I prevented the dawning of the morning, and cried:
I hoped in thy word.
Mine eyes prevent the night watches,
That I might meditate in thy word.
Laziness is deadly. The Bible’s wisdom literature ridicules this sin with a pathetic caricature of a man so lazy that he lacks the energy and will to pick up the food on his plate! “A slothful man hideth his hand in his bosom, and will not so much as bring it to his mouth again” (Prov 19.24). Now, we realize that this is an exaggeration in the physical realm for the purpose of shaming us in our sinful laziness, but let us go with it for a moment. Since like everyone else this sluggard must eat to live, a couple things naturally follow. First, he is extremely lazy if even an empty belly will not motivate him to eat. Second, he who stops eating has taken the course that leads to death.
In contrast, a diligent man who really intends to accomplish much on any particular day is “up and at ’em,” early to rise and prompt to his work. The industrious man’s craving for the fruits of his labor are altogether evident from his conduct.
These things which no one denies in the sphere of business also apply in the spiritual realm. The Bible says of unconverted men everywhere, “There is none that seeketh after God” (Rom 3.10, citing Psa 14.1-3; 53.1-3). To seek God therefore is the first sign of one who is spiritually awakened. Great energy and diligence in this noblest of all quests are the signs of those most spiritually healthy.
As we have read many times in Psalm 119, the writer again testifies in prayer of his spiritual sincerity and integrity with an abiding hope of his increasing blessedness. He reflects the glory of Messiah in his first advent, as Jesus was wont to do the very same thing but with a degree of faith and consistency never seen since the beginning of the world. “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed” (Mark 1.35). This example is instruction to the ignorant, rebuke to the careless, and motivation to the saint.
We no longer generally use the word “prevent” in the sense it appears here. By “prevent” we mean “to keep something from happening,” but none of us can hold back dawn! The word’s origin justifies its archaic sense, since it is a compound of two words meaning, “to come before.” This word eventually came to be associated with the idea of hindrance, but originally “prevent” was commonly taken to mean, “to meet in advance,” or, “to act ahead of” (MWCD). The original word it translates here means “to precede.” The Hebrew is figurative and graphic; the AV translates accordingly. “The dawning of the morning” (v. 147) is personified as one who makes his appearance each day before God, and thus the psalmist is saying, “I presented myself to you, Lord, before he did.” Modern translations tend to paraphrase. “I rise before dawn” (ESV, NIV, etc.).
The first line of verse 148 intensifies the thought. “Mine eyes prevent the night watches.” As our eyes are closed during sleep, this expression more explicitly stresses the idea of wakefulness, supplementing verse 147. “Lord, I appeared before you very early, and when I appeared, I was wide awake.”
Further, the psalmist insists he preceded not only the dawn, but also the “night watches.” This kind of thing is referenced first in Exodus 14.24, “And it came to pass, that in the morning watch the Lord looked unto the host of the Egyptians” (emphasis mine). In the OT period, the night was divided into three watches of about four hours each, making the morning watch from about 2 to 6 a.m. So the psalmist is here speaking about a very early hour indeed. The biblical emphasis upon religious early rising and praying at night may surprise you (Psa 5.3; 63.1, 6; 88.13; 119.62; 130.6; Isa 26.9; Lam 2.19; Mark 1.35; Luke 6.12).
The most important thing we should take from this is not the schedule involved but the heart of a man who would keep it. As one who is not “a morning person,” I am very impressed by the kind of zeal that motivates such early rising, but we must guard against two extremes. The first is a legalistic externalism that thinks all is well just because we are up before everyone else when engaged in devotional exercises. The second is an antinomian rationalization that since the heart matters most, it is morally indifferent when and how long we pray in private.
It would be unwise and going beyond Scripture to say that God wants everyone, every day, without exception, to rise long before dawn and to spend considerable time in private prayer. Some are required to work a night shift and sleep during the day. Others are physically or mentally very weak and have far less responsibility before God for hard work in spiritual things. Little children and seniors suffering dementia cannot be expected to keep the same commitment to personal spiritual disciplines as others.
But if we have the constitutional ability and the providential opportunity for such devotion, what does it say if we never or only rarely attend to it? How can we avoid concluding of those who never really pray that they are lost? And ordinarily, what else can we conclude of those whose prayer lives are “barely breathing,” except that they are at best spiritually immature and unhealthy? Would not a large degree of prayerlessness be a humiliating revelation of the sorry state of our souls, dear brethren? We do not wish to bind anyone’s conscience beyond the rule of Scripture, yet we would be faithful to provoke honest, if painful, self-examination. Puritan George Swinnock said,
I have read of a philosopher, who, living near a blacksmith, and hearing him up every morning at his hammer and anvil, before he could get out of his bed to his book, professed himself much ashamed that such an ignoble trade as a smith’s should be more diligently attended than his more serious and excellent studies. What sayest thou, reader; dost thou not blush to think that worldlings are more busy and laborious about the low things, the rattles and trifles of this life, than thou art about the high affairs of God and thy soul, the noble and serious concernments of eternity?
Do you have a zeal in spiritual things sufficient for prompting you to maintain a disciplined devotional habit? Surely this wonderful gift of godly zeal can be ours by the grace of God.
Now what was it that was so important for the psalmist’s flesh-denying pursuit? It was nothing else and nothing less than the heavenly dialogue he had just described—prayer and Scripture.
I cried with my whole heart / I cried unto thee / I preceded the dawning of the morning, and cried (vv. 145-147, emphasis mine).
Interestingly, the third word translated “cried” is different than the others. It means to “cry for help, plead for relief, i.e., ask or request something, with a focus that the asking is intense or desperate, imploring for aid in a difficult or dangerous situation.” Plainly there really was a connection between his spiritual intensity and his disciplined commitment to prayer. He had a heart to pray and prayed with heart.
Twice he references “thy word,” that is, Holy Scripture. He “hoped in” it, and “meditated in” it. His confident expectation of future blessing was rooted and grounded in the words of Scripture. As he turned them over and over in his mind, that confidence resting upon divine promise was growing ever stronger.
I am convinced that when we suffer spiritual malaise, we tend to abuse a high view of God’s sovereignty as an excuse to wait passively until things should improve, as if they will automatically. The farmer who is too lazy to cultivate, sow, and water his field cannot justly blame God for a dismal harvest.
The special time for the resistance of this deadly disease, is when we are most under its power. When the Bible is uninteresting as a common book, then is the time to live in it with patient diligence. When prayer is cold and heartless, instead of giving up, hold on, however feebly, yet with perseverance.
Our spiritual desires are too paltry, and our folly too apparent, when we are so lazy that we will not feed ourselves with God’s Word and pour out our hearts to him. Let us repent today and set the alarm for early tomorrow morning, with every expectation that our principled endeavor will be blessed. Be awakened to God! Amen.D. Scott Meadows, Pastor Calvary Baptist Church (Reformed) of Exeter, New Hampshire, USA http://cbcexeter.sermonaudio.com
 NET Bible notes, in loc.
 The Works of George Swinnock (I.72), “The Christian Man’s Calling,” from chapter 8 entitled, “A complaint that this trade is so dead, and the world’s trade is so quick.”
 DBLSD #8775.
 Charles Bridges on Prov 19.24.