Studies in Psalm 119:17-24 GIMEL - Gleanings from Historical Commentaries       Collected by Jack Kettler

17 Deal bountifully with thy servant, that I may live, and keep thy word.

Like many parts of this Psalm, the Psalmist starts off with a prayer, “that I may live, and keep thy word. “ The Psalmist wants God to preserve the spiritual life in his soul.

Spurgeon in the Treasury of David brilliantly comments on this prayer:

“Deal bountifully with thy servant." He takes pleasure in owning his duty to God, and counts it the joy of his heart to be in the service of his God. Out of his condition he makes a plea, for a servant has some hold upon a master; but in this case, the wording of the plea shuts out the idea of legal claim, since he seeks bounty rather than reward. Let my wages be according to thy goodness, and not according to my merit. Reward me according to the largeness of thy liberality, and not according to the scantiness of my service. The hired servants of our Father have all of them bread enough and to Spare, and he will not leave one of his household to perish with hunger. If the Lord will only treat us as he treats the least of his servants, we may be well content, for all his true servants are sons, princes of the blood, heirs of life eternal. David felt that his great needs required a bountiful provision, and that his little desert would never earn such a supply; hence he must throw himself upon God's grace, and look for the great things he needed from the great goodness of the Lord. He begs for a liberality of grace, after the fashion of one who prayed. "O Lord, thou must give me great mercy or no mercy, for little mercy will not serve my turn.”

“That I may live.” Without abundant mercy he could not live. It takes great grace to keep a saint alive. Even life is a gift of divine bounty to such undeserving ones as we are. Only the Lord can keep us in being, and it is mighty grace, which preserves to us the life, which we have forfeited by our sin. It is right to desire to live, it is meet to pray to live, and it is just to ascribe prolonged life to the favour of God. Spiritual life, without which this natural life is mere existence, is also to be sought of the Lord's bounty, for it is the noblest work of divine grace, and in it, the bounty of God is gloriously displayed. The Lord's servants cannot serve him in their own strength, for they cannot even live unless his grace abounds towards them.”

“And keep thy word." This should be the rule, the object, and the joy of our life. We may not wish to live and sin; but we may pray to live and keep God's word. Being is a poor thing if it be not well-being. Life is only worth keeping while we can keep God's word; indeed, there is no life in the highest sense apart from holiness: life while we break the law is but a name to live.

The prayer of this verse shows that it is only through divine bounty or grace that we can live as faithful servants of God, and manifest obedience to his commands. If we give God service, it must be because he gives us grace. We work for him because he works in us. Thus we may make a chain out of the opening verses of the three first octaves of this Psalm: Psalm 119:1 blesses the holy man, Psalm 119:9 asks how we can attain to such holiness, and Psalm 119:17 traces such holiness to its secret source, and shows us how to seek the blessing. There more a man prizes holiness and the more earnestly he strives after it, the more will he be driven towards God for help therein, for he will plainly perceive that his own strength is insufficient, and that he cannot even so much as live without the bounteous assistance of the Lord his God.” (1)

Cross-References for verse 17: Psalm 13:6; Psalm 116:7; Psalm 119:18

18 Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.

We need our eyes to open because of our spiritual blindness, which is the result of sin. When God opens our eyes, we see God's wondrous grace that His law reveals.

The Puritan John Gill makes great observations on this passage:

“Open thou mine eyes ... The eyes of my heart or understanding, as Kimchi; or, “reveal mine eyes” (t); take off the veil from them: there is a veil of darkness and ignorance on the hearts of all men, with respect to divine and spiritual things; their understandings are darkened, yea, darkness itself. This veil must be removed; the scales must drop from their eyes; their eyes must be opened and enlightened, before they can discern spiritual things contained in the word of God; and even good men need to have the eyes of their understandings more and more enlightened into these things, as the psalmist here petitions, and the apostle prays for his Ephesians, Ephesians 1:17; that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law; the law strictly taken, which had great and excellent things in it; and was wonderful for the compendiousness of it; for the justice, holiness, and equity of its precepts; especially for its spirituality, and above all for Christ, being the end of it; the two last more particularly could only be discerned by a spiritual man: or rather the five books of Moses, the almost only Scriptures extant in David's time, in which there were many wonderful things concerning Christ; some delivered by way of promise and prophecy of him, under the characters of the seed of the woman, the seed of Abraham, the Shiloh, and the great Prophet; and many others in dark figures, types, and shadows, which required a spiritual sight to look into; of which the rock and manna, the brasen serpent, Passover, &c. are instances: but rather, as the word "law" signifies “doctrine”, the doctrine of the Gospel may be meant; which contains mysteries in it, respecting the trinity of Persons in the Godhead, the person of Christ, his incarnation, sufferings and death; the blessings of grace through him; the doctrines of peace, pardon, righteousness, eternal life, and the resurrection of the dead; with many others.” (2)

Cross-References for verse 18: Psalm 119:17; Psalm 119:19, Psalm 119:129; Isaiah 29:18

19 I am a stranger in the earth: hide not thy commandments from me.

The believer understands that this world is not our home. That fact that we are just passing through, does not mean we are unconcerned and passive when faced with corruption in the church and public sphere. We stay grounded and encouraged by keeping our eyes on our heavenly home.

Albert Barnes gets the sense of the Psalmist's prayer exactly:

“I am a stranger in the earth - A wayfaring man; a pilgrim; a so-journer; a man whose permanent home is not in this world. The word is applicable to one who belongs to another country, and who is now merely passing through a foreign land, or sojourning there for a time. Compare the notes at Hebrews 11:13. The home of the child of God is heaven. Here he is in a strange - a foreign - land. He is to abide here but for a little time, and then to pass on to his eternal habitation.

Hide not thy commandments from me - Make me to know them; keep them continually before me. In this strange land, away from my home, let me have the comfort of feeling that thy commands are ever with me to guide me; thy promises to comfort me. The feeling is that of one in a strange land who would desire, if possible, to keep up constant communications with his home - his family, his friends, his kindred there. On earth, the place of our sojourning - of our pilgrimage - the friend of God desires to have constant contact with heaven, his final home; not to be left to the desolate feeling that he is cut off from all contact with that world where he is forever to dwell.” (3)

Cross-References for verse 19: Hebrews 11:13; Genesis 23:4; Genesis 47:9; Leviticus 25:23; 1 Chronicles 29:15; Psalm 39:12; Psalm 119:18; Psalm 119:54

20 My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto thy judgments at all times.

The believer is never detached and uninvolved when seeing unrighteousness flaunted by unbelievers. We desire and long for God's righteous judgement to rule.

Matthew Henry make some pertinent observations on this verse:

“David had prayed that God would open his eyes (Psalm 119:18) and open the law (Psalm 119:19); now here he pleads the earnestness of his desire for knowledge and grace, for it is the fervent prayer that avails much. 1. His desire was importunate: My soul breaketh for the longing it hath to thy judgments, or (as some read it) “It is taken up, and wholly employed, in longing for thy judgments; the whole stream of its desires runs in this channel. I shall think myself quite broken and undone if I want the word of God, the direction, converse, and comfort of it.” 2. It was constant - at all times. It was not now and then; in a good humour that he was so fond of the word of God; but it is the habitual temper of every sanctified soul to hunger after the word of God as its necessary food, which there is no living without.” (4)

Cross-References for verse 20: Psalm 42:1; Psalm 42:2; Psalm 63:1; Psalm 84:2; Psalm 119:40; Psalm 119:131

21 Thou hast rebuked the proud that are cursed, which do err from thy commandments.

All of God's judgments are righteous and true.

Calvin comments are most edifying:

“Thou hast destroyed the proud. Others render it:, Thou hast rebuked the proud; a translation of which the Hebrew term גער, gaar, admits when the letter ב, beth, is joined with it in construction; but this being awaiting, it is better to render it destroy406 It makes, however, little difference to the main drift of the passage, there being no doubt that the intention of the prophet is, to inform us that God’s judgments instructed him to apply his mind to the study of the law; and certainly this is an exercise which we ought on no account to defer till God visit us with chastisement.. But when we behold him taking vengeance upon the wicked, and the despisers of his word, we must be stupid, indeed, if his rod do not teach us wisdom; and, doubtless, it is an instance of special kindness on God’s part, to spare us, and only to terrify us from afar, that he may bring us to himself without injuring or chastising us at all.

It is not without reason that he denominates all unbelievers proud, because it is true faith alone, which humbles us, and all rebellion is the offspring of pride. From this, we learn how profitable it is to consider carefully and attentively the judgments of God, by which he overthrows such haughtiness. When the weak in faith see, the wicked rise in furious. Opposition against God, arrogantly casting off all restraint, and holding all religion in derision with impunity, they begin to question whether there be a God who sits as judge in heaven. God may, for a time, wink at this: by-and-bye, we witness him setting forth some indication of his judgment, to convince us that he hath not in vain uttered threatening against the violators of his law; and we ought to bear in mind that all who depart from him are reprobate.

Let it be carefully observed that, by wandering from his commandments, is not meant all kinds of transgression indiscriminately, but that unbridled licentiousness which proceeds from impious contempt of God. It is, indeed, given as a general sentence, that “every one is cursed who continueth not in all things which are written,” Deuteronomy 27:26

But as God in his paternal kindness, bears with those who fail through infirmity of the flesh, so here we must understand these judgments to be expressly executed upon the wicked and reprobate; and their end, as Isaiah declares, is, “that the inhabitants of the earth may learn righteousness,” (Isaiah 26:9)” (5)

Cross-References for verse 21: Deuteronomy 27:26; Psalm 9:5; Psalm 37:22; Psalm 68:30; Psalm 119:10; Psalm 119:118

22 Remove from me reproach and contempt; for I have kept thy testimonies.

Believers are often reproached by the unrighteous, so it is easy to identify with the Psalmist here.

Mathew Poole's comments are to the point:

“Reproach, which I suffer unjustly and for thy sake, as he elsewhere complains.

I have kept thy testimonies, and therefore I am innocent from those crimes for which they censure and reproach me. Or, and therefore thou wilt maintain mine honour and interest according to thy promise made to such as keep thy testimonies, and I beg with some confidence that thou wilt do it.” (6)

Cross-References for verse 22: Psalm 39:8; Psalm 119:2; Psalm 119:39; Psalm 119:56; Psalm 119:100; Psalm 119:115; Psalm 119:129; Psalm 119:145; Psalm 119:168; Psalm 123:3; Psalm 123:41

23 Princes also did sit and speak against me: but thy servant did meditate in thy statutes.

Even when reproached by men in high places, we still find hope in God's commandments.

Jamieson, Fausset and Brown in their commentary concur:

“God will rebuke those who despise His word and deliver His servants from their reproach, giving them boldness in and by His truth, even before the greatest men.” (7)

Cross-References for verse 23: Psalm 119:15; Psalm 119:161

24 Thy testimonies also are my delight, and my counselors.

In closing this section on verses 17-24, Matthew Henry thoughts serve as a good conclusion:

“If God deals in strict justice with us, we all perish. We ought to spend our lives in his

1.      service; we shall find true life in keeping his word. Those that would see the wondrous things of God's law and gospel, must beg him to give them understanding, by the light of his Spirit. Believers feel themselves strangers on earth; they fear missing their way, and losing comfort by erring from God's commandments. Every sanctified soul hungers after the word of God, as food which there is no living without. There is something of pride at the bottom of every wilful sin. God can silence lying lips; reproach and contempt may humble and do us good, and then they shall be removed. Do we find the weight of the cross is above that we are able to bear? He that bore it for us will enable us to bear it; upheld by him we cannot sink. It is sad when those who should protect the innocent, are their betrayers. The psalmist went on in duty, and he found comfort in the word of God. The comforts of the word of God are most pleasant to a gracious soul, when other comforts are made bitter; and those that would have God's testimonies to be their delight, must be advised by them. May the Lord direct us in exercising repentance of sin, and faith in Christ.” (8)

Cross-References for verse 24: Psalm 119:16; Psalm 119:143; Psalm 119:174; Proverbs 23:26

Notes on GIMEL Psalm 119: 17-24:

1.      C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Vol. II, (Nashville, Tennessee, Thomas Nelson), pp. 171,172.

2.      John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments 9 Volumes, Psalms, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), 2011, p. 1378.

3.      Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible Volume 5 -Psalms, p. 1799.

4.      Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Hendrickson Publishers, Inc, Fourth printing 1985) p. 915.

5.      John Calvin, Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. VI: Psalms, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House Reprinted 1979), p.415, 416.

6.      Matthew Poole's Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. 2 (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985) p. 183.

7.      Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 450.

8.      Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary, An abridgment of the 6 volume Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Bible, (Nashville, Tennessee, Thomas Nelson, reprinted 2003), p. 957.


Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: