Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way. (Psalm 119:37)
Psalm 119 is a collection of 176 verses in 22 groups of eight verses each. Each group of eight begins with the same Hebrew letter, and the groups are arranged in alphabetical order. Our verse is the fifth verse in the fifth group – He (pronounced “heh”).
The first word in the verse is ha`abeer which means to “cause to cross over” as in a stream that cannot be forded. The sense of the psalmist’s cry is that he has come to a raging river that he, of his own power, cannot cross, and he is calling out to God to help him get over this impasse. The barrier to his progress is the lust of the eyes (1 John 2:16). In the words of the old hymn, “All the vain things that charm me most” turn our focus away from the true riches Christ has prepared for us (John 14:1-3). Vanities are the things of this earth which are temporal. The Bible says, “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10). All earthly matter and the material things that come from it are all vanity (Ecclesiastes 1:2).
Jesus urges us to have a single eye: “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light” (Matthew 6:22). How do we cultivate a single eye? The psalmist pleads, “quicken [Hebrew chayah – to make alive] thou me.” Only God can keep our eye single. Jesus, the incarnate Word of God (John 1:14), reminds us, “without me, ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). Indeed, the psalmist identifies the source of life as “thy way.” Jesus also said, “I am the way” (John 14:6).