In this prayer of lament, the longest psalm in the Psalter, righteous is a key word and is repeated five times. The psalmist points us not only to God who is righteous but also to God’s justice. Like the prophet Habakkuk, the psalmist complains to God but in a different tone. Rather than cry out “why” and “how long” this lament is contemplative.
The psalmist delights in God’s instruction even while facing “trouble and anguish.” God responded to Habakkuk’s complaint with the words: “The righteous live by their faith” (Hab. 2:4). Similarly, in today’s passage the psalmist prays, “Give me under- standing that I may live.” In The Message, Eugene Peterson translates verses 143 and 144 this way:
Even though troubles came down on me hard,
your commands always gave me delight.
The way you tell me to live is always right;
help me understand it so I can live to the fullest.
Psalm 119 is a hymn of praise for the law. The psalmist’s delight is in God’s law, the source of understanding. In Psalm 1 the psalmist describes the happiness of the righteous: “Their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night” (v. 2). In the same manner, the psalmist in today’s passage speaks of delight in God’s law and of the joy in keeping God’s law, even during suffering.
To delight in God’s commandments when trouble and anguish come over us is a gift from God, not something we conjure up on our own. This disposition goes beyond optimism and mere positive thinking. The word of God and Christ the living Word give us hope and encouragement to be faithful and to live in hope, especially during times of trouble and anguish.
Lord, you are my song and my praise: All my hope comes from God. Lord, you are my song and my praise: You are the wellspring of life. Amen.
Habakkuk stands aghast at the “destruction and violence” all around and wonders how justice never seems to conquer. At the end of the reading, God contrasts the proud, whose spirit “is not right in them,” with the righteous who live by faith. The psalmist delights in God’s righteousness and in the commandments of God; however, he admits that “I am small and despised.” The psalmist’s “trouble and anguish” appear in Second Thessalonians also, but here the “persecutions and the af ictions” endured by the faithful serve a particular end: They stand as signs of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. In the Gospel reading Jesus tells Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to this house,” which reminds us that the righteous who live by faith are not necessarily the socially or religiously acceptable.
• Read Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4. What situations in your life and world cause you to cry out to God, “How long?”?
• Read Psalm 119:137-144. Who have you known who trusts God implicitly? How has that person’s example helped you in the past? How might you let it help you in the future?
• Read 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12. How will you offer Christ’s peace to someone you meet today?
• Read Luke 19:1-10. Jesus’ interaction caused Zacchaeus to trust God and straighten out his life. Where and with whom might God be leading you to share with others the heart of Christ?
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