I have seen a limit to all perfection, but your commandment is exceedingly broad.
I was intrigued by this verse and so I looked up some commentary on it. There was a fear in me that I was either looking too simply at the meaning or else I was attempting to make it more complex than it needed to be. What I found was a beautiful reminder of how much greater the ways of God are compared with the best ways of man.
The author of Psalm 119 is not identified in the subscript that appears in my Bible, but some (perhaps many) ascribe it to David. They do this for different reasons, but in this verse one of the commentators makes an interesting case for his authorship of the chapter because of his life up until that moment.
The verse speaks of perfection, but it seems to speak of it in a way that limits the very idea perfection. The psalmist suggests here that there is a pattern or perception of certain things that we identify as “perfect”, and the argument is not made that they are not perfect, but then, to the contrary of our initial understanding, there is something beyond perfection. Perfection is not, the psalmist says, the pinnacle of all things.
If David penned this song, and this verse, then we can easily look at what he could have been thinking. He had stood in front of the “perfect weapon”, Goliath, and watched the epitome of all that warfare could offer be humbled, crippled, and killed by a teenager with a rock. He had ascended to the “perfect position”, the highest throne in the land, and seen first hand just how corrupt and depraved one could become with that much power and authority. He’d produced the “perfect child” in his son Absalom and then wept and wailed at his death, a death that came as that favorite son had attempted to rise above his father and usurp the throne. All of these “perfections” had offered David a great deal of perspective and with pen in hand he offered a social commentary with insight fueled by the gauntlet of experience.
David seemed to see the earthly idea of “perfection” as something that was narrow or hemmed in. You could be the perfect weapon and still be vulnerable. You could have the perfect job and yet still, perhaps, long for the days of leading sheep around the countryside with a song and smile. You could have the perfect child and then carry out fatherhood with horrible inconsistency and find yourself locked out of your own house wondering how it all happened. But, there was a constant in David’s life that had little to do with earthly perfection: the truth of God’s direction.
The Amplified Version renders verse 96 this way:
I have seen that everything [human] has its limits and end [no matter how extensive, noble, and excellent]; but Your commandment is exceedingly broad and extends without limits [into eternity].
Psalm 119:96 (Amplified)
What David says here seems to contradict our typical view of the commands of God. He says that it is the rules of the Lord and not the enterprise of mankind that brings a sense of freedom. Ironically, David says that the better our understanding of the fences the more room we have to explore. This makes little sense in a literal way, but when the human condition is taken into account there is no other explanation that offers any help or hope.
To put it simply, the more we can grasp, accept, and learn to cherish the places that God has said to do and not to do, the more we will understand what life was meant to be. Case in point: Eden. No one in their right mind looks at what Adam and Eve had compared with what they got and says that eating the forbidden fruit was a good idea. And we see that the laws of God aren’t rules that keep us from joy but guideposts that allow us to access joy. Our self-centered, prideful, and dare I say stupid bent toward autonomy is our worst enemy as it locks doors behind us in search of some mysterious, unknown satisfaction beyond us. The lesson of the Garden of Eden is not, “don’t sin or you’ll be incur wrath”, but it is, “don’t sin or you’ll find that you’ve separated yourself from joy, satisfaction, and bliss.”
We must begin to see the work of the Spirit of God in our hearts as more than just a divine attempt to make sure we don’t enjoy something too much. Too often that is the result of our begrudging submission. We might not say it, but we think things like:
- God doesn’t want me to have too much money so He makes me feel bad when I short-circuit my integrity
- God only created sex to be a limited pleasure so I can’t look at certain things or engage certain activities without my conscience giving me a fit
- God makes me feel guilty when I manipulate people for my own purposes because He doesn’t want we to get everything that I want our of life
If this, or anything even remotely like this, is how we see conviction, God’s direction, or the purpose of Biblical instruction then we have no clue as to who God is or what we are here for. God’s laws, His rules, His precepts – and here I want you to specifically think of Jesus’ teachings – are designed to recalibrate our souls to begin to see life as it was meant to be. It offers us the chance to truly find out what “life” means. We still encounter frustration, problems, and even sorrow but as we learn to receive and accept what God has said is good for us we find that our demeanor changes and our perspective is powerfully altered.
There is far more “perfection” within the boundaries of the kingdom of God than there has ever been in the open fields of human “perfection”. As CS Lewis described the afterlife in the Chronicles of Narnia, we find that the further in we go, the nearer to the heart of the Father draw, the larger the land is and the more liberated we actually become. The more we obey Jesus the more free we are.