Psalm 119 extols the Word of God by using pithy couplets to illustrate its various effects on individual believers. I love the psalmist’s way of presenting various facets of Scripture. He reminds me of an expert jeweler carefully appraising a rare and exquisite diamond. Whenever I read this psalm, I gain a deeper appreciation for Scripture, knowing that it’s God’s way of revealing Himself to His people.
Several verses in this psalm have been meaningful to me throughout the years, and I wish I could write about each of them. But one verse stands out as the key, first to the psalm, but also to Bible reading as a whole.
Open my eyes, that I may behold
wondrous things out of your law. ~~Psalm 119:18 (ESV)
The psalmist relied on the Holy Spirit, rather than his own intellectual abilities, to give him a clear understanding of Scripture. Notice his prayer for God to open his eyes, expressing his human inability to fully understand what God says. This dependence on God’s Spirit finds support in Paul’s words to the church in Corinth:
6 Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written,“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. ~~1 Corinthians 2:6-16 (ESV)
When a regenerate believer comes to the Bible, the Holy Spirit helps him understand the text. Notice, however, that the Spirit doesn’t speak apart from or outside of the Word, but rather that He enables us to understand it. The Spirit doesn’t bury truth in the way Gnostic religions (that reserve esoteric knowledge for an elite group) do, but He recognizes that those who reject His authority over them simply won’t “get it.” Submission to Him gives us a willingness to accept His precepts.
Additionally, our dependence on the Spirit doesn’t excuse us from reading God’s Word in context. He won’t isolate a fragment of Scripture to give it a “personal meaning.” His Word may be veiled to those who have no intention of obeying it anyway, yet in it the Lord speaks clearly and says the same thing to all believers from every generation. What He said to the First Century Christians continues into the 21st Century unaltered, applying to each of us equally. No secrets. No private whispers.
Yet without the Spirit’s assistance, we can read Scripture only as another piece of literature. We may find certain portions beautiful and inspiring, but we’ll fall short of letting its words transform our thoughts and lives.
So, as I approach Scripture, I pray for God to open my eyes to the wonders of His Word, so that He can teach me to better love and obey Him. Certainly, I have a responsibility to use my intellect as I study, and I do my best to engage my mind by reading in context, taking notes and consulting commentaries. But as I do these things, I also ask Him to teach me, as He has taught believers through the ages, by opening my spiritual eyes. I trust Him to honor my prayer.