“I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me!” — Psalm 119:8
In the first part of this verse, the psalmist expresses both his desire and resolve. “I will keep your statutes.” Because of his love for the Lord, he desires to obey, keep, and follow the Word of the Lord. Like a child desiring to please, honor, and love his father through obedience, so the psalmist desires to please, honor, and love his God by obeying his statutes. And, since this is his expressed desire, he resolves to do it. He pledges and commits himself to keep the Lord’s statutes.
So, if this is the psalmist’s expressed desire and resolve, why, then, does he boldly petition God with “do not utterly forsake me!”? I think it’s because having stated his intentions, he knows his own weakness and failings. In other words, this last phrase is the psalmist’s expression of dependence and reality. He needs the patient presence of God abiding in his life in order to help him fulfill his desire and maintain his resolve to keep the Lord’s statutes. Obedience is by grace!
The psalmist knows his own heart well. He aspires to know the blessedness of walking in the ways of the Lord (Ps 119:1-3), but he knows the reality: past failure and future failure. He is aware of the varying conditions of his heart that quench desire and derail resolve. He knows that at times he may be ignorant, lazy, fearful, discouraged, and susceptible to temptation (Ps 119:7, 9, 18, 25, 28, 29, etc.) So he prays, “Do not utterly forsake me!” “Lord, don’t leave me alone in my coldness and sin. Be patiently present with me to forgive me and to enable me to keep your statutes. I will keep your statutes.”
Of course, there is only one who has actually fulfilled this desire and kept his resolve, the Lord Jesus. He alone perfectly kept the statutes of the Lord. How strange it is then, to hear his cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Until we remember that “he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed…the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Is. 53:5-6). Christ was forsaken so that we could be forgiven! Thankfully, God did not “utterly forsake” him. Rather, “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” God did not abandon Christ in the grave, but raised him up declaring him to be both “Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:24-36).
May we be strengthened in the grace of the Lord Jesus to keep the Word of the Lord, knowing that because of Christ, God will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5).
Chuck Cook is the pastor of Grace Bible Church - Rolla.