One of the easiest ways to understand a portion of Scripture is to look for repeated words. When the writer refers to something several times within a few verses, he’s trying to emphasize that topic. We do that every day in our own conversations, right?
So when we come to Psalm 119:137-144, we see that one particular word is mentioned five or six times (depending on the translation you use). The word is “righteous” and/or “righteousness”.
The psalmist wants us to know that God and His Word are righteous.
God is righteous.
This is stated in verse 137 in a most straightforward manner. “You are righteous, Lord”. God by nature is righteous, which means he is perfectly just in both character and conduct. He always does the right thing. And He has always been righteous, which is the point of verse 143 – “Your righteousness is everlasting” (NIV), which the ESV translates as “Your righteousness is righteous forever”.
God’s Word is righteous.
The Word of God is righteous because it originates from the One who is righteous. “The statutes you have laid down are righteous” (v. 138). And just as God is eternally righteous, the same can be said about God’s Word – “Your statutes are always righteous” (v. 144).
The relationship between God and His Word is seen throughout Psalm 119, not to mention the rest of Scripture. Many attributes of God are also used to describe the Word of God.
What I find most intriguing is that in Psalm 119 righteousness is mentioned more often than any other attribute of God and His Word – 13 times. The writer was consumed with thoughts about God’s righteousness and he comes back to this characteristic over and over again. Take a few minutes and read the following verses to see what I mean: 7, 62, 75, 106, 123, 128, 137, 138, 142, 144, 160, 164, and 172.
The writer has a comprehensive view of God and mentions many of God’s attributes throughout the psalm – God and/or His Word are described as wonderful, delightful, gracious, truthful, loving, good, trustworthy, precious, eternal, sweet – on and on we could go.
But why is righteousness foremost in the psalmist’s mind? Certainly his circumstances could be the reason. He was being unfairly persecuted by wicked men — “the arrogant mock me unmercifully” (v. 51); “the wicked bind me with ropes” (v. 61); “the arrogant have smeared me with lies” (v. 69); “the arrogant dig pits to trap me” (v. 85); “many are the foes who persecute me” (v. 157).
When faced with such unjust treatment, what does a person want more than anything? Justice! This man longs for God to rescue him from his predicament because God is righteous and he promises to make everything right, eventually and ultimately.
Of course, many people have been treated unfairly and have never seen justice in their lifetime. That may have been the case for the writer of Psalm 119. We don’t know who wrote this psalm, nor do we know the outcome of his situation.
But we do know that the Bible speaks of a day when all wrongs will be made right. On Judgment Day, righteousness will prevail.
Perhaps you have been the victim of injustice. If not, it is likely that some day you will know the frustration and despair that we read about in this psalm. Many Christians throughout the world are experiencing such treatment. “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).
The psalmist provides an example of faithfulness in the midst of much tribulation. When enduring a season of injustice, may we be able to say, “Trouble and distress have come upon me, but your commands give me delight” (Psalm 119:143).
Isn’t this how Jesus Christ responded to his unjust treatment? Let us “consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:3).