Two of the most shocking and important verses in all of Scripture are Psalm 119:99-100. There, the Psalmist declares, “I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients,because I keep Your precepts.”
What? Do the Scriptures encourage us to boast about knowing more than our teachers and those who have gone before us? Even now I can envision a know-it-all teenager arrogantly misusing these verses when talking with his or her friends about a particular teacher at school!
But when we come to understand the context of these verses, we see their true meaning. They’re actually teaching us that the word of God is necessary for every part of our lives—our thoughts, words, and actions. As many head back to school for another year of learning, let us consider these verses and see why it’s so vital for them to sink deeply into our minds and hearts.
The chapter opens with the words, “Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord!” and closes with the words, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I do not forget Your commandments.” The Psalmist knows that God has appointed His word to be the pathway of life, but he also knows that he has a sinful and wandering heart that needs to be restored by the word. He prayerfully acknowledges that the same word appointed to be the pathway to life is the same word that the Lord uses to restore him when he goes astray from it. The totality of the Christian life is guided by God’s word.
Even before the fall, man needed the word of God. Adam could not properly interpret creation or his experiences apart from the word of God. Adam had God’s general revelation in nature. But Adam did not have the rational ability to look at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (which probably looked like every other tree in the Garden) and think to himself, “I better not eat of this tree or else I will die.” Adam needed God’s direct, special revelation to enable him interpret God’s natural revelation.
In other words, God’s perfect desire for man from the very creation of the world—even while man’s reasoning faculties were untainted by sin—was for man to be dependent on the supernatural revelation of God (i.e. God’s Word) in order to rightly interpret God’s world and to rightly live in it. Now that man’s reasoning faculties have been darkened by sin, how much greater is our need for the Word of God!
When the evil one came in to the world, he came to drive a wedge between the two forms of revelation. Satan tempted our first parents to think that they could interpret the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (i.e. natural revelation) apart from the word of God (i.e. supernatural revelation). In what was the most tragic event in human history, our first parents succumbed to the temptation to rebel intellectually.
Adam and Eve lost the true knowledge of God when they sinned. They immediately hid behind a tree that God had made (Gen. 3:8). (How foolish to go from living in the presence of the infinite and omnipresent God into thinking that He could not see them behind a tree that He had made!) Adam’s reasoning capacity was entirely darkened by sin. Now, all men have “their understanding darkened” (Ephesians 4:18) and “conduct themselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind (Eph. 2:3).
The rest of the Scriptures show us just how depraved mankind is in mind and will. History also bears this fact out for us. Think how many wicked movements were fueled by wicked philosophies and ideologies. After all, every thought and ideology has consequences. Since the fall, men have been trying to structure reality apart from the word of God and by the wicked dictates of their hearts.
The entire world of philosophy is built upon the idea that man can interpret God’s world apart from God’s word. This is why the teaching of Psalm 119:99-100 is so important. David perceived that even many of his teachers and those who went before him didn’t seek to think and live according the fullness of God’s revelation in Scripture. He acknowledged that the Scriptures were given by God in order to renew our minds and hearts in the knowledge of the true and living God.
When we come to know the One that the Scriptures reveal—namely, Jesus Christ—we come to have our minds and hearts renewed by the word of God. It is then that we start to see that there is nothing under the sun that we can think about apart from the Scriptures.
We are told that the Christ who redeems us by His sufferings on the cross is the Christ who created all things by the word of His power (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16 and Hebrews 1:3). Because the Son of God is the One by which all things were made, we learn that it is only by studying the world in light of the revelation of the Triune God that we can know anything rightly. The world can only be rightly structured when we have our minds and hearts renewed by the word of God as it centers in the Person and work of Christ. This is why the apostle Paul warned the Colossians church—immediately after telling them that “all things were created by Him that are in heaven and that are on earth”—to “beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy or empty deceit (Col. 2:8).
While Scripture does not tell us exhaustively everything we know as human beings, God’s Word speaks to everything either directly or indirectly. It teaches us about the One who made all things for His own glory so that we would learn to interpret the world in light of who He is and what He requires of us.
Scripture is not a science book given by God to teach us how to dissect frogs, but it has been given by God to teach us to first learn everything that the Scriptures reveal about frogs prior to scientifically studying them. The believer and the unbeliever may both know that 2 + 2 =4, but only the believer understands that this is because the Triune God has so ordered the universe as to set mathematical laws to show forth his wisdom and be used to undergird human achievements that will benefit men and bring Him glory.
As many go back to school for another year of learning and preparation for the vocations to which God will call them, remember that whatever we set our minds to we must first set God’s Word before us. The more we know the depths and riches of Scripture and are reliant on the Word for guidance and restoration, the more we will be equipped to rightly interpret the world God made. We will then be able to say with the Psalmist, “I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation.”
Nick Batzig is the church planter of New Covenant Presbyterian Church in Richmond Hill, Ga. He has written numerous articles for Tabletalk Magazine, Reformation 21, and is published in Jonathan Edwards and Scotland (Dunedin, 2011) Nick is also a regular panelists on Christ the Center, a podcast of The Reformed Forum, the host of East of Eden: The Biblical and Systematic Theology of Jonathan Edwards and the editor of The Christward Collective. You can friend him on Facebook here. Nick is on Twitter at @nick_batzig.