Psalm 119:49 is the kind of hope we find in all those who long for redemption, who long for God to make God’s glory present, and who yearn for justice. In fact, people like Mary and Simeon and Anna — from Luke’s first two chps — are the kind for whom this prayer is so characteristic. Here it is:
Remember your word to your servant,
in which you have made me hope.
Two points: First, it is likely (in my mind) that the hope here follows from disappointment after the previous section (vv. 41-48). The hopes of those verses — deliverance, answers, walking about at ease, and not being ashamed before the royals — evidently did not materialize.
The psalmist’s response is not to say: if God doesn’t answer my (emphasis) prayers, God must not care; maybe even God doesn’t exist. No, this psalmist presses on further. Request, request not granted, expression of hope and confidence in God, request again.
My favorite commentary on all things Psalms? John Goldingay, Psalm 101-150
Second, the psalmist calls God to “remember” (zakar). God can remember sins; God can remember promises. Thus, “remember” here does not mean recall or memory; instead, it means “to remember in such a way as to bring that promise to pass.” Zechariah’s name, you may know, means “YHWH remembered.” A good example of all of this is Hannah saying God remembers her by giving to her a baby (1 Sam 1:11, 19). Thus, Exodus 32:13: “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them…”
Both Mary and Zechariah connect the conceptions of their children to God’s remembering of the covenant with Abraham.
To summon God to remember is to call on God to glorify himself by establishing the promise.
If memory has the capacity to heal us if we remember truthfully and remember in light of what God is doing in this world, then reminding God of our condition is a way both to discover who we are and what is going on. So, the psalmist, though he has already done this, reminds God of his condition:
Here are his words in 119:49-56: “my affliction” and “the arrogant have cruelly mocked me” and “the wicked who forsake Your teaching” and “wherever I may dwell” and then this to top it off: “this has been my lot.”
We believe God is omniscient; so did the psalmist. That does not stop the psalmist from rehearsing his sad and distressing condition. He’s in trouble; all around him folks hate him and oppose his commitment to Torah. He has told God this already. He tells God again.
Like the persistent widow of Luke 18 who “badgered God” for justice — that’s the image of the parable — so the psalmist reminds God of his condition and summons God to remember God’s very promises and glory are at stake.
I like the tenacity, the courage, and the utter honesty of this psalmist. Sometimes I wish he’d quit complaining, but I find the complaints express a heart intent on God’s best.
I am struck by Psalm 119:53: “I am seized with rage because of the wicked who forsake Your teaching.” Why?
The psalmist knows God is gracious, loving and (at the same time) just — Psalm 11.
The psalmist knows those who know of God’s grace, love, and justice — in other words “those who should know better” — mock God by flaunting God’s justice. Psalm 10.
The psalmist knows he is struggling and fighting to do what is right, in spite of the opposition of those who know better.
Therefore, the psalmist erupts in “rage” when he realizes what is going on. He labels those who should know better the “wicked.”
What ticks you off? What I might ask is “what sinfulness, what kind of covenant unfaithfulness unnerves you”?
The psalmist tells us that he remember’s God’s name at night. Night prayer … a common idea in the Bible is set prayers at set times.
Prayer in the world of ancient Israel involved setting set times for set prayers — that’s why we have the Psalms. They faced Jerusalem, said their prayers, and then let that kind of prayer structure the day. In our psalm today, at 119:55, the psalmist announces that in his night prayers he remembers the name of God.
Remembering God’s name — as God remembers his promise (119:49) — involves invoking the God who reveals his name (YHWH), who promises to be for them all that Israel needs (Ex 3:14), and who has entered into covenant obligation with Israel (Gen 12,15 Exod 19-24; 2 Sam 7).
For the psalmist to “remember God’s name” is to remind God of God’s obligations to deliver and to glorify that name through salvation.
The psalmist’s journey is clear: he has been faithful to God; those around him who should know better have not been faithful; they have opposed him; the psalmist has complained bitterly to God about his situation; he has called on God to act according to the promise; God has not acted; the psalmist remains faithful; he complains again. Now the new note:
I sometimes wonder if we complain enough to God about what our life is like. That’s for you to ponder.
After all this litany of problem, of rehearing his own faithfulness, and of complaining yet further, and after remembering God’s very Name, the psalmist says this:
“This has been my lot for I have observed Your precepts” (119:56).
The psalmist, so it seems to me, finds “relaxation” and “relief” in God because he has remembered the Name of God. In other words, he has taken his mind off his own bitter problems and found joy in God’s goodness, in God’s faithfulness, and in God’s greater glory.