Psalm 119 is the longest psalm in the Bible, containing 176 verses. This psalm is an acrostic with eight lines in each of 22 sections based on the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Each section begins with the next letter in the alphabet. Psalm 119 is longer than 17 books of the New Testament and all of the minor prophets except two, Hosea and Zechariah. Each verse in each stanza begins with the same letter in Hebrew. Nearly every verse in this anonymous psalm makes reference to God’s Word. Martin Luther referred to this psalm as ‘The Word of God’ psalm. In fact, the emphasis in this psalm is on the vital ministry of the Word of God in the inner spiritual life of God’s children. This psalm describes how the Word of God enables us to grow in holiness. It shows us how to handle the persecutions and pressures that come with walking in obedient faith. Psalm 119 is a wisdom psalm and the premier song about the Torah. It celebrates God’s Word in a way that is almost exhaustive.
Within psalm 119 eight words for God’s law occur over and over. Those eight words are: law, testimonies, way, precepts, statutes, commandments, judgements, and word. Depending on the Bible translation you are reading you may find these eight to be: instructions, laws, words, regulations, statutes, commands, decrees, commandments, and promises. Together these words encourage love for and obedience to God’s instructions as found in the scriptures. The expression of deep commitment to these instructions unifies the psalm. The psalm uses the full meaning of all these words as it elaborates on the application of the law of God to both daily life and Israel’s destiny. The law is both specific and general, directive and restrictive, liberating and opening, gracious and solemn. The law is as complex as the God who gave it. God’s law is never considered a curse. Instead it is seen as a gift from God. The cumulative effect of this lengthy celebration of the Word of God is impressive. The psalmist cannot stop praising God for His mercy and goodness in providing His people with instructions for living.
Here are very brief definitions of these eight words. Testimonies are equated with ordinances. These are God’s standard of conduct according to the Ten Commandments. The word way refers to the pattern of life required by God’s law. Precepts are seen as requirements, injunctions or commandments. Things inscribed or laws enacted are called statutes. Commandments are distinct authoritative orders and judgements are binding laws or judicial decisions. Word is a general term for God’s revelation. Torah is another word for law. These are the first five books of the Old Testament, also known as the Pentateuch. Law basically means instruction or direction. In a broad sense it refers to all of God’s instructions from Moses through the prophets. The law was NEVER designed as a means of salvation. No one can be saved by keeping the law. The Lord gave His law to people with whom He had already graciously made a covenant relationship. The law was given so that Israel would learn how to be God’s holy people. The psalmists consistently describe the law of God as a great blessing because it was God’s revelation to His people for their own good. In the law, God graciously pointed out the right path to follow.
The writer of this psalm, though anonymous, displayed a great hunger for holiness and a passionate desire to understand God’s Word in a deeper way. In all but 14 verses the psalmist addresses his words directly to the Lord personally. That means this psalm is really a combination of worship, prayer, praise, and admonition. It is possible the psalmist held a high profile position because he refers to the opposition of rulers. These could have been from Israel or from pagan nations. But the psalmist also spoke to kings. There are no references to the sanctuary, sacrifices or a priestly ministry mentioned in this psalm. Some believe the prophet Jeremiah wrote this psalm as a way to teach and encourage his young disciples after the destruction of the temple. Many of the traits of the prophet Jeremiah can be
found in this psalm but of course there is no way of knowing who the author really is. And whoever the author is, he is delighted to have the Word of God in his life. He may have had the Pentateuch and no other writings. Many today ignore the Old Testament, or they read a few cursory psalms. But this psalmist rejoiced in the Word. He considered the Word his food (103) and his greatest wealth (14, 72, 127, 162). He went so far as to say he delighted in God’s Word. (16, 24, 35, 47, 70, 77, 92).
Clearly it would be impossible to discuss the psalm in its entirety, so I wanted to provide an overview. But there are many nuggets in this psalm and we will look at a couple. The first is very familiar to us. It is verse 105, “Thy Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Whether by day or night, God’s Word is God’s gift to show us the way we should walk. There are two familiar images in this verse. First we see that life is a path. That is followed by the reminder that God’s Word is the light that helps us follow the right path. In the ancient world there were no street lights or lighted pathways to guide people as they walked in the darkness. The people carried little clay dishes or boats filled with oil. The light these dishes threw off only illuminated the path one step ahead. In essence, God’s people were still walking by faith and not by sight. But even today, we are called to walk by faith and not by sight. Even today, with all the light we have we will not see the whole route at one time. Every act of our obedience shows us the next step until we eventually arrive at the appointed destination. There may be lots of light but we live in a world that is increasingly dark because so many have left the Word of God behind. Of all the light we see, only the light of the Lord will guide us in the right direction so that we go where we are supposed to be. The Lord’s Word is a lamp that provides perspective, hope, and guidance in the darkness and in the light. And even better, this light of God’s Word gives life. H.C. Leupold says this; “He that uses the Word faithfully learns where to set his foot as he walks along the slippery paths of this life.”
The message version of the Bible translates verse 105 like this: “By your words I can see where I’m going; they throw a beam of light on my dark path”. As a lamp by night and a light by day, God’s Word guides and directs us. It leads us in a walk that is pleasing to the Lord Jesus. The god of this age, the evil one, may blind the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4) but our God, by His Work will lead us to Jesus Christ and show us how to walk like Him. By God’s Word we can think like Jesus and live like Jesus. This is the power of God’s Word.
Another nugget that stood out for me is verse 162. It reads, “I rejoice in your promise like one who finds great spoil. It reminds me of the parable Jesus told that is found in Matthew 13:44 and following. A man was walking across a field when he discovered buried treasure that was of great value. He ran home, sold everything he had, and bought the field thus gaining the treasure. Jesus was speaking of those who find true treasure of the kingdom. There is greater joy there than in any earthly treasure one could have. The psalmist is saying that even though princes wanted to rob him he had much greater wealth in the Word of God. The promises of God in the Bible are better than money in the bank. These promises will never lose their value. And, nobody can take them from us. The word used here for treasure points to spoils or the fruits of victory.
No doubt as you read you found nuggets too. Hang on to them because God brought them to the forefront for you. Psalm 119 is an amazing psalm. The very end of the psalm is a good reminder for us.
The psalmist tells us that even though he has chosen the law of God to live by, he has not always been successful in keeping it. He ends this psalm with a confession and a plea for salvation. All of us, no matter how hard we try, sin. Paul tells us in Romans that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. So we confess our sins like the psalmist and every day, God gives us another, filled with opportunities and chances to live in Him, for Him and to shine His light in the darkness for others to see.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W