The Aspirational Man
1 Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD! 2 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, 3 who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways! 4 You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently. 5 Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! 6 Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments. 7 I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules. 8 I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me! (Psalm 119:1-8–ESV)
The man of the first four verses is the man David aspires to be. The man of the second four verses is the man David is.
Verses 1-3 – Counter culture
To aspire is to aim for success in something. Success in some manner is tied to a sense of satisfaction and happiness. The internet of the western world says different things about success than David did.
Here is a counter cultural phrase if there ever was one. When David thinks about happiness he ties it irrevocably with godliness. David sees that as the ultimate success and connects ultimate success with blessedness of life.
While many will consider that goodness is important a lot consider perfection unattainable and in some manner unnecessary. Certainly the larger swaths of non-religious humanity will not make a connection between purity and happiness. The more typical connection is the opposite. Other, more religious cadres of western societies will consider purity of ultimate importance but connect it to the bleakness of duty rather than to blessedness. There is a big difference between the “Oh great, I have to be good” and the “Oh great, I get to be good.” The first view is dim considering godliness and purity as a burden with the result that many throw it out entirely. The second view, David’s view, sees godliness and purity as an advantage, a boon, a good thing.
In Psalm 34:8 David says, “…taste and see that the Lord is good…” He knows from experience the great value in godliness. If a taste of God’s way of life is good how much better would a whole meal, a whole life God’s way be? That is the backstory on Psalm 119:1. That view is counter cultural.
Verses 1 and 3 are the styles and expressions of life. The style of the blameless is aligned with God’s laws, his statutes, his ways. The motivation of the blameless is in the seeking God with all their heart. There are superlatives in all these verses. The blameless ways of verse 1 implies no faltering. The “whole heart” of verse 2 leaves no room for your own deeds. The “nothing wrong” of verse 3 implies perfection. These are the full meals of godliness that David establishes as the ultimate excellence.
Verse 4 – Is perfection crucial?
This fourth verse transitions from the aspirations, the elevations, the superlatives to the thing that is to rest beneath them. The specter raised from the first 3 verses is that perfection is ultimately the source of happiness, but life yells that perfection is a pipe dream.
If perfection is so unattainable is it relevant? Is it really important as an aim in life? Satan said to Eve, “Did God really say?” Well Satan twisted the words to throw Eve off. David is not twisting words here. David is saying that perfect or full obedience, diligence in godliness is what God expects.
Verses 5-6 – David’s groan of self-assessment
Verse 5 is David groaning over his life. He wants to be rock-solid in obedience. He values this. He desires perfection, but the life David finds himself living is slippery. He looks at the things he thinks and the things that he does and finds them falling short of full obedience.
He takes time to consider the commands of God for he loves them. He loves God and wants to please God. When he looks at what God desires and beyond that what God requires David’s finds that he falls far short of the God’s goals. He falls far short of his own goals. He takes shame from this. He sees the dishonor that comes forth from him. He looks upon the things of God and comes away knowing he is unworthy of God.
How many people do we know with this attitude? It is far more normal to rationalize one’s misbehavior than to lament over it. David does not make excuses, but groans when he looks at himself in God’s light. Where am I in this spectrum? Where are you in this spectrum?
Verses 7-8 – David’s efforts, declaration and request
Having seen God’s purity in a special contrast to his own impurity he praises God. He accepts that he falls short and makes a declaration that he will keep on learning and keep on obeying God’s laws.
He recognizes that his own personal behavior puts him at risk. He recognizes the need for grace and asks God to not utterly forsake him. David told us of his understanding that God is the one who has written the code of morality, its status as the final answer for our lives and his own personal misalignment with it. David, upon considering all of this, concludes that God might easily pass judgment upon and discard David. That scares David. To use words of our era that convicts David.
David aspires to perfection, but falls terribly short. David does not think the situation is futile. It is important to plod on step by step and learn of God’s ways. David proclaims his intentions and David asks God to stick with him.
Key points from this lesson:
- Taste and see that the Lord is good, then live for it.
- Aim for perfection
- Spiritual self-study may be disconcerting
- Study what God has said in order to learn them and adhere to them