33 Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes;
and I will keep it to the end.
34 Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
and observe it with my whole heart.
35 Lead me in the path of your commandments,
for I delight in it.
36 Incline my heart to your testimonies,
and not to selfish gain!
37 Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
and give me life in your ways.
38 Confirm to your servant your promise,
that you may be feared.
39 Turn away the reproach that I dread,
for your rules are good.
40 Behold, I long for your precepts;
in your righteousness give me life!
(ESV, emphasis mine)
Verses 33-39 each begin with a hiphil, imperative, 2ms with a 1cs suffix. Each of these seven petitions “reveal the psalmist’s humility and dependence on the LORD” (A. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms (90-150) KEL, 2016, p. 496). In verse 34 give is supplied in English and the literal translation would be cause me understanding or cause me to understand. God is also the Agent in these verses meaning He is “the person or thing that instigates an action or causes change in another person or thing” (J. Thompson, The Lexham Glossary of Semantic Roles (2014, n.p.).
With the above in mind, in verse 33 “Once again, as in vv. 12, 26, the psalmist invites the Lord to be his teacher (cf. Pss 27:11; 86:11). He is not just curious to learn God’s way, but he is committed to live the path of life defined by God’s word” (D. Estes, Psalms 73-150, NAC, 2019, p. 410). The psalmist will keep the Lord’s statutes to the end (ʿēqeb). Alter translates ʿēqeb as “without fail” (The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary, 2007, p. 423). The psalmist is petitioning/inviting the Lord to teach him the way (derek) of His statutes, keeping them continually without fail. “For the psalmist the road of obedience has no off-ramp” (Estes, p. 410).
Cause me understanding in verse 34 is a request for discernment. In petitioning the Lord to teach him (v 33) “the psalmist knew he needed discernment to know how to understand and apply [the teaching]” (Ross, p. 497). By understanding and discerning the Word, the psalmist will be able to keep His Law, observing it with his whole heart (mind, will and emotions).
The psalmist petitions the Lord to lead him in the path (nātîb) of His commandments (v 35a). Path (nātîb) and way (derek) are “metaphor[s] for the course of life” (Estes, p. 410). The psalmist delights in God’s commandments (v 35b) as such he will follow the Lord’s path rather than follow his own path.
In verses 36 and 37 “the petitions are different; here the psalmist wants the LORD to turn his attention away from the things of the world and toward the things of God” (Ross, p. 498). The petition in verse 36 calls on the Lord to incline (turn CSB) his heart to the Lord’s testimonies and not to selfish gain (beṣaʿ). “The human heart defaults toward evil (cf. Jer 17:9), so it must be directed toward what is right; and in fact to turn the heart often refers to turning one’s heart to idolatry” (Estes, p. 410). Selfish gain (beṣaʿ) “refers to the plunder or gain one gets by means of violence and damage done to someone else. The psalmist knows it will take a supernatural influence on his affections and will to make him prefer the good and reject the bad. He cannot have both, mammon and the stipulations of the covenant (see also Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:13); and if he wants to follow the LORD’s way, there is no place for unjust gain. In this prayer the psalmist reveals that he is completely dependent on God to change his heart; and this will be accomplished through God’s word” (Ross, p. 498).
Verse 37 the psalmist petitions the Lord to turn (haaber) or “avert” (Alter, p. 423) his eyes from looking at worthless things (šawʾ). šawʾ refers to that which is vain, false, empty, inconsequential. The psalmist commands God to both turn his eyes from šawʾ and to give him life! There is no life outside of the Lord’s ways. According to Ross, “This prayer for renewed life in God’s ways suggests at least that he had been inclined more to unjust gain and worthless things (two categories that cover almost everything in the pagan world) than to the way of God. These two verses may record the resultant prayers when God gives people understanding of the word” (p. 499).
The psalmist calls the Lord to act on his behalf in verses 38-40. Confirm (qwm) in verse 38 has a sense of rise, stand up. The psalmist is petitioning the Lord “to act on his behalf” (Ross, p. 499) by commanding Him to stand up, confirm to His servant His promise (covenant) which will cause the psalmist to fear and revere Him. In verse 39 the psalmist calls on the Lord to act on his behalf by haaber (turning, averting) the reproach (shame, disgrace) that he dreads/fears from sinful people (see vv 21-23). The psalmist knows the Lord’s rules (mispat) are good. The psalmist is “confident that the Lord will do what is just and good for him, he places his fearful experience and his reputation into the Lord’s hands” (Estes, p. 411).
The psalmist ends this stanza (v 40) exclaiming how (hinnē̂) he longs for the Lord’s precepts. “In this context the “precepts” must refer to those aspects of the law that result in divine acts…of judgment that bring help for the afflicted” (Ross, p. 500). The psalmist then implores the Lord in His righteousness to give him life (piel, imperative, 2ms with 1cs suffix). “In calling for the Lord to give him life or to revive him (cf. vv. 25, 37), he suggests that he is struggling and that he needs divine empowerment to sustain him in the face of the challenges he is enduring [such as his reproach in v 39]” (Estes, p. 411).
Lord God, cause us to have teachable spirits, so that we may know Your ways and keep them, especially during times of trials and testings. Lord God cause us to understand and discern Your Word so that we may keep and apply it. Lord God, lead us in the path of Your commandments, may we not deviate from them. Lord God, may we observe and delight in Your Word with all our heart, soul (nefesh entire being) and strength. Lord God, incline our hearts to Your Word so that we will not seek selfish gain, committing violence or slandering someone else. Lord God, turn our eyes from vain, worthless and empty things. Lord God, give us life that comes from following You and Your ways. Lord God, may we fear, revere and glorify You in all that we do. Lord God, help us to suffer well in a world that is becoming less and less tolerant of Yourself and Your people. Lord, may we never forget that Your rules are good. Lord God, may we long to know Your precepts more, so that we will know how to obey You in times of trials and difficulties. Thank You Lord that for those of us who are saved by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ we have been made righteous by the blood of Christ. May we NEVER forget that we have done NOTHING to earn our salvation! Salvation always has and always will be Your work from start to finish. Lord work on the hearts of our readers and loved ones who are far from You. Lord God, thank You for this reader and for this section of Your Word. Amen.