found this to be the case in my own life. But Luther would state that God is using this time to teach the believer how better to understand and apply God’s Word to their lives. Notice what David says concerning this,
“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word.” (Psalm 119:67 ESV)
“It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn Your statutes.” (Psalm 119:71 ESV)
Many of you understand this concept all too well. God drew you close to Him with suffering. He brought you into a deeper understanding of His Word through hardship. You gained a better understanding of Him through hardship. But this is God’s way. God has His own school of hard knocks and it’s not always because you acted foolish. But I do believe that it is the case that only those who make it through the course of affliction will bear great fruit in their lives for the Lord. And I also believe that the Lord brings all His people through the fires of affliction for their good.
It is through every single part of our life that we are to seek to follow the Lord. In sunshine or rain, we are to follow the Lord. But the Lord does uses the storms in our lives in a special way. It is through affliction that we learn His Word and His ways in a much deeper and meaningful way. John Bunyan would have this to say about suffering,
“Hence such a time is rightly said to be a time to try us, or to find out what we are, and is there no good in this? Is it not this that rightly rectifies our judgment about ourselves, that makes us to know ourselves, that tends to cut off those superfluous sprigs of pride and self conceitedness, wherewith we are subject to be overcome? Is not such a day, the day that bends us, humbleth us, and that makes us bow before God, for our faults committed in our prosperity? And yet doth it yield no good unto us. We shall be overgrown with flesh, if we had not our seasonable winters. It is said that in some countries tress will grow, but will bear no fruit, because there is no winter there. The Lord bless all seasons to His people, and help them rightly behave themselves, under all the times that go over them.” –John Bunyan, from the Complete Works of John Bunyan
Our trials cause us to see our sinfulness, our weakness, and our need for the Savior. Our weaknesses reveal to us that we are not God and that we need Him to sustain us throughout our trials. Affliction causes us to lean upon the Lord and His Word in incredible ways. So that, in the end we say with David,
“If Your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.” (Psalm 119:92 ESV)
The conclusion of this message is a challenge. It is a challenge to read God’s Word, all of it in 2023. I chose for us an aggressive Bible reading plan. It is the whole Bible in one year and the Psalms 2.5 times. That’s because we need to feast.
We read a prayerfully read the Scripture each day and end with a psalm of prayer to the Lord. The world’s growing darker and we need to feast. So, the challenge is simple. Join us in reading God’s Word together, and by together, I do mean together. I will ask a question or two for discussion each Sunday Night and Wednesday Night we meet in order to stimulate thought and meditation with one another and to keep us accountable to read God’s Word. If you get behind, either catch up when you can or jump back to where we are and find a time to catch up later. Let’s feast on God’s Word together, as a church.
R. Dwain Minor
 You can find the quote here, https://www.google.com/books/edition/Works_of_John_Bunyan_Complete/9wNzEAAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=%22will+bear+no+fruit+because+there+is+no+winter+there%22&pg=PT3624&printsec=frontcover