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Monday, November 10, 2008

Psalm 119:11 - Storing Up the Word in Your Heart

Normally I post these devotion type things at faithandpractice.org but I can't get access today for some reason. So here it is.

Today we will look at the third verse of the second stanza of Psalm 119. Remember that within each stanza, each verse (or line in Hebrew) starts with the same Hebrew letter. In this the second stanza each line starts with the second letter in the Hebrew alphabet, “beth.” I wish this could come through in the English but it just does not. Attempts to translate these lines starting with the corresponding English letters, in this case the letter “b,” are kind of lame.

As is my habit I will include each line in the stanza leading up to the present line. Psalm 119:9-11:

9 How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.
10 With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!
11 I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.

The Hebrew word translated as “stored up” is translated differently in different versions of the Bible. I think the varying translations help give us a feel for the richness of the word. For example, the NASV translates it as “treasured,” the NIV as “hidden,” the KJV as “hid.”

It is hard not to think of the parable of the hidden treasure (Matthew 13:44) when I read this verse:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

This is what the word of God is to be for us, a treasure, a treasure worth more than anything and everything we may have, for in this Word, we find not mere wisdom for living, but the living God Himself.

We get a sense of this treasure in Psalm 19, when after describing the merits of the precepts and law and commandments of the Lord, the Psalmist says of them:

“More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.”

Back when this Psalm was written it was quite normal that people would memorize letter-perfect all the existing Psalms as well as many other parts of the Bible, along with family stories and such. Not all the people were literate, and they had to memorize the Scripture to have it available to them at all times. It was much easier to memorize back then. It’s not because they were smarter (maybe wiser) but because we are deluged with so much written information it’s always there to fall back upon. People wonder if the ever increasing availability of information on the internet will in time change the way our brains work, making it even harder to memorize.

But the issue in Psalm 119:11 isn’t merely memorizing the Scripture; it is the attitude which we have toward it. Is it a treasure? Do we hide it away in our hearts so that we may turn to it over and over in time of need, as when we are tempted to sin?

It is very hard to go forward with sinning with the Word of God screaming in our minds and hearts. Rather we shove it to the dark reaches of our mind so our conscience can withstand the assault which sin is upon it.

Jesus promised to his apostles that after he departed that the Father would send “another comforter” who would, among other things, “teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

That same Helper or Comforter is with us still, helping to bring to mind and heart the Word of God as we go through our lives day to day.

In his letter to the Colossians Paul urged the Colossian believers to “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.”

This was an encouragement to the whole church. The body of Christ as a whole is to make a suitable home for the Word of Christ and for the Scriptures generally. This abiding word, living in the community, provides the basis for mutual encouragement and teaching and admonition.

But nowhere do we see this principle lived out as with Mary the mother of the Lord. After the birth of Jesus when the angels found the baby Jesus and gave testimony about all they had seen and heard from the angelic host, it says that Mary “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”

After leaving Jerusalem and realizing that Jesus was nowhere to be found, Joseph and Mary went back into the city to look for him. They found him in the temple talking with the rabbis there, and gave him a bit of a talking to. His reply was cryptic. “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?”

As the passage says, they did not understand what he was saying, but he left the city and went back to Nazareth with them.

And Mary? It says of her, “And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.”

Our verse today tells us of just one of the many benefits of treasuring up the word of God in our hearts – “that I might not sin against you.” However we may understand “’sin,” that is, as falling short, missing the mark, or being “twisted” away from our purpose as human beings, it brings harm to ourselves and others, it dishonors God, and it causes others to dishonor God. If it is true, as I think that it is, that we are created to reflect the glory of God and to bring glory to Him, well, sin keeps us from realizing our highest purpose, and it puts distance between ourselves and our Maker. Bridging that distance came at great cost, and we are not to disrespect the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, and, as it were, spurn the Son of God and profane the blood of the covenant.

The Christian is reminded in Hebrews 10 that, “The Lord will judge his people.” As he goes on to say, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

It is much better to be good soil in which the word of the kingdom can live and grow and bear great fruit. When we hide up or treasure the word of God in our hearts we are being that kind of soil.

Such “treasuring up” is much greater than memorizing the Scripture, but it is not less. We need the Scripture in our minds and in our hearts that we may call it to mind and “treasure it,” and thus live by it.

I wouldn’t start memorizing with Psalm 119, but maybe Psalm 1 would be a good place to start.

God bless,

Joel

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