Psalm 119 is the longest psalm (and the longest chapter in the Bible, longer than many of the books) and the most carefully structured. By singing and praying its contents, one expresses heartfelt admiration to God, who has so lovingly bestowed this great gift upon his people, and fervent yearning for one’s personal life to reflect the loveliness and goodness of God’s Word.
The psalm’s structure observes a strict acrostic pattern: there are 22 stanzas of eight verses each, following the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet in sequence. Within a stanza, the first word of each verse begins with the same letter, the letter to which the entire stanza corresponds. This pattern does not hinder the psalm from accomplishing its goal, which is to enable God’s people to admire his Word so strongly that they will work and pray hard to have it shape their character and conduct. The cumulative impact of the psalm is huge.
Psalm 119 celebrates the gift of God’s Torah, or covenant instruction, as the perfect guide for life. The psalm uses a number of terms for God’s covenantal revelation: “law” (v. 1: Hb. torah, i.e., instruction); “testimonies” (v. 2: Hb. ‘edot, i.e., what God solemnly testifies to be his will); “precepts” (v. 4: Hb. piqqudim, i.e., what God has appointed to be done); “statutes” (v. 5: Hb. khuqqim and khuqqot, i.e., what the divine Lawgiver has laid down); “commandments” (v. 6: Hb. mitswot, i.e., what God has commanded); “rules” (v. 7: Hb. mishpatim, i.e., what the divine Judge has ruled to be right); “word” (v. 9: Hb. ’imrah and dabar, i.e., what God has spoken). Except for “precepts” (which appears only in the Psalms), all of these words can be found in Deuteronomy (e.g., Deut. 4:8, 44–45; 6:1; 33:9), and denote God’s Word, focusing on its role in moral instruction for his people.
The person who will “keep” God’s instructions (Ps. 119:2: Hb. shamar and natsar, i.e., attend to them carefully, watch over them, treasure them) will find that his “way” (v. 5: Hb. derek and ’orakh, i.e., the moral quality and orientation of his life) will more and more reflect God’s own character (cf. 18:30; 145:17). The psalm calls these instructions “righteous” (vv. 7, 75, 123, 138, 144, 160, 172), “true” and “sure” (vv. 86, 138, 142, 151, 160), and worthy of trust, hope, and faith (vv. 42, 43, 66). All of these are attributes of God himself, and it is no surprise that God’s words would partake of his character. Indeed, the law expresses God’s own “steadfast love” (v. 124; cf. vv. 41, 64, 76, 88, 149) and “faithfulness” (vv. 89–91). This psalm reflects the view that the Lord, who abounds in steadfast love and faithfulness and who therefore freely and fully forgives his people when they confess their sins (Ex. 34:6–7), loves his people without limit, and therefore also guides the faithful in the way of life that is genuinely good and beautiful (cf. Ps. 119:124). The psalm speaks the language of one ravished with moral beauty, to which there is only one fitting response—to try to reproduce this beauty, as much as possible, in one’s daily life. There is no pretense of perfection here (cf. v. 5), only yearning, and trust (vv. 41, 176), and dependence on God (v. 125).
As we read through the Psalm 119 in the coming week, may we grow in our love for God and His Word. May we seek, learn, meditate, delight in, and keep the Word of God. And may we have deeper appreciation of Christ, who is the “Word made flesh” and the living Word of God who embodies in life and speech and mission the very content and truth of God’s written Word.
* Adapted from ESV Study Bible.
This Week’s Bible Reading Schedule:
|Monday: Psalm 119:65-80||☐||Thursday: Psalm 119:113–128||☐|
|Tuesday: Psalm 119:81-96||☐||Friday: Psalm 119:129-144||☐|
|Wednesday: Psalm 119:97-112||☐||Saturday: Psalm 119:145-160||☐|