Psalm 119: The Life-Giving Power of the Word

Psalm 119:25,

My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!

Have you ever felt something of a schizophrenic relationship to the Bible? At times our hearts are alive to the word of God, while at other times our hearts feel dull and almost dead. This is not merely a frustrating dynamic; it is a fearful condition.

But we find a kindred spirit in a surprising place: Psalm 119.

I say “surprising” because Psalm 119 is a poem of love for the word of God. Going here with our problem seems like a person struggling with singleness going to a wedding celebration! Help, however, comes in the stanza devoted to the Hebrew letter daleth (Psalm 119:25–32).

The Struggle of Dust

The psalmist cries out in anguish that his “soul melts away for sorrow” (Psalm 119:28). His struggle, however, is not simply sorrow. The psalmist confesses that his soul “clings to the dust” (Psalm 119:25). “Dust” here is not a generic metaphorical way of saying that he is struggling. It is a pointed theological reminder of the brokenness that comes from humanity’s fallen state. This word for dust appears as part of God’s pronouncement of curse upon the human race: “till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). The psalmist, like us, finds himself struggling with the effects that flow from his own fallen, broken state.

But the fall is not the final word. We can find hope to delight in God again, even in a fallen world. This stanza opens with the psalmist “clinging to the dust,” but it ends with the psalmist running in the way of God’s commandments because God has enlarged his heart (Psalm 119:32).

From Clinging to Dust to Running to God

So how can we move from clinging to running?

The answer lies in the life-giving power of God’s word. The opening verse (verse 25) consists of both a confession and a prayer: “my soul clings to the dust” (confession), “give me life according to your word” (prayer). The same structure is seen in verse 28: “My soul melts away for sorrow” (confession); “strengthen me according to your word” (prayer).

Understanding this answer requires us to move both backwards and forwards in the Bible.

First, overhearing the psalmist pray for God to give life to dust takes us back to Genesis 2:7. “Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”

Second, God’s breath of life shows up again in 2 Timothy 3:16 in connection with the word of God because “all Scripture is breathed-out by God.”

When We Read the Bible

These connections help us see that now God breathes his breath of life into a book, not directly into us. We breathe in that breath of life when we read the Bible.

It seems almost counterintuitive, but when we wrestle with a brokenness that causes us not even to desire the Bible, the solution is to turn to the Bible. This solution is not a vote of confidence in ourselves (as if our reading skills could ever overcome our fallen state); but in the word itself as God’s life-giving breath.

May God move you from clinging to dust to delighting in his Word. May his breath fill up your lungs to run the race of faith.

Jason Meyer is the Assistant Professor of New Testament at Bethlehem College and Seminary. He's the author of The End of the Law (B&H Academic, 2009) and Preaching: A Biblical Theology (forthcoming).

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