For the last several days, I have been studying Psalm 119. I have read the entire chapter many times in the past, but, in sitting and studying the words this time, it’s like I had never read it before. God is so good, as He is always revealing new things to us, each time we read His Word, and I think He takes great pleasure in giving us new insight into something we have read many times. Yes, “Wisdom is gained every time we open the Bible and read His Word,” as an old, old bookmark I have still reminds me.
I think it can be said that in all the great chapters and passages in the Bible, Psalm 119 stands alone. It is a written monument to the importance of God’s Word. In fact, it is God’s Word that is the sole subject of the chapter. We all know that Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible, with its 176 verses. How important is it that we read, study, believe, and learn the Word of God? How important is God’s Word to us? Let’s put it this way: What is the single subject matter of the longest chapter in the Bible? God’s Word.
As I read and studied the chapter, I learned so many things that make this chapter unique. Of course, we always begin any conversation with the length of the chapter. But, it is the way the chapter is arranged that sets it apart. Like many of the Psalms, it is an “acrostic.” An acrostic is when sets of letters (such as the first letter of a line) are written in order: “A composition, usually in verse, in which sets of letters (as the initial or final letters of the lines) taken in order form a word or phrase or a regular sequence of letters of the alphabet.” The Hebrew alphabet had 22 letters. Usually, when writing an acrostic verse, only one verse per letter of the alphabet is used. In other words, each line would begin with a letter, the next verse begins with the next letter of the alphabet, and so on. In Psalm 119, there are 8 verses for each letter … that is why Psalm 119 has 22 stanzas: One stanza for each letter … 8 verses for each letter … 22 letters in the alphabet … 8 verses per letter … equals 176 verses! Amazing! Yes, I had to go back and look at each stanza … 8 … 16 … 24 … all the way to 176! For this reason, the chapter is also referred to as an “Alphabet Psalm.” There is a tradition that King David used this Psalm to teach his son Solomon the alphabet. It’s also thought that King David taught his son to not just use this alphabet for writing letters, but as an alphabet for spiritual life.
Perhaps the one word most associated with the Psalms would be “praise.” In Psalm 119, the entire chapter is a “praise” song for God’s Word: Its authenticity, its value, and its purpose. Here’s the number 8 again: There are 8 words which repeat, over and over, throughout the chapter, and they all have to do with the Word of God: Word, Law, Statues, Commandments, Judgements, Precepts, Testimonies, and Thy/His Ways. All of these words stand as synonyms for the Word of God, revealed to man. Here we have the longest chapter in the Bible, 176 verses, and the Word of God is mentioned in every verse, but three! Reading God’s Word … learning God’s Word … knowing God’s Word … hearing God’s Word … and … and … keeping God’s Word close to us must be of the utmost value and importance. Another word which appears repeatedly throughout the chapter is “quicken,” which means “revive.”
Who wrote Psalm 119? Not sure. It is one of the 61 Psalms which credit the author as “anonymous.” Just as with the book of Hebrews, there is debate over authorship, and the list is only a couple of names. For Psalms 119, as with Hebrews, it comes down to writing style. It is believed that either King David wrote Psalm 119 (compiled over his lifetime), or Ezra wrote it. But, consider this: The ultimate Author of Scripture is God Himself, using men to write, as inspired by the Holy Spirit. That’s why you need the help of the Holy Spirit to understand the Scriptures … Who better to get the true meaning from … than the Author?
Psalm 119 is approximately the same length as the books of Ruth, James, or Philippians.
I never miss an opportunity to encourage people to read the entire book of Psalms. People, especially those reading the Bible for the first time, will ask me, “Where should I start?” While it is easy to say, “At the beginning,” which, of course, isn’t a bad idea, I always suggest the book of John … and, the book of Psalms. If they will, seriously, read either … it will make them want to read more. I think that one of the reasons Psalms is so “popular” (if I may use that word in context) is that they are so easy to understand, and they express so well the feelings that we all share. Plus, and I think this is important when someone is first learning to start devoting time to Scripture reading every day, the Psalms are easy to read an entire chapter in one sitting … I can’t remember a time when I have read through the book of Psalms, and, every chapter I read, every time, spoke directly to something I was going through at the time.
I’ve known so many people who have told me that Psalms was their favorite book. This includes my Mom, who, like all of us when going through difficult times, turn to the Psalms … and, in particular, favorite Psalms. Time and again, it is the peace and comfort found in the Psalms that give us “just what we need” for any situation we are facing. C.S. Lewis said that, “The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express the same delight in God which made David dance.” And, R.C. Sproul said that, “Whenever I read the Psalms, I feel like I am eavesdropping on a saint having a personal conversation with God.”
There is just a special “connection” we feel with the Psalms. And, so many of us keep going back to our favorite verses within the 119th chapter. For instance, John Calvin preached 22 sermons (one for each stanza) from Psalm 119. Here is this statement about one of those great, “we all know” verses from Psalm 119, from Thomas Watson: “I have hidden your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:11. The Word, locked up in the heart-is a preservative against sin. As one would carry an antidote with him when he comes near an infected place-so David carried the Word in his heart as a sacred antidote to preserve him from the infection of sin.” Wow! That was really good!
Charles Spurgeon liked Psalm 119 so much, that he said, “We might do well to commit it to memory.” Commit it to memory. I know that most of us know, maybe, Psalm 23 by heart … but all 176 verses of Psalm 119? We wrote that there is a belief that King David used this Psalm to teach Solomon. It has been suggested that Psalm 119 may have been written as an acrostic poem so that it would be easier to memorize. The words of this particular Psalm were considered to be that important! I’ve learned that there have, indeed, been some pretty famous people who have made a point to memorize the entire chapter … all 176 verses. Some people you may know, who were known to have the entire Psalm memorized, include William Wilberforce (19th century British politician who led the movement to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire), Blaise Pascal, the French philosopher, Henry Martyn (19th century pioneer missionary to India), and David Livingstone (19th century pioneer missionary to Africa).
These examples epitomize the words of verse 11: “Thy word have I hid in mine heart …” meaning “to deposit or place” in my heart. Which leads me to the question of which are my favorite verses from Psalm 119? Who could pick? Allow me to write that there are so many, and, on any given day, every verse could “stand out” as being just what God wants me to learn for today. There were a couple of verses I specifically wrote down, as I went through. One was verse 160, which personally responded to my last writing about why believing God’s account of creation was important: “Thy word is true from the beginning.” This spoke to me about what I had written about believing God’s Word from the very “beginning.” I’m working on the “Wealth Stored for the Righteous” series, which speaks so much about the benefits we have right now … so, verse 162 spoke to me about what should be tops on our list of wealth we already possess: “I rejoice at thy word, as one that findeth great treasure.” Verse 42 repeats what we should say, constantly: “I trust in thy word.” And, not just trust: “I hope in thy word” (verses 81, 114). Another treasure we have is the assurance that God is always with us, that “thou art near” (verse 151).
What a great, great chapter. What Words! No wonder I am “in awe of thy word” (verse 161).
I am reminded that, besides Isaiah, the book of Psalms is most quoted in the New Testament. I am also reminded that this chapter praises the Word … and, that Jesus is, literally, the Word in human form. The Word made flesh. When we praise Jesus, we are praising His Word, and when we are praising the Word, we are praising Him. You can’t separate Jesus from the Word.
I will close with another example of someone from history who had memorized the entire chapter of Psalm 119. I found this same story on several different sources, so I will share this with you:
George Wishart was the Bishop of Edinburgh in the 17th century. Wishart was condemned to death, and was scheduled to be executed. But, when he was on the scaffold, he made use of a custom that allowed the condemned person to choose one Psalm to be sung, and he chose Psalms 119:1-176. Before two-thirds of the psalm was sung, his pardon arrived and his life was spared.
Please read Psalm 119.
And … the rest!
Blessings to you, and your family,
Richard. Vincent. Rose.