“How can those who are young keep their way pure?,” asks the psalmist in the opening line of the Beth lines of Psalm 119 (v. 9a). Some think the entire psalm is the journal reflections of an ancient Israelite as life progresses. What impresses me is other verses in this great psalm that give context to the concern of this young man to get started when young.
Notice the following verses (culled from Derek Kidner):
1. Some are skeptical: 119:126: “your law is being broken.”
2. Some seek the psalmist’s life: 119:95: “The wicked are waiting to destroy me.”
3. Some smear the psalmist’s name: 119:69: “Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies.”
Notice that this causes the psalmist pain: he is sensitive about the words being said (“Take away the disgrace I dread” — v. 39), he feels humiliated (“Though I am lowly and despised” — v. 141) and he is exhausted by it all (“My soul is weary with sorrow” — v. 28).
Sometimes he lashes out against them — “Indignation grips me because of the wicked” — v. 53 — and sometimes he loathes them — “I look on the faithless with loathing” (158).
So, the young man ask, how does one make it when the whole institution seems to be against the person committed to God?
“By living according to your word” (119:9b). Not just by reading it; not just by listening to it; but by “living” it. The word “live” here comes from shamar — “to keep or observe.”
Start when you are young, the psalmist is saying, and what he means is start observing and keeping the Word.
In spite of what everyone else thinks. The genuinely counter-cultural person is observant.