“Great peace have they which love Thy law:
And nothing shall offend them.”
Psalm 119:165 (KJV)
The objective of one’s study of God’s word should be two-fold: (1) to obtain a better and deeper understanding of the plan of salvation and (2) to discern more clearly the character of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who is to be our example in all things. Our study can be wasted effort, however, if we become bogged down in “side issues” unrelated to these two objectives. It is important to remember that there is a ditch on each side of the road, and the enemy of souls doesn’t care which ditch we fall into.
On one side is the literalist, who believes that every word in the Bible is inspired. On the other is the generalist, who claims that some of the Bible is inspired, but some of it isn’t. He sometimes feels qualified to make the distinction between what the Holy Spirit has impressed upon the writer and what is simply an uninspired statement.
To give balance to our understanding, our loving Lord has provided this clear statement on the subject of inspiration:
“The Bible is written by inspired men, but it is not God’s mode of thought and expression. It is that of humanity. God as a writer is not represented. Men will often say such an expression is not like God. But God has not put Himself in words, in logic, in rhetoric, on trial in the Bible. The writers of the Bible were God’s penmen, not His pen.” Selected Messages, Book 1, 21.
Just as the authors of the Bible served as God’s penmen, so the translators served as His mouthpiece. Not one of the Bible writers spoke Old English. The common languages of their times were Greek and Hebrew, and less commonly, Aramaic. Thus we owe a great debt to William Tyndale and others like him who translated the original manuscripts into the languages of the common people of their day. A special debt of gratitude is owed to James Strong, who oversaw an exhaustive indexing of the King James Bible, which was published in 1890 as Strong’s Concordance.
The purpose of Strong’s Concordance was not to provide content or commentary about the Bible, but rather to provide an index to the Bible, which allows the reader to find where specific Greek or Hebrew words appear in the Bible and allows a student of the Bible to re-find a phrase or passage previously studied. It also lets the reader directly compare how the same word may be used elsewhere in the Bible. In this way Strong provides an independent check against varying translations and offers an opportunity for a greater and more technically accurate understanding of text.
With that in mind, let’s look at the Bible text at the head of this article.
Though almost all Bible versions agree unanimously on the translation of the first phrase of this verse, affirming that those who love the law enjoy great peace, the translation of the second part of the verse varies somewhat in different Bible versions.
Let’s begin by looking at translations of the Hebrew first, giving our attention to the Hebrew word that is translated as “offend” in the King James Version.
The Hebrew word is mikshôl (Strong’s number H4383). The entry in Strong’s Concordance states:
Masculine from H3782: a stumblingblock, literally or figuratively (obstacle, enticement (specifically an idol), scruple): – caused to fall, offence, X [no-] thing offered, ruin, stumbling-block.
For a deeper understanding of the meaning of this word, we can look at the Hebrew word from which it is derived.
H3782 [kâshal]: A primitive root; to totter or waver (through weakness of the legs, especially the ankle); by implication to falter, stumble, faint or fall: – bereave [from the margin], cast down, be decayed, (cause to) fail, (cause, make to) fall (down, -ing), feeble, be (the) ruin (-ed, of), (be) overthrown, (cause to) stumble, X utterly, be weak.
It is perhaps a bit puzzling why the translators of the King James Version chose offend as the translation until you look up that word in Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary. There you will find many different variations of the meaning, such as to attack, to displease, to shock, to annoy, as well as several others. The sixth definition is as follows:
“To disturb, annoy, or cause to fall or stumble.”
Then Mr. Webster gives Psalm 119:165 as an example of the use in this connotation:
“Great peace have they that love Thy law, and nothing shall offend them.”
It is interesting—and again, a bit puzzling—that Mr. Webster chose Psalm 119:165 as an illustration of “offend” by quoting the translation that did not use the definition he just gave, undoubtedly because the KJV was the only English translation widely available at the time. Apparently, he had access to some kind of a Hebrew reference to know the connection between stumble and offend.
Most other Bible translations have chosen a different translation of the word under discussion here:
New King James Version: nothing causes them to stumble.
International Standard Version: nothing makes them stumble.
American Standard Version: they have no occasion of stumbling.
English Standard Version: nothing can make them stumble.
God’s Word: nothing can make those people stumble.
Young’s Literal Translation: they have no stumbling-block.
American Revised Version: they have no occasion of stumbling.
We cannot know precisely what David intended to convey when he wrote this specific text, but by comparing “here a little and there a little,” we can perhaps gain a deeper understanding of what the Holy Spirit intended us to grasp from this text.
The obvious question that comes to mind when reading Psalm 119:165 is, Why does a love of the law prevent one from stumbling, from being cast down or faltering in his or her Christian walk?
To obtain an answer to this question is why I turned to Strong’s in the first place. I could not see the logic implied in the Scripture that loving God’s law is a defense against being offended or stumbling.
In turning to Strong’s Concordance to see the different contexts in which the original Hebrew word is used I hoped to gain a more robust understanding of its meaning.
Some form of that word occurs 15 times in the KJV Old Testament and is translated in several different ways.
There is a passage in Isaiah that provides a more typical contextual example of the use of both Hebrew words—mikshôl and kâshal. Here the Lord is warning Isaiah about the dangers of yielding to popular thinking and customs.
“For the Lord spoke thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people, saying:
‘Do not say, “A conspiracy,”
Concerning all that this people call a conspiracy,
Nor be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.
The Lord of hosts,
Him you shall hallow;
Let Him be your fear,
And let Him be your dread.
He will be as a sanctuary,
But a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense [mikshôl]
To both the houses of Israel,
As a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
And many among them shall stumble [kâshal];
They shall fall and be broken,
Be snared and taken’ “ (Isaiah 8:11–15).
Thus it seems logical that those who love the law abide by that law in their daily walk, having the assurance that “great peace” is theirs. Regardless of the external stimuli they experience, regardless of the attraction of worldliness, regardless of the influence of friends and family, they maintain their firm hold on the truth. Because they love the law, they cannot be shaken from the path of truth and righteousness. It is those who have only a superficial understanding of the law, who acknowledge it with their lips but not with their hearts, who will be caused to stumble or be shaken out.
The following quotes from Inspiration provide an even deeper understanding of the certainty of the peace experienced by those who love divine law.
“David was greatly tried in his day in seeing men pouring contempt upon God’s law. Men threw off restraint, and depravity was the result. The law of God had become a dead letter to those whom God had created. Men refused to receive the holy precepts as the rule of their life. Wickedness was so great that David feared lest God’s forbearance should cease, and he sent up a heart-felt prayer to heaven, saying, ‘It is time for Thee, Lord, to work: for they have made void Thy law. Therefore I love Thy commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold’ (Psalm 119:126, 127).
“If David thought in his day that men had exceeded the limits of God’s mercy, and that God would work to vindicate the honor of His law and bring the wickedness of the wicked to an end, then what influence should the widespread iniquity of our day have upon those who love and fear God? When there is widespread disobedience, when iniquity is increasing to a swelling tide, will the professed Christian world be evil with the evil, unrighteous with the unrighteous? Shall we place our influence on the side of the great apostate, and shall universal scorn be heaped upon God’s law, the great standard of righteousness? Shall we be swept away by the strong tide of transgression and apostasy? Or shall the righteous search the Scriptures and know for themselves the conditions upon which the salvation of their souls depend? Those who make the word of God the man of their counsel will esteem the law of God, and their appreciation of it will rise in proportion as it is set aside and despised. Loyal subjects of Christ’s kingdom will re-echo the words of David and say, ‘It is time for Thee, Lord, to work: for they have made void Thy law. Therefore I love Thy commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold’ (Psalm 119:126, 127). This is the position those will occupy who love God sincerely and their neighbors as themselves. They will exalt the commandments in proportion as contempt increases.” “Ellen G. White Comments,” The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 3, 1152, 1153.
“The law is an expression of God’s idea. When we receive it in Christ, it becomes our idea. It lifts us above the power of natural desires and tendencies, above temptations that lead to sin. ‘Great peace have they which love Thy law; and nothing shall offend them’—cause them to stumble. There is no peace in unrighteousness; the wicked are at war with God. But he who receives the righteousness of the law in Christ is in harmony with heaven.” The Faith I Live By, 83.
In direct contrast to the promise the faithful are given in Psalm 119:165, there is the following warning in Isaiah: “ ‘There is no peace,’ says the Lord, ‘for the wicked’ ” (Isaiah 48:22).
There is an illustration of the lack of peace experienced by those who forsake God’s law in the story of Asa, who sought to reform Israel after a long period of apostasy.
“Now the Spirit of God came upon Azariah the son of Oded. And he went out to meet Asa, and said to him: ‘Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin. The Lord is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you. For a long time Israel has been without the true God, without a teaching priest, and without law; but when in their trouble they turned to the Lord God of Israel, and sought Him, He was found by them. And in those times there was no peace to the one who went out, nor to the one who came in, but great turmoil was on all the inhabitants of the lands. So nation was destroyed by nation, and city by city, for God troubled them with every adversity. But you, be strong and do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded’ ” (2 Chronicles 15:1–7)!
Often the peace that the law-keeper experiences is an inner peace that comes from knowing that he or she is complying with the instructions given in God’s word. Things can be tumultuous emotionally and perhaps even physically, but those who abide in Christ—despite all of the unpleasant or distracting outside influences—can have an inner peace that others simply cannot understand—a peace that “surpasses all understanding.”
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6, 7).
Inspiration gives the faithful further assurance of the peace that comes from obedience to God’s word in the following passages:
“Obedience to God is liberty from the thralldom of sin, deliverance from human passion and impulse. But we have to meet and contend with men who employ all their power in slandering those who are loyal to God. Their wit and their God-given reason are devoted to making it appear that obedience to the commandments of God is an irksome service. But those who advocate the claims of the law of God testify, ‘Great peace have they which love Thy law: and nothing shall offend them.’ ‘The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul’ (Psalm 19:7). The Lord presents truth in contrast with error, and presents also the sure result of accepting truth, the experience that always follows willing obedience. It is peace and rest.” Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 247.
“God presents to the world two classes. For the one—the wicked—He says, ‘There is no peace’ (Isaiah 48:22). Of the other, ‘Great peace have they which love Thy law: and nothing shall offend them’ (Psalm 119:165).” That I May Know Him, 120.
“Christ has bought us with a dear price, but yet He will recompense our service to Him. We may feel sad and weep over our poor service to Him who has given us such unmeasured evidences of His interest in and love for us. But the recompense will not be in exact proportion to the amount of work done, but in accordance with the motive and the love which prompted the doing of the work. The recompense will be of grace. His own abundant mercy will be displayed not because we have done anything worthy, but on account of His unmeasured love. Christ will say to the faithful, sincere worker, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; … enter thou into the joy of thy Lord’ (Matthew 25:23). And even now angels of God take cognizance of our works of love and righteousness and we shall not be forgotten even in this life. In keeping His commandments there is great reward. ‘Great peace have they which love Thy law: and nothing shall offend them’ (Psalm 119:165). Christ lays no more upon His servants than He gives them strength to perform. He will not cast them off in their adversity. When heart and flesh fail He will be the strength of their heart and their portion forever.” Sons and Daughters of God, 233. [Emphasis added.]
The Lord promises great peace, “even in this life,” even in the “here and now” to those who rely on His mercy and grace as they face life’s daily challenges. How absolutely critical it is that God’s children understand the great peace that those who love the law experience “even in this life” and the recompense of abundant grace the faithful are promised.
It cannot be denied that we are near—if not already in—the time when even the elect will be deceived by the enemy of souls. If we have not developed a true, heart-felt love of “Thy law,” what hope do we have of remaining firmly on the pathway that leads to the streets of gold? What hope do we have of experiencing the peace that passes understanding, even in this life?
John R. Pearson is the office manager and a board member of Steps to Life. He may be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.