This great “Psalm of the Law” is based upon the prophetic (Ezra 9.11) presentation of the Law in the Book of Deuteronomy, with the spirit and language of which its author’s mind was saturated. It represents the religious ideas of Deuteronomy developed in the communion of a devout soul with God. It is the fruit of that diligent study of the Law which is enjoined in Deuteronomy 6.1-9, a beginning of the fulfillment of the promise of an inward and spiritual knowledge of it which is proclaimed in Jeremiah 31.[31-37]. The psalmist is one whose earnest desire and steadfast purpose it is to make God’s law the governing principle of his conduct, to surrender all self-willed thoughts and aims, to subordinate his whole life to the supremely perfect will of God with unquestioning faith in His all-embracing providence and unfailing love.
The “Law of God,” which the psalmist describes in its manifold aspects of His law, word, promise, commandments, statutes, judgments, precepts, testimonies, [and] ways, is not the law in the narrower sense of the Mosaic legislation or the Pentateuch. The Hebrew word “torah” has a wider range of meanings, and here, as in Psalms 1 and 19, it must be understood to mean all divine revelation as the guide of life. This it is which kindles the psalmist’s enthusiasm and demands his allegiance. It is no rigid code of commands and prohibitions, but a body of teaching, the full meaning of which can only be realized gradually and by the help of divine instruction.
It has been said that the psalmist’s devotion to the Law contains the germ of Pharisaic legalism, but it may be questioned whether the observation is just. Nowhere does the psalmist allow law to interfere between him and God. Never is a formal observance of external rules substituted for the inward devotion of the heart. If, sometimes, his professions of obedience seem to savor of self-righteousness, his prayers for grace fully recognize that strength to obey must come from God. The psalm is an acknowledgement of the blessing of a revelation, of the strength which the law gives to Israel in the midst of surrounding heathenism, and to the faithful Israelite in the presence of a prevailing laxity of faith and morals. In an age when the voice of prophecy was rarely heard or, perhaps, was altogether silent, it begins to draw strength from meditation on the revelation made to past generations. It points, no doubt, toward the age of the scribes, but it represents the best spirit of that age.
It is remarkable that a psalm, emanating from the period in which the ritual law was codified and the Temple became the center of Israel’s religion, should contain no reference whatever to ceremonial or sacrifice. Doubtless, the psalmist would have included the ceremonial law as a part of God’s commandments but, evidently, he does not regard it as the principle part of them. The whole psalm is animated by a profound inwardness and spirituality as far removed as possible from the superstitious literalism of a later age. It shows no tendency to substitute mechanical observance of rules for the living application of principles. Such obedience, if it falls short of the full liberty of the gospel is, at least, a step towards it.
From: The Book of Psalms by A. F. Kirkpatrick; The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges series (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1902), pp. 700-701. This commentary was originally published in three volumes during the 1890s.