The author of Psalm 119 stands out in Scripture as one whose love for God and His Word is perhaps his most defining characteristic. We should not think, however, that this love for the Lord and devotion to His law came easy to the psalmist. As we see in today’s passage, the author of Psalm 119 was no perfect man; rather, he had to endure the same discipline from our Creator that has turned many an unprofitable servant into one who does great things for the kingdom of God.
In today’s passage, we see the psalmist refer twice to the Lord’s discipline. First, the author states in v. 67 that he went astray before being afflicted. The psalmist did not always understand the sweetness of the law of God. In fact, so oblivious was he to the beauty of divine revelation that it took hardship and suffering to wake him from his stupor and to make him eager to know and keep his word. We find this pattern repeated throughout Scripture. Jacob, for example, would not submit to the Lord’s way of doing things but engaged in deceit until the Lord Himself wrestled away the patriarch’s defiance, leaving him to live the rest of his days with a limp (Gen. 32:22–32). Having been disciplined by God, Jacob became Israel, and we continue to reap the benefits of the Lord’s work through the nation that came from the patriarch in giving us His Word and His Messiah.
Psalm 119:71 says that the psalmist’s learning of God’s statutes followed his affliction. The author was unable to receive instruction from the law of the Lord until he walked through suffering. We can understand such a truth from the normal course of living in a fallen world. We can be told repeatedly what is right and what we should do, and it may have no effect. But when we suffer for not doing what we know to be right, we begin to understand and live accordingly. If for no other reason than to end the pain, we often begin to live as we should. Many people who do not serve the one true God change course because what they have done has caused them pain, so how much truer is it of the children of God to whom the Spirit of God applies His Word in the crucible of affliction? C.H. Spurgeon says in his sermon “Two Good Things” that “we learn, I hope, something in the bright fields of joy, but I am more and more persuaded that we do not learn a tenth as much, there, as we do in the Valley of Death-Shade!” God disciplines whom He loves, and if we endure affliction at His loving hand, we are conformed more and more to the image of Christ.