“The LORD is my portion; I have promised to keep Your words. I sought Your favor with all my heart; Be gracious to me according to Your word. I considered my ways and turned my feet to Your testimonies. I hastened and did not delay to keep Your commandments. The cords of the wicked have encircled me, but I have not forgotten Your law. At midnight I shall rise to give thanks to You because of Your righteous ordinances. I am a companion of all those who fear You, and of those who keep Your precepts. The earth is full of Your lovingkindness, O LORD; Teach me Your statutes.” – Psalms 119:57-64 NASB
We’ve all heard it taught (and rightly so) that God should be number one in our lives. But we’ve also been told (incorrectly) that as God takes top priority, everything else in life should be placed neatly into some unspoken order below—a job that no one can do with absolute certainty.
Anyone who has studied this idea, or tried to apply it, knows it’s just untenable. Sure it’s better than any view that places people or things above God—that is idolatry and is clearly prohibited—but it’s just not what the Scriptures teach. You will not find a single passage of Scripture that says love God first and then put everything else below Him in this particular order—it’s simply not there.
So if this is not true, what then is the correct understanding? Well, in Psalm 119, David showed us that if God is everything to His people—if God is our portion—then whatever else there is (in life) becomes transformed necessarily and regardless of its order. Jesus changes everything, if Jesus has truly changed us!
This transformation is amazing because not only does it change our relationship to people and possessions, but it even transforms enemies into objects of love and mercy—this is the real power of redemption—a new heart and mind toward all things.
The idea of God being our portion wasn’t just David’s opinion, either. Christ taught the same idea when He said, “Do not worry… But seek first the Kingdom, and all its righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” Jesus wasn’t establishing a priority list, and here’s how we can prove it. He never told us what should come next. One might say that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart and then our neighbor as ourselves, but that’s hardly the detailed priority list we all have in our head. Instead, Jesus taught us to seek God first, which offered a reset to our perspective.
Not surprisingly, Jesus presented this perspective again and again. For example, when He contended with the “tempter” in Matthew 4:4. Jesus said, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”
Man shall not live on bread alone, because his portion is the Lord. But between our selfish tendencies and the enemy’s strategy to woo us away from God, we often lose sight of our true portion.
When the enemy tried his strategy here, our Lord never wavered. He stared the devil down and taught us a critical lesson in the process.
Jesus didn’t say man cannot live on bread alone (at least not in an earthly sense). He also didn’t say man does not need bread to live. Instead, Jesus taught that our portion should be the word that proceeds from the mouth of God. When God is our portion, everything else can and will fall into place.
The idea of a “proper order” subsequent to God being first is not only foreign to the Bible, but it leads to a lot of confusion (specifically concerning relationships).
Parents often wonder if they’re putting their children in the right place, above or below their spouse, or even their extended family. Unmarried people wonder if parents or friends or ministry gets first, second, or third place. Working moms struggle with work vs. kids. Grandparents struggle with children vs. grandchildren. We could go on and on. This idea of set-in-stone relational hierarchies necessarily turns into a spiritual rat race—I’ve seen it too often.
But, through study, what I’ve come to understand (and I admit I’ve changed views on this subject) but what I’ve come to understand is that if God is our portion, we are not chained to some tralatitious order. Instead, we’re transformed to love and live rightly in every circumstance.The idea of a proper order subsequent to God being first is not only foreign to the Bible, but it leads to a lot of confusion (specifically concerning relationships). Click To Tweet
Okay, so with this (the transformative power of God as our portion) in view, let’s jump into verse 57.
“The LORD is my portion; I have promised to keep Your words.” – Psalms 119:57 NASB
In Deuteronomy, we have a record of God’s election for service for the tribe of Levi. This priestly caste was entrusted with teaching God’s ordinances and laws to His people. They were also given the right to offer incense before God and administer burnt offerings on the altar. This particular calling brought them a two-fold blessing—provision and protection. (Which, we’ll see later, applies to all NT believers.)
Deuteronomy 33:8-11 gives us these details, (I’m using the NIV here for clarity of thought.)
“About Levi, he said: “Your Thummim and Urim belong to your faithful servant. You tested him at Massah; you contended with him at the waters of Meribah. He said of his father and mother, ‘I have no regard for them.’ He did not recognize his brothers or acknowledge his own children, but he watched over your word and guarded your covenant.”
This is a reference to Exodus 32:25-29 and the story of the golden calf. When Moses had come down from the mountain to find the people reveling in idolatry, justice was required. That justice was carried out by those who had not participated in this great sin—the sons of Levi. This is why they became God’s priests. Not only did they not sin against God but they also paid no regard for father or mother, brother, or child in this time, instead they watched over God’s word and guarded the covenant. Deuteronomy goes on to say:
“He (Levi) teaches your precepts to Jacob and your law to Israel. He offers incense before you and whole burnt offerings on your altar. Bless all his skills Lord, and be pleased with the work of his hands. Strike down those who rise against him, his foes till they rise no more.”
The Levitical task was lofty, and God’s blessings were immeasurable, but there was a very real cost to this election. Though each of the other tribes of Israel were given a portion of the promised land, which consisted of clearly defined sections with definite boundaries, the Levite had none. Listen to Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 10:9:
“Therefore, Levi does not have a portion or inheritance with his brothers; the LORD is his inheritance, just as the LORD your God spoke to him.”
The Levite’s portion was God alone. But remember what we just read from Deuteronomy 33—Levi had been willing for the sake of God, God’s Kingdom, and God’s righteousness to forsake mother and father and even child.The Levitical task was lofty, and God’s blessings were immeasurable, but there was a very real cost to this election. Click To Tweet
In the same way, we’re called to this as well. Jesus and the Apostle Peter said as much when calling us a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9) and warning us that if we are not willing to leave everything to follow King Jesus, we are not worthy to be called His (Luke 14:25-27).
The greater context of what was happening in ancient Israel (Exodus 32, the golden calf and Israel’s betrayal of God) should help shape our understanding of Jesus’s seemingly harsh words about forsaking family in Luke 14.
Levi understood what David here was communicating—a truly life-changing principle—if God is our portion, we have all that we need. If God is our portion, everything else can and will fall into place.
This may make sense of Paul’s somewhat confusing teaching concerning marriage (its value) and singleness (his preference) to the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 7). Although marriage is God’s created order, singleness can provide a person with unwavering devotion to God and His mission. Why? It would seem it’s easier to see God alone as your portion. But we’ll have to save this for another time. Let’s get back to David.Levi understood what David here was communicating—a truly life-changing principle—if God is our portion, we have all that we need. If God is our portion, everything else can and will fall into place. Click To Tweet
What’s so interesting about this concept I’ve just shared and David’s words in Psalm 119:57 is that David was not a Levite. David was of the tribe of Judah. Through David, God formed a line of kings, and yet in this verse, David made what appears to be a Levitical vow, “The Lord is my portion; I have promised to keep your words.”
Forsaking all else, David looked to God. What happened as a result was that David’s life became shaped by humility, repentance, mercy, justice, and more. Because God was David’s portion everything else in his life was reshaped. This is one more reason why David was a man after His heart.
Also worth noting, in Psalm 16:5, David said, “The LORD is the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You support my lot.”
God, to David, was both the source and the substance of his inheritance. The reason I point this out is that all too often, we try to attain the substance of Godliness without communing with the source of Godliness. We attend church, read our Bibles—or as is often the case—assume we can learn everything from human sources (books, teachings, etc.), all the while failing to sit with the Lord just to “hear” his voice.
Now please don’t over-correct with this idea. I am not saying those things are bad at all! God gave to the church certain gifts (pastor/teacher, prophet, apostle, evangelist) and all for the growth of His body, but He didn’t do this to the exclusion of communing with Him directly—He did it in conjunction. All I’m saying is that it’s a both/and, and it will always be. The God of the word, as Barney mentioned last week, gave us the word of God and everything it teaches.
We’ve seen time and again in Psalm 119 that God is indivisible from his word. Therefore, when we say that God is our portion, we are necessarily including the word of God in that portion. This is why David repeated himself so often as needing God’s word, God’s statutes, God’s commands, God’s promises, etc. God and his word are one and the same.
So our principle remains—if God is our portion, everything else can and will fall in line. David recognized God as his portion. Jeremiah believed the same thing:
As Christians, we should not only want this but believe that it is already true—God is our portion. The only real question is, do we trust it to be true?
Have you been challenged with how to prioritize people, projects, or possessions? How does this idea of God as your portion help reorder things? Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.