Exposition of Psalm 119:113-120

by Charles Spurgeon

113. I hate vain thoughts: but thy law do I love.

114. Thou art my hiding place and my shield: I hope in thy

115. Depart from me, ye evildoers: for I will keep the
commandments of my God.

116. Uphold me according unto thy word, that I may live: and
let me not be ashamed of my hope.

117. Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe: and I will have
respect unto thy statutes continually.

118. Thou hast trodden down all them that err from thy statutes:
for their deceit is falsehood.

119. Thou puttest away all the wicked of the earth like dross:
therefore I love thy testimonies.

120. My flesh trembleth for fear of thee; and I am afraid of thy

This octave, whose initial letter is Samech, or S., has been likened to
Samson at his death, when he laid hold of the pillars of the house and
pulled it down on the Philistines. Mark how he grips the pillars of divine
power with “Uphold me,” and “Hold thou me up”; and see how the
house falls down in judgment on the unholy! “Thou puttest away all the
wicked of the earth like dross.” This section carries the war into the
enemy’s country, and exhibits the believer as militant against falsehood and

113. “I hate vain thoughts: but thy law do I 1ove.” In this paragraph the
Psalmist deals with thoughts and things and persons which are the opposite
of God’s holy thoughts and ways. He is evidently moved with great
indignation against the powers of darkness and their allies; and his whole
soul is stirred up to stand against them with a determined opposition. Just
as he began the octave, verse 97, with “O how love I thy law!” so he
begins here with a declaration of intense love; but he prefaces it with an
equally fervent declaration of hatred, against that which breaks the law.
The opposite of the fixed and infallible testimony of God is the wavering,
changing thought of men. David had an utter contempt and abhorrence for
the vain opinions of man’s conceited wisdom; all his reverence and regard
went to the sure word of divine truth. In proportion to his love to the law
was his hate of man’s inventions. The word “vain” is very properly supplied
by the translators; for the original word signifies “haltings between two
opinions,” and hence it includes skeptical doubts. The thoughts of men are
vanity; but the thoughts of God are verity. We hear much in these days of
“men of thought,” “thoughtful preachers,” and “modem thought”:
what is this but the old pride of the human heart? Vain man would be wise.
The Psalmist did not glory in his thoughts; and that which was called
 “thought” in his day was a thing which he detested. When man thinks his
best, his highest thoughts are as far below those of divine revelation as the
earth is beneath the heavens.

Some thoughts are specially vain in the sense of vain-glory, pride, conceit,
and self-trust; others in the sense of bringing disappointment, such as fond
ambition, unfounded hope, and forbidden confidence in man. Many
thoughts are vain in the sense of emptiness and frivolity, such as the idle
dreams and vacant romancings in which many indulge. Once more, many
thoughts are vain in the sense of being sinful, evil, and foolish. The
Psalmist is not indifferent to evil thoughts as the careless are; but he looks
upon them with a hate as true as was the love with which he clung to the
pure thoughts of God.

The last octave was practical, this is thoughtful. There the man of God
attended to his feet, and here to his heart: the emotions of the soul are as
important as the acts of the life, for they are the fountain and spring from
which our actions proceed. When we love the law, it becomes a law of
love, and we cleave to it with our whole heart.

114. “Thou art my hiding place and my shield: I hope in thy word.”

“Thou art my hiding place and my shield.” God was his shelter and
shield. To his God he ran for refuge from vain thoughts; there he hid
himself away from their tormenting intrusion, and in solemn silence of the
soul he found God to be his place of sanctuary. When moving about the
world, if he could not be alone with God as in a hiding-place, the man of
God could have the Lord with him as his shield, and by this means he could
ward off the poisoned arrows of evil suggestion. This is an experimental
verse, and it testifies to that which the writer knew of his own personal
knowledge: he could not fight with his own thoughts, nor escape from
them, till he flew to his God, and then he found deliverance. Observe that
he does not speak of God’s word as being his double defense, but he
ascribes his safeguard to God himself: “Thou art my hiding place and my
shield.” When we are beset by subtle spiritual assaults, such as those
which arise out of vain thoughts, we shall do well to fly direct to the real
presence of our Lord, and cast ourselves upon his power and love. The
true God truly realized is the death of falsehood. Happy is he who can truly
say to the triune God, “Thou art my hiding place”! He has beheld God
under that glorious covenant aspect which ensures to the beholder the
strongest consolation.

“I hope in thy word.” As well he might, since he had tried and proved it.
That which has been true in the past may be trusted for the future. The
Psalmist looked for protection from all danger, and preservation from all
temptation, to the Lord who had been the tower of his defense on former
occasions. It is easy to exercise hope where we have experienced help.
Sometimes, when gloomy thoughts afflict us, the only thing we can do is to
hope; and, happily, the word of God always sets before us objects of hope,
reasons for hope, and invitations to hope, in such abundance that it
becomes the very sphere and support of hope, and thus timorous and
tempting thoughts are overcome. Amid fret and worry a hope of heaven is
an effectual quietus.

115. “Depart from me, ye evildoers: for I will keep the commandments of
my God.”

“Depart from me, ye evildoers.” Those who make a conscience of their
thoughts are not likely to tolerate evil company. If we fly to God from vain
thoughts, much more shall we avoid vain men. Kings are all too apt to be
surrounded by a class of men who flatter them, and at the same time take
liberty to break the laws of God: David purged his palace of such parasites;
he would not harbor them beneath his roof. No doubt they would have
brought upon him an ill name; for their doings would have been imputed to
him, since the act of courtiers are generally set down as acts of the court
itself; therefore the King sent them packing, bag and baggage, saying, —
“Depart from me.” Herein he anticipated the sentence of the last great
day, when the Son of David shall say, “Depart from me, ye workers of
iniquity.” We cannot thus send all evildoers out of our houses, but it may
upon occasion be our bounden duty to do so. Right and reason require that
we should not be pestered with incorrigible servants or discreditable
lodgers. A house is all the better for being rid of liars, pilferers, lewd
talkers, and slanderers. Where we can have our own choice of company,
we are bound at all hazards to keep ourselves clear of doubtful associates.
As soon as we have reason to believe that their character is vicious, if will
be better for us to have their room than their company. Evildoers make evil
counselors, and therefore we must not sit with them. Those who say unto
God, “Depart from us,” ought to hear the immediate echo of their words
from the mouths of God’s children, who should say to them, “Depart
from us.” We cannot eat bread with traitors, lest we be ourselves attainted
of high treason.

“For I will keep the commandments of my God.” Since he found it hard
to keep the Lord’s commandments in the company of the ungodly, he
gave them their marching orders. He must keep the commandments, but
he did not need to keep the company of evildoers. What a beautiful title for
the Lord this verse contains! “My God.” The word God only occurs in
this one place throughout this lengthened psalm, and then it is attended by
the personal word “my” — “my God.”

“My God! how charming is the sound I
How pleasant to repeat!
Well may that heart with pleasure bound,
Where God hath fix’d his seat.”

Because Jehovah is our God, therefore we resolve to obey him, and to
chase out of’ our sight those who would hinder us in his service. It is a
grand thing for the mind to have come to a decision, and to be steadfastly
fixed in the holy determination” I will keep the commandments of my
God.” God’s law is our delight when the God of the law is our God.

116. “Uphold me according unto thy word, that I may live: and let me not
be ashamed of my hope.”

“Uphold me according unto thy word, that I may live.” It was so
necessary that the Lord should hold up his servant, that he could not even
live without it. Our soul would die, and every grace of spiritual life would
die also, if the Lord withdrew his upholding hand. It is a sweet comfort
that this great necessity of upholding is provided for in the Word, and we
have not to ask for it as for an uncovenanted mercy, but simply to plead for
the fulfillment of a promise, saying, “Uphold me according to thy word.”
He who has given us eternal life hath in that gift secured to us all that is
essential thereto; and as gracious upholding is one of the necessary things,
we may be sure that we shall have it. Note, that when David had chased
away the evildoers, he did not therefore feel safe when alone. He knew
that he needed to be preserved from his own weakness as well as from
other men’s evil examples, and so he prayed for upholding grace.

“And let me not be ashamed of my hope.” In verse 114 he had spoken of
his hope as founded on the word of the Lord, and now he begs for the
fulfillment of the promise, that his hope may be justified in the sight of
men. A man will soon be ashamed of his hope if it is not based upon a sure
foundation: but this can never happen in our case, since we trust a faithful
God. We may be ashamed of our thoughts, and our words, and our deeds,
for they spring from ourselves; but we never shall be ashamed of our hope,
for that springs from the Lord. We may well be ashamed of our doubt, but
we need never be ashamed of our hope. Such is the frailty of our nature
that, unless we are continually upheld by grace, we shall fall so foully as to
be ashamed of ourselves, and ashamed of all those glorious hopes which
are now the crown and glory of our life. This may be the case even in
solitude: when evildoers are gone, we may yet fall victims to our foolish
fears. The man of God had uttered firm resolves, but he could not trust in
his own resolves, however solemnly made: hence these prayers. It is not
wrong to make resolutions, but it will be useless to do so unless we salt
them well with believing cries to God. David meant to keep the law of the
Lord, but he first needed the Lord of the law to keep him.

117. “Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe: and I will have respect unto
thy statutes continually.”

“Hold thou me up” as a nurse holds up a little child. “And I shall be
safe,” and not else; for unless thou hold me up I shall be falling about like
an infant that is weak upon its legs. We have been saved by past grace, but
still we are not safe unless we receive present grace. Our version first
translates the word “uphold,” and then “hold up”; and truly we need
this blessing in every shape in which it can come, for in all manner of ways
our adversaries seek to cast us down. To be safe is a happy condition;
there is only one way to it, and that is by divine upholding: thank God, that
way is open to the least among us.

“Hold thou me up” may also be a plea for elevation of mind. “Nearer,
my God, to thee,” is the same prayer. We would be held up, above self
and sin, and all else that grovels; for then are we surely safe.

“And l will have respect unto thy statutes continually.” Thus, being held
up, we obey; and in obeying we are safe. No man will outwardly keep the
Lord’s statutes for long together unless he has an inward “respect” for
them, and this will never be unless the hand of the Lord perpetually
upholds the heart in holy love. Perseverance to the end, or continual
obedience, comes only through the divine power; we start aside as a
deceitful bow unless we are kept right by him who first gave us grace.
Happy is the man who realizes this verse in his life: upheld through his
whole life in a course of unswerving integrity, he becomes a “safe man,” a
trusted man. Such a safe man manifests a sacred delicacy of conscience
which is unknown to others. He feels a tender “respect” for the statutes
of the Lord, which keeps him clear of those inconsistencies and
conformities to the world which are so common among others. Hence he
becomes a pillar in the house of the Lord. Alas I we know some professors
who are not upright, and therefore they lean to sin till they fall over; even
when they are restored and set up again, they are never safe or reliable,
neither have they that sweet purity of soul which is the charm of those who
have been kept from falling into the mire.

118. “Thou hast trodden down all them that err from thy statutes: for
their deceit is falsehood.”

“Thou hast trodden dawn all them that err from thy statutes.” There is no
holding up for them; they are thrown down and then trodden down, for
they choose to go down into the wandering ways of sin. Sooner or later,
God will set his foot on those who turn their foot from his commands: it
has always been so, and it always will be so to the end. If the salt has lost
its savior, what is it fit for but to be trodden under foot? God puts away
the wicked like dross, which is only fit to be east out as road-metal to be
trodden down.

“For their deceit is falsehood.” They call it farseeing policy, but it is
absolute falsehood, and it shall be treated as such. Ordinary men call it
clever diplomacy, but the man of God calls a spade a spade, and declares it
to be falsehood, and nothing less; for he knows that it is so in the sight of
God. Men who err from the right road invent pretty excuses with which to
deceive themselves and others, and so attempt to quiet their consciences
and maintain their credit; but their mask of falsehood is too transparent.
God treads down falsehoods; they are only fit to be spurned by his feet,
and crushed into the dust. How horrified will those be who have spent all
their lives in contriving a confectionery religion, when they see it all
trodden upon by God as a sham which he cannot endure!

119. “Thou puttest away all the wicked of the earth like dross: therefore I
love thy testimonies.”

“Thou puttest away all the wicked of the earth like dross.” He does not
trifle with them, nor handle them with kid gloves. No, he judges them to be
the scum of the earth, and he treats them accordingly by putting them
away. He puts them away from his church, away from their honors, away
from the earth, and at last away from himself. “Depart,” saith he, “ye
cursed.” If even a good man feels forced to put away the evil-doers from
him, much more must the thrice holy God put away the wicked. They
looked like precious metal, they were intimately mixed up with it, they
were laid up in the same heap; but the Lord is a refiner, and every day he
removes some of the wicked from among his people, either by making a
shameful discovery of their hypocrisy or by consuming them from off the
earth. They are put away as dross, never to be recalled. As the metal is the
better for losing its alloy, so is the church the better for having the wicked
removed. These wicked ones are “of the earth” — “the wicked of the
earth,” and they have no right to be with those who are “not of the
world”; the Lord perceives them to be out of place and injurious, and
therefore he puts them away, all of them, leaving none of them to
deteriorate his people. The process will one day be perfected; no dross will
be spared, no gold will be left impure. Where shall we be when that great
work is finished? Shall we be treasured with the gold, or trodden down
with the dross?

“Therefore I love thy testimonies.” Even the severities of the Lord excite
the love of his people. If he allowed men to sin with impunity, he would
not be so fully the object of our loving admiration. He is glorious in
holiness because he thus rids his kingdom of rebels, and his temple of them
that defile it. In these evil days, when God’s punishment of sinners has
become the butt of a proud skepticism, we may regard it as a mark of the
true man of God that he loves the Lord none the less, but a great deal the
more, because of his condign judgment of the ungodly. We greatly value
those passages of Scripture which are most terrible in their denunciation of
sin and sinners. We love those testimonies which foretell the overthrow of
evil and the destruction of the enemies of God. A God more lenient would
be a God less loving and less loved. Holy hearts love best a perfectly
righteous God.

120. “My flesh trembleth for fear of thee; and I am afraid of thy

“My flesh trembleth for fear of thee.” He did not exult over the
punishment of others, but he trembled on his own account. Such was his
awe in the presence of the Judge of all the earth, whose judgment he had
just now been considering, that he did exceedingly fear and quake.
Familiarity with God breeds a holy awe of him. Even the grosser part of
David’s being, his flesh, felt a solemn dread at the thought of offending
One so good anti great, who would so effectually sever the wicked from
among the just. Alas, poor flesh, this is the highest thing to which thou
canst attain! Yet this is far better than thy pride when thou dost exalt
thyself against thy Maker.

“And I am afraid of thy judgments.” God’s words of judgment are
solemn, and his deeds of judgment are terrible; they may well make us
afraid. At the thought of the Judge of all — his piercing eye, his books of
record, his day of assize, his awful sentence, and the execution of his
justice — we may well cry for cleansed thoughts, and hearts, and ways, lest
his judgments should light on us. When we see the great Refiner separating
the precious from the vile, we may well feel a godly fear, lest we should be
put away by him, and left to be trodden under his feet. Even his judgments,
as we find them written in the word, fill us with trembling; and this
becomes to us an evidence of grace. But what will the judgments
themselves be when carried into effect? Oh the trembling and the fear
which will be the eternal portion of those who run upon the bosses of
Jehovah’s buckler and defy his wrath!

Love in the previous verse is quite consistent with fear in this verse: the
fear which, hath torment is cast out, but not the filial fear which leads to
reverence and obedience.

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