Studies in Psalm 119:9-16 Arranged by Jack Kettler
9 Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word.
In every verse in this section, we see the purifying power of God’s Word.
How shall a young man or anyone cleanse their way? There are many ways that someone may go. “There is a way that seems right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 16:25). The way that seems right unto man is the way of the natural man. This is humanism, man following Satan’s lie, rather than letting God be the supreme authority arbiter of truth. Instead, fallen man says, he will be like God and be the arbiter of good and evil. This is surely, the way death. “The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether” (Psalm 19:9). How can someone rightly fear the Lord and cleanse their way? The answer is in the latter part of verse 9, “By taking heed thereto according to they word.” We bow before God in humility and submit to His Word.
It would be profitable to read the commentary of Baptist Puritan John Gill on this verse:
Wherewith shall a young man cleanse his way?…. Some think David means himself, and that he was a young man when he wrote this psalm; and which they think is confirmed by Psalm 119:100; but neither of them seem conclusive; rather any young man is meant, and who is particularly mentioned, because young men are liable to sins and snares, to carnal lusts and sensual pleasures, which are of a defiling nature. Some are of opinion that a young man, or babe in Christ, is intended, that needs direction in his way, and instruction about the manner of cleansing it. But the former sense seems best, and expresses the concern of the psalmist for the education and right information of youth; which is a matter of great moment and advantage to families, neighbourhoods, and commonwealths. The question supposes the young man to be impure, as every man is by birth, being conceived in sin, and shapen in iniquity; is a transgressor from the womb, and his heart, ways, and actions, evil from his youth: and the difficulty is, how he shall be cleansed; how one so impure in his nature, heart, and ways, can be just with God, or become undefiled in the way, as in Psalm 119:1; to which some reference may be had: or how he can have his heart made pure, or a clean one be created in him; or how his way, life, and conversation, may be corrected, reformed, and amended. The answer is,
by taking heed thereto according to thy word; that is, to his way and course of life, and steering it according to the direction of the word of God. But I think the words may be better rendered and supplied thus, “by observing what is according to thy word” (p); which shows how a sinner is to be cleansed from his sins by the blood of Christ, and justified by his righteousness, and be clean through his word; and also how and by whom the work of sanctification is wrought in the heart, even by the Spirit of God, by means of the word; and what is the rule of a man’s walk and conversation: he will find the word of God to be profitable, to inform in the doctrines of justification and pardon, to acquaint him with the nature of regeneration and sanctification; and for the correction and amendment of his life and manners, and for his instruction in every branch of righteousness, 2 Timothy 3:16.11
10 With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments.
The Psalmist cries, “with my whole heart” leb (labe) the heart; which can be used figuratively for feelings, the will and even the intellect has he sought God. He prays, “O let me not wander;” shagah (shaw-gaw’) go astray, be deceived, sin willing or sin through ignorance, or stray “from thy commandments;” mitsvah (mits-vaw’) which consist of specific divine ordinances and precepts and can collectively refer to the whole Law.
In this same Psalm we see the same pattern of the godly, “that seek him with the whole heart” (119:2) and “I cried with my whole heart” (119:145).
Calvin’s comments on this verse are most edifying:
10. With my whole heart Conscious of the integrity of his heart, the prophet still implores the help of God, that he might not stumble by reason of his infirmity. He makes no boast of self-preparation, as if he had spontaneously begun to inquire after God, but in praising the grace which he had experienced, he at the same time aspires after steadfastness to persevere in walking in his ways. It is folly on the part of the Papists to seize upon this and similar passages, as if the saints, of their own free will, anticipated the grace of the Holy Spirit, and afterwards were favored with his aid. The prophet does not make a division between God and himself, but rather prays God to continue his work till it is completed, agreeably with what we are generally taught, to keep God mindful of his benefits until he accomplish them.
In the meantime, there is good cause for presenting our supplication to God, to stretch out his hand towards us when he sees our minds so settled, that we are solicitous of nothing so much as acting uprightly. And as he elevates us with confidence to ask the gift of perseverance, when he inspires our hearts with proper affection towards him, so also does he entreat us for the future not to sink into a careless and languid state like soldiers who have been discharged, but seek to be constantly directed by the spirit of wisdom, and to be sustained by the principles of fortitude and virtue. David here, from his own example, points out to us a rule, that by how much a man finds himself succored by God, by so much ought he to be induced the more carefully and earnestly to implore the continuance of his aid; for unless he restrain us, we will instantly wander and go astray. This sentiment is more explicitly stated in the original word תשגני, tashqeni, which is in the passive voice, and signifies, to be led astray403 From the import of the term, I do not mean to establish the doctrine that God secretly incites us to commit sin, but only to let my readers know, that such is our liability to err, that we immediately relapse into sin the instant he leaves us to ourselves. This passage also admonishes us that the man who swerves but a little from God’s commandments is guilty of going astray.12
11 Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.
Two passages of Scripture that continue this theme of keeping God’s Word in our heart are: “My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you” (Proverbs 2:1); and “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).
The devil, is like a roaring lion and ready to attack. We need to have God’s Word close to us. Jesus used the Word as his defense when the devil came to Him in the wilderness. Likewise, if we keep the Word close to us, or in our hearts we will be empowered to resist sin.
Matthew Poole’s comment on verse 11 is right to the point:
I have not contented myself with bare hearing or reading thy word, but have received it in the love of it, have diligently pondered it, and laid it up in my mind and memory like a choice treasure, to be ready upon all occasions, to counsel, or comfort, or quicken, or caution me, as need requires; that by a diligent and affectionate consideration of thy precepts, and promises, and threatenings, I might be kept from sinful courses, against which these are the best antidote.13
12 Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes.
The Psalmist rightly gives glory to God using the language of doxology, which is a short hymn of praise when he begins by saying: “Blessed art thou, O Lord.” When we approach God in prayer, we should always begin by praising Him, before bringing our requests. The Psalmists then asks God to teach him, His statutes.
Matthew Henry says:
Here, 1. David gives glory to God: “Blessed art thou, O Lord! Thou art infinitely happy in the enjoyment of thyself and hast no need of me or my services; yet thou art pleased to reckon thyself honoured by them; assist me therefore, and then accept me.” In all our prayers we should intermix praises. 2. He asks grace from God: “Teach me thy statutes; give me to know and do my duty in every thing. Thou art the fountain of all blessedness; O let me have this drop from that fountain, this blessing from that blessedness: Teach me thy statutes, that I may know how to bless thee, who art a blessed God, and that I may be blessed in thee.”14
13 With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth.
How does this apply in the New Covenant? First, we should understand that Jesus is the Word of God manifest in the flesh (John 1:14). One clear way we declare all of God’s judgments is to follow Christ’s instructions: “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32). Christ may be denied in words by denying His Lordship and Christ may be denied in works by breaking the law of God. Let us seek to faithfully confess Him before man, and strive to honor Him by keeping God’s commandments.
Spurgeon’s comments on this passage will be of value:
Ver. 13. With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth. The taught one of Psalms 119:12 is here a teacher himself. What we learn in secret we are to proclaim upon the housetops. So had the Psalmist done. As much as he had known he had spoken. God has revealed many of his judgments by his mouth, that is to say, by a plain and open revelation; these it is out duty to repeat, becoming, as it were, so many exact echoes of his one infallible voice. There are judgments of God which are a great deep, which he does not reveal, and with these it will be wise for us not to intermeddle. What the Lord has veiled it would be presumption for us to uncover; but, on the other hand, what the Lord has revealed it would be shameful for us to conceal. It is a great comfort to a Christian in time of trouble when in looking back upon his past life he can claim to have done his duty by the word of God. To have been, like Noah, a preacher of righteousness, is a great joy when the floods are rising, and the ungodly world is about to be destroyed. Lips which have been used in proclaiming God’s statutes are sure to be acceptable when pleading God’s promises. If we have had such regard to that which cometh out of God’s mouth that we have published it far and wide, we may rest quite as assured that God will have respect unto the prayers which come out of our mouths.
It will be an effectual method of cleansing a young man’s way if he addicts himself continually to preaching the gospel. He cannot go far wrong in judgment whose whole soul is occupied in setting forth the judgments of the Lord. By teaching we learn; by training the tongue to holy speech we master the whole body; by familiarity with the divine procedure we are made to delight in righteousness; and thus in a threefold manner our way is cleansed by our proclaiming the way of the Lord.15
14 I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches.
The Psalmist says: “I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies,” In the New Covenant we understand that the Scriptures or testimonies declare most clearly that Christ himself, is the only way of life and salvation. All earthly riches can be counted as but dung when compared to the riches in Christ!
Again, let’s consult Surgeon from his Treasury of David on this verse:
Ver. 14. I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies. Delight in the word of God is a sure proof that it has taken effect upon the heart, and so is cleansing the life. The Psalmist not only says that he does rejoice, but that he has rejoiced. For years it had been his joy and bliss to give his soul to the teaching of the word. His rejoicing had not only arisen out of the word of God, but out of the practical characteristics of it. The Way was as dear to him as the Truth and the Life. There was no picking and choosing with David, or if indeed he did make a selection, he chose the most practical first.
As much as in all riches. He compared his intense satisfaction with God’s will with that of a man who possesses large and varied estates, and the heart to enjoy them. David knew the riches that come of sovereignty and which grow out of conquest; he valued the wealth which proceeds from labour, or is gotten by inheritance: he knew “all riches.” The gracious king had been glad to see the gold and silver poured into his treasury that he might devote vast masses of it to the building of the Temple of Jehovah upon Mount Zion. He rejoiced in all sorts of riches consecrated and laid up for the noblest uses, and yet the way of God’s word had given him more pleasure than even these. Observe that his joy was personal, distinct, remembered, and abundant. Wonder not that in the previous verse he glories in having spoken much of that which he had so much enjoyed: a man may well talk of that which is his delight.16
15 I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways.
Christian meditation is a manner of study and prayer in which a the believer intentionally considers a particular or several bible passages and reflects on the meaning in the context of developing a deeper love of God.
Paul tells Timothy to “meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all” (1 Timothy 4:15).
Calvin is precise in his comments:
In thy precepts That to which I formerly adverted must not be forgotten — the prophet’s not making a boast of his own acquirements, but setting before others an example for their imitation. We are aware that the majority of mankind are so much involved in the cares of the world, as to leave no time or leisure for meditating upon the doctrine of God. To meet this callous indifference, he very seasonably commends diligence and attention. And even were we not so ensnared by the world, we know how readily we lose sight of the law of God, in the daily temptations which suddenly overtake us. It is not therefore without reason that the prophet exhorts us to constant exercise, and enjoins us to direct all our energies to the subject of meditation on God’s precepts. And as the life of men is unstable, being continually distracted by the carnality of their minds, he declares that he will consider attentively the ways of God. Subsequently, he repeats the exquisite pleasure he took in this pursuit. For our proficiency in the law of God will be small, until we cheerfully and heartily set our minds upon it. And, in fact, the commencement of a good life consists in God’s law attracting us to him by its sweetness. By the same means the lusts of the flesh, too, are subdued or mitigated. In our natural state, what is more agreeable to us than that which is sinful? This will be the constant tendency of our minds, unless the delight which we feel in the law carry us in the opposite direction.17
16 I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.
The believer in the New Covenant continues this practice: “For I delight in God’s law after the inward man” (Romans 7:22).
A warning for forgetfulness: “Then beware lest you forget Yahweh, who brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Deuteronomy 6:12).
We will conclude this section with Matthew Henry’s thoughts:
119:9-16 To original corruption all have added actual sin. The ruin of the young is either living by no rule at all, or choosing false rules: let them walk by Scripture rules. To doubt of our own wisdom and strength, and to depend upon God, proves the purpose of holiness is sincere. God’s word is treasure worth laying up, and there is no laying it up safe but in our hearts, that we may oppose God’s precepts to the dominion of sin, his promises to its allurements, and his threatenings to its violence. Let this be our plea with Him to teach us his statutes, that, being partakers of his holiness, we may also partake of his blessedness. And those whose hearts are fed with the bread of life, should with their lips feed many. In the way of God’s commandments there is the unsearchable riches of Christ. But we do not meditate on God’s precepts to good purpose, unless our good thoughts produce good works. I will not only think of thy statutes, but do them with delight. And it will be well to try the sincerity of our obedience by tracing the spring of it; the reality of our love by cheerfulness in appointed duties.18
Notes on BETH Psalm 119:9-16
11. John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments 9 Volumes, Psalms, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), 2011, p. 1373, 1374.
12. John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. VI: Psalms, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House Reprinted 1979), p.408, 409.
13. Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. 2 (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985) p. 183.
14. Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Hendrickson Publishers, Inc, Fourth printing 1985) p. 915.
15. C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Vol. II, (Nashville, Tennessee, Thomas Nelson), p. 160.
16. C. H. Spurgeon, p. 160.
17. John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. VI: Psalms, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House Reprinted 1979), p.411.
18. Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary, An abridgment of the 6 volume Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Bible, (Nashville, Tennessee, Thomas Nelson, reprinted 2003), pp. 956, 957.