The law of thy mouth is better unto me
Than thousands of gold and silver (Psa 119.72).
If we really believed them, the letters we receive announcing that we have won a fortune would get our attention, but we have learned from experience about the fine print. You’ve seen it before, haven’t you?
YOU HAVE WON TEN MILLION DOLLARS
if you enter our drawing and are one of our lucky winners
(odds of winning: 1 in 100,000,000)
Our culture celebrates the god Mammon. People devote their lives to its service and will sacrifice anything for it, and so the promise of easy money is a great temptation for many.
In our text, the psalmist expresses his estimation of God’s Word in comparison with money. The “law” (Heb. torah) means “regulation, a legal prescription of something that should or must be done,” and in this context it refers to the Holy Scriptures, the written code of God’s revealed will. Today, that includes the whole Bible and only the Bible, but in those days they had only a fraction of it.
The original stresses the superiority of Scripture to money, as it has this Hebrew word order: Better [is] / to me / the law of / Your mouth / than thousands of / gold / and silver (seven words). God’s Word is not only objectively better, but the psalmist conveys his subjective feelings, thoughts, and attitude toward it by the phrase, “unto me.” While his appraisal is absolutely correct, it is not shared by everyone, of course. This spiritual discernment and love of God’s Word is characteristic of the righteous and never found in the unconverted. They much prefer money instead.
The quantity of “thousands” may be the number of unspoken “pieces,” a common form of currency in those days (cf. 2 Kgs 5.5; Job 42.11), but it is intended to be understood as a vast quantity, so that the psalmist is testifying that he values Scripture above any amount of money (cf. 119.127). Owning much gold and silver was proof of great wealth (cf. Gen 13.2; Num 22.18; Deut 8.13). As today, gold was the more valuable of the two. During Solomon’s reign gold became so plentiful that silver lost much of its value—a rare occurrence (1 Kgs 10.21).
The text indicates why the text of Holy Scripture was so precious to him. It was “the law of thy mouth,” that is, of the mouth of the Lord (vv. 1, “the law of the LORD;” the whole psalm refers to this repeatedly). The fact that he describes Scripture this way not only affirms his faith in its divine origin (God is the author of Scripture, so that the very words are His, through He used men to write it), but explains his attachment to it. Anyone who loves God will love His Word, since it is the very expression of His being, His will, His works, and His glory.
Scripture is a God-saturated Book in a form very human; it is comparable to the incarnation of God in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is “truly God and truly man” (Symbol of Chalcedon). Similarly, by the miracle of inspiration, God brought men to commit His own Word to writing (2 Tim 3.16), as much as if the same words had been breathed out of His own mouth, if He had a physical mouth. Further, God has preserved His Word and is still speaking today in and by the Scriptures (see Heb 3.7). This belief is no novelty but has been the orthodox faith of the church for ages.
The psalmist offers other reasons why he loves God’s Word. It is vastly better than man’s vain thoughts (v. 113). It makes no empty threats against the wicked but is sure to be fulfilled (v. 119). God’s Word is very pure, and this is a mark of its excellence (v. 140). It is absolutely trustworthy, in contrast with the lying words of sinners (v. 163). The Word of God brought the psalmist “great peace” (v. 165), a choice blessing indeed to one conscious of sin, guilt, and liability to stumble spiritually.
Our text and verse 127 are not the only places where God’s Word and its wisdom are compared to money (cf. Psa 119.14, 162; Prov 8.8-11, 19; 16.16). The truth is that God’s Word is more justifiably desirable than gold.
This comparison suggests some fruitful lines of meditation.
MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN GOLD
Part of the reason gold has great value is because of its beautiful color, luster, and feel. The “gold of Ophir” was particularly desirable in the ancient world (Job 28.16; Psa 45.9). Beauty is attractive; men are willing to pay a great price for the acquisition of beautiful things.
Gold’s beauty is nothing compared to Scripture, because it reflects the glory of God Himself. It possesses the beauty of His holiness (2 Chron 20.21), and the one who brings its good news has beautiful feet (Isa 52.7).
MORE USEFUL THAN GOLD
With much gold you can buy whatever you want, and so people would be glad to have lots of it. Scripture is not only beautiful but it is useful as a means of acquiring eternal life. They are more precious than gold because we are warned by them and in keeping them there is great reward (Psa 19.10-11).
The Westminster Larger Catechism says Scripture’s unique qualities of beauty and usefulness prove its identity as the Word of God.
The Scriptures manifest themselves to be the word of God, by their majesty and purity; by the consent of all the parts, and the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God; by their light and power to convince and convert sinners, to comfort and build up believers unto salvation: but the Spirit of God bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in the heart of man, is alone able fully to persuade it that they are the very word of God (Answer #4).
MORE DURABLE THAN GOLD
A particular radio advertisement makes the appeal that one should invest in gold because of its durable value; it has never been worth nothing like stocks which sometimes fail in a volatile market. Supposedly one should have gold as a part of his portfolio to guard against economic catastrophes.
A day is coming when this world and all things in it, including gold, will be destroyed by fire (2 Pet 3.10). Gold is one of the temporal things of this world which are passing away, and in eternity it will not matter whether you owned much gold or not (1 Cor 7.29-31), but God’s Word and those who believe it will abide forever (Isa 40.8; 1 John 2.15-17).
MORE RARE THAN GOLD
Another reason for gold’s desirability is that is not lying everywhere on the ground. Typically, great efforts are made to find any significant quantity and process it into a desirable form. The rarity increases its value (cf. Prov 31.10; Isa 13.12).
But unlike gold which is found buried in the ground just waiting to be found, we could have no Word from the Lord unless He is pleased to speak to us. It was precious (i.e., rare) in the days of little Samuel because there was no open vision (1 Sam 3.1)—that is, genuine prophecies from the Lord did not come to His servants very often.
Maybe one of the reasons we do not value Scripture as much as we should is that we have such ready and abundant access to it, like water. But if either were sudden cut off from us, then we would appreciate it so much more!
In his golden book, A Quest for Godliness, J. I. Packer relates a first-hand account of the Puritan preacher John Rogers reproving 500 hearers for their neglect of the Bible, and the effect it had on one of the witnesses:
“He [John Rogers] personates God to the people, telling them, ‘Well, I have trusted you so long with my Bible . . . it lies in such and such houses all covered with dust and cobwebs; you care not to listen to it. Do you use my Bible so? Well, you shall have my Bible no longer.’ And he takes up the Bible from his cushion, and seemed as if he were going away with it and carrying it from them, but immediately turns again and personates the people to God, falls down on his knees, cries and pleads most earnestly. ‘Lord, whatever thou dost to us, take not thy Bible from us; kill our children, burn our houses, destroy our goods, only spare us thy Bible, take not away thy Bible.’ And then he personates God again to the people: ‘Say you so? Well I will try you a little longer; and here is my Bible for you, I will see how you will use it, whether you will love it more . . . observe it more . . . practice it more, and live more according to it.”
And at this point, so Thomas Goodwin, who was there, told John Howe, whose words I have been quoting, the entire churchful of people dissolved in tears, and Goodwin himself “when he got out . . .
was fain to hang a quarter of an hour on the neck of his horse weeping before he had power to mount; so strange an impression was there upon him, and generally upon the people, upon having been expostulated with for the neglect of the Bible” (pp. 47-48).
Friends, we should not presume that just because the Word of God is readily accessible to us, that it will always be so. If you neglect it long enough, you are in danger of losing any appetite for it, and turning away from it completely. If great persecution were to break out, the Word of God could become much more scarce. And every time the Lord grants us illumination when we read His Word, He imparts to us a rich gift that we should not despise simply because we experience it often.
Let us all, from the heart, adopt the psalmist’s estimation of God’s Word as more desirable than gold, for it is infinitely more beautiful, more useful, more durable, and more precious than gold.
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