Lost and Found Psalm 119:9-16

Introduction

             I hate being lost. When I am out riding, I need to know where I am and where I am going. Who among us has been out there, on the road, and completely baffled as to where we are? Maybe heading up to the Dragon in Tennessee you took a wrong turn and ended up who knows where? Well, today I can’t be your road GPS, but I want to write on how God’s revelation to us is our spiritual GPS. The passage I will read from is Psalm 119:9-16. Before I get into the text, I would like to start with a story that, to be frank with you, is a little embarrassing.

            Way back in the dim and distant 1970s, my family vacationed in the summer at Cape May, NJ. I loved going to Cape May because it meant spending all day at the beach and the boardwalk. I was just in grade school and still quite young. I loved going into the ocean. I remember my mother slopping me up with sunscreen and sending me off to the waves and the water. She told me specifically, “stay in front of us, do not wander to the left or the right, stay right in front of us.”  Now, like Myrtle Beach, Cape May rents beach umbrellas. Also, like Myrtle Beach, all the beach umbrellas look the same. As I body surfed in the waves, I drifted down the beach. I didn’t realize that I was moving away from my family’s spot on the beach, but I was.

            Eventually, I got tired and wanted to go back to the cool of the beach umbrella, so I headed back up the beach, but my family was nowhere to be found. The ocean of beach umbrellas was overwhelming, and I panicked. I could not find my family; I could not find my place. I went back down the water and started walking, looking back at hundreds of families, all having a good time, all in their spot. After some time, I suddenly saw my mother. She had to come and get me because there was no way I could find my way back. I spent a good amount of time after that sitting under our family’s beach umbrella, grounded for the rest of the day. But in a way, I was OK with that.

            I tell you this story because I think we can all relate to feeling lost. Whether we are lost on a ride up in the mountains, lost on a beach, or lost in our lives, I think we can agree that losing our reference to home is key to getting lost. Veering away from where we are supposed to be leads to a sense of emptiness and loss of control. The writer of Psalm 119 knew this. This Psalm, the longest chapter in the Bible is dedicated to centering our lives on what is most important.

Background

            As a little bit of background, we must remember that the Psalms are humanity’s words to God. The rest of the Bible is God’s word to humanity, but this is what make the Psalms so very special. Pain, rejoicing, fear, hope, longing, fulfillment – all these emotions are in the Psalms as prayers and songs to God. This doesn’t diminish the Psalms as the Word of God in any way. These are still the trustworthy passages that the Holy Spirit wanted to be included in the canon. There is nothing in error about the Psalms even though they are directed upwards towards God instead of downwards from God.

            The second thing that I want to point out is the nature of Psalm 119 itself. The Psalm is an acrostic using the Hebrew alphabet starting with the letter Alef and ending with the letter Tav. Each section in the Psalm is 8 lines long, and each section contains one or more of eight words for God’s revelation: instruction, decree, precept, statute, command, judgment, promise, and/or word.[1] It is a masterpiece of ancient Hebraic poetry. We don’t know who wrote it, or what the circumstances are around the development of the Psalm. This might have been written during or just after the exile. However, what we do know is that Psalm 119 is the centerpiece of the entire Psalter.

Four different words for God’s revelation

            Today we are focusing on the second section, Beth. This entails verses 9 -16. Let’s read them now from the Christian Standard Bible:

How can a young person stay on the path of purity?

 By living according to your word.

    I seek you with all my heart;

 do not let me stray from your commands.

    I have hidden your word in my heart

 that I might not sin against you.

    Praise be to you, Lord;

 teach me your decrees.

    With my lips I recount

 all the laws that come from your mouth.

    I rejoice in following your statutes

 as one rejoices in great riches.

    I meditate on your precepts

 and consider your ways.

    I delight in your decrees;

 I will not neglect your word. (Psalm119: 9-16 CSB)

            In this short section, there are 4 words I want to focus: “word,” “command,” “decree,” and “law.” First, we will start with “word.” In Hebrew, this is dabar. The word indicates voice or speaking. In this passage, the use of dabar is linked to God’s voice.[2] In verse 9 we can read “How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to what you (God) say.” Purity then is linked to listening to the voice of God. Similarly, in verse 11, the writer states that he has hidden God’s voice  (this time using the synonym imra) in his heart so that he might not sin, again an appeal to purity.

            Second, the word “command” is miswa. This word is not to be used in a military sense but is a religious responsibility – or covenant. Therefore, the writer of the Psalm can be said to seek God by not straying from his covenant with God.[3]

            The third word in the passage is “decree. Here the word hoq or huqqa. This word is very similar to the statute (edut) and precept (piqqudim). All three of these words refer to rules and regulations.[4] On a deeper level, they refer to cutting something into rock. In this case, the rock is the writer’s own character.[5] Therefore, the Psalmist asks for these rules and guidelines to be taught (vs. 12), rejoiced over (vs. 14), meditated on (vs. 15), and delighted in (vs. 16).

            Lastly, let’s look at the word “law” or mispat. Here the writer does not use the familiar word torah which would refer to the Levitical law. He uses a word that conveys justice and judgment – “With my lips, I recount Your justice, your judgment that comes from your mouth” (vs. 13 my translation).

            These four words refer to God’s communication and communing with humanity. This relationship is on God’s terms, not on humanity’s terms. However, what evolves in this passage is a deep desire to remain rooted in the things of God to hear God’s voice, maintain a covenant with Him, follow His moral guidelines, and live in His justice.

Lost

            The whole point of this Psalm is to rejoice in dwelling upon who God is and His relationship to His beloved- us. However, vs. 9 starts with an intriguing question (the only section in Psalm 119 to start with a question) – “How can a young person stay on the path of purity?” I find this interesting because the verse implies that “a young person” can stray away from purity. The Psalmist states that living in a way that is hearing God’s voice keeps us in purity and keeps us from sin.

            There are times when we choose not to listen to God’s voice. In fact, The Psalmist states in verse 10: “I have tried hard to find you (God). Don’t’ let me wander…” One of my favorite TV shows is Seal Team. The show follows a team of Navy Seals in their deployments and how their jobs affect their personal and, in one character’s case, their spiritual lives. Ray, one of the characters, is a born-again Christian believer. In one of the episodes, he had to do something that compromised his faith. In subsequent episodes, Ray drifted further and further away from hearing God in his life. His crisis disrupted the relationship with his family and his team. In another episode, he questioned whether God spoke in people’s lives and if all one has at the end of the day is just space. Many people have experienced this sense of God’s voice ceasing. It is very real. I have experienced this, maybe you have as well.

Another verse that stuck out to me is verse 10 where the psalmist states “do not let me stray from your commands.” This would indicate that one can stray away from the commands of God. It would be important at this point to define just what are the commands of God. As stated earlier, the words used are not necessarily referring to the Levitical law, but to the essence of covenant, justice, moral code, and God’s voice. The law is not just an external set of rules and regulations, but an internal state of dedication. Take, for example, the ten commandments in Exodus 20. The first four commandments all deal with one’s relationship to God. God is to be the center of our lives. Nothing is to replace who God is, and covenant with God is broken when anything does supplant God. The final six commandments focus on how to get along and live peacefully with other people adequately. Jesus addressed this:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:37-40 NIV)

When we have strayed from God’s commands, we have removed him from His place in our lives and it will affect our relationship with Him and will also affect our relationship with others. Let’s go back to the character Ray in Seal Team. As Ray drifted away from God, he started to drink more, his relationship with his wife deteriorated, and the relationship with his teammates changed. He allowed his anger to replace God as the center of his life. He was lost.

I know I can relate to Ray. There have been times in my life where God was replaced by something else. In my case, it was, like Ray, anger. There was a very dark period in my life where I felt God was totally silent. The more I let anger be my god, the more I drove a wedge between myself and my Creator. That affected my marriage and my friendships. Like Ray, I too was lost.

Found

            However, being lost is not the end of the story. This passage is a blueprint for restoring a lost relationship with God. One thing I do want to point out before I go any further is that that, unless you or I are stuck in intentional sin, being lost and feeling separated from God is something many Christians go through. If today you are feeling alienated from God because of something has happened to you, or you are going through a hard time, or you feel disillusioned in general, then stay tuned, there is hope for being lost!

            If, however, you are in a state of intentional sin, if you are involved in a sin or a lifestyle that you know is not godly and against His moral code (and this can be anything from unforgiveness to sexual immorality to greed or any number of sins) you know the source of your distance with God. When I was angry with God all those years ago, it stemmed from unforgiveness towards my father and anger at God in general. I was in a state of sin which lead to other intentional, self-destructive sins. It was no wonder I was distant from God. It was when I repented and asked God and my family for forgiveness that the relationship with my Creator could be restored.

            But for some of you, your pain and distance from God come from something else. The Psalmist provides four pieces of encouragement for finding our relationship and intimacy with God. First, in verse 9, he encourages the reader to obey God’s word. Similarly, in verse 11 he encourages us to hide God’s word in our hearts. But what does this mean? Obeying God’s word is not just following a set of rules and regulations, it is having a lifestyle of Godliness. Remember we said that dabar and imra are referring to God’s voice. When we have a lifestyle that listens to God’s voice and hides His word in our hearts, then we start to discover intimacy. Hiding God’s word in our hearts is not just memorizing scripture or passages, it is holistic devotion to God.[6]

            Second, the psalmist pleaded with God not to let him wander from God’s commands. Having first tried to gain intimacy on his own (“I have tried hard to find you…”) he sees that restoring intimacy is following God’s commands. As we discussed God’s commands essentially are placing God as the primary focus with no other idols taking His place and loving other people as God loves them. Going back to our word, miswa, this is Covenant. Verse 15 states “I will study your commandments and reflect on your ways.” Putting our minds, studying this covenant with God – loving Him supremely and demonstrating that love by loving others – restores intimacy with Him.

            Third, we need to learn, recite, and delight in scripture. Remember the words hoq, edut, and piqqudim? These words conveyed writing into our hearts God’s revelation, that is Scripture. By continuing to learn (verse 12), recite – that is spoken aloud (verse 13), and delight (verse 16), then we will never lose the voice of God. Scripture is intimately tied to dabar. By incorporating Scripture into our lives, the Holy Spirit can speak and work to restore the relationship. God left this book we call the Bible so that we can hear from Him through reading the words He intentionally left for us. Ignoring Scripture is ignoring God’s voice.

            Fourth, when you and I feel lost and separated from God, we need to remember mispat – God’s justice. I am sure there are a lot of folks who have been deeply hurt by others. When we go out and minister to the motorcycling community, we will run into those who have suffered greatly at the hands of others. This evil seems to be unjust. This evil appears to be meaningless. However, when we sit in God’s justice, we realize that the evil that is done to us is not meaningless. Here the Psalmist states “I will delight in your decrees (God’s Justice) and not forget your word (God’s voice).” There is justice with God and His decrees, and that justice is tightly woven with hearing His voice.

Conclusion

            I want to conclude with this formula. Now, I know that recovering from what I have been talking about – losing our way, ceasing to hear God’s voice, experiencing unjust evil – cannot be reduced to an overly simplistic formula. However, a pastor named Andrew Moffat provides a good starting place for spiritual recovery. He states:

Hope is the spark that ignites the confident belief and in addition relationships with God and people, lead to Life Change.

Hope + confident belief (Faith) + relationship (Love) = Life Change (Moffatt’s Law of Life Change)

The precious lost are found, people are included the “whosoever will may come.” These people flourish within Kingdom Culture, which brings change to families and communities.[7]

Building on this simplistic formula, when we are feeling lost or if you are counseling someone who is feeling lost, the essence to being found lies in the hope we have in Jesus – the Word of God, faith in who He is, and restoring that relationship so that God is front and center in our lives.

            The Psalmist, not knowing Jesus, related this relationship to the deepest part of God’s revelation at that time – His words, His commands, His decrees, and His precepts. What all four of these point to is a restored covenant with our Creator. We can take this passage and apply it to our age in that we now have Jesus. Through faith in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, we can hear His words, live out His commands to love God and love others, live out His decrees in Scripture, and finally dwell in His precepts to experience His justice.

            As I close in prayer, if you have been feeling lost from God, if you have ceased hearing His voice, get with someone today. Have them pray for restoration and healing of wounds in your soul. Get God back to the center place in your life. If you have never given your life to Jesus, then you are lost. But the Good News is that because of Jesus, you are found. If the Holy Spirit has prompted you, I encourage you to speak with someone here before you leave. Your lostness can be turned into a brilliant life in Jesus.

Let’s pray.


[1] HCSB Study Bible, (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2010), 997.

[2] Lawrence O. Richards, Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library), 633.

[3] Ibid, 174.

[4] Ibid, 214.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Revised Edition: Psalms, vol. 5 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 862.

[7] Andrew Moffatt, “Life Change Comes About! ((Moffatt’s Law) Of Life Change)”, Sermon Central. https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermon-illustrations/100096/faith-by-andrew-moffatt?ref=TextIllustrationSerpsturabian%20web%20cite%20footnote (accessed April 24, 2019).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s