Psalm 119: The Spur to Vital Godliness
It is famously known as the longest chapter in the Bible. Along with Psalm 1 and Psalm 19, it is identified as a Torah Psalm. It speaks of the full gamut of Christian experience, and nothing spurs the Christian to make his calling and election sure quite like Psalm 119.
With 176 verses, gathered into 22 sections (each one headed by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet), Psalm 119 is equated to pearls on a string. The verses relate to one another, but yet they are distinct. From the beginning verse, there is a promise of blessing.
When most people think about Psalm 119, they think about the Word of God itself. Here the Psalmist, presumably David, finds no less than ten terms to describe God’s Word. Thus, meditating on the gathered musings, regarding holy writ, will entice the reader to engage the Scriptures all the more. A daily mediation on one verse of Psalm 119 will allow a twice-go-round per year. The mechanical nature and structure of this Psalm surely invites memorization of parts, if not the whole.
There is a practical element to Psalm 119. Because it is part of the wisdom literature of the Bible, it begs to be applied by the reader/believer. In this case, the habit of meditating on the wisdom of God will have its good effect, as the Spirit brings to remembrance the Word in an appropriate season. The vast array of subjects means Psalm 119 has something for just about any season of one’s life. Indeed, God has a Word for His children in every situation.
Psalms are multi-faceted pieces of literature. They are songs to be sung by God’s people. They are poetry of the highest order. They are truly helpful as a prayer book, and because they are wisdom literature, we have a Word from the Lord, designed to make us wise as serpents but harmless as doves.
The penitent is prompted. The supplicant is suckled. The imprecator is eased. Joy is set to words for those who rejoice, and the mourner has his lament. Jonathan Edwards wrote in Religious Affections, “The ordinary and serious breathing of my soul is such as that of the Psalmist throughout Psalm 119.”
Others have found great value in Psalm 119. Martin Luther would not trade one leaf of its pages for the whole world. William Cowper called it, “a holy alphabet — so plain that children may understand it — so rich and instructive, that the wisest and most experienced may every day learn something from it.” John Calvin was sure that when David employed the term “law,” he was intending for us to consider the whole counsel of God from the Bible.
Christian, when lethargy toward God’s Word sets in, do you have a remedy? What spurs the athlete like clothing himself in uniform and stepping onto the field? What invigorates the businessman like the opening bell of the market trading place? What warms the heart and mind of the student like the early morning illumination of the university library? The thrill of the search of the Scriptures is primed by a preliminary jaunt into Psalm 119.
David’s love for God’s Word is exuberant. In God’s Law, he finds truth (Ps 119:160). He learns of holiness and perfection. He is simultaneously challenged by his own sins and the vile world he must pilgrim through. It is dark and dangerous, but the Word is a lamp unto his feet and a light unto his path (Ps 119:105).
Revival awaits those exceedingly afflicted (Ps 119:107). The wicked have a mission to destroy God’s people (Ps 119:95). They persecute God’s beloved with lies (Ps 119:86). The arrogant oppress (Ps 119:122), because they do not keep nor care for God’s Law (Ps 119:136).
David cries out to God for deliverance (Ps 119:145). He cries for help (Ps 119:147), and he waits for God’s Word to have its powerful effect (Ps 119:81). He rejoices in God’s Word (Ps 119:162).
Once revived, David again longs for God’s salvation (Ps 119:174). He hopes again in God, his Deliverer (Ps 119:166). He values his salvation above all that the world could give him (Ps 119:72).
Psalm 119, as the Word of God, gives its readers a proper perspective on the righteous ways of God and also on the evil operations of the world. The righteous seek for God, and His Word, while the wicked avoid it. The wise pursue the statues of the Lord and trust in Him. They give thanks to God for His Law.
The righteous desire to be taught God’s commandments. They are aware of the consequences of wandering away from God’s testimonies. The ordinances of God are sure in a world in which God’s people are strangers.
In conclusion, our advocacy of Psalm 119 is a confident one. When you next find yourself in a spiritual lull, then remember this largest of the Psalms. A singular mediation, a perusal of a lettered section, or a full read through, brings comfort, consolation, and encouragement. This Word about the Word will stir you like nothing else — producing reverence, assuring restoration, and delighting the soul, as it receives counsel from the Most High. Hence, with David, we exclaim, “O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day (Ps 119:97).”
Oregon City, Oregon
June 10, 2022