And now we come to Psalm 119 with its whopping 176 verses!
Psalm 119 is daunting to read, let alone to study. But here are a couple of golden nuggets to get us started:
How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Psalm 119:103 NIV Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. Psalm 119:105 NIV You are my refuge and my shield; your word is my source of hope. Psalm 119:114 NLT
And so, as we begin to study this beautiful behemoth of a song, let us pray these words over our time with the Lord:
Father in heaven, open our eyes that we may see the wonderful truths in your instructions (Psalm 119:18 NLT). Amen.
Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible, but it is so worth our time and study. Commentators speak of people throughout history who memorized this chapter, some even singing it upon their martyrdom. Although the psalm is not signed, Bible scholars believe it to be a work of David.
However, God did not include a signature, so we will leave it at that.
Psalm 119 is a ginormous acrostic poem! The Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters. This psalm is divided into 22 sections, each verse of those 22 sections (eight verses in each section) begins with that same letter of the alphabet. For example, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet is Aleph (Alef), and the first section of Psalm 119 is titled such, and then all eight verses begin with Aleph as well. Beth (Bet) is the second, and so forth. If you skim through Psalm 119, you will see the headings, all twenty-two of them!
Bible scholars may not say with certainty who wrote Psalm 119, but they do agree that it was written over the course of someone’s life and probably compiled later. When we study the psalm, we can see a youthful faith in the beginning, age and wisdom by the end. Bible scholars also see the later compilation of the many songs or poems into one because the sections do not necessarily flow from one to the next logically–other than following the Hebrew alphabet.
The sections and verses are not like a chain, where one link is connected to the other, but like a string of pearls where each pearl has equal, but independent value.Pastor David Guzik, http://www.enduringword.com
The 18th century English minister, Matthew Henry, calls Psalm 119, “a chest of gold rings, not a chain of gold links.”
And the 19th century preacher, Charles Spurgeon, says this in his commentary on the Psalter, “Other psalms have been mere lakes, but this is the main ocean.”
Now here is the key that unlocks this beautiful psalm: nearly all of the 176 verses of Psalm 119 mention the Word of God. Some scholars argue about a couple that they believe do not (verses 84, 90, 121, 122, 132); however, an ancient group of Jewish Bible scholars called the Masoretes said, all except verse 122 mention the Word of God in some form. Here is verse 122:
Ensure your servant's well-being; do not let the arrogant oppress me. Psalm 119:122 NIV
Why not in this verse? If 175 verses (or 171 for some modern scholars) of this song mention God’s Word, why not this one? Since nothing happens in God’s Word without His knowing and His hand and His will, this is important to think about. Maybe we will never know why, but we can wonder at our marvelous God. We can be amazed at a song as long as this one that sings of God’s faithfulness to His people through His Word in nearly every verse. How God’s strength and His love and His forgiveness and His mercy is poured out to us through the Bible. How 171 or 175 verses mention the Word of God and its power given freely to the one who seeks Him with his heart.
The author of Psalm 119 would not have held the Bible in his hands. No one knows what ancient Hebrews like David had as a written Word of God, possibly the Torah (Pentateuch), or the first five books as written by Moses. Maybe some of the psalms were compiled. Otherwise, much of the Old Testament was that of an oral record, stories passed down for generations and then written down later. Possibly bits and pieces of poems and writings that might have been written down and in someone’s possession but were taken and compiled later to be shared by all.
Still, Psalm 119 talks about the beauty and the hope and the salvation found in the Word of God in nearly every verse.
Each verse mentions the Word of God using the following eight Hebrew words: Torah (law as revealed to Moses), Dabar (Word), Mispatin (Judgments), Edut/Edot (Testimonies), Miswah/Miswat (Commandments), Huqqim (Statutes), Piqqudim (Precepts), Imrah (to speak).
Here is an explanation by Pastor David Guzik if you’re interested. He also has a nearly ten-hour commentary on Psalm 119!
Psalm 119 speaks of God’s Word throughout its entirety, but does it also prophecy the coming of the Messiah? Does this psalm point to Jesus? Can we see Him in this song?
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:1-5 NIV
John wrote his gospel in Greek originally. However, in the Orthodox Jewish Bible, the Hebrew translation for “Word” that John uses here is: Dvar Hashem. Now, I am not a Hebrew scholar; however, in my research of what this word means and my prayers that God would reveal the Truth to me, this is what I found:
Dvar is a form of Dabar which we know means “Word” or “spoken Word of God” or “revealed Word of God.” Dabar is used throughout the Old Testament to refer to God’s Word. Hashem is used in reference to God and literally translates as “the name.” The Hebrew language has many names for God, some are so revered that they are not spoken out loud nor written down. So Dvar Hashem translates literally as “Word of the Name.”
John 1:1 says Dvar Hashem was with God in the beginning. “Word of the Name” or “Word of God” was with God in the beginning.
Jesus was with God in the beginning. Jesus is the incarnate Word of God. Jesus as Dvar Hashem.
Therefore, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior is all over Psalm 119.
I recommend using the You Version Bible app to read Psalm 119 two times. Choose a couple of different translation, turn on the audio, and let someone read the song to you while you follow along. I recommend a word-for-word translation (like the ESV, KJV, or NASB) and a meaning-to-meaning translation (like the NIV or NLT). Each of these has an audio version on the You Version Bible app.
There are many books written about Psalm 119. Thousands of pages, volume after volume of notes and thoughts and ideas from Bible scholars much smarter than me are out there and many of them are old enough that you can find them for free online. So look around if you’re interested in learning more.
Here are couple more golden nuggets of encouragement as you read this song:
I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Psalm 119:11 ESV My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word! Psalm 119:25 ESV My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word! Psalm 119:28 ESV Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Psalm 119:34 ESV I remember your name in the night, O LORD, and keep your law. Psalm 119:55 ESV My soul longs for your salvation; I hope in your word. Psalm 119:81 ESV You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word. Psalm 119:114 ESV
Father in heaven, as we study Psalm 119 open our eyes to your words and their meaning. Help us to understand. Help us to gather your words and hide them in our hearts so that we have you and your promises with us all day and all night. Guide us as we study and lead us into understanding. We love you. We thank you. We praise you. Amen.