June 11, 2017
A note to readers: Today’s post is part of a Sunday Voice Series by Dr. Timothy C. Tennent, a close friend, mentor and colleague of mine. He serves as the President of Asbury Theological Seminary among other posts he holds across the global church. This Sunday Voice Series will cover the Psalms, beginning to end, by focusing on a Psalm each Sunday. I can’t tell you how excited I am for his interest in contributing here. This will be a huge blessing to us all.
Psalm 119:1-16 (NIV)
Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the LORD.
Blessed are those who keep his statutes
and seek him with all their heart—
they do no wrong
but follow his ways.
You have laid down precepts
that are to be fully obeyed.
Oh, that my ways were steadfast
in obeying your decrees!
Then I would not be put to shame
when I consider all your commands.
I will praise you with an upright heart
as I learn your righteous laws.
I will obey your decrees;
do not utterly forsake me.
How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
By living according to your word.
I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
Praise be to you, LORD;
teach me your decrees.
With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth.
I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.
I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.
The season of Pentecost has always been a season in which the church instructed new believers. So, I thought it would be helpful if over the next eight Sundays, our Daily Text focused entirely on Psalm 119. Psalm 119 is the grand wisdom psalm of the Bible. With 176 verses, this psalm is to the rest of the psalter what the Grand Canyon is to all other canyons. Psalm 119 is not only the longest psalm in the Bible, but also the most extensive acrostic in the psalter. Each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet are called forth to offer eight verses of praise. Each of the eight verses under each of the headings begins with that letter, making it the grand acrostic of wisdom. Even most English Bibles seek to honor the exquisite construction of this psalm by retaining the name of each Hebrew letter at the heading of each of the eight verse sections.
This psalm’s intricate plan is designed to aid in memorization and thereby help train young people in the nature and content of God’s Law. Like a wise grandfather with his grandchildren at his knee, this psalm seems to gather up all the wisdom of the Scriptures and turn it into a glorious act of praise and an ever rising crescendo of instruction and catechesis which makes it one of the great treasures of the Bible. This psalm is like a precious diamond with multiple facets, and it will take us eight Sundays to complete just this one psalm!
The opening insight of Psalm 119 is that this psalm is a celebration of God’s Law. In the Hebrew world, the number seven was considered the number of perfection. So, one might expect to find seven different words for the Law. We actually find eight different Hebrew words repeated throughout the psalm. This is because it is an act of praise. Seven may be the number of perfection, but eight is perfection with a superlative. It is the addition of joy. It is like a baker’s dozen, which is 13, as an added dose of joy to the standard twelve. For the same reason, we have divided Psalm 119 into 8 separate meditations, as our own kind of superlative of praise. None of the 22 stanzas of this psalm ever contain fewer than six of the eight words, and six of the stanzas contain all eight. Remarkably, only four of the 176 verses do not contain (in the Hebrew text) at least one of these eight words for God’s revelation.
In singing or reading through the first two stanzas of this psalm, just let the words flow over you. We will discuss the meaning of the words next week, but for now, just sense the exuberance and joy of this psalm. As Christians, we sometimes see God’s Word (one of the terms for law) as burdensome. This psalm is the great liberation from that perspective. It is his word that allows a “young man to keep his way pure” (vs. 9). Notice how he joyfully memorizes and cherishes God’s word: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (vs. 11). So, may the grand psalm of 119 transport you to that delightful place of joy. May you find yourself saying with the psalmist: “I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches” (vs. 13). The psalm is like a rare and perfectly cut diamond, and all eight of these terms become the various facets or cuts in the diamond which allow us to see its beauty and majesty. Welcome to the joyous journey of Psalm 119!