This Week's Focus Passage

Psalm 119:176 ‘I have gone astray like a lost sheep, seek thy servant.’

The 119th psalm, it has been frequently observed by writers, is inundated with references to the Word of God. In all but a very few of the 176 verses there is an express reference to the Word. The Word has been spoken of in the many characters that it bears. The Psalmist—many believe that the human penman was none other than David himself—employs numerous synonyms for the Word. Among the many synonyms for ‘thy Word’ are the following; thy commandments, thy statutes, the law of Jehovah, thy testimonies, thy ways, thy precepts, thy judgments, and thine ordinances. As we have already noted the issue of the authorship of this the longest psalm in the book, we may diverge here to consider the opinion of one well respected writer. The remarks of C. H. Spurgeon are, most commonly, helpful. And in the case of the authorship of Psalm 119, they are again helpful although they may not be convincing to every reader. Yet they are indeed worth repeating here.

‘The fashion among modern writers is, as far as possible, to take every psalm from David. As the critics of this school are usually unsound in doctrine and unspiritual in tone, we gravitate in the opposite direction, from a natural suspicion of everything which comes from so unsatisfactory a quarter. We believe that David wrote this Psalm. It is Davidic in tone and expression, and it tallies with David’s experience in many interesting points. In our youth our teacher called it “David’s pocket book,” and we incline to the opinion then expressed that here we have the royal diary written at various times throughout a long life. No, we cannot give up this Psalm to the enemy. “This is David’s spoil.” After long reading an author one gets to know his style, and a measure of discernment is acquired by which his composition is detected even if his name be concealed; we feel a kind of critical certainty that the hand of David is in this thing, yea, that it is altogether his own.’

Regardless, perhaps, of the identity of the human penman of this psalm, it is, nonetheless, quite incredible that at the conclusion of all of the attestations regarding the Word, such as ‘O how love I thy law;’ and the many further attestations of love and admiration for the Word of God, along with a fervent desire to be found obedient to that Word; the law of God, we find the psalmist surprisingly crying out, ‘I have gone astray like a lost sheep.’ While this is certainly no argument for Davidic  authorship of Psalm 119, since, in a cursory view of the psalms, it will be discovered that, in spite of David’s having been a shepherd of sheep, there are none other such allusions to sheep in the psalms but the several of which the authorship is stated in the superscription as one other than David. And where the allusion is conspicuous as it is in the famous 23rd psalm ascribed unquestionably, ‘Jehovah is my shepherd,’ this is supported by only one other such psalm attributed to David, namely the 28th and its last verse, Be their shepherd also, and bear them up for ever.—verse 9.

At the same time, when we read this plea, ‘seek thy servant for I have gone astray like a lost sheep,’ who can possibly not be reminded of the terrible fall of the king of Israel when he failed to behave himself as kings commonly did under the given circumstances; rather we read in 2 Samuel 11:1;

And it came to pass, at the return of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the children of Ammon, and besieged Rabbah. But David tarried at Jerusalem.

Was this not the shepherd; the eighth son of Jesse, the youngest who was keeping the sheep; the one of whom God said unto Samuel, Arise, anoint him; for this is he. Subsequently we are witness to David’s anointing as the successor to Saul; we are granted to see his amazing victory, given from Jehovah, over the giant Philistine, Goliath of Gath. This is followed in the course of time with his gracious acceptance by Jonathan, the son of Saul and heir apparent to the throne; the hatred and suspicion of Saul toward him, even while he was the king’s son-in-law, and the obsessed and deranged pursuit of David by Saul, treating this faithful soldier as an outlaw. This poor fugitive, by the gracious preservation of his God, survived all the machinations of Saul and became, according to God’s promise, king of both Judah and Israel.

It was in this exalted position that our beloved ‘man after God’s own heart’ went astray like a lost sheep. It all began by his setting aside the responsibilities attendant upon the office to which he has been lifted. In the passage above, we see how that in his apparent self-exaltation he failed to do that which all other kings did, namely, to go out to battle when it was the time for kings to do so. He seemingly placed himself above that duty. How frequently the Scriptures—that law of Jehovah which the writer of Psalm 119 claimed to so vehemently love and obey—deals with this very issue of going astray; deals with the issues of placing one’s self above the law, and David conspicuously did in the matter of Bath-sheba and Uriah. In Matthew 23:11-12, Jesus spoke these eternal words, when He said;

    He that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled; and whosoever shall humble himself shall be exalted.

Before we are charged with being anachronistic, remember that He who spoke this truth is timeless, He is the Alpha and the Omega; the Beginning and the End. His truths are eternal even as is He. David failed to remember that he was anointed to be the servant of the people of God. This he set aside as he exalted himself, imagining that he could take the wife of another. He went astray, but when brought to himself, he cried ‘seek thy servant;’ he remembered his true place as God’s servant.


David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church


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