Psalm 119:1-8

ESV
Aleph

1 Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord! 

2 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, 

3 who also do no wrong, but walk in      his ways! 

4 You have commanded your precepts 
to be kept diligently. 

5 Oh that my ways may be steadfast 
in keeping your statutes! 

6 Then I shall not be put to shame, 
having my eyes fixed on all your commandments. 

7 I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules. 

8 I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me! 
CSB
א Aleph

1 How happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk according to the LORD’s instruction!

2 Happy are those who keep his decrees and seek him with all their heart.

3 They do nothing wrong; they walk in his ways. 

4 You have commanded that your precepts be diligently kept. 

5 If only my ways were committed to keeping your statutes!

6 Then I would not be ashamed when I think about all your commands. 

7 I will praise you with an upright heart when I learn your righteous judgments. 

8 I will keep your statutes; never             abandon me.

ʾašrê (אַשְׁרֵי) can be translated in English as either blessed or happy (vv 1-2) and I absolutely LOVE how this psalm opens “on a note exclaiming the happiness of those who walk according to the Lord’s instruction” (D. Estes, Psalms 73-150 NAC, 2019, p. 402).

There are many similarities to the opening of Psalm 119 and the opening of the Book of Psalms itself, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Ps 1:1-2 ESV, emphasis mine). Jesus also begins each Beatitude (Matt 5:3-11) stating, “blessed/happy are…” (for more on this see Mourning; Meek; Hunger, Thirst and Psalm 1; Mercy; Pure in Heart; Peace: Maker or Breaker?; Persecution).

Many English versions translate torah in verse 1 as law; however, Estes is correct when he says, “the CSB properly construes it as “instruction,” because its nuance is teaching or guidance” (D. Estes, Psalms 73-150 NAC, 2019, p. 402 see also Introduction to Psalm 119 for the different words used to refer to God’s Law). He also goes on to say, “The Lord instructs one how to lead a good and godly life. Self-direction does not lead to happiness, but the good life is ordered according to the way of the Lord” (pp. 402-403).

Walks and keeps are both participles meaning that God’s people are actively, continuously to walk in His instructions and to keep His testimonies/decrees. While seek is not a participle in the Hebrew, the imperfect aspect renders this an ongoing action. Ross states, “To seek the LORD with a whole heart means that they are completely occupied with the discernment of the LORD’s will revealed in his word. It is the people who keep God’s laws and diligently seek him who are blessed by him” (A. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms (90-150) vol 3 KEL, 2016, p. 469).

The wise and blameless person does not just do “what is right before God but also avoids what is wrong” (Estes, p. 403). The wise and blameless person is the one who seeks God with their whole heart so that they may discern the lies of this world; “testing the spirits” (1 John 4:1) against the Truth of God’s Word.

Bible believing Christians need wisdom and discernment now more than ever and we gain wisdom by seeking God, meditating on His Word and surrounding ourselves with other likeminded believers as we evangelize/share Jesus with the lost.

The Lord “has commanded [His] precepts to be kept diligently” (v 4). These are not suggestions nor opinions. “Love for God receives expression in doing the will of God” (W. VanGemeren, Psalms REBC, 2008, p. 860) which is why the psalmist declares in his next verse, “Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!” (v 5).

“The psalmist further prays that no “shame” or ultimate disgrace may overtake him (v. 6). “Shame” in OT usage connotes abandonment by the Lord and condemnation to utter ruin, as happen to the enemies of God (cf. vv. 31, 46, 80; 6:10; 25:2; 83:17). In this prayer the psalmist intimates that he lives with adversity while walking in the way of the Lord. His lament is like a sobbing, and he prays that the Lord will have mercy on his servant” (VanGemeren, p. 861). Estes adds, “In Psalm 119 both active disobedience and passive neglect of God’s word lead to shame (cf. vv. 31, 46, 80). The psalmist must contemplate with favor all that God has commanded (cf. v. 15), not selecting what he prefers but obeying completely what the Lord has required” (p. 403).

In verse 7 the psalmist will praise the Lord with an upright heart when he learns God’s rules/decrees because he knows “the Lord blesses the righteous” (Ross, p. 473). The psalmist is not doing this for show nor as works based salvation and protection, but out of a heart (mind, will and emotions) that knows that God is who He says He is and He does what He says He will do.

The psalmist ends this first section saying that he will keep God’s statues/decrees but because “he is prone to incomplete commitment to the Lord’s commands (cf. vv. 5–6), he calls on the Lord not to abandon him” (Estes, p. 404).

Father God, Lord how blessed and happy we are when we walk in a manner that is pleasing to You. Although we may suffer for it, we know that You are with us. Lord God, help us to be a people who actively seek You with our whole hearts (mind, will and emotions) learning Your Word, and desiring to walk and follow in Your ways so that we may obey Your instructions. Lord God, help us to be a people who seek to be blameless, pure and holy in a world that values debauchery and filth in every area of life. Lord God, help us to grow in wisdom and discernment. Help us to test everything we see and hear against Scripture. Lord God, may we be a people who say that we will praise You even in the midst of adversity and not knowing what Your next plan is for us. Lord God, may we be reminded that for those who are seeking to keep Your Word that they will not be put to shame. Lord God, Your Word brings life and we thank You for it. Lord God, thank You for this reader and for the opportunity to study Your Word together. In Jesus’s Name I pray. Amen.

 

Introduction to Psalm 119

Photo by Wendy van Zyl on Pexels.com

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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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).
  3. Decisions/judgements (mišpāṭîm) occurs 23 times and are God’s laws/decisions/judgments that are the foundation of Israel’s legal system.
  4. 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).
  5. 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).
  6. Decrees (ḥuqqîm) occurs 21 times. God is the Sovereign Author of His decrees.
  7. 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).
  8. 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.

Hunger, Thirst and Psalm 1

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled (Matt 5:6 NIV).

Hunger and thirst are both present, active, participles in Greek, signifying continuous action. I do not know a better way to start 2021 then by hungering and thirsting for righteousness.

This is a deep longing like when you are famished and in need of food or “dying of thirst” so to speak. This righteousness is one that can only be filled or satisfied (ESV) by God. The righteousness that Jesus is speaking of here isn’t forensic, imputed righteousness, our right standing before God we receive at the time of salvation. The righteousness that Jesus is speaking about here is practical in that we are to want to do what God says is right and see what God says is right done on earth as it is in Heaven.

In light of Jesus’s call to upright living and correct conduct, I cannot help but to think of Psalm 1 which says:

1 Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
4 The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish
(ESV).

In Psalm 1 the blessed person does NOT walk, stand nor sit with the wicked, sinners or scoffers. The blessed person is the one who delights and meditates on God’s law, applying what He says.

As God continuously knows (qal, participle) the way of the righteous believer in Psalm 1, so too does He know the heart and conduct of the believer that is continuously and longingly hungering and thirsting for righteousness. The person whose conduct delights in meditating on the Word, seeking His will and righteousness to be done on the earth is the one who will be filled and satisfied both now and in eternity.

May this New Year be one where we hunger and thirst to know God and His righteousness more than ever before!

Father God, thank You that You Word is alive and practical! Thank You that when we famished in our hunger and thirst for You and Your righteousness that You will fill us. Lord God, stir this reader to want to know You more! Lord God, when we meditate on You and Your attributes, we decrease thinking about ourselves. Lord God, forgive us for all the ways that we fall short and bring shame to Your Name rather than glory, honor and praise. Lord God, thank You that You will one day hold all false prophets and false teachers accountable for the way they confuse and mislead people. Lord God, draw us closer to You today. In Jesus’s Name I pray. Amen.