In this section of the psalm, the author begins by appealing to the fact that God is his Creator: ‘Your hands have made and fashioned me’ (v. 73). The image that the psalmist uses of the Lord is of a potter, which is a reminder of the gentle way in which the Lord deals with his people. Because he knows that the Lord is gentle, the psalmist can ask for more divine dealings, so he prays, ‘give me understanding that I may learn your commandments.’ This petition is not about memorising what the commandments are; rather, it concerns practising them.
When that happens, the psalmist knows he will influence other believers in a good way: ‘Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice, because I have hoped in your word’ (v. 74). The devotion of one believer is always an encouragement to other dedicated believers.
Sometimes a believer has to be chastised and in verse 75 the psalmist describes his own experience: ‘I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.’ Chastisement is not the same as justice. Instead chastisement is God’s fatherly response to the waywardness of his children and they will always look back on such treatment as a blessing.
The psalmist knows that he can expect more than chastisement from the Lord. Even although he knows that he has failures, the psalmist can pray with expectation: ‘Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant’ (v. 76). God’s promises can be used in any situation because he is the Father of his people.
Sometimes we regard God’s mercy only with hindsight. In verse 77, the psalmist takes a different approach and uses that divine attribute to describe his future blessings from God: ‘Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight.’ The psalmist is fully aware that he will never merit anything from the Lord. All divine blessings flow from his mercy.
The psalmist is resolved not to be sidetracked by opposition. Instead he leaves his opponents with the Lord for him to deal with: ‘Let the insolent be put to shame, because they have wronged me with falsehood’ (v. 78). Often such opposition leads believers to adjust their priorities, but the psalmist does not fall into that error. No matter what his opponents say about him, he is determined to meditate on God’s precepts.
Yet the psalmist does not want to live in isolation: ‘Let those who fear you turn to me, that they may know your testimonies’ (v. 79). But his fellow-believers will only profit from his company because he is determined to put God first. Therefore he prays, ‘May my heart be blameless in your statutes, that I may not be put to shame!’ (v. 80).