# 339 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 119. (vv. 49-56 ז Zayin). God’s Word – Once spoken, ever valid.

Why was it a surprise to so many of God’s people in Israel when Jesus the Messiah was born? One would think that if they had read and understood and remembered the writings of the Old Testament prophets, it should not have been such a surprise. But some did remember, such as the story recorded by Matthew in chapter 2:1-6:

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.” 
[as recorded by the prophet Micah about 700 years before Jesus’ birth – Micah 5:2]

 It seems that there are over 300 prophecies concerning the Messiah’s coming mentioned in the Old Testament, so it seems there really was no excuse in missing it when it happened! Of course, there were a number of reasons why they did, which we won’t cover in this Blog.

A key element in life is memory and the unfortunate opposite which is forgetfulness. Some of us have great memories, and many of us have greater forgetfulness (sadly increasing as we age!).

The word “remember” occurs about 230 times in the Bible and 45 of those are mentioned in the Psalms, including 3 times in verses 49-56, which is not surprising as the Hebrew letter at the title is Zayin and the word for remember begins with the same letter Z i.e., Zakar (meaning remember). He writes:

ז Zayin

49 Remember your word to your servant,
    for you have given me hope.
50 My comfort in my suffering is this:
    Your promise preserves my life.
51 The arrogant mock me unmercifully,
    but I do not turn from your law.
52 I remember, Lord, your ancient laws,
    and I find comfort in them.
53 Indignation grips me because of the wicked,
    who have forsaken your law.
54 Your decrees are the theme of my song
    wherever I lodge.
55 In the night, Lord, I remember your name,
    that I may keep your law.
56 This has been my practice:
    I obey your precepts.

So, twice the psalmist speaks of him remembering. Firstly, he remembers God’s ancient laws (v. 52)

Now memory can sometimes be painful, if the thing, person, or event remembered is a negative one. I certainly have a few of those which I would be happy to forget! But, on the other hand, memory can bring back things, people or events which are positive and so give us pleasure or comfort.

So, what reaction did the psalmist have when he remembered God’s ancient laws? He wrote that he found comfort in them, in fact, he then adds that Your decrees are the theme of my song wherever I lodge (v. 54) Remembering God’s words brought joy to his heart and a song to his mouth.

Secondly, he says that, In the night, Lord, I remember your name (V. 55).

I confess that, the older I get, the less I remember people’s names! But this is not the sort of name that is so significant to the psalmist, or the name that he recalls constantly. This name is that of his God, YAHWEH. This name brings him back to what life is all about – a relationship with the One who created him and loves him. It also reminds him of his daily commitment to keep [God’s] law, something that has been [his] practice [for a long time], and so he says, I obey your precepts. (vv. 55-56)

But there is a third use of the word remember and that is in verse49. Here the psalmist is speaking to God and he says: Remember your word to your servant.

It seems a strange thing that God is asked to remember. Does God forget anything? Why does the psalmist talk to God in this way? An interesting explanation is given by Michael Wilcock in his book on the Psalms (# 5) page 200-201 referring to 119:49-56. Let me summarize it as follows:

He suggests that today we (in the ‘western world’ at least) tend to seek to understand the future by “turning our backs on the past” and that “Bible people would be nonplussed by” this way of looking at things. Why? Because they understood “that it is the past, not the future, which we can know and learn from. The further back you look, the further ahead you can see.”

He continues:

“One reason why Scripture takes this approach is that the God of Scripture is always active and always consistent. When therefore …the psalmist asks God to remember, he is thinking of what God has done repeatedly in the past; he grasps what that says about God’s character, and about the kind of thing he can be expected to do again in the present and in the future … in Scripture, remembering is less a matter of memory than of action. The psalmist is asking God ‘to act in conformity with an existing commitment.’”  (# 5)

And, in doing this, he has hope, because “the Lord’s word is a basis for confident hope, once spoken, ever valid.” (# 5) As he writes, for you have given me hope (v. 49).

But even more, “His promise ensures that new life will always spring out of suffering… His law is constant; no mockery, however unrestrained will deflect the psalmist from it.” (# 5) So, he writes:

50 My comfort in my suffering is this:
    Your promise preserves my life.
51 The arrogant mock me unmercifully,
    but I do not turn from your law.

Father, at this Christmas time, help me daily to remember your ancient laws (your word in the Bible, particularly concerning Jesus the Messiah), and to remember your Name (that name that is above every other name), and Lord, remember your word to me (your many promises to bless, guide and provide). Amen.   

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