Aleph (a) Stanza (1-8)
The first stanza in the Psalm stands in the same relationship to the rest of Psalm 119 as Psalm 1 does to the rest of the Psalter. There is the same emphasis on the joy of obedience to the Word.
The Blessedness of Obedience
1 How blessed are those whose way is blameless,
Who walk in the law of the Lord.
2 How blessed are those who observe His testimonies,
Who seek Him with all their heart.
3 They also do no unrighteousness;
They walk in His ways.
Just as Psalm 1 begins with beatitude, so also here. We could translate “How blessed” as “How rewarding is the life.” Most of the time we think sin will make us happy, but it is sin that makes us miserable and obedience that makes us happy.
The blessed man is described as, “Whose way is blameless/Who walks in the Law of the LORD.” This is integrity of heart and practical obedience to God’s Law. This obedience is not just formal obedience, this is wholehearted pursuit of God through His Word. “His whole heart is engaged to know and love more and more” (Charles Bridges). It is not as though the believer is ever perfect in holiness and heart, but what he is on the inside, he is on the outside.
The Authority of the Word
4 You have ordained Your precepts,
That we should keep them diligently.
The Psalmist does not look at the Word or the Law as an abstract moral code, he sees the precepts of the Word as being ordained by God Himself. Diligent obedience to the Word is diligent obedience to God Himself.
A Sincere Plea and Commitment
5 Oh that my ways may be established
To keep Your statutes!
6 Then I shall not be ashamed
When I look upon all Your commandments.
7 I shall give thanks to You with uprightness of heart,
When I learn Your righteous judgments.
8 I shall keep Your statutes;
Do not forsake me utterly!
The Psalmist sees the authority of the Word. He sees its beauty for his life and therefore he longs for and cries out for communion with God. “This passionate exclamation pulsates with conviction, strong desire, and an acute awareness of dependence” (Zemek). He pleads with God for help, knowing the result of the divine help will be avoiding the shame and disgrace of a disobedient life. He desires the blessedness of obedience and a good conscience as opposed to the disgrace of sinful rebellion.
This enablement of grace would not lead to self-congratulation, but praise. His resolution is not mere self-determination, there is an awareness of inability and utter dependence on grace. He is, “Firm in his purpose, but distrustful of his strength” (Bridges, 14-15). He understands his own weakness and vulnerability and pleads that God would not abandon him. Without God’s perpetual presence and empowerment, his life is nothing.
What are our priorities and desires? Do we desire to know and obey God better? Do we want to be happy enough to seek Him and obey His Word?
If these priorities and desires are ours, we will consciously be dependent on God for the empowerment of His grace. Jesus, in the New Covenant, gives us His Spirit and promises empowerment to walk in obedience (Ezek. 36:27). Charles Bridges comments, “He who commands our duty, perfectly knows our weakness, and he who feels his own weakness is fully encouraged to depend upon the power of the Savior.”
Who wrote it?
Attempting to identify the authorship of this Psalm is very helpful for interpreting a number of the sections (strophes). Although determining authorship is not ultimately important, it does add some significant interpretations and applications of the Psalm.
There is no superscription identifying the author in Psa 119. It is an anonymous Psalm. Jewish tradition has suggested Ezra, one of his disciples or David. Christian tradition has generally assumed Davidic authorship. It seems clear however, from internal evidence that the author was living under conditions which were hostile to his faith. Franz Delitzsch (who thinks it was written during the Maccabean period) says, “It is natural to suppose that the composition of the Psalm falls in those times of the Greek domination in which the government was hostile, and a large party from among the Jews themselves, that was friendly towards the government, persecuted all decided confessors of the Torah.” In other words, there is the presence of hostility from without and within.
Leslie C. Allen, representing the majority of critical scholarship argues for an exilic or post-exilic author. He notes that the Psalm draws from the Pentateuch, Isaiah, Proverbs and Jeremiah. It also contains a number of Aramaisms and late-Hebrew.
A few considerations make Daniel a good candidate.
Delitzsch is certainly right about the hostility, but it seems that the hostility is directed towards an exile. There is no mention of the Temple (or Tabernacle), sacrifices, etc. The Psalmist seems to be in a strange land. David was from time to time on the run, but ultimately the hostility shown to David was not because of his commitment to Torah, or his faith, but his throne. The Jews in the Maccabean period were dominated in their own homeland. Ezra and his disciples would also have been returnees. The situation which was both hostile and exilic seems to best fit the Babylonian exile, of which Daniel was a deportee.
Internal Evidence for Daniel’s Authorship
In the following columns I compare the book of Daniel with sections of Psalm 119. The parallels seem remarkable to me.
|Daniel 1:8-9 But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself. 9 Now God granted Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the commander of the officials,
|Psalm 119:1-2 How blessed are those whose way is blameless, Who walk in the law of the LORD. 2 How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, Who seek Him with all their heart.
Psalm 119:9 How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word.
Psalm 119:11 Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You.
Psalm 119:30 I have chosen the faithful way; I have placed Your ordinances before me.
Psalm 119:101 I have restrained my feet from every evil way, That I may keep Your word.
|Daniel 1:3-4 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles, 4 youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.||Psalm 119:19 I am a stranger in the earth; Do not hide Your commandments from me.|
|Daniel 3:8 For this reason at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and brought charges against the Jews.
Daniel 6:4-5 Then the commissioners and satraps began trying to find a ground of accusation against Daniel in regard to government affairs; but they could find no ground of accusation or evidence of corruption, inasmuch as he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption was to be found in him. 5 Then these men said, “We will not find any ground of accusation against this Daniel unless we find it against him with regard to the law of his God.”
|Psalm 119:23 Even though princes sit and talk against me, Your servant meditates on Your statutes.
Psalm 119:78 May the arrogant be ashamed, for they subvert me with a lie; But I shall meditate on Your precepts.
Psalm 119:85 The arrogant have dug pits for me, Men who are not in accord with Your law.
Psalm 119:86 All Your commandments are faithful; They have persecuted me with a lie; help me!
Psalm 119:95 The wicked wait for me to destroy me; I shall diligently consider Your testimonies.
Psalm 119:110 The wicked have laid a snare for me, Yet I have not gone astray from Your precepts.
Psalm 119:157 Many are my persecutors and my adversaries, Yet I do not turn aside from Your testimonies.
Psalm 119:161 Princes persecute me without cause, But my heart stands in awe of Your words.
|Daniel 2:27-28 Daniel answered before the king and said, “As for the mystery about which the king has inquired, neither wise men, conjurers, magicians nor diviners are able to declare it to the king. 28 “However, there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will take place in the latter days. This was your dream and the visions in your mind while on your bed.
|Psalm 119:46 I will also speak of Your testimonies before kings And shall not be ashamed.
It appears that the tone, the petitions, the confessions, et al reflect Daniel and his situation. In other words, the evidence is more than just linking up individual verses, but rather getting a “feel” for Daniel’s character in the book of Daniel and then seeing that character expressed in the piety and circumstances of the Psalmist.
The “Feel” of Daniel in Psalm 119
|Psalm 119:17 Deal bountifully with Your servant, That I may live and keep Your word.||Daniel 1:12-16 12 “Please test your servants for ten days, and let us be given some vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 “Then let our appearance be observed in your presence and the appearance of the youths who are eating the king’s choice food; and deal with your servants according to what you see.” 14 So he listened to them in this matter and tested them for ten days. 15 At the end of ten days their appearance seemed better and they were fatter than all the youths who had been eating the king’s choice food. 16 So the overseer continued to withhold their choice food and the wine they were to drink, and kept giving them vegetables.|
|Psalm 119:29 Remove the false way from me, And graciously grant me Your law.||Daniel 1:4 youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.|
|Psalm 119:36-37 Incline my heart to Your testimonies And not to dishonest gain. 37 Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, And revive me in Your ways.||Daniel 2:48 Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts, and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon.
Daniel 5:16 “But I personally have heard about you, that you are able to give interpretations and solve difficult problems. Now if you are able to read the inscription and make its interpretation known to me, you will be clothed with purple and wear a necklace of gold around your neck, and you will have authority as the third ruler in the kingdom.”
|Psalm 119:63 I am a companion of all those who fear You, And of those who keep Your precepts.||Daniel 3:17-18 “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 “But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”|
|Psalm 119:87 They almost destroyed me on earth, But as for me, I did not forsake Your precepts.||Daniel 6:10 Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously.
Daniel 6:16 Then the king gave orders, and Daniel was brought in and cast into the lions’ den. The king spoke and said to Daniel, “Your God whom you constantly serve will Himself deliver you.”
|Psalm 119:98-100 Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, For they are ever mine. 99 I have more insight than all my teachers, For Your testimonies are my meditation. 100 I understand more than the aged, Because I have observed Your precepts.||Daniel 1:4 youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.
Daniel 1:19-20 19 The king talked with them, and out of them all not one was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s personal service. 20 As for every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king consulted them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and conjurers who were in all his realm.
Daniel 2:24 Therefore, Daniel went in to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to destroy the wise men of Babylon; he went and spoke to him as follows: “Do not destroy the wise men of Babylon! Take me into the king’s presence, and I will declare the interpretation to the king.”
|Psalm 119:119 You have removed all the wicked of the earth like dross; Therefore I love Your testimonies.
|Daniel 6:24 The king then gave orders, and they brought those men who had maliciously accused Daniel, and they cast them, their children and their wives into the lions’ den; and they had not reached the bottom of the den before the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.|
|Psalm 119:136 My eyes shed streams of water, Because they do not keep Your law.||Daniel 9:5-6 we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances. 6 “Moreover, we have not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes, our fathers and all the people of the land.|
|Psalm 119:18 Open my eyes, that I may behold Wonderful things from Your law.
Psalm 119:27 Make me understand the way of Your precepts, So I will meditate on Your wonders.
Psalm 119:169 Let my cry come before You, O LORD; Give me understanding according to Your word.
|Daniel 9:1-3 In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of Median descent, who was made king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans– 2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, observed in the books the number of the years which was revealed as the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet for the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. 3 ¶ So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes.|
The internal evidence seems to point most consistently to Daniel. In my studies of Psalm 119, looking at the Psalm through the lens of Daniel in exile has been incredibly helpful in both interpreting and applying the passages. However, since it is anonymous we cannot be dogmatic. But as Professor George Zemek helpfully says, “it is suggested that the reader ‘think Daniel’ as we roam through this sacred territory.”
 George Zemek, The Word of God in the Child of God: Exegetical, Theological, and Homiletical Reflections from Psalm 119.
I love Psalm 119. Every time I read it my heart and mind soar. I taught through this majestic Psalm on Wednesday nights several years ago.
I am going to slowly go through the Psalm for our Blog. I hope it stirs your heart to love the Word, learn the Word, and obey the Word.
Introduction to Psalm 119
Psalm 119 is a feast on and in the Word of God. It is the longest and most cogent expression of delight and joy in the Word. It is a Psalm of worship and praise and thanksgiving for the Word. “Apart from vv. 1-3 and 113, the whole Psalm is addressed directly to Yahweh” (Leslie Allen).
Psalm 119 is a wisdom Psalm (i.e., blessing formula, “How blessed is the man…” proverbial style, and alphabetic acrostic). It is also eclectic, including virtually all types of Psalms (lament, thanksgiving, et al). “Psalm 119 may best be described as a medley of praise, prayer and wisdom” (Allen).
It consists of 22 stanzas (corresponding to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet), with 8 verses per stanza. The structure is more like a kaleidoscope of certain themes, then a logical development. Why this alphabetic acrostic? The artistic beauty of the poem reflects the beauty of God’s Word. The acrostic was also a memory device, to help memorize the stanzas and the entire poem. The aleph to tav (A to Z) structure also indicates completeness.
The overarching purpose of Psalm 119 is to express that devotion, love and obedience to the Word of God (thus God Himself) is the greatest source of joy, delight and blessing in this life. Furthermore, the Word is the only sure source of strength, renewal and spiritual light and life.
These are synonyms, overlap, with varying nuances for words for the Word in Psalm 119.
- “The Law” (Torah) is used 25 times in Psalm 119. It is used of God’s revelation, His Law. The verb is to point, the noun came to be teaching/instruction. Comprehensive term of God’s perceptive
- “The Word” (Dabar) is used 24 times and is used of God’s divine, special revelation, given to Moses and the prophets.
- “The Testimonies” (`edu^t) is used 23 times (NIV, “statutes”) and is used in connection with the terms of the covenant. It can be used with reference to God’s faithfulness to the covenant (witness to) or the demands of the covenant (witness against).
- “The Commands/ments” (miswa) 23 times, used as authoritative order.
- “Judgments” (Mishpot) is used 22 times with reference to anything that God has done or decided.
- “The Decrees” (Huqqim) is used 21 times in regard to God’s divine will, what He has prescribed or enacted.
- “The Precepts” (Piqqudim) is used 21 times and is “order/charge.”
- “The Word” or “Promise” (‘imra) is used 19 times and is used to denote anything which God has spoken, commanded or promised.
Attributes of the Word
We will see the attributes of Torah throughout, so we will not delineate them here. But the Psalmist sees Torah as the way God ministers to him. The Psalmist encounters God in the Word. The attributes of God are attributes of the Word and vice versa. “The Word of God functions characteristically as a mirror reflecting the image of its ultimate Divine source” (George Zemek).
It is a counselor (24). It is valuable (72). It is eternal (89, 152, 160). It is perfect (96, 140). It is light (105, 130). It is upright (137, 144, 164). It is truth (142, 151, 160).
Benefits of the Word
The Word has a multitude of benefits for the believer. This is a major part of Psalm 119. The exile depends on the Word to sustain him, renew him and console him.
The Word produces happiness (1-2). It produces holiness (11, 33). It renews and revives (25, 37, 40, 50, 88, 93, 107, 149, 154, 156, 159) and gives strength during grief (28). The Word produces awe and reverence (i.e., godly fear) for God (38, 120, 161). It also brings salvation (41, 170) and grace (58). The Word gives comfort in affliction (76). The Word is a source of wisdom (98) and provides sustenance and hope in despair (116). It also promotes sensitivity to dishonoring God (136, 139;) and works conviction of sin (176).
Response to the Word
The response to the Word is twofold and very important: there is an emotional response to the Word (love, delight, joy, fear); there is a volitional response to the Word (meditate, study, run, obey, keep). These are interrelated responses. “This giant among the psalms shows the full flowering of that ‘delight’ in the law of the Lord, which is described in Psalm 1” (Kidner).
So everything the Psalmist says, we should be able to say. He says it as a regenerate person, empowered by grace, living in gratitude and confidence in God and self-distrust. He looks to God’s Word, His commands, His promises, His precepts, as his daily bread and the very air he breathes.
For your joy and progress in the faith