TEXTS: Psalm 119:1-176
This psalm is unique for being the longest chapter in the Bible and for the unsurpassed prominence it accords the word of God. The psalmist expresses profound love for the law of the Lord, which he presents as his comfort, protection, treasure, rule of life and delight. The poetic arrangement of this psalm composed of eight verses apiece into twenty-two stanzas according to the Hebrew alphabets, and each beginning with a letter of the alphabets, is peculiar.
The psalm, borne out of personal experience of the power and influence of the Word in different circumstances of life, deals with the privileges, perfection and happiness of those who value and obey God’s word. It exalts God’s law by showing its various excellent attributes and benefits, and contains earnest prayers for divine illumination for its understanding and grace for faithful observation.
Ten words are used repeatedly and synonymously in the chapter (excluding verses 84,90,121,122 and 132) to explain the law and its peculiar characteristics. They include the Word which God has spoken to man about Himself, His provision for him and his requisite duty; Law given as the rule to guide and direct man to the path of peace, truth and happiness; Commandments or order given to us to obey because they direct our steps on what should be done or left undone; Precepts or principles given to guide moral behaviour in every aspect of life; Statutes established as the rule or law that regulates the lives, families and relationships of citizens of the Kingdom; Testimonies, the witness, proof and truth of God’s existence and dealings with humanity; Judgments, showing or revealing that which discerns and decides our words, works and ways as to what is right and wrong; Truth, being the sure, trusted, tested and infallible word of God that can be relied or depended upon; Way, revealing God’s redemptive plan, action, grace and the path to take to be safe, holy, healthy, happy and prosperous in time and eternity; Righteousness, showing guidelines to justice and giving to all their due.
It needs be underscored that Jesus Christ is the Word and Truth personified, who came and dwelt among us (John 1:1-3,14; 14:6). His work of redemption remains the central theme of the entire Scripture. To fully understand the Bible and rightly interpret its messages, one must have a definite experience of conversion because “…the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God… because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
PREEMINENCE AND PURPOSE OF THE LAW OF GOD (Psalm 119:1-88; Hosea 8:12; Romans 7:12,14; Psalm 138:2; John 6:63; 8:30-32; James 1:22,25; Psalm 19:7; 2 Timothy 3:16,17)
The chapter opens with divine pronouncement of blessedness on the pure, obedient and wholehearted seeker of God. “Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD. Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek Him with the whole heart. They also do no iniquity…” (verses 1-3). Sin disables the sinner from walking in the law of God and brings shame, disgrace and afflictions. Sinners and backsliders experience needless and avoidable crises (verses 67,71).
The psalmist shows how to obtain freedom and enjoy preservation from sin. “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word. Thy word have I heed in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (verses 9,11). Sinners must heed God’s call to repentance and faith in Christ to be saved. They must, thereafter, abide in Him through regular intake of His word (Isaiah 1:18; Acts 3:19; 17:30; 2:42; John 15:5,7). God’s word is the food for believers’ spiritual growth and Christlike living (1 Peter 2:2; Matthew 4:4; Acts 20:32). The indispensable role of the Word to our Christian life and pilgrimage informed the psalmist’s intense pleas for illumination and incurable longing for maximum benefits from it. “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law. My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto thy judgments at all times. Thy testimonies also are my delight and my counsellors” (Psalm 119:18,20,24).
God’s word is preeminent and indispensable to all people in every generation. While other books have limited influence as products of finite minds, the Bible has unlimited, transformational and cross-generational impact on man. It has the capacity to provide answers to life’s most difficult questions. God’s law is to be highly esteemed and prized more than silver and gold because it is full of wondrous and excelling revelation of truths on all subjects for man’s successful and fulfilled living. Besides, God “hast magnified [His] word above all [His] name” (Psalm 138:2). Job understood the supreme role God’s word plays in the governance of human affairs when he declared, “I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12).
When we give God’s word the attention it deserves, it, one, saves and makes us wise (Psalm 19:7); two, assures all penitent souls of God’s pardon; three, cleanses and sanctifies (Psalm 119:9; John 15:2; 17:17); four, grants us faith, strength and understanding (Romans 10:17; Psalm 119:99,100); five, causes us to prosper and have good success (Joshua 1:8); six, acts as light that guides us continually (Psalm 119:105); seven, grants us perfect peace (Psalm 119:165); eight, protects and preserves (verses 116,117); nine, heals, strengthens, comforts, instructs and empowers pilgrims (Psalm 107:20; 2 Timothy 3:16,17); and ten, gives hope of heaven.
PECULIAR CHARACTERISTICS OF THE LAW OF THE LORD (Psalm 119:89-160; 2 Timothy 3:16; Jeremiah 23:29; 2 Peter 2:21; 2 Timothy 3:16,17)
“For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven. Concerning thy testimonies, I have known of old that thou hast founded them for ever. Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever” (Psalm 119:89,152,160).
The word of God is the greatest treasure anyone can possess in this life. It is, one, eternal and a copy of it is in heaven; two, true and can be trusted without fear of deception or damage (verses 30,43,142,151,160); three, pure and can purify its readers/hearers (verse 140); four, quick and powerful and empowers believers for victorious living (verses 50,52; Hebrews 4:12); five, righteous and the standard for a God-pleasing lifestyle (verses 62,75,138,144,164,172); six, educative as the greatest instructional material on salvation, sanctification and other great subjects (verses 102,104); seven, broad and versatile, covering every field of human endeavour (verses 96,128).
These remarkable characteristics are proofs that the Word is inspired by God. His holy men wrote as they were moved or inspired by the Holy Spirit. “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Peter 1:21; 2 Timothy 3:16,17).
PERSONAL APPLICATION OF THE WORD FOR MAXIMUM PROFITS (Psalms 119:11,15,16,30,59,97,106,112,161-176; 2 Peter 1:3-5; Matthew 7:21-27; 1 Thessalonians 2:13)
There are several personal pronouns used by the psalmist to show his positive attitude, consecration and commitment to the Word, which believers should emulate. “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways. I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word. I have chosen the way of truth: thy judgments have I laid before me. I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies. O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day. I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments. I have inclined mine heart to perform thy statutes alway, even unto the end” (Psalm 119:11,15,16,30,59,97,106,112).
Like the psalmist, believers must, one, delight and rejoice in reading/hearing the Word (verse 16,24,35,47,70,77,92,143,162,174); two, love the Scriptures (verses 47,48,97,113,119,127,132,140,159,163,165,167); three, meditate on it (verses 15,23,48,78,148); four, learn and imbibe its truth (verse 73,11); five, believe the potency of God’s word (verse 66); six, esteem it in all circumstances of life as infallible (verse 128); seven, hate falsehood and evil (verse 30,101,104,175); eight, dissociate from peddlers of untruth (verses 63,115); nine, praise God for its sublime revelation (verse 164); ten, commit to obeying its precepts promptly and wholeheartedly (verses 8,34,44,57, 59,60, 63,69,88,100,101,106,112,115,129,134,136,145); eleven, trust in God’s unfailing word (verse 42); twelve, hope in the Word (verses 43,49,74,81,114,116,147,166); thirteen, sing the Word (verse 54); fourteen, speak and declare it (verses 13,172); fifteen, pray for understanding of its statutes (verse 125). The psalmist repeatedly pleaded, “teach me thy statutes” (verses 12,26,33,64,66,68,99,108,124,135).
In view of the pivotal place and indispensability of God’s word to earthly living and successful pilgrimage to heaven, we must not hide or hoard the truths we have learnt on repentance, salvation, sanctification, water baptism, the trinity of the Godhead, evangelism, marriage, the rapture, second coming of Christ, new heaven and earth, hell, etc. but obey the Lord’s command to teach others “all things” He has commanded (Matthew 28:20).
Having known and testified that God relates with people according to His precepts (verse 65), the psalmist continued to pray with and on the basis of His promises in the Scripture. He prayed to God to grant His requests for strength, salvation, mercy, comfort, sustenance, deliverance and quickening “according unto thy word” (verses 28,41,58,76,116,154,170,25,107,154,156,159). Since God honours His word above His name, believers who always pray with Scripture promises are bound to receive answers. It is incumbent on every sincere believer to commit to regular intake of the Word and application of its provisions for spiritual growth, sustenance and enablement for acceptable service and successful pilgrimage to heaven.
To get the best from God’s word, we must avoid doubt and unbelief (Hebrews 4:2); addition to or subtraction from it (2 Corinthians 2:17; 4:2; 2 Peter 3:14-17; Revelation 22:18,19); hardness of heart and carnality that trivialise the Holy Writ (Titus 3:9); indifference and disobedience to its commands; and argument or preference of human idea, philosophy, superstition or fable to it. “Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way” (Psalm 119:128).
Rich intake and practice of God’s word will make believers strong spiritually, wiser than their enemies, more knowledgeable than their teachers and the sages, triumph over temptations and adversity, fruitful in service, and successful in life and pilgrimage to heaven (Acts 20:32; 1 John 2:14; Psalm 119:98-100; Matthew 4:4-11; Ephesians 6:17; Acts 2:37-47; Joshua 1:8; Psalm 119:9; Matthew 5:8). The Scripture is an inexhaustible mine for all who will make it prominent and preeminent in their lives.