It is well known that Psalm 119 is the longest psalm in the Bible. In fact, it is twice as long as any other. Psalm 119 is also an acrostic in which each stanza begins with the successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. For example: verses 1-8 begin with aleph (the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet), vv 9-16 begin with Beth, vv 17-24 begin with Gimel etc. Most modern translations note this distinction with subheadings.
Since writing my post on the “Authority of Scripture” my yearly Bible plan has brought me to Psalm 119 and I cannot help but to reflect on the importance of loving, understanding, murmuring, obeying and applying the Word of God.
The Psalmist uses eight different Hebrew words for God’s Law:
- Law (tôrâh) is used 25 times. “The word “law” has both a broad and a narrow meaning. In the broad sense it refers to any “instruction” flowing from the revelation of God as the basis for life and action. In the narrow sense it denotes the Torah of Moses, whether the Pentateuch, the priestly law, or the Deuteronomic law” (VanGemeren, Psalms, REBC, 2008, p. 859).
- Word (dābār) occurs 24 times. “Any word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord is dābār, whether it pertains to the Decalogue (Dt 4:13), the law of Moses (Dt 4:2, 10), or the word revealed through the prophets. It is a most general designation for divine revelation, whether of expectation or promise” (p. 859).
- Decisions/judgements (mišpāṭîm) occurs 23 times and are God’s laws/decisions/judgments that are the foundation of Israel’s legal system.
- Statute(s)/Testimony (ʿēdût/ʿēdôt) occurs 23 times. Testimony is often related to covenant and the “observance of the “statutes” of the Lord signifies loyalty to the terms of the covenant made between the Lord and Israel” (p. 859).
- Command/s (miṣwâ/miṣwôt) occurs 22 times. “The word “command” is a frequent designation for anything that the Lord, the covenantal God, has ordered. It is a synonym of “law,” as well as of “decrees” and “laws”” (p. 859).
- Decrees (ḥuqqîm) occurs 21 times. God is the Sovereign Author of His decrees.
- Precepts (piqqûdîm) occurs 21 times and is only found in the Book of Psalms in which it is synonymous with covenant and related to command. The Psalmist is to respond to the Lord’s commanded precepts by guarding, longing for, meditating on, gaining understanding so as to never forsake, stray or forget them. “Essentially, the God who orders human beings to respond to his revelation expects an appropriate response of submission and loyalty to and love of his commands” (p. 860).
- Saying/promise (ʾimrâ) occurs 19 times and can refer to anything that God has spoken or promised.
Allen Ross notes that all eight synonyms occur in four stanzas (verses): 57–64; 73–80; 81–88 and 129–136. “The other stanzas use seven or six of the words, sometimes repeating one or two of them. So there is no apparent attempt at a perfect symmetry” (A Commentary on the Psalms (90-150) KEL, 2016, p. 460).
What I love about this psalm is how similar it is to both the Torah and to wisdom thought and language found in Proverbs. Psalm 119 is also a lament/complaint psalm in that the psalmist is crying out to God for His help against the powerful people who are lying, maligning, and afflicting him.
In a day in age where Christians are increasingly being mocked and scorned for their faith, I thought it would be a worthwhile to traverse this psalm together. As Ross says, “As a major resource for meditation this psalm is superb. It reveals how divine revelation is the basis for everything that the believer does; but it also shows how the Word of the LORD is applied in all the circumstances of life” (p. 462).
May we find comfort in the fact that “the psalmist knows firsthand the oppression of evil. He has been surrounded by wickedness, pursued by the arrogant and proud, and humbled by sorrow and disgrace; yet his refuge is in God. He constantly cries out to God, retreats into his shadow, and finds solace in his strength. This is a psalm not only of law but also of love, not only of statute but also of spiritual strength, not only of devotion to precept but also of loyalty to the way of the Lord. The beauty in this psalm resounds from the relationship of the psalmist and his God” (VanGemeren, p. 858).
Lord God, prepare us as we journey together through Psalm 119. Lord, may we find refuge and strength in You. May we drink deeply of Your Word, as we bring our laments and complaints to You, seeking Your knowledge and wisdom so that we may love, worship, know and obey You more. Lord God, thank You that Your Word is Truth. Help us to be holy, pure and blameless because You are Holy, Pure and Blameless. Lord God may we desire Your Word, may we carve out time to meditate on Your Word daily whether by reading or hearing Your Word. Lord God, thank You for Your love for us. Thank You Lord for this reader. Stir in this reader a desire to know You more. In Jesus’s Name I pray. Amen.