In a September 21, 2015, article on the desiringgod.org website entitled “Four Prayers for Bible Reading,” Pastor David Mathis discusses four verses to pray before opening up the Bible. A link to that article is as follows https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/four-prayers-for-bible-reading ). This post is the first of four blog posts at stevebelsheim.com where each post considers one of the verses. This post examines Psalm 119:18, which reads in the English Standard Version (ESV):
18 Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.
Pastor Mathis concludes about Psalm 119:18:
Join the psalmist in praying not just for the gift of spiritual sight, but for the gift of seeing wondrous things in God’s word. Wonder is a great antidote for wandering. Those who cultivate awe keep their hearts warm and soft, and resist the temptations to grow cold and fall away.
Along the lines of what Pastor wrote, the wondrous things from God’s Word are excellent medicine to stay well in a world that wants to distract a Christ-follower from the critical things in life, which include Bible reading. Let’s take a closer look at Psalm 119:18. This verse resides in the third strophe (Gimel) of Psalm 119 comprising verse 17-24, which read (ESV):
17 Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word. 18 Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. 19 I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not your commandments from me! 20 My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times. 21 You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones, who wander from your commandments. 22 Take away from me scorn and contempt, for I have kept your testimonies. 23 Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes. 24 Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.
For the 21st Century Christ-follower, the third strophe provides a contextual background that enriches the significance of the Psalmist’s plea. Let’s see how.
Verses 17-24 contain several references to the Psalmist’s hunger to see what is in God’s Word. For example, in verse 19b, the Psalmist asks God to “hide not” His Word from him. While this is a plea not to invoke, or continue with, a negative action, i.e., hide, it reflects a desire to experience God revealing His Word to the Psalmist. Here, the term “hide not” can equate to “reveal.”
The capability to have God’s Word revealed or made known is consistent with verse 17b in which he wants to “keep” God’s Word, verse 22b in which the Psalmist says he has “kept” God’s Word, and verse 24b in which he employs God’s Word as his “counselors.” The Psalmist’s high regard for God’s Word is shown by his being “consumed with longing … at all times” for God’s Word (v. 20); amid challenging times, meditating on God’s Word (v. 23); and delighting in God’s Word (v. 24a).
In verse 18, the Hebrew verb gālâ is translated by the ESV as “open”, and according to one theological wordbook, it means:
Likewise in the Piel it always denotes “to uncover” something which otherwise is normally concealed. Thus it means “to open” the eyes—to see an angel (Num 22:31) or wonderful things in the law (Ps 119:18);
Waltke, B. K. (1999). 350 גָּלָה. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., pp. 160–161). Chicago: Moody Press.
The Psalmist refers to his spiritual eyes, which comprise one of his spiritual sensory organs. Here, the opening of his eyes equates to revealing things that were, heretofore, normally concealed.
The Psalmist wants God to open his spiritual eyes so he may behold specific things that he characterizes as “wondrous things” that come “out of” God’s law, i.e., God’s Word. The ESV translates the Hebrew word pl’ as “wondrous,” and it has the sense of an extraordinary thing or something outrageous. In discussing the nature of the “wondrous things,” one commentator writes:
The wondrous things in ver. 18 are not events in which the direction given by God is shown unexpectedly to have been right (Hitzig), but truths disclosed to faith, and revelations concerning God, lying in the law beneath the veil of the letter, and perplexing to the common understanding, to the knowledge of which the removal of the veil suspended over the eyes by nature is also necessary.
Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Moll, C. B., Briggs, C. A., Forsyth, J., Hammond, J. B., … Conant, T. J. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Psalms (p. 590). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
For us today, only a Christ-follower possesses the necessary spiritual eyes or spiritual discernment through the indwelling Holy Spirit to make a request per Psalm 119:18. Paul made this clear in 1 Corinthians 2:12–13 (ESV):
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.
The 21st Century believer who prays Psalm 119:18 wants God to show him or her outrageously wonderful truths out of His Word. A desire to gain outrageously wonderful truths is consistent with the relevant discussion in one translation handbook:
Insight into the meaning of God’s law depends not only on prolonged study and meditation; it depends also on God’s guidance. So the psalmist prays Open my eyes; only in this way can he discover the wonderful truths, or teachings, in the Law. It is God who will enable him to appreciate and understand the Law.
Bratcher, R. G., & Reyburn, W. D. (1991). A translator’s handbook on the book of Psalms (p. 1002). New York: United Bible Societies.
Using the balance of the third strophe as a context for verse 18, the Psalmist’s plea for God to open his spiritual eyes is in line with his high regard for God’s Word and his genuine desire to apply God’s Word to his life resulting in his obedience to God. And is not life change to a more obedient life through Bible intake what a 21st Century Christ-follower wants when he or she asks God for a deeper understanding and comprehension of His Word? Let’s hope so.
For a practical application, let me suggest the following prayer to pray before Bible reading, study, meditation, or listening:
Dear Heavenly Father, I am consumed with longing for Your Word at all times. I ask You to open my spiritual eyes so I can feast upon Your extraordinarily wonderful truths that I have never truly comprehended before. I will listen to these truths so they are my counselors that guide me as I strive to obey Your Word. O Father God, deal bountifully with me so I may live in accordance with Your Word. In Jesus Name I pray, Amen.
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