For a lot of people, the word rules has negative connotations. It is something that is restrictive, limiting and controlling. Our desire for independence and self-rule causes us to dislike rules imposed by others, including God’s rules written in his Holy Book – the Bible.
We complain that it is a burden too heavy for us to carry. We justify our actions when we try to break his rules. We pay him lip service, even when obeying his radical demands is far from our minds.
The author of Psalm 119 is different. For him, God’s rules give birth to a life of praise, “I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules” (v. 7).
For seven straight verses, the psalmist is using seven different names for the Word of God. Here, he refers to the Word of God as God’s rules. It is from the Hebrew mishpat, which can also be rendered as “judgments” (NASB) or “regulations” (NET). Matthew Henry notes that the Word of God is referred to as such because it is founded upon God’s wisdom and by it we are to judge and be judged.
God’s “rules” are described as “righteous.” Literally, the Hebrew reads, “rules of righteousness.” God’s rules are righteous in character. All of his words cannot be but fair and right and just. No one can accuse God of commanding what is unjust or what is not right. The judge of all the earth will always do right, as Abraham’s question to God indicates (Gen. 18:25). No one can say to God, “Your command is unreasonable, they are not fair!”
This description of God’s Word as “righteous rules” also occurs in vv. 62, 106, 160, and 164. And because this is the Word of God, the psalmist wants to “learn” them. Learning here refers not just to having an intellectual grasp of God’s rules, but also being able to practice it and let it govern the way one lives his life. This is true learning. And if one experienced that “learning,” it results in praise, thanksgiving and worship.
The psalmist will continually praise God because he recognized that his blessedness and the transformation of his life happen not ultimately because of his own resolve or doing, but of the power of God’s Word to transform hearts.
God’s righteous rules deserves praise “from an upright heart.” The word translated “upright” refers to straightness of a line or a road. The psalmist vows a sincere praise to be offered to God. This is wholehearted and genuine worship. He knows God deserves it.
He knows this is the reason why God gave us his Word. He knows this is why God wants us to study his Word, not that we “might make [ourselves] a name and interest among men, or fill [our] own head with entertaining speculations, but, that [we] might give God the glory” (Matthew Henry).
The Word of God feeds and fuels a life of worship.