Summary: The Psalmist sings a long song in praise of God's word.
Don McLean’s 1971 hit American Pie is a long song. It goes on for over 8 ½ minutes telling the story of “the day the music died.” Let’s call American Pie the longest song to become a hit and receive regular airplay on U. S. radio stations, because generally, we don’t sit still for long songs. American Pie pales in comparison to the length of some other songs, though. Pink Floyd is known for some rather lengthy songs: Dark Side of the Moon runs almost 43 minutes, and Echoes coming in at just under 24 minutes are but two. Neither of those compare with Longplayer, though. Longplayer is a one thousand year long musical composition. It began playing at midnight on the 31st of December 1999, and will continue to play without repetition until the last moment of 2999, at which point it will complete its cycle and begin again. Conceived and composed by Jem Finer, it was originally produced as an Artangel commission, and is now in the care of the Longplayer Trust. Longplayer can be heard in the lighthouse at Trinity Buoy Wharf, London, where it has been playing since it began. It can also be heard at several other listening posts around the world, and globally via a live stream on the Internet. I’ve listened to it. It’s actually very weird! But, I suppose a 1,000 year-long song should be weird.
I mention these long songs because we come to the longest song in the Hebrew songbook, Psalm 119. Psalm 119 goes for 176 verses, making it the longest chapter in the entire bible. Here’s what’s interesting about the 119th Psalm: There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. There are 22 stanzas to the 119th Psalm. Each stanza of this song coincides with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. For example, the first stanza represents the letter aleph, and all eight verses of the first stanza begin with the Hebrew letter aleph. Likewise, the second letter beth begins the second stanza, and all eight verses of the second stanza begin with the Hebrew letter beth. That pattern continues through all twenty-two stanzas. Oh, that the English language could capture the pain-staking labor of love that is the 119th Psalm. It truly expresses the love affair the author has with God’s word. In these 176 verses, the author (whom many commentators believe to be David) magnifies God’s word, praises God’s word, thanks God for it, describes it and asks God to continue to use it in his life. The Psalm is a testimony to the deep love the author has for God’s word, and it’s a testimony to the knowledge the author has of God’s word. We’ve said the best songs are those written out of the writer’s own experience. Luke Bryan, reigning Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year, recently said, “I like to hunt, fish, ride around on my farm, build a big bonfire and drink some _______ (you’ll have to fill in the blank) — and that’s what I sing about. It’s what I know.” Well, that may be what Luke Bryan knows, but the Psalmist knows God’s word, and the advice he offers was not wishful thinking on his part. He had lived it, believed it, practiced it and had seen the benefits throughout his life. He was simply trying to communicate that value to others, and he chose to do it through the longest song in the Hebrew hymnbook.
Saint Augustine said concerning the 119th Psalm that it doesn’t “need an expositor, but only a reader and listener.” He’s right, but I opted not to read all 176 verses to you today. In the New Living Translation, it is 2,525 words, and that means it would take me about 22 minutes. I’d read it all to you, and you’d still expect me to say something about it. We’d be here way too long. The fact that we both think that way just says that you and I both have a long way to go in developing the same kind of love for God’s word as the Psalmist. I know that because the Bible is the most sold, but least read book in the world. An article in a Religious News Service publication relates an episode of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. In the episode, Leno roamed the audience asking questions concerning the Bible: Name one of the Ten Commandments. The best anyone could do was, “God helps those who help themselves.” I understand nerves often keep us from thinking clearly, and being put on the spot can be nerve-wracking. So, it wasn’t a bad answer for someone who was guessing! Unfortunately, according the Barna Research Group, 75% of people polled actually thought “God helps those who help themselves” is in the Bible. It isn’t! Leno went on to ask his audience to identify one of the apostles. No one could. He asked them to name the Beatles, and almost in unison, the audience chimed in, “George, Ringo, Paul and John.” No, I don’t think we have the same love affair with God’s word as the Psalmist.