Verse 5. O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes! Divine commands should direct us in the subject of our prayers. We cannot of ourselves keep God's statutes as he would have them kept, and yet we long to do so: what resort have we but prayer? We must ask the Lord to work our works in us, or we shall never work out his commandments. This verse is a sigh of regret because the Psalmist feels that he has not kept the precepts diligently, it is a cry of weakness appealing for help to one who can aid, it is a request of bewilderment from one who has lost his way and would fain be directed in it, and it is a petition of faith from one who loves God and trusts in him for grace.
Our ways are by nature opposed to the way of God, and must be turned by the Lord's direction in another direction from that which they originally take or they will lead us down to destruction. God can direct the mind and will without violating our free agency, and he will do so in answer to prayer; in fact, he has begun the work already in those who are heartily praying after the fashion of this verse. It is for present holiness that the desire arises in the heart. O that it were so now with me: but future persevering holiness is also meant, for he longs for grace to keep henceforth and for ever the statutes of the Lord.
The sigh of the text is really a prayer, though it does not exactly take that form. Desires and longings are of the essence of supplication, and it little matters what shape they take. "O that" is as acceptable a prayer as "Our Father."
One would hardly have expected a prayer for direction; rather should we have looked for a petition for enabling. Can we not direct ourselves? What if we cannot row, we can steer. The Psalmist herein confesses that even for the smallest part of his duty he felt unable without grace. He longed for the Lord to influence his will, as well as to strengthen his hands. We want a rod to point out the way as much as a staff to support us in it.
The longing of the text is prompted by admiration of the blessedness of holiness, by a contemplation of the righteous man's beauty of character, and by a reverent awe of the command of God. It is a personal application to the writer's own case of the truths which he had been considering. "O that my ways," etc. It were well if all who hear and read the word would copy this example and turn all that they hear into prayer. We should have more keepers of the statutes if we had more who sighed and cried after the grace to do so.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 5. In tracing the connection of this verse with the preceding, we cannot forbear to remark how accurately the middle path is preserved, as keeping us at an equal: distance from the idea of self sufficiency to keep the Lord's statutes, and self justification in neglecting them. The first attempt to render spiritual obedience will quickly convince us of our utter helplessness. We might as soon create a world as create m our hearts one pulse of spiritual life. And yet our inability does not cancel our obligation. It is the weakness of a heart that "cannot be subject to the law of God," for no other reason than because it is "carnal," and therefore "enmity against God." Our inability is our sin, our guilt, our condemnation, and instead of excusing our condition, stops our mouth, and leaves us destitute of any plea of defence before God. Thus our obligation remains in full force. We are bound to obey the commands of God, whether we can or not. What, then, remains for us, but to return the mandate to heaven, accompanied with an earnest prayer, that the Lord would write upon our hearts those statutes to which he requires obedience in his word? Thou hast commanded us to keep thy statutes diligently. We acknowledge, Lord, our obligation, but we feel our impotency. Lord, help us; we look unto thee. O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes. Charles Bridges, 1849.
Verse 5. O that, etc. In the former verse the prophet David observes the charge which God gives, and that is, that his commandments be diligently kept: here, then, he observes his own weakness and insufficiency to discharge that great duty, and therefore, as one by the spirit desirous to discharge it, and yet by the flesh not able to discharge it, he breaketh out into these words, O that my ways were directed, etc. Much like unto a child that being commanded to take up some great weight from the ground, is willing to do it, though not able to do it: or a sick patient advised to walk many turns in his chamber, finds a desire in his heart, though inability in his body to do that which he is directed unto. Richard Greenham.
Verse 5. O that my ways, etc. It is the use and duty of the people of God to turn precepts into prayers. That this is the practice of God's children appeareth: "Turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God" ( Jeremiah 31:18 ). God had said, "Turn you, and you shall live," and they ask it of God, "Turn us," as he required it of them. It was Austin's prayer, Da quod jubes, et jube quod vis, "Give what thou requirest, and require what thou wilt." It is the duty of the saints; for, 1st, It suits with the Gospel covenant, where precepts and promises go hand in hand; where God giveth what he commandeth, and worketh all our works in us and for us. They are not conditions of the covenant only, but a part of it. What God hath required at our hands, that we may desire at his hands. God is no Pharaoh, to require brick where he giveth no straw. Lex jubet, gracia juvat. The articles of the new covenant are not only put into the form of precepts, but promises. The law giveth no strength to perform anything, but the Gospel offereth grace. Secondly, Because, by this means, the ends of God are fulfilled. Why doth God require what we cannot perform by our own strength? He doth it,
- To keep up his right.
- To convince us of our impotency, and that, upon a trial, without his grace we cannot do his work.
- That the creature may express his readiness to obey.
- To bring us to lie at his feet for grace. Thomas Manton.
Verse 5. O that, etc. The whole life of a good Christian is an holy desire, saith Augustine; and this is always seconded with endeavour, without the which, affection is like Rachel, beautiful, but barren. John Trapp.
Verse 5. O that my ways were directed, etc. The original word !wk, kun, is sometimes rendered to establish, and, accordingly, it may seem as if the prophet were soliciting for himself the virtue of perseverance. I am rather inclined to understand it as signifying to direct for, although God is plainly instructing us in his law, the obtuseness of our understanding and the perversity of our hearts constantly need the direction of his Spirit. John Calvin.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 5. -- The prayer of the gracious.
- Suggested by each preceding clause of blessing.
- By a consciousness of failure.
- By a loving clinging to the Lord.
Verse 5. --
- The end desired: "To keep thy statutes." Not to be safe merely, or happy, but holy.
- The help implored.
(a) To understand the divine precepts.
(b) To keep them. --G. R.
Verse 5. -- Longing to obey.
- It is a noble aspiration. There is nothing grander than the desire to do this except the doing of it.
- It is a spiritual aspiration. Not the offspring of our carnal nature. It is the heart of God in the new creature.
- It is a practicable aspiration. We sometimes sigh for the impossible. But this may be attained by divine grace.
- It is an intense aspiration. It is the "Oh!" of a burning wish.
- It is an influential aspiration. It does not evaporate in sighs. It is a mighty incentive implanted by grace which will not let us rest without holiness. --W. J.