All Those Who Wander Are Lost (A Meditation on Psalm 119:21-22)
You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones, who wander from your commandments. Take away from me scorn and contempt, for I have kept your testimonies. Psalm 119:21-22
Psalm 119 is an encomium―a work of literature that praises someone or something. In this case, the object of praise is God’s magnificent Law-Word. As with most encomiums, Psalm 119 is full of the benefits of the object being praised. The numerous benefits of obeying God’s Law-Word include keeping one’s way pure (v. 9), walking in liberty (v. 45), being wiser than one’s enemies (v. 98), and gaining understanding (v. 104). However, this encomium also includes the dangers of not obeying God’s Law-Word, of wandering from his commandments.
In J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic work The Lord of the Rings, there is a poem about Aragorn that contains the following line: “Not all those who wander are lost.” If we are talking about Rangers wandering the wilds of Middle Earth to protect unsuspecting people from trolls, orcs and Barrow-wights, then wandering is not necessarily equivalent with being lost. However, when it comes to God’s Law-Word, all those who wander are, in fact, lost. God has given his precepts in order that his creatures (that’s you and me) might obey them. He has set down guidelines and rules for living in his world. When someone defiantly wanders from the path he has set before us, the consequences are serious.
Those who wander from God’s commandments are described as “the insolent, accursed ones.” To be insolent is to be haughty and proud. It is to have a high opinion of one’s self. And mark this well: it is an exceedingly prideful act to wander from God’s commandments. Who are you, O man, to suggest that you know better than God? Who are you, a man from the dust of the earth, to intimate that your wisdom is greater than God’s wisdom?
Those who would defiantly disregard God’s righteous rules and wander in the crooked path of human autonomy will reap the whirlwind. Pharaoh, in the insolence of his hardened heart, refused to submit to God’s command and thus procured destruction for himself and his people (Exodus 7-14). Belshazzar, in the pride of his countenance, lifted up his heart against the Lord of heaven and was therefore weighed in the balances and found wanting (Daniel 5). Both Scripture and human history make manifest: God will rebuke those who pridefully wander from his statutes. He will “put an end to the pomp of the arrogant, and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless” (Isaiah 13:11). Rightly does the Scripture warn: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).
Charles Spurgeon once noted that “proud men are cursed men.” How right he was! For what could be a greater curse than to be counted as an enemy of God? The Bible teaches us that “God opposes the proud” (James 4:6). To contemptuously wander from God’s law is to invite the God of the universe to rise up in opposition to you. To disdainfully neglect his precepts is to take the moniker of “accursed one” upon yourself. While there is “great peace” for those who love God’s law, there is rebuke, curses, and destruction for those who wander (Psalm 119:165).
One of the most prideful and arrogant characters in the Bible was Saul of Tarsus. Prior to becoming the beloved Apostle Paul, he was wandering far from the commandments of Christ. His autobiographical sketch includes the self-deprecating and honestacknowledgement that he was once a “blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” of Christ (1 Timothy 1:13). Paul was once the accursed sinner he later wrote about in Romans 1: “insolent, haughty, boastful” (v. 30). But Paul received mercy because of God’s love in Jesus Christ. It is conversion stories like Paul’s, like Augustine’s, like my own, that remind me God is able to humble those who walk in pride (Daniel 4:37). God is able to bring back the one who had previously abandoned God’s law and charged headlong into sin and shame.
Just like Saul of Tarsus, we are all born in sin―we all go astray from birth (Psalm 58:3, Romans 3:10). This means it is our natural, fleshly inclination to wander from God’s commandments. But when the Spirit of God moves and gives life to a dead sinner, there is implanted in the soul a love for God and his commandments. We are then transformed into a person who walks in the law of the Lord―not perfectly, but consistently (Psalm 119:1). We then cry out with the psalmist, “Take away from me scorn and contempt, for I have kept your testimonies.” As a Christian, the scorn and contempt I dread more than any other is the displeasure of God. The disfavor of the world may be painful at times, but it is nothing compared to the disfavor of my Lord. As a sinner saved by the grace of God, I know that my acceptance with God is not based on my effort, but I cannot help but desire to please him in all I do (2 Corinthians 5:9).
The path of the upright―the way of God’s commandments―is a level highway (Proverbs 15:19). It is the way of peace and blessing. To forsake this path is to descend into a hedge of thorns and brambles. To withdraw from the lane of God’s law is to wander as a lost man. There is not one among us strong enough to wander from God’s commandments and not fall prey to a plethora of evils. All those who wander are lost, but there is One who delights in finding those who are lost.