Wasn’t expecting it. Don’t think I’ve ever noticed it. But there it was. In the last verse of the longest song in the Psalms. When I read it, I wasn’t sure what to do with it at first as it seemed out of place with the 175 verses before it. Or is it? As I chew on the songwriter’s words, I see how they are actually wonderfully in place.
I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget Your commandments.
(Psalm 119:176 ESV)
I have gone astray like a lost sheep. I read that and instead of immediately grabbing my black colored pencil to underline it (the marking for sin), I questioned it. Did he mean what he seems to mean, or was it astray as in I’ve lost my bearings? I didn’t recall reading other confessions of sin by the songwriter in Psalm 119, so I quickly scanned back through the psalm looking at where I had previously underlined in black.
Certainly, the songwriter speaks of the sin of those who “wander from Your commandments” (v.21) and of “the wicked, who forsake Your law” (v.53). He calls out the sin of his enemies, “the insolent” who have dug “pitfalls for me” and who “do not live according to Your law” (v.85). And he has sung of his eyes shedding “streams of tears, because people do not keep Your law” (v.136).
But when it comes to sin and the songwriter himself, the underlined lyrics I see have to do with avoiding sin. He stores up God’s word in his heart, “that I might not sin against You” (v.11). He “holds back” his feet “from every evil way” and resolves to “not turn aside from Your rules” (v.101-102).
So what’s up? After 175 verses of glorying in the precepts of God, after 175 verses of declaring their worth and his desire to know them and to live according to them, why end on such a sour note? ‘Cause, it seems to me, he’s being real. And, at the end of the day, it’s more about a God who seeks sheep gone astray than about sheep who never go astray.
I am humbled by the humility of the songwriter. While he has set his face to knowing and following the word, he knows the propensity of his feet to wander from the word. While he has earnestly asked of the LORD to be taught, shown, and directed in the way of God, he has to admit that sometimes he heads off in a way that “seems right to a man” (Prov. 14:12).
Yet, rather than trying to justify himself before God, rather than trying to hide it from God, rather than just ignoring it before God, he confesses the reality that he is prone to stray as do sheep. While he purposes to ever keep God’s word before himself, he also knows of the reality that there are times when he doesn’t keep himself before the word. And so, as he closes this grand ode to God’s revealed truth, he does so on a bit of a minor key. I have gone astray like a lost sheep.
So where does his hope lie amidst such realization and confession? It’s not in his resolve to double-down, buckle-up, and try harder to get back on track. His hope is in knowing that His God is a seeker of lost sheep. That the heart of the Sovereign God is the heart of a Shepherd God who will leave the ninety-nine to pursue the one that is lost until he is found and returned to the fold (Lk. 15:3-7).
And the lifeline that forever tethers the sheep to their Shepherd? It’s the word of God — the last words used in this epic psalm. The songwriter was confident that, though he might stray, His God would faithfully rescue and return him to the way everlasting “for I do not forget Your commandments.”
His word is my light. His commandments are my confidence. His promises are my peace.
The Scriptures are my surety.
According to God’s grace. All for God’s glory.