Thou art my portion, O LORD:
I have said that I would keep thy words (Psa 119.57).
Living the Christian life should never be thought of as merely keeping a set of righteous rules. Rather, it is a loving communion with God through Jesus Christ expressed in loyalty to Him and His revealed will. In John’s gospel Jesus said,
If ye love me, keep my commandments (14.15).
He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me (14.21).
If a man love me, he will keep my words (14.23).
Of course Jesus is describing the nature of His special relationship with His real disciples, in contrast with mere professors and hypocrites. Many claim to love Christ, but only and all those who really do love Him actually carry out His will from a sincere heart of love and loyalty to Him.
In other words, there is vital connection between love for His person and for His Word. This connection is so universal and ever-present that John could write later, by the Holy Spirit, “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2.3-4).
Our psalm verse is an OT expression of the same basic truth, namely, that the covenantal obedience of the Lord’s holy people is based on the covenantal relationship they have with Him by His astounding grace alone.
The psalmist confesses his special relationship to God in these words, “Thou art my portion, O LORD.” In those days the Gentiles could not and would not say that. Only a Jew had a warrant for this, and there is a special sense in which a believing Jew confessed it.
The keyword of the first phrase is “portion,” which literally means a share allotted to someone. This concept is deeply rooted in Israel’s history, and here in the Psalms it takes on a wonderful and profound sense.
After the success of Joshua’s generation in seizing control of the promised land, the Lord assigned various parts of it to the tribes of Israel (Joshua 13-21), just as He had promised He would do (Gen 17.8; Exod 6.4; Num 34.2, 29). Each tribe would receive a particular tract of land as its portion or “part,” an inheritance the Lord was giving them (Josh 18.10). Only one tribe of the twelve would not receive any land except a few cities where they would live with their pastures (Josh 21.2). The Levites would have no significant portion of land for their own because the Lord God of Israel was their portion (Deut 10.9; Josh 13.33).
All this was typical, intended to teach that ultimately, the Lord is enough as our portion. Even during the OT period the spiritual lesson was patent, as the Psalter bears witness (our text; cf. 16.5; 73.26; 142.5; cf. Jer 10.16; Lam 3.24).
In other words, the Lord belongs to some people in a way that He does not belong to people outside the covenant. The Lord is the Maker and Governor of all people whether they believe in Him or not, but He has given Himself in a special way only to some. He has given Himself in covenant love and loyalty to His elect, and the people of evangelical faith know that He is theirs by promise. When we truly believe in Lord, when we exercise saving faith, we are taking Him to be our portion forever and ever, as He offers Himself to us in the gospel (i.e., as our God, Savior, Master, our summum bonum or highest good).
Human marriage is a dim reflection of the spiritual reality (Eph 5.32). A traditional marriage ceremony includes these familiar words addressed to the bride:
Will you have this man to be your husband; to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to him as long as you both shall live? . . . I take you to be my husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.
This is the language of ownership and commitment. The wife owns her husband. In a similar way, believers take God to be their God and own Him by a covenant of gospel grace.
It works the other way, too. From the mass of unredeemed humanity, God’s people are His own special portion or inheritance (Deut 32.9). This is a point stressed in Tit 2.14. Christ “gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” As many have pointed out before, “peculiar” has modern connotations that perhaps spoil its usage for us in this context, viz., “strange, odd, unusual.” Christ did not die to make His people weird. But in its archaic sense it meant “particular” or “special,” and this captures the original sense very well. Literally, it could be rendered, “a people for his own possession,” that is, truly and profoundly belonging to Him in a way that distinguishes them from others. Christ purchased His church by His atoning sacrifice for them (1 Cor 6.19-20). Thus He legally accomplished the end of the greatest promise God ever made (Rev 21.1-3). Wonder of all wonders! God and man will be married in covenantal and faithful love, each to the other, for all eternity!
The psalmist’s commitment to obey the Lord was therefore founded upon His relationship to Him by grace. “I have said that I would keep thy words” is a Hebrew way of expressing commitment to obeying Him. “I promise to keep your words” (ESV), and, more loosely, “I will obey you” (CEV).
The following interpretation is quite applicable, That God being our portion, ought to animate and encourage us to observe his law. We have already noticed in several other passages, that God is denominated the heritage of the faithful, because he alone is sufficient for their full and entire happiness. And seeing he has chosen us for his peculiar possession, it is only reasonable on our part, that we should rest satisfied with him alone; and if we do this, our hearts will also be disposed to keep his law and, renouncing all the lusts of the flesh, our supreme delight, and firm resolution, will be to continue in the same (Calvin, in loc.).
Yet there is more than mere moral obligation contained here. Everyone ought to obey God’s commandments, whether they have taken Him to be their God or not. May not the psalmist be saying, in effect, that because the Lord is my portion, I have promised to obey Him?
Every true Christian’s testimony is that when the Lord gave Himself to me in committed salvation relationship and He became mine, He also gave me repentance, faith, and a new heart inclined toward Him. This is the promise of the new covenant (Jer 31.31-34). He made me a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Cor 5.17). He turned me from idols to serve the living and true God (1 Thess 1.9). I obey God and Christ, not merely from fears of punishment for disobedience, but because He transformed me by grace and won my heart’s sincere loyalty to Him. My obedience is not constrained but willing, even enthusiastic, like an elated bride takes pleasure in serving her beloved new husband, only better.
This helps us to regain our bearings when we have sinned as Christians. Our natural tendency is to focus on our sin, bemoan our failure, remember our duty, and study the commandments with a greater resolve to keep them. While none of these things are dispensable, we ought to recall, first of all, that the Lord Jesus Christ has given Himself to us in covenant love and faithfulness. He is mine in a way He does not belong to just anyone. He is the Lover of my soul, the Husband who will never leave me nor forsake me, and who is determined to make me fit for perfect communion with Him forever. Even if he wanted to, a true believer could not possibly escape his committed Savior!
My wife Kathy and I were talking just today about how from the very beginning of our marriage, though we were unprepared in many ways, the one thing we both had firmly in mind was that this was to be a permanent, lifelong commitment, no matter what, “till death do us part.” And when we have often had a partial and temporary “falling out” with each other, we have always come back together again and reaffirmed our pledged love and loyalty to one another. We have to make up because there is no alternative! Once you own Christ and He owns you, you can look back and realize that you have vowed obedience to Him, and He, faithfulness to you. This is one of the surest prompts to spiritual rededication found anywhere in Scripture. Your heartfelt love for Christ with obedience to Him is the surest evidence of your saving portion through His atoning work. Amen.
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