Psalm 119, Part 1

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, October 21, 2019 1 comments

by Katie Erickson

Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible with 176 verses, so if you were expecting that I would cover the whole thing in one blog post, that’s just not going to happen! Today I’ll give an overview and some interesting facts for this psalm, and next week we’ll dig into the content a bit more.

When a psalm is this long, it needs to have some more organization than just by verses. So, it’s collected into 22 stanzas of 8 verses each. This psalm is an alphabet acrostic in the original Hebrew, which is something we sort of see but sort of miss in our English translations. If you look in your Bible, you’ll at least see non-English words above each stanza - those are the names of the Hebrew consonants, which is how the author named each stanza. Sometimes Bibles will print the Hebrew letter next to its name as well.

This psalm is an alphabetic acrostic too. Not only is each stanza labeled with a Hebrew consonant, but every verse in that stanza begins with that same letter! The first 8 verses begin with the letter aleph, the next 8 verses begin with the letter beth, etc. all the way through the last 8 verses beginning with the letter tav. All the verses are fairly short as well, so all this makes it visually look pretty cool in the original Hebrew.

These facts alone make this psalm a pretty amazing literary work, but the meaning is also very coherent and centered around the theme of God’s law. The message of this psalm is not just devotion to God’s law and doing the right thing, but also devotion to God Himself. It is typically considered to be a wisdom psalm, but it also has elements of lament and thanksgiving.

With the central theme of this psalm being God’s law, it’s interesting to note that there are 8 different Hebrew words that refer to God’s law used in it. They are:

1. Torah: You may have heard the first 5 books of the Bible referred to as the Torah because they do provide the background for God giving the law to His people as well as the Law itself. While Torah often means the specific law given by God, it can also mean any kind of Godly instruction.

2. Dabar: While this word literally means “word,” we know that all words spoken by God are meaningful. Dabar is often used for any kind of divine revelation that God gives us.

3. Mishpatim: The word mishpat means judgment, and this is the plural form of that. These forms of laws are more like the courtroom judgment type of laws, as God Himself is the ultimate Judge over all things.

4. Edut: This word technically means “statutes,” but it’s actually derived from the word that means “witness” or “testify.” It is also used to refer to God’s covenant with His people, so obeying God’s statutes also refers to being loyal to the promise God has made with us.

5. Mishvat: The word mishvat means commandment, as in the Ten Commandments. Generally, when God gives us a law or tells us to do something, it’s in the form of a command.

6. Huqqim: While it literally means “decrees,” this word is from the root that means to engrave or inscribe. God engraves His law and His decrees on our hearts, and He establishes His authority as God by doing this.

7. Piqqudim: This word is usually translated as “precepts” and is often found throughout the psalms. It comes from the root word meaning “visit” or “appoint,” as God’s precepts are the things that He has appointed for us to follow if we are following Him.

8. Imrah: This word is from the root meaning “he says,” and it means a promise. Our word should be good in that anything we can should be considered a promise, just as God’s Word is.

Is it coincidence that each stanza of this psalm is 8 verses long, and there are 8 different Hebrew words used to describe God’s law? I’d say that nothing in this amazingly crafted psalm is a coincidence, and all of these literary features simply point to the amazing God that we serve. The Hebrew language is truly amazing, and even after 11 years of studying it, I continue to be amazed at new insights into the heart of God simply by looking at the language and structure He used through the human authors He appointed.

While all this is interesting, what does it have to do with us living our lives today and not speaking Hebrew? In the Old Testament, the focus was on keeping God’s law - doing what God commanded His people to do, and not doing what He commanded them not to do. God had not yet sent His Son as the Savior when the psalms were written, so the focus was more on obedience than on faith. Today, we are living in the time after Jesus came to earth, and we have the opportunity to know and believe in His sacrifice for us. We know that we can never fully keep God’s laws, no matter what word we use to describe them. We know that we are in need of the Savior and that Jesus is the only one who truly is that savior for our sinful lives.

But as Paul says in Romans 6, because we have Jesus as our savior, does that mean that we can live however we want and keep on sinning, even when we know God’s law? By no means! Because we love God and appreciate the amazing sacrifice that Jesus made for us, we should strive to obey God’s law all the more. We have the opportunity to be enslaved to righteousness, which means that through the power of God’s Holy Spirit, we should strive to live better lives to honor the God who saved us.

Being able to live in God’s grace makes His law all the more important. God’s law tells us how to live our lives to honor Him and the sacrifice that He made for us.

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Charlie said...

One thing you might not have noticed here is that every single verse with the exception of two of the 176 verses make a reference to one of those 8 uses of God's laws, commands, precepts, etc. Though I don't remember which two verses are the exceptions.