“It is striking how many times in Psalm 119—an extended meditation on God’s written Word, the Torah—the psalmist begs for divine assistance in order that he might understand and obey God’s word.
The following list is merely representative, not exhaustive:
- Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes (Psalm 119:5).
- Let me not wander from your commandments (Psalm 119:10).
- Blessed are you, O Lord, teach me your statutes (Psalm 119:12).
- Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word (Psalm 119:17).
- Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law (Psalm 119:18).
- Put false ways far from me and graciously teach me your law (Psalm 119:29).
- I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart (Psalm 119:32).
- Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end (Psalm 119:33).
The psalmist prays for an obedience that is steadfast (Psalm 119:5) and consistent (Psalm 119:10), that excels (Psalm 119:32) and perseveres (Psalm 119:33).
He also acknowledges his dependence upon divine grace for spiritual perception (Psalm 119:18), receptivity (Psalm 119:32), and understanding (Psalm 119:12, 29, 33).
Prayer is the most rational possible course of action for the Christian reader of Holy Scripture. After all, in Holy Scripture we face a grand and glorious terrain of revealed truth, so wonderful that the possibility of taking it all in is immediately ruled out.
And yet, we are called to meditate on this Word (Josh. 1:8; Ps. 1:2), to walk in it (Ps. 119:1), and to praise it (Ps. 56:4, 10). The sheer magnitude of scriptural teaching alone makes our calling impossible apart from divine assistance.
Add to this our innate blindness, our fallen will and passions, and our tendency toward sloth in this calling and the desperate nature of our situation as readers becomes quite clear.
If there is to be any possibility of success in reading Holy Scripture, the Spirit of truth and light must shine upon us: opening our eyes, renewing our wills, and awakening us to action.
The good news is that God has promised to bless our reading. Thus Paul encourages Timothy: “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Tim. 2:7).
This is perhaps the most precious promise that exists for the reader of Holy Writ. We may confidently apply ourselves to this otherwise impossible task because God has promised to grant us success—“the Lord will give you understanding.”
According to Whitaker:
“He that shall be content to make such a use of these means, and will lay aside his prejudices and party zeal, which many bring with them to every question, will be enabled to gain an understanding of the scriptures, if not in all places, yet in most; if not immediately, yet ultimately.”
In prayer, exegetical reason takes its proper place and, like Mary, sits at the feet of Jesus (Lk. 10:39). And because it is confident in God’s fatherly generosity, exegetical reason asks, seeks, knocks—and finds (Lk. 11:10–13).”
–Scott R. Swain, Trinity, Revelation, and Reading: A Theological Introduction to the Bible and Its Interpretation (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2011), 125–127.