Psalm 119 has been called the Mt. Everest of the Psalms. It is the longest psalm and the longest chapter in the Bible. What I love about it is that it is all about God’s Word. And that’s what we are about here at Calvary Chapel: teaching God’s Word. I’ve heard a slur about this distinctive lately: that Calvary Chapel believes in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Scriptures. This makes it sound as if we worship the Bible. This simply isn’t so. Jesus said in John 5:39 “You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, yet they testify about Me.” It isn’t the Scriptures we worship, it is He which the Scriptures point to.
Psalm 119 is also a literary masterpiece. The 176 verses are broken up into 8 stanzas. Each line of each stanza starts with a subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet. So the first word of each of the first 8 verses starts with the letter Alef, and so on until the last 8 verses which all start with Tav. In literary terms this is called an acrostic.
Nearly every verse in the psalm contains one of the 8 words for God’s revelation to man: instruction, decree, precept, statute, command, judgment, promise, and word.
This psalm may have been written Ezra the Scribe. I’m reminded of Ezra’s love for God’s Word in Nehemiah 8:1 “They asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses that the Lord had given Israel. On the first day of the seventh month, Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women, and all who could listen with understanding…He read out of it from daybreak until noon before the men…”
There a number of hidden gems in this psalm, and we’re going to just take it stanza by stanza and see how far we get.
1 – 8
This first stanza should remind us of Psalm 1:
Psalm 1:1 How happy is the man
who does not follow the advice of the wicked
or take the path of sinners
or join a group of mockers!
2 Instead, his delight is in the LORD’s instruction,
and he meditates on it day and night.
Clearly, the way to happiness is by seeing how God lives from His Word and mirroring that in our lives. Although it sounds like in the first verses that this man has it all together, he admits in verse 5 “if only…” Though we fall short constantly, our aim should always be to fully follow God’s ways as revealed in His Word. And believe it or not, if you have a relationship with Jesus, God looks at you as if you are already doing it!
2 Corinthians 5:21 “He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Verses 5 and 6 also remind us of the “mirror” quality of God’s Word.
James 1:22 “But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his own face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but one who does good works—this person will be blessed in what he does.”
But even if our conscience bothers us, it is only God reminding us that He is transforming us from the inside out—and that we aren’t there yet.
I love verse 7 because even though the psalmist knows he isn’t perfect, he knows his heart is sincere. He really wants to follow God’s commands with this whole heart!
His aim is to always keep God’s statutes and thus always be in relationship with God. Maybe you are in a place like that—where you want to be good but constantly fall short, or maybe only occasionally fall short but it really bugs you and you feel inadequate. If you are in relationship with Jesus, then that’s actually a good place to be: but don’t be discouraged, just keep seeking Him and know that God is working and you will get there by His power!
9 – 16
This is one of those power-packed sections. As a young person, often as we develop our own personality and ways of understanding ourselves and our place in the word—we abandon the wisdom afforded us from those that are older. “Trust no one over 30” was the cry of the 1960s. Of course, every one of those “young” people is now well over 30!
It is especially hard when you are young to do the right thing because it seems you just have to do the opposite of your elders in order to be your own person. But as young people we lack experience that can help us know the right thing to do.
The clear direction of this phrase is not to look solely at those who are older than you, but look to an objective, third-party source for guidance: God’s Word.
Secondly, he tells us to not be half-hearted about it. James talks about the “double-minded” person (James 1:8). He then prays to the Lord to help keep him from wandering—and one powerful way to do that is to keep God’s Word close at hand.
“Treasured” in verse 11 is the Hebrew word “to hide.” In Ezra’s time they didn’t have printed copies of the Bible, so they recited it in public like we saw in Nehemiah 8. Memorizing God’s Word is one of the best ways to “hide” it in your mind. That way, the Holy Spirit can bring it to your memory just when you need it.
Not only does this man memorize the Word, but he recites it back!
Verse 14 tells us that the ways revealed by God’s Word are more valuable than all the money in the world. I’m reminded of the story of the man in Luke 12 who focused his whole life on attaining the things this age call valuable but lacked the one thing that would last him forever—a relationship with God.
The psalmist also desires to “meditate” on God’s word. The Hebrew word means “to have a conversation with yourself.” Though I wouldn’t recommend doing this on a public street, it is wonderful to really talk out loud to yourself and God about His Word. Meditation, by the way, isn’t emptying your mind, but filling it with God’s Word!
Finally he “delights” in God’s Word. This word means: “to handle”. Sometimes we need to just dive in and break the Word apart, studying it and letting it’s meaning soak in. This is one sure way not to forget His Word!
17 – 24
The occasion for this psalm appears to be that the psalmist was getting flack for trusting in Yahweh and His Word. Those in positions of power were ridiculing and threatening him. The psalmist is concerned for his life, so he asks God to spare him so he can continue to obey him. Then he asks God for open eyes towards the Scriptures. Would that our minds and hearts would be similarly open as we read the Bible.
I think reading the character of God and seeing the character of the world around us makes us realize that we don’t belong here. We are “expats” which means our citizenship is in a new place, though our residency is here.
1Pet. 2:11 “Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and temporary residents to abstain from fleshly desires that war against you.”
Instead of longing to be like the age around us, we should long to be more like God.
Part of that process is recognizing that God doesn’t change. His character is what it is. When you have God’s Holy Spirit inside you and you act differently, those who have influence will not like you and so the psalmist here receives “insult” and “contempt.” But he’s decided he is going to follow God’s Word anyway.
Instead of letting the world be his role model, he let’s God’s Word be the standard. What sage advice! What influences your values? Is it what you see on TV or read about celebrities or scientists that mock the existence of God and the veracity of His Word?
25 – 32
The psalmist recognizes that without life offered by God—life that we learn about through His Word—he is nothing but dust. The psalmist here is being honest with his struggle. Those in authority are making it difficult for him—they are insisting on a choice: either their way, or God’s way. He then pleads with God to go deeper, not just get the surface of what rules to follow, but actually the meaning of the statutes. That’s what Jesus did for us in the Sermon on the Mount. It wasn’t just “don’t murder anyone” but He revealed that the attitude of the mind is what matters. That’s because the law of God is merely the expression of the character of God—and that’s the character we want. We want to naturally think, speak, and act like our Lord.
The opinions and rebukes of those around him are wearing him down and so he asks God for the strength to continue obeying God. He’s drawn a line in the sand—he’s decided to follow Yahweh.