by J. Randal Matheny, editor
Psalm 119 is famous as the song that praises the word of God. Even its internal structure emphasizes the language of God, forming an acrostic of the Hebrew alphabet with each set of eight verses.
What is not so often appreciated is the role of evil people in the psalm.
The psalm highlights the presence of enemies as the writer pledges his faithfulness to God. With the resolve to obey every commandment of the Lord and let his statues live in the heart, there will be resistence from others.
Evil people are identified as those “who wander from [God’s] commandments” (vv. 21 ESV). The difference between good and evil is the respect, or lack of it, that one shows toward God’s word.
It is God who rebukes the disobedient and who takes away the scorn and contempt they heap upon the righteous (vv. 21-23).
Persecution will not stop the psalmist from keeping the testimonies of the Lord; he will not forsake God’s precepts (vv. 86-87).
In fact, it is by them that he attains life and is preserved whole (vv. 92-95).
As much as the psalmist depends on the Lord to protect him, he also realizes that he must keep his distance from evil people, to avoid their influence and to enable him to obey God’s commandments. So he tells them in verse 115:
“Depart from me, you evildoers, that I may keep the commandments of my God” (ESV).
The connection between the two ideas is even stronger in the New Living Translation:
“Get out of my life, you evil-minded people, for I intend to obey the commands of my God.”
Psalm 119 develops this interplay between love for and obedience to the word of God and the opposition that “evil-minded people” put up against any effort to respect his laws. This joining of themes reminds us today that we cannot obey God and be friends with the world.
Departure from the faith comes through the influence of lying teachers (1 Timothy 4:1-2). In Psalm 37:35, David told what he had seen, “ruthless evil men growing in influence, like a green tree grows in its native soil” (NET).
Solomon’s many wives “had a powerful influence over him” (1 Kings 11:3), and he the wisest man of all! Ahab had only one, and that one was bad enough, for he was “urged on by his wife Jezebel” (1 Kings 21:25) to do evil.
The writer of Psalm 119 knew better than to think he could keep evil friends and do good. But many people today think they can do better than the psalmist.
Knowing this tendency to self-deceive and to over-estimate our power to resist evil, Paul wrote, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals'” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
But we hang out with the wrong crowd and pretend we can do the will of God. We entrust our children to pagan teachers and worldly friends for hours on end in the school systems and think we can still snatch them from the fire. Paul says, “Don’t be deceived!”
Let us wave away the evildoers, then, and chase them from involvement in our lives. We cannot otherwise keep God’s commandments.
For those who do are blessed (Psalm 1:1).
by J. Randal Matheny, editor