Have you ever read Psalm 119 in one sitting? It could take you fifteen minutes to read audibly, probably less to read in the quietness of your heart, but a lifetime to mediate upon. The overriding theme is the word of God in the life of the believer.[i] When we read and meditate on God’s word we gain understanding and knowledge of what pleases Him and what does not glorify Him so we can live accordingly.
Psalm 119 is written in the form of an acrostic with eight verses for each of the twenty- two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The first two sections are “Aleph” and “Beth” and that reminds us of the word we use, “alphabet”.
At just nine years of age, David Livingstone who later carried out extensive missionary work in Southern Africa and fought to abolish slavery, famously recited this psalm with only a very few errors. Similarly George Whitefield also committed it to memory. This longest chapter of the Bible is greater in the number of its verses than thirteen of the books in the Tanakh (Old Testament) and seventeen of the Brit Hadasha, (New Testament) ones. This poetic structure aids memorisation, both when sung and recited.
Though we cannot state with absolute certainty when it was written and who wrote it, the author was probably David and the content of the psalm is basically an exposition of the opening two verses. There are eight key words that repeatedly emerge, namely law, precepts, judgements, statutes, commandments, word, ordinances and testimony. It would be too easy to assume that the content is repetitive; nonetheless Spurgeon devoted three hundred and fifty pages to it in the Treasury of David. Interestingly Spurgeon wrote ‘He never repeats himself; for if the same sentiment recurs it is placed in a fresh connection, and so exhibits another interesting shade of meaning.’[ii]
The Blessing of God’s Word
God‘s word gives us direction since His word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (119:105). Messiah claimed that He was the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). It helps to keep us from evil ways (119:101) and to enable a young man to cleanse his way (119:9). It teaches that God gives us hope and is our hiding place and shield (114) and that His word is useful in a practical sense for counselling (119:24).
From whom do you go to seek counsel or obtain counselling? There is a multitude of options available in a post-modern world that offers every shade of advice normally at a premium. Where do you venture first for counsel? God’s word gives us counsel. Isaiah foretold that Messiah is our wonderful counsellor (Isaiah 9:6) and asked rhetorically who had ever given the Holy Spirit counsel or as His counsellor taught Him, or instructed Him, or taught Him knowledge and understanding (Isaiah 40:13-14)? We can help and encourage others by applying the truth from Scripture.
The author writes that through God’s commandments, God makes him wiser than his enemies and with more understanding than his teachers, even surpassing that of the ancients (119:98-100)! This is not the egotistical boast of a famed scholar. Reading and heeding the word of God will make you wise. This is not limited to head knowledge, but far more importantly God given revelation, since Paul wrote to Timothy exhorting him to continue in the things that he had learnt and was assured of “and that from childhood you have known the Holy scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).
The Joy of God’s Word
The psalmist went beyond merely reading God’s law, but delighted in meditating upon it continuously and incorporating every aspect of it in his walk with the Lord. Do you delight in God’s word? Do you long to read it and then live it? The psalmist did.
The author spoke of rising at midnight to thank God (119:62). He loved God’s commandments more than gold since they were decreed by God and so he was seeking to obey God in the totality of his being (127-128).Would you rather receive the word of God or possess the most exquisite box of jewellery? He cried out to God before dawn (147) and was thinking of God when everyone else is asleep through the night watches (148). He praises God seven times during the day because of His righteous judgements (164) and considers God’s word to be great treasure (162). What do you consider to be a treasure of incalculable worth?
This is light years away from the trappings of false piety and legalism or monasticism. This is a man of God that thirsts for God. This is someone with the intensity of the deer desperately longing and panting for the water (Psalm 119:81, 131; 42:1) who knows that only God can truly satisfy his spiritual yearning. He may have been King David, a man after God’s own heart. Oh that we would seek God first and foremost.
The Everlasting Truth of God’s Word
A proper and high view of scripture is upheld ‘Forever, O Lord, your word is settled in heaven’ (89). God’s word is truth and His righteousness is everlasting (142, 160). The Bible is authoritative and is the plumbline of truth. He speaks from personal and deep heartfelt experience rooted in the word of God, “Concerning your testimonies, I have known of old that you have founded them forever” (152).
Is it any wonder that the psalmist prayed a prayer that we often pray before reading, meditating and asking God, to help us apply his word in our lives? “Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law” (18)? You may have a resolution for this year, or not; or you may have given up your resolution already. This year, why not read, meditate upon and apply God’s word in your life for your spiritual growth, for the benefit of others and for the glory of God.
[i] Warren W. Wiersbe The Wiersbe Bible Commentary (David C Cook; Colorado Springs, 2007) p 1006
[ii] Charles H. Spurgeon The Treasury of David Volume 3 (Hendrickson Publishers; Peabody, 2011) p 130