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
The finger of God wrote these words, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain” (Exodus 20:7). Taking God’s name in vain is a large subject. Analyzing the details of “taking His name in vain” is an exercise in Old Testament theology. Any treatment of the third commandment leads the Bible student into the world of oaths, vows, what constitutes blasphemy, false worship, and so on. Perhaps one day if I preach a series on the Ten Commandments, we will go into all that detail.
For now, let me point out two things from the commandment. God values His name. His name reflects who He is, His character, His glory. He loves His name. His name is majestic (Psalm 8:1, 9). His name is holy (Psalm 33:21). His name is to be praised, feared, thanked, and rejoiced in!
The second obvious point is that God does not want His name misused. The misuse of His name prompts God to threaten punishment upon the offenders. If God’s name is valued by Him, He wants it honored, not defamed. Revering God’s name is revering God, and God does not want anything about Him taken lightly. “The commandment prohibits any misuse of the Lord’s name, from making light of it to blatantly mocking it. Every mention made of the Lord with our mouths is to be made with the highest sincerity and reverence.”
In our culture, the misuse of God’s name in cursing is terribly common. People use God’s name and Jesus’ name as curse words. They invoke God to damn. They use the blessed name of His only-begotten Son as an expletive. These uses are blasphemous and a flagrant violation of God’s commandment. These will not be small sins on judgment day.
However, I want to point out a misuse of God’s name which many Christians are guilty of. I am not saying that Christians consciously blaspheme God or invoke God’s damnation. But there is a subtle way the third commandment is violated and that is by simply using the name “God” as filler or an expletive. It is common to hear Christians say, as an interjection, “Oh my God!” Or “Oh God!” A somewhat more pious approach, “Oh good Lord,” or “Oh Lord.” And in our technological age, let me quickly add that “OMG” is the same thing.
Dear Christian, we struggle enough with our words (Eph. 4:29; James 3:2). Let us not add violating the third commandment to our sins of the tongue. Let us guard our mouths to make sure that we do not use the majestic name of our God as filler, as a comma, as an interjection. His name is glorious. The word “God” is weighty, it is one of the titles of the most important Person in the universe. The word “Lord” expresses His power, His might, His right to rule over our lives. It is an absolute contradiction, albeit often an unconscious one, to claim faith in God and reverence for His name and then misuse His name. When we use His name, let’s make sure we use it in the ways that Scripture commands and commends, not forbids and threatens punishment. May we use His name in a way that is fitting for the Lord of all.
For the sake of His name,
My Hebrew professor, Ron Allen, used to say, “Only a Philistine could fail to love the Psalms.” The Psalms are full of the ups and downs of life. They are full of praise to God, laments, complaints, cries for help, and bold declarations of confidence in God. The Psalms are prophetic, pointing us to the ultimate Blessed Man, the quintessential Righteous Man, David’s Greater Son, Jesus Christ. Among all the Psalms, one that stands out to me, one that I find myself quoting, is Psalm 16. It is prophetic, pointing towards the resurrection of Jesus, “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see decay” (16:10). Peter quotes this text in Acts. The Psalm also extols the believer’s portion, which is God himself (16:5). David says that he continually puts the Lord before him, that must mean in his thoughts and affections, and because of that, he is never shaken (16:8). Right thoughts of God lead to stability in life. David also extols the joy there is in God’s presence with memorable, affecting words, “In your presence there is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (16:11). This Psalm is rich. Derek Kidner rightly says, “The theme of having one’s affections centered on God give this psalm its unity and ardor.”
There is one part of this Psalm that caught my attention this morning, “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight” (16:3). David sees something in the saints, that is believers. The word he uses to describe them is interesting, as it is variously translated, “majestic ones,” “excellent ones,” “noble ones.” David is drawn to God’s people. He sees in them something desirable, he delights in them. Spurgeon, taking the Psalmist to be ultimately Jesus, says, “He who knows them best says of them, ‘in whom is all my delight.’ They count themselves to be less than nothing, and yet he makes much of them and sets his heart towards them.” What do God’s people have going for them? Why should they be our delight? The living God is their refuge, he is their good, he is their chosen portion, he is their counselor, their hope and their joy. Even the lowest of believers have this glorious God and all that he is. What David delights in, in God’s people, is God in them and God for them. It is God who beautifies his people, making them a delight.
What do we think of God’s people? Are they our delight? Or do we grumble against them for being “hypocrites,” (thus always indicting ourselves in such charges!). Do we take more pleasure in being around worldlings who serve the god of this age more than God’s holy ones? Worldlings are the very ones running after others gods (16:4). Do we admire the godless and the sinner because of their success and dismiss the children of God? Do we avoid God’s people? By the way, most of the time when we avoid God’s people, it is not really because we think we are better than them, although that is what we might say, but rather, it is because we are convicted by them. How we feel about other Christians is an indicator ultimately of what we think of God. There is no such thing as esteeming God and despising his people. They are his people, his children, he knows them, loves them and is sanctifying them. No worldling can make such claims! Certainly, some of God’s people are more mature than others, wiser than others, more pleasant than others, more sanctified than others, but they all have one thing in common, they all belong to the same God, redeemed by the same Savior.
So are the saints your delight? If not, why not? If not, then the Psalmist would simply say to you that you are looking at the wrong things in them and most likely, the wrong things in yourself. Set the Lord before you, let your heart be glad in him, rejoice in his work, most especially among his people and join this rag-tag bunch of struggling sinners who are the majestic ones in all the earth. When we see God’s beauty in them, we will delight in them as we should.