"Blessed are the blameless in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord"

God's law is not imposed from without, as secular law is

The law of the Lord in the Scriptures is the way of the Lord.  It is Who God is.

Psalm 118:1

Commentary on Psalm 118, verse by verse

 

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

 

"Blessed are the blameless in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord." 

 

This is the beginning of Psalm 118, the 17th Kathisma. This kathisma is read every day, Monday through Friday in the Midnight office.  It's also read in funerals.  It's a very important Psalm. 

 

If God gives me the strength and the thoughts, I would like to go through this Psalm verse by verse.  Of course, it will take many days to do this, 176 days.

 

This is the longest Psalm in the Bible, 176 verses. It begins much in the way that the first Psalm of the Psalter begins, which is,

 

"Blessed is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of the pestilent."

 

These two verses are telling us the whole purpose of our life.  I think part of the problem with our lives, why we live in a mediocre way, why we sin so easily, why we have so many problems and worries and cares is because we do not focus on the purpose of our life.  I find this true in my own life, and I think it is true in other people's lives, from my experience. 

 

We were born to be blameless in the way.  We were born to be perfect.  This Psalm speaks of perfection by meditating upon the law of the Lord.  And this law is not something that is imposed from without.  That's what secular law does.  They are rules that are imposed by others upon us.  They might be good rules.  They might be bad rules.  They might be fair or unfair.  But they are imposed from without.  And then there are punishments associated with them.  But the law of the Lord is not like that kind of law. 

 

The law of the Lord in the Scriptures is the way of the Lord.  It is Who God is.

 

The law of the Lord is justice and temperance and prudence and humility and love.  These things are not rules imposed from the outside but from the inside because we are temples of the Holy Spirit, and the Lord lives within us.

 

This Psalm is very important to meditate upon.  I would say that, unless you have some overwhelming reason not to, you should say it every day.  I do.  I generally don't say the Midnight office, but I'll say the morning prayers, and then I will append this Psalm to the end of it.  It's very profitable to say this Psalm over and over again.

 

Now, there are some technical aspects of this Psalm which if I were a better scholar I would tell you about.  It's an acrostic, and there are different words for the "law of the Lord" that are used.  I think eight or twelve total. What's really important about this Psalm and any other Psalm and any other part of Scripture is that it must touch you in the heart. 

 

When I start to say this Psalm, it reminds me of the beginning of vigil or the beginning of Liturgy.  I want so much, at the beginning of vigil, to pray with attention the entire time, to mount up like an eagle[1], to hear the words of the Lord and to be penetrated by them.  And yet, after a few short moments, there is distraction throughout the entire vigil, throughout the entire Liturgy.  There might be long moments of attention or perhaps short ones but never an entire time of meditating upon the law of the Lord, and that's what we should want to do. 

 

Now, I'll point out a few things about this verse.  I find Jewish poetry to be very beautiful, and it is often in couplets, as in this verse.  "Blessed are the blameless in the way," is one half of the couplet, and the second half, "who walk in the law of the Lord" is saying the same thing, with emphasis, slightly differently.  That's one kind of couplet.  You will see it all over Jewish Scripture.  And in good preaching you will often see it also. 

 

We are to be blameless.  How are we to be blameless?  This does not happen by God assigning blamelessness to us, but by us becoming blameless through the expulsion of the passions.  Of course, this is all by the grace of God. 

 

It's not a legal state.  It's an inner condition that happens from what the second part of the couplet says:  Walking in the way ‑‑ in the law of the Lord.  This is what our goal should be in our life:  To walk in the law of the Lord, and not to consider His law to be precepts that must be followed from without, but as a natural result of our inner condition. 

 

Think of the law of the Lord as something that a father would say to his son.  He would teach his son:  "Son, this is the way that you should treat a woman.  Son, this is how you should engage in business.  Son, you should never lie because it's plainly the wrong to do."

 

These are not outside conditions.  These are from the heart.  They are inner convictions.  That's what the law of the Lord is.  The law of the Lord is to become like God.  We are built to become like God.  We are built to be blameless.

 

Every time I read this Psalm, I marvel at some part of it, but also there's sadness, and this is because I am reading things and saying things that are actually unlike who I am.  Maybe we resemble these words a little bit, but not enough, not enough yet.

 

So we should read this Psalm with expectation, with sadness.  And with joy.  Because we are built to become blameless, but not because we do certain works.  We all know that we cannot do enough works to be blameless.  God must make us blameless, but He will not make those blameless who do not care.  He will not make the careless, the intemperate, blameless.  We must struggle. 

 

That's why, by the way, the parables were constructed.  The parables are for those people who are interested in the law of the Lord.  They're difficult to understand.  They don't immediately show their meaning to us on first glance.  In fact, not even after ten or 20 or a hundred glances.  We must live the parables and read them and study them to understand them.  And it is the same way with the law of the Lord.  The law of the Lord must be lived in order to understand it.  And it must be from within that we understand it.

 

Now, when it says "blessed," that word is happy.  Happy are the blameless.  There's only way one way of happiness.  Nothing else works.  The only path in this life to happiness, is to become blameless, which means with Christ abiding within us, within the embrace of the Church, we struggle against our sins and for righteousness, to follow the law of the Lord.  And then there will be true happiness.  Anything else is counterfeit.  Anything else will not last.  Anything else will fade away.  But blamelessness from following the law of the Lord, it will never fade away.

 

I encourage you, read this Psalm regularly.  If you can, read it every day.  If you don't have the strength, then read one stasis[2] one day and one stasis another and the third the next and then repeat.  But I recommend strongly to you that you read this psalm, and as you read it with repetition, it starts to just ‑‑ it does things to your soul.  It makes you really want to become what the Psalm is speaking of.  It makes you understand what law is.

 

The law of the Lord is not imposed upon us.  The law of the Lord is who God is.  And we must do things in the law of the Lord strictly and only because they are who God is.  And the things that are not in the law of the Lord that are contrary to the law of the Lord, we must not do because they are not who God is.  And the only thing that brings happiness is to be like God.

 

This is something we need especially to teach our young people and our old ones too, unfortunately.  In our hyper sexualized society and our hyper pleasure‑seeking society through whatever other means, people don't understand the purpose of life is not pleasure.  The purpose of the life is true happiness, blamelessness in Christ. 

 

So say this Psalm often.  Say it every day if you can.  "Blessed are the blameless in the way who walk in the law of the Lord."

 

The blessing of the Lord be upon you through His grace and love for mankind always, now and ever and unto the ages of the ages.  Amen.[3]

 

 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2013  

 

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This homily is at:

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http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/psalter-psalm-118-01_2012-10-27+blessed-are-the-blameless-in-the-way-who-walk-in-the-law-of-the-lord_psalm118-01.html

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More Homilies on Psalm 118 are at: http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/index.html#THE_PSALTER

 

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[1] Isaiah 40:31  But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint

 

[2] The Psalter is divided into twenty contiguous sections of (usually) several psalms, called "Kathisma". This word means "seat", and when we read the Psalter in church, people can sit down. Unfortunately, in modern churches with pews, this distinction is lost, since people sit during most of the service. Each Kathisma is divided into 3 roughly equal sections of whole Psalms (with one exception, see below); each of these is a "stasis" (plural "stases"). Psalm 118, the longest Psalm of the Psalter, is the only Psalm that itself is an entire Kathisma (Kathisma 17).

 

[3] This is the last blessing given in Vespers, when it is served as part of a "Vigil" (when Vespers is served, then immediately matins, and after that the first Hour). This homily was given just before Matins began.