Psalms for Troubled Times – Psalm 119 overview

The Magnificence and Grace of God’s Word

With some trepidation we come to the longest chapter in our Bibles, but I am thankful for the help given by A.G.Clarke in ‘Analytical Studies in the Psalms’.

We all know that the psalm is an alphabetic acrostic, and for many of us, we have no doubt become familiar with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet having seen them written above each section of the psalm, from Aleph to Tau.

Each of these sections is neatly ordered, with eight verses in each, all starting with the same letter, and Clarke points out that eight is the number linked with the New Covenant. Both the Old and New Covenant’s are governed by God’s Law, the difference being that while the Old regulated outward aspects of life, the New is inward in focus and action.

‘But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.’ (Jeremiah 31:33)

Of course, it is the Law that is the central theme of this great psalm, and through the use of various synonyms, the writer is able to present God’s Word in ‘its manifold aspects … subtle variations in the great theme’ (Clarke). You will note below that there are eight of these variations. Again another reminder of the New Covenant, and the importance of having God’s Word in the heart.

The psalm has many important verses, but perhaps in this regard we could say that a key verse must be verse 11: ‘Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee’.

1) Torah – Law

Law’ is an unhelpful translation. The root of the word means ‘to flow, or throw’, and includes the idea of ‘direction’. The word first appears in verse 1, and you’ll note the close connection ‘the way’.

‘Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the direction of the LORD’ (v1).

Laws are established by Kings, but directions are given by parents (Prov 1:8), and one blessing of walking in ‘the way’ (John 14:6), is that we are brought into relationship with the LORD as our Heavenly Father. 

‘God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.’ (Gal 4:4-6)

Now the LORD would say to us: ‘My son, forget not my direction!’ (Prov 3:1).

2) Edah – Testimony

This word comes from the root ‘ed’ meaning ‘a witness’, and thus reminds us that the Word of God, not only gives us direction in ‘the way’, but is a ‘testimony’ or ‘witness’ to the character of God Himself. In other words, the LORD is revealed through His Word: ‘He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father’ (John 14:9).

3) Piqqud – Precept

We move now from our relationship with God as our Father, to God as our Lord and Master. We are in the business world now, and I am reminded on the parable told of ‘a householder’ (Matt 20), who went out ‘to hire labourers’ and charged them to‘go into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you’. 

This is the idea of a precept. It’s a charge that has been given, with the understanding that there will be a day of review coming when we will be mustered to stand before our Lord.

‘Then every one of us shall give account of himself to God’ (Roms 14:12).

4) Choq – Statute

The enduring and unchanging nature of God’s Word is brought before us here. The root of this word means to inscribe or cut into, and we can think of those 10 commandments themselves, ‘tables of stone, written with the finger of God’ (Exo 31:18). These inscribed stone tablets were preserved in the Ark of the Covenant, a perpetual reminder to the children of Israel. Indeed, on 22 occasions from Exodus to Numbers we read it shall be ‘a statute for ever’.

5) Mitsvah – Commandment

This is very simply what it says: a command. We are now in the military arena. Think of how the centurion in the Gospels could say: ‘I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it’ (Matt 8:9).

The lesson is clear. Obedience is a necessity, but for us it is motivated by love, rather than fear. Think of what our Lord Jesus would say: ‘if ye love me, keep my commandments’ (John 14:15).

6) Mishpat – Judgment

In this word, we are in the royal courtroom, and find ourselves under the authority of God as our Judge and King. He issues His judgment, and His Word is ‘quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart’ (Hebs 4:12).

This gives us pause. Do we want to place ourselves under such an instrument? But then we consider, in type, the wise judgment of Solomon as he spoke to two mothers (1 Kings 3), and recognise that ‘a greater than Solomon is here’ (Luke 11:31)

As we meditate upon the life of the Word of God incarnate, we rejoice at how He got directly to the heart of the problem, and answered His enemies with such wisdom. We read that ‘they could not take hold of his words before the people: and they marvelled at his answer, and held their peace’ (Luke 20:26)

With this in mind, we place ourselves willingly under His judgments, for we know it’s for our blessing.

7) Dabar – Word

The Word is essential to who God is. ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’ (John 1:1). It is also the essence of how God acts. ‘All things were made by Him (ie, the Word)’ (John 1:3).

The word is first used in connection with the LORD in relation to the covenantal promise given to Abraham. ‘After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying … he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir’ (Gen 15:1-4). This would teach us of the surety of God’s Word. We can trust it and ought to take heed, as Peter would exhort saying:

‘We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts’ (2 Pet 1:19).

We see how fully God acts through His Word when we notice that this word ‘dabar’ is used in the following question: ‘is anything too hard for the Lord?’ (Gen 18:14). In anything, God need only speak the word, and it is done! And so, we also learn here of the power of God’s Word to effect change.

No wonder Paul could say: ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth’ (Roms 1:16).

8) Imrah – Saying

This word is similar to, and often connected with the last (see ‘saying’ in Gen 15:1 above), though this focuses on the actual speech, whereas ‘dabar’ seems to focus more on the content of that which is spoken.

While ‘dabar’ is at times used for a word that comes from a distance, some suggest that ‘imrah’ suggests a more personal and intimate engagement of the LORD with His creation and His people.

Isn’t it precious that the God of all creation, eternal and glorious, would deign to speak to us.

How much more precious that our God who ‘spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son’ (Heb 1:1,2). And as we read through the Gospels, we are immensely privileged to hear the ‘gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth’ (Luke 4:22).

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