I’ve been reading the book of Psalms lately. David authored a great many of the psalms in this Old Testament book, and there is much to be gained by us as Christians by studying the psalms found within it (cf. Rom. 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). Within them David and the other inspired authors cry out to God during times of sorrow, despair and trouble and praise Him with gratitude and awe for His kindness, power and wisdom. These deeply heart-felt and personal talks with the Almighty lend great insight to us as to how to greatly improve our prayer relationship with God, teach us how to lean on Him and revere Him instead of taking Him for granted, and show us that we are definitely not the first followers of God to struggle with sin, sorrow, and severe trials which bring us low.
The Psalms also teach us about the importance of God’s Word and the impact it must have on our daily lives. Perhaps no psalm teaches this in greater detail than Psalm 119. The author of this psalm is not formally revealed in Scripture; some believe David wrote it while others tend to think it was written later during the time of Babylonian captivity. Regardless of its human authorship, its ultimate Source is God Himself (2 Tim. 3:16-17). 176 verses in length, this psalm makes up the longest chapter in the Bible and is two chapters away from being in the exact middle of the biblical canon of Genesis-Revelation. It is very interesting that the longest psalm in the book of Psalms and the longest chapter in the entirety of Scripture is completely dedicated to showing the great need to know God’s Word and the numerous benefits which come from meditating upon it and obeying it. Let’s examine several of the precepts found within this psalm in order for us to better clearly see the value of the Bibles we possess and how important it is to meditate upon them much more than we perhaps do and apply their commands to our lives.
The psalm begins by stating that those “whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord…who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart” are “blessed,” ’esher in Hebrew, literally “happy” (vs. 1-2). We must note how verses 1 and 3 correlate “those whose way is blameless” and those who “do no wrong” with “those who walk in the law of the Lord” and “walk in his ways,” showing that one cannot be forgiven of sins by God without obeying His Word.
We then read how the psalmist states that God has commanded that His precepts “be kept diligently” (v. 4); Christians likewise are commanded to be diligent in keeping God’s command to add Christ-like qualities to their faith (2 Pet. 1:5-10). The psalmist then prays that his ways “may be steadfast in keeping your statutes”, anticipating that “having my eyes fixed on all your commandments” will result in avoiding being “put to shame” (vs. 5-6). Looking back over our lives, how many times can we see that we would have avoided being put to shame ourselves in various ways if we had only done what God had told us to do in the first place?
In a society which encourages giving priority and acceptance to the young, in particular the young who engage in and uphold debaucherously sinful immoralities, the question asked in verse 9 is more relevant than ever: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.” Yet no young person will be able to do this unless their parents take seriously their charge to teach them God’s Word right from the beginning of their lives on a daily basis (Deut. 6:6-7; Eph. 6:4).
Want to overcome sin? Be able to say along with the psalmist: “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (v. 11). Yet the only reason the psalmist was able to say this because he sought God whole-heartedly (v. 10), talked of God’s rules with others (v. 13), meditated upon His precepts and fixed his eyes on God’s ways (v. 15), and found just as much delight in “the way of your testimonies” and “your statutes” as he did in “all riches” (vs. 14, 16). It is therefore no wonder that he had stored up God’s Word in his heart so much that it not only helped him avoid sin, but it also helped him to not forget it (v. 16). Brethren, are we the same? Do we find great delight in studying the Bible, so much so that we entreat God to teach it to us as the psalmist did (v. 12)? What topic is discussed by us with others the most: politics, television, sports, the kids, gossip, complaints…or the laws of God? Do we find it difficult to remember what the Bible says…yet find it easy to remember sports statistics? Is God’s Word truly stored up in our hearts? How much sin is in our lives will let us know.
We ask God to “deal bountifully” with us just as the psalmist did (v. 17), but is our purpose for wanting God’s blessings in our lives like the psalmist’s? “…that I may live and keep your word.” Could we honestly join the psalmist in saying, “My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times” (v. 20)? Are the “testimonies” of God found in His Word our “counselors” (v. 24)…or do we rely more upon our own wisdom or feelings for counsel?
Many believe they can be faithful in the sight of God without following the Bible. Yet when the psalmist had “chosen the way of faithfulness,” he “set (God’s) rules before” him (v. 30). He clung to the Lord’s testimonies (v. 31), ran in the way of His commandments (v. 32), and asked God repeatedly to teach him “the way of your statutes” and give him understanding in order to keep His law (vs. 33-34). We rightly cite Paul’s words in Romans about how faith comes from hearing God’s Word (Rom. 10:17), but Psalms 119 shows us exactly how God wants us to hear His Word and the type of faith He wants it to produce. Christians, are we like the psalmist?
Despite the protection from severe, life-ending persecution the First Amendment gives us in this country, many American Christians hesitate to openly speak of their faith to others because they fear ridicule and ostracism. The psalmist was not like that. He prayed, “Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise; then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me, for I trust in your word” (vs. 41-42). He acknowledged the ridicule thrown his way, but he trusted in God and His Word so much that he wanted to answer the ridicule. He was not afraid to “speak of your testimonies before kings,” knowing that he would “not be put to shame” because “I find my delight in your commandments, which I love” (vs. 46-47). He saw that “the insolent utterly deride me,” but nonetheless “I do not turn away from your law” (v. 51). No matter what, even “though the cords of the wicked ensnare me,” the psalmist was determined to “not forget your law” (v. 61). Indeed, in spite of the persecution thrown his way he still acknowledged that God had “dealt well with your servant…according to your word” (v. 65). He even saw the spiritual benefit of his hardships when he wrote, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word” (v. 67) and “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (v. 71). In fact, the psalmist saw the benefit of delighting in following the commandments of God when he said, “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life” (vs. 92-93). What an example for us to follow!
The psalmist loved God’s law so much that it was “my meditation all the day” (v. 97). As a result of his continual daily study of God’s Word, he was “wiser than my enemies,” had “more understanding than all my teachers,” and “understand more than the aged” (vs. 98-100). More importantly, it resulted in him being able to say, “I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word” (v. 101). Friends, if we can get to where studying and obeying the Bible is “sweeter than honey to my mouth” (v. 103), then we will not only gain wisdom (“Through your precepts I get understanding”) but also come to “hate every false way” (v. 104). That is how God’s Word can be “a lamp to (our) feet and a light to (our) path” (v. 105).
Do our eyes “shed streams of tears” because “people do not keep your law” (v. 136)? Do we have a “zeal” which “consumes” us because our “foes forget your words” (v. 139)? As I study Psalm 119, what continually keeps my attention is the evidence that the psalmist was a man whose whole life completely revolved around pleasing God, striving to be like Him in every way possible, and passionately wishing that everyone else could be the same way. What great benefit could come if every Christian on earth could be the same way!
Much more could be said about Psalm 119. An in-depth study is far beyond the scope of this piece. So we shall close by examining one final passage: “The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever” (v. 160). God’s Word will never pass away, and only by whole-heartedly taking into account everything it says will one come to know and obey the truth. May we all come to know it and obey it more fully!