Meditations on 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

Link to Psalm 119 sermons.