Cleansing Power of the Word
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

Open your Bibles to Psalm 119. Several weeks ago we began a study of Psalm 119, suggesting to you that Psalm 119 is particularly the Psalm of the Word of God. If you glance at the Psalm, you will notice what we have already learned. It is composed of twenty-two paragraphs, each paragraph beginning with one letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

You will notice as well that each paragraph is composed of eight verses, and what you will see as we go along in our discussion is that this Psalm is the Psalm of the Word of God in such a fashion that each paragraph in the Psalm gives us some practical use of the Word of God in the believer's life.

The paragraph under the Hebrew letter Aleph , at which we looked the last time we met together reminded us that the Word of God is the basis of blessing in the believer's life. As we look at the second paragraph under the Hebrew word Beth , we are going to notice more particularly that the Word of God is the basis for cleansing in the believer's life. Follow as I read, please:

Psalm 119:

9 Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.
10 With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments.
11 Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.
12 Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes.
13 With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth.
14 I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches.
15 I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways.
16 I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.

May I suggest, as we begin our meditation, that you not pass over what is said because the question is asked: “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?…” The principles for cleansing, as they are found in the Word of God, apply not only to the young, but to the old as well. So for the moment, let us forgo any emphasis upon the phrase, “a young man,” and let us recognize that we are talking about all men.

This particular paragraph, dealing with the basis of cleansing for the believer, is opened with a question: “Wherewithal shall a young man—wherewithal shall an individual—cleanse his way?” I think we will be better able to understand that which we will be thinking about if we keep in mind that the grammatical construction of the question in the original text is such that it is not a matter of cleansing after one has sinned that is occupying the mind of the Psalmist; it is the matter of keeping himself clean in the midst of a society that tends toward defilement. We would emphasize that to you because I would not have you think that there is any cleansing quality in the Word of God in the sense that you can carry it around in your pocket like some little medal and it will keep you clean. We would remind you that cleansing from sin lies in a passage of Scripture at which we have already called to your attention, emphasizing that the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.

So I repeat, it is not a matter of cleansing from sin which has already been committed that is the subject of the question. It is a matter of keeping clean in the midst of a society that tends toward defilement. That is one reason that I like the Paraphrased version of this particular verse, which reads: “How can a young man stay pure? How can an individual keep clean?” That is the question.

Complete Dedication to God and His Word

I believe that we will be better able to appreciate the question if we understand the attitude of heart out of which it came. If we are able to recognize the attitude of heart that was in the Psalmist when he asked this question, I think we will be able to make the question a reality in our own lives. May I suggest to you that the attitude of heart of the Psalmist was marked by a complete dedication to God and to His Word. Notice what I am saying—a complete dedication to God and to His Word. Some people are dedicated to God. They want His will; they want His purpose; but they are not considerate of His Word at all. So it takes the twofold dedication to be effective in any individual's life. Glance with me at verse 10, where the Psalmist said:

Psalm 119:

10 With my whole heart have I sought thee…

This speaks of the dedication of the Psalmist to God, to His will. Notice the word sought there. I remind you that it comes from the Hebrew word darash , which speaks of frequency and a real concern, as well. It was the matter of life of the Psalmist to seek God, and when he said, “With my whole heart have I sought thee,” he was not suggesting that he did as some of us do—seek God when we are in some real kind of trouble, seek God when we are cornered and know not which way to turn. His was a frequent practice. He sought God. This word darash , we remind you, speaks not only of the frequency with which he sought the Lord, but it speaks as well of a concern in relation to his seeking the Lord. Turn to Psalm 142, as I remind you that a great many folk seek the Lord, but they do so much talking that they couldn't begin to hear what the Lord had to say to them, even though they profess to be seeking His purpose and His will. There needs to be a concern as deep as the concern that is illustrated in Psalm 142, verse 4:

Psalm 142:

4 I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul.

Notice the last statement: “…no man cared for my soul.” The verb cared is the translation of this Hebrew word darash , which is speaking of seeking the Lord. That is why I say to you that when the Psalmist was seeking the Lord, he sought Him frequently and he sought Him with real concern, a concern that was as deep as the individual felt when he realized that nobody cared for him and nobody was interested in him.

This dedication to which I refer must not only be to God, as I have suggested to you, but it must be to His Word as well, so the attitude of heart from which the question arose, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?”, came not only from an attitude of dedication toward God, but from an attitude of dedication toward His Word. That is indicated in some three verses in the paragraph at which we are looking. Notice verse 11, where the Psalmist said:

Psalm 119:

11 Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.

Notice the phrase: “Thy word have I hid…” As we learned in one of our sessions when we were considering the chronology of this Psalm, the word hid could well be translated by the idea of laying up or of storing up the Word of God as though it is the most precious thing there is, of laying up the Word of God as though you may not need it at this particular moment, but there will come an hour and a day when you will need it.

I wonder if we are that dedicated to the Word of God? Do we read the Word of God if we have time? Do we study the Word of God if we have an opportunity, or do we look upon the Word of God as source material which we must store up in our hearts and our lives. That proverbial rainy day that may never come to you materially, but it will come to you spiritually because there is not an individual who has ever lived who has not gone through some chastening or trial in which the Word of God will stand him in good stead. Are you hiding the Word away in your heart? Your dedication to the Word can be measured by the manner in which you are laying it up and the manner in which you are storing it up.

Glance at verse 13:

Psalm 119:

13 With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth.

Notice the phrase. “With my lips have I declared…” This isn't talking about the preacher behind the pulpit. If it were, then it would not have as broad an application as it actually does. The word declared might be translated by the word recounted , and it can be translated as well by the word recited . Of course, if we look at it from the standpoint of recounting the judgments of the Lord, recounting the wisdom of the Lord—because we learned that was what the word judgment s meant—then it is referring to the fact that every time we have the opportunity, we will be conversing with someone about God's Word in its application to our own lives.

If you just stand up and preach at people, you will not get anywhere at all; but if you can take the Word of God and turn to a passage of Scripture and say to an individual, “You see this verse right here. Let me tell you how God let it work in my life,” you will always find a ready hearing because folk want to know how the Word of God works. Your dedication to the Word of God will be indicated by the manner in which you recount the judgments of the Lord. Of course, if you are not living deeply enough with God for Him to do very much for your life, you won't have very much to recount.

I have suggested to you that the word could be translated recited and though it does convey the idea of telling, I would like to emphasize for the benefit of those of you who are engaged in Bible memorization contests, hiding the Word of God away in your hearts, that one good way to make it real is to recite it. You young people, back anybody you can up in the corner and ask them to hear your memory assignment. You accomplish two things. It will nail it down deep in your own heart, and it will provide a blessing for the individual concerned. I have noticed in all of the years that I have been associated with Bible memorization that individuals who term themselves as hearers (those folks who just listen to the contestants recite their verses) repeatedly told me that theirs is the blessing, that they have received tremendous blessing just from hearing the Word of God recited.

Rejoice in the Word more than All Riches

Glance at verse 14, as I suggest another verse which will indicate the attitude of dedication on the part of the Psalmist to the Word of God:

Psalm 119:

14 I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches.

We have learned that the word testimonies is a very general term that we are going to find consistently throughout Psalm 119, and that one term describes the whole Word of God—different aspects of it, but the Word of God.

What is it we are reading here? “I have rejoiced in thy testimonies.” Notice the phrase that qualifies it: “…as much as in all riches.” You will notice that the words “much as” are in italics. That indicates that that thought is not in the original text, but in the opinion of the translators, it conveyed the meaning of the whole word. I have no argument with that except I think that a closer examination will reveal that it is even stronger than that. The Psalmist was not rejoicing in the Word of God as much as in all riches, but he was rejoicing in the Word of God more than in all riches. That is stronger, isn't it? I want to be facetious for a moment for the sake of emphasis. Suppose you had no access to the Word of God at all, and somebody wrote a passage of Scripture on a piece of paper and handed it to you, and at the same time somebody handed you a ten dollar bill. Which would you appreciate the most?

It is a bit silly because it is not likely to happen, but it is given to you for purposes of illustration. Which would you appreciate the most? You have the answer, and your answer will indicate your dedication to the Word of God. The Psalmist said, “I rejoice in it more than in all riches.” I don't know whether he was saying more or less than Job was; but I never think about this without thinking about what Job said as is recorded in Job, chapter 23, verse 12:

Job 23:

12 …I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food.

You decide whether Job was saying more than David was. The point of emphasis is that we could all profit from like emphasis. We could examine our hearts to find out how dedicated we are to the Word of God.

Danger of Sinning Through Ignorance

This question that we are considering will not only be more easily understood if we recognize the attitude of dedication on the part of the Psalmist, but we should consider the realization that was constantly with the Psalmist. Oh, how I wish that every one of us were conscious consistently of the particular realization that he hadn't arrived, the realization that there was a danger he faced. It is suggested to me here in verse 10:

Psalm 119:

10 With my whole heart have I sought thee: [then notice this statement] O let me not wander from thy commandments.

Notice that last statement again:

Psalm 119:

10 …O let me not wander from thy commandments.

The reason that the Psalmist was crying out in this fashion was that he realized there was a danger of wandering from His commandments. You and I both know that there are many times individuals don't do what they ought to do because they simply don't know. They sin through ignorance, as we are going to see before we are through. But sometimes individuals wander from the commandments of the Lord which are plainly stated in the Word of God. We are not dealing at the moment with those individuals who deliberately disobey the revealed will of God in His Word; we are talking about those individuals who wander from His commandments.

What are we talking about when we talk about wandering ? Let me suggest to you that this word wander comes from the Hebrew word shagah , which is translated sometimes by the word mistake . “Don't let me make a mistake, Lord.”

There are some things in the Word of God that are so plain, so definitely stated that nobody needs to make a mistake about them. There is no opportunity to make a mistake. They are plain. They are definite. All you need to do is to read them and do them. But there are some passages of Scripture about which there are differences of opinion, and when that occurs, the sincerely dedicated person is going to cry, “Oh, Lord, don't let me make a mistake,” because that individual will be realizing that there is a possibility of making a mistake.

What does this word wander mean? The word shagah is also translated by the phrase, “sin through ignorance.” When the Psalmist said, “Don't let me wander,” he was saying, “Lord, don't let me sin through ignorance of the Word of God.” That would suggest to you the importance of spending some time with the Word so that you won't sin through ignorance. I have had people tell me repeatedly, “I wish that I had known as a child what I have just now learned in the last three months. I wish I had known as a young man or young woman what I am just now learning. Oh, the sins that would not have been in my life, the mistakes, the scars that wouldn't be there, but I never was taught it.”

That is true and I am quite willing to emphasize that the biggest fault for ignorance of the Word of God lies with the pulpit, and I believe that we ministers of the Word of God are going to have to realize that it is our responsibility, but you have some responsibility. If you are not getting the Word of God where you are, then you ought to find a place where you can get it so that you don't sin through ignorance. This word shagah also is translated by the word stray . “Don't let me go astray from thy Word.” You see, the Psalmist prayed this way because he realized it could happen to him.

If you are sitting in your complacency and you think you have arrived, and you don't believe you can wander from the Word of God, you don't believe you can go astray from the Word of God, you don't believe you can make a mistake in relation to the Word of God, then you tune me out right now because there is nothing else for you to think about. But Beloved, if you haven't arrived, recognize that you can wander from the Word of God in the manner in which we have been speaking. Look at verse 12 with me again:

Psalm 119:

12 Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes.

Learning with the Rod

Here is another petition that comes from the lips of the Psalmist: “…teach me thy statutes.” The word statutes is a word that speaks of all of the Word of God. This word teach , when the Psalmist said, “…teach me thy statutes,” is more than learning something by mere rote. It is the same word that is translated by the word learn in verse 7, where the Psalmist said:

Psalm 119:

7 I will praise thee with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned thy righteous judgments.

We reminded you that this word learned came from the Hebrew word lamad , and the word teach comes from the same Hebrew word, which speaks of being skillful, of knowing for sure about these things. But listen carefully now, as strange as it may sound, the same word is used for a rod. It is used for a goad. You know what a goad is. It is a sharp, pointed stick with which you prod the oxen to keep them going in the right way, and the piercing goad is not a pleasant thing to the ox. This word is used in this fashion, and the word is used as a rod in connection with a teacher.

I haven't been to school in a long time and things have changed tremendously, but when I was in school, the teachers I had carried a rod. They didn't call it that. They carried a ruler, and I have had my knuckles rapped a great many times with that ruler for any number of reasons. It made an impression, and somehow it drove the truth in a little deeper.

I am not prepared to argue about the relative merits of methods of pedagogy, but there is something to be said for the rod, and that is what this word means here. What am I saying to you? I am saying, Beloved, that if you are going to ask God to teach you His Word, then you had better be willing to go under the rod because He will use it. The only way that you will ever know the Word of God in reality is to experience what God's Word has to say. Oftentimes, we ask God to teach us His Word and then some unpleasant experience comes into our lives and we immediately say, “Why did God let this happen to me? Here I want His very best and then this thing happens.” You are learning the Word. Many times there is no other way to learn it than with the rod.

Take Heed to Your Ways

I would like for you to look with me at another word. We talked to you about the realization to which he had to come, but that wasn't enough to bring forth a question like this. There was an examination of his ways that was an absolute essential. If you will glance at verse 9, it is found in the answer that is given to the question. But remember the question and the answer are given and then how the question came and the manner in which the answer was arrived at are discussed in the verse at which we have been looking. So if you will look at the last part of verse 9:

Psalm 119:

9 Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? [notice] by taking heed thereto according to thy word.

What is necessary in every believer's life? If we want to ask this question, “Wherewithal shall an individual keep himself pure from the defilement that is about him?”, and we are interested in finding the answer, what are we going to have to do? We are going to have to develop the practice of taking heed to our ways.

You will recall when we were in the first paragraph, we looked at verse 4 and we read:

Psalm 119:

4 Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently.

We discovered that the phrase, keep diligently, is from this same word which is translated, “taking heed,” which speaks not only of giving careful attention to the subject under discussion, but it speaks of something else. It speaks of building a hedge about your way. How are you going to keep clean from all this defilement that is all about you? Certainly give careful attention to your ways, and where there is some straightening up that needs to be done, do the straightening up, by all means. You should not only do that, but you should build a hedge about your way. The biggest and the best hedge is the Word of God. If you encircle your way of life with the Word of God, then the enemy can't break through, for the Lord Jesus Christ Himself said to the enemy of your soul, “It is written.” When He said that, He foiled the enemy. Build a hedge about your way and make up your mind by God's grace that nothing is going to break down the hedge. If in the course of events some breaks are made in the hedge, repair them hastily because if you let that one break stay, it will get bigger. The first thing you know, your attitude toward the Word of God will change.

Meditate in the Word

That leads me to suggest to you the last thing that I want to leave with you. This question, if it means anything to you at all, will be accompanied by a holy determination to use the Word of God. You know, it is one thing to have a Bible and another thing to use it. It is one thing to talk about the Word of God, and it is another thing to apply the Word of God. There must be, on the part of every individual, a holy determination to use the Word.

Are you using the Word of God? I love to see Bibles that are worn out. It looks good to see it worn out. It looks good to see a used Bible. Are you using the Word of God? Notice with me verse 15:

Psalm 119:

15 I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways.

Keep in mind that the word precepts and the word ways are two of nine terms that describe the Word of God. The first thing that is brought to our attention, the Psalmist said: “I will meditate in thy precepts…” What does meditation mean? In this world of confusion, I am not sure that we know because a lot of folk tell me they are meditating when they are standing on their head, and I don't know how much meditation they are getting. Other folks have told me they are meditating when they have their knees up under their chin and their head down to their feet. I don't know, but this meditation I am talking about is a meditation that is related to the Word of God. I rather like the basic meaning of this word meditate . It means “to repeat out loud,” and I like that. If you meditate in the Word of God, one way you can meditate is repeating out loud the Word of God.

You know, I am concerned about all the noise that there is in the world all about us. This is a noisy world. Sometimes I wish I could go somewhere to escape it—all this piped in music. It is piped in everywhere. Now, if they happen to hit something that is good, that is all right, but God help us, most of it is not good for me. I slip into an elevator and there I think I will have a moment of quiet. Before I know it, there comes the music. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have the opportunity to be quiet long enough to be able to repeat to yourself some of the Word of God that you have hidden away in your heart? That is the way to meditate. Make something real out of it.

Regard the Word with Pleasure

Notice in that same verse:

Psalm 119:

15 …and have respect unto thy ways.

Let me remind you that the word respect comes from a Hebrew word which means “to scan.” It means “to look intently,” and certainly we all need to do that. But something else it means is “to regard with pleasure the Word of God.” It is one thing to respect some individual; it is another thing to be glad to see them every time they come around. You can respect a lot of people that you could get along just as well without being with, and some folk act that way about the Word of God. But oh, how wonderful it is to be so involved with the Word of God that you love the very thought of it, and you regard it with pleasure.

May I remind you that your determination to obey the Word of God will be complete when you regard the Word with pleasure, even that portion of the Word of God that rubs you the wrong way. When you regard with pleasure that portion of the Word of God which forbids you doing the very thing that you may want to do, you will indicate your determination to the Word in that respect.

Look with Perfect Peace at the Word

One last thing that I would say concerning your determination to the Word of God, and that is brought to my mind in verse 16, where the Psalmist said:

Psalm 119:

16 I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.

This word delight means “to look with complacency upon the Word of God,” “to look with perfect peace at the Word of God.” Sometimes the Word will say something that wounds. The Word will say something that grinds. The Word will say something that hurts, but you have so much confidence in God and you have so much confidence in His Word that you are at perfect peace about it.

Conclusion

Beloved, if you have the attitude that I have been describing concerning the Word of God, then you can ask the question: “Wherewithall shall an individual keep himself clean from the defilement that is all about him?”, and the effectiveness of the answer will be real by taking heed thereto according to the Word of God.


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