Verse 34. Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law. This is the same prayer enlarged, or rather it is a supplement which intensifies it. He not only needs teaching, but the power to learn: he requires not only to understand, but to obtain an understanding. How low has sin brought us; for we even lack the faculty to understand spiritual things, and are quite unable to know them till we are endowed with spiritual discernment. Will God in very deed give us understanding? This is a miracle of grace. It will, however, never be wrought upon us till we know our need of it; and we shall not even discover that need till God gives us a measure of understanding to perceive it. We are in a state of complicated ruin, from which nothing but manifold grace can deliver us. Those who feel their folly are by the example of the Psalmist encouraged to pray for understanding: let each man by faith cry, "Give me understanding." Others have had it, why may it not come to me? It was a gift to them; will not the Lord also freely bestow it upon me?
We are not to seek this blessing that we may be famous for wisdom, but that we may be abundant in our love to the law of God. He who has understanding will learn, remember, treasure up, and obey the commandment of the Lord. The gospel gives us grace to keep the law; the free gift leads us to holy service; there is no way of reaching to holiness but by accepting the gift of God. If God gives, we keep; but we never keep the law in order to obtaining grace. The sure result of regeneration, or the bestowal of understanding, is a devout reverence for the law and a resolute keeping of it in the heart. The Spirit of God makes us to know the Lord and to understand somewhat of his love, wisdom, holiness, and majesty; and the result is that we honour the law and yield our hearts to the obedience of the faith.
Yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart. The understanding operates upon the affections; it convinces the heart of the beauty of the law, so that the soul loves it with all its powers; and then it reveals the majesty of the lawgiver, and the whole nature bows before his supreme will. An enlightened judgment heals the divisions of the heart, and bends the united affections to a strict and watchful observance of the one rule of life. He alone obeys God who can say, "My Lord, I would serve thee, and do it with all my heart"; and none can truly say this till they have received as a free grant the inward illumination of the Holy Ghost. To observe God's law with all our heart at all times is a great grace, and few there be that find it; yet it is to be had if we will consent to be taught of the Lord.
Observe the parallel of Psalms 119:2 and Psalms 119:10 where the whole heart is spoken of in reference to seeking, and in Psalms 119:58 in pleading for mercy; these are all second verses in their octonaries. The frequent repetition of the phrase shows the importance of undivided love: the heart is never whole or holy till it is whole or united. The heart is never one with God till it is one within itself.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 34. THE WORD SET BEFORE THE MIND. Give me understanding. The word used here refers to mental comprehension, as distinguished from the mere direction, or pointing out, asked for in the previous verse. Here the prayer is, "Make me to discern," "Cause me to perceive," i.e., with the understanding "Faith cometh by hearing and hearing, by the word of God." The outer senses must first see the way, then the mind must understand it, then, with faith and love, the heart should follow it. Thus, too, the Psalmist, if God will cause him to understand the law, will keep it with all his heart. Still, the heart is prone to lean to things earthly and sinful, and divine help has presently to be invoked for that also.
Verse 34. Give me understanding. The Psalmist goes to the root of the matter; he is taught to do so by the Spirit of all teaching. He would not merely be taught, as a master would teach, but he would have his mind remoulded and informed as only the Creator could do. The words imply as much. "Give me understanding" -- make me to understand. Not merely did he want to know a thing -- the general nature of it; but he wished to understand the beginning, the outgoing and the end of it. He wanted to attain the power of distinction between right and wrong -- spiritual discernment that so he might discern the right, and, at the same time, all that was contrary to it; he wanted understanding, that so he might know, and discern, and prize the truth, the true way of God, carefully avoiding all that would be aside from it. John Stephen.
Verse 34. Give me understanding. This is that which we are indebted to Christ for; for "the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding" ( 1 John 5:20 ). Matthew Henry.
Verse 34. Understanding. The understanding is the pilot and guide of the whole man; that faculty which sits at the stern of the soul: but as the most expert guide may mistake in the dark, so may the understanding, when it wants the light of knowledge. "Without knowledge the mind cannot be good" ( Proverbs 19:2 ); nor the life good; nor the external condition safe ( Ephesians 4:18 ). "My people are destroyed for the lack of knowledge" ( Hosea 4:6 ).
It is ordinary in Scripture to set profaneness, and all kinds of miscarriages, upon the score of ignorance. Diseases in the body have many times their rise from distempers in the head; and exorbitance in practice, from errors in the judgment. And, indeed, in every sin, there is something both of ignorance and error at the bottom: for did sinners truly know what they do in sinning, we might say of every sin what the Apostle speaks concerning that great sin, "Had they known him, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" ( 1 Corinthians 2:8 ). Did they truly know that every sin is a provoking the Lord to jealousy, a proclaiming war against heaven, a crucifying the Lord Jesus afresh, a treasuring up wrath afresh unto themselves against the day of wrath; and that if ever they be pardoned, it must be at no lower a rate than the price of his blood -- it were scarce possible but sin, instead of alluring, should affright, and instead of tempting, scare. From the "Recommendatory Epistle prefixed to the Westminster Confession and Catechisms."
Verse 34. My whole heart. The whole man is God's by every kind of right and title; and therefore, when he requireth the whole heart, he doth but require that which is his own. God gave us the whole by creation, preserveth the whole, redeemeth the whole, and promises to glorify the whole. If we had been mangled in creation we would have been troubled; if born without hands or feet. If God should turn us off to ourselves to keep that part to ourselves which we reserved from him, or if he should make such a division at death, take a part to heaven, or if Christ had bought part: "Ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God iri your body, and in your spirit, which are God's" ( 1 Corinthians 6:20 ). If you have had any good work upon you, God sanctified the whole in a gospel sense, that is every part: "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" ( 1 Thessalonians 5:23 ). Not only conscience, but will and affections, appetite and body. And you have given all to him for his use: "I am my beloved's"! not a part, but the whole. He could not endure Ananias that kept back part of the price; all is his due. When the world, pleasure, ambition, pride, desire of riches, unchaste love, desire a part in us, we may remember we have no affections to dispose of without God's leave. It is all his, and it is sacrilege to rob or detain any part from God. Shall I alienate that which is God's to satisfy the world, the flesh, and the Devil? Thomas Manton.
Verse 34, 35. Give me understanding. Make me to go. The understanding which he seeks leads to going, and is sought to that end. God's teaching begets obedience; he showeth us the path of life, and he maketh us to go in it. It is such instruction as giveth strength, that excites the sluggish will, and breaketh the force of corrupt inclinations; it removeth sluggish will and the darkness which corruption and sin have brought upon the mind, and maketh us pliable and ready to obey; yea, it giveth not only the will, but the deed; in short, it engages us in a watchful, careful, uniform, and constant obedience. Thomas Manton.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 34. -- The influence of the understanding upon the heart, and the united power of understanding and heart over the life.
Verse 34. -- Seeing and loving.
- When men see they love (the whole verse).
- When men love they see. Only the loving heart would have seen enough to write such a verse. --F. G. M.