Psalm 119 and the Bible
Psalm 119 shows us that the Word of God should have top priority in our lives. It stands as the giant among the Psalms - it is the longest Psalm and the longest chapter in the Bible (176 verses). Since the Book of Psalms is the longest book in the Bible, it shows us the priority of praise and worship to God.
Psalm 119 is best-known for being the longest chapter in the Bible by a wide margin: over 2500 words divided into 176 verses (the nearest competitor, Deuteronomy 28, has only 1997 words). It is also well-known for being an acrostic poem according to the Hebrew alphabet: 22 sections for the 22 individual letters. Furthermore, in Hebrew each verse within a section starts with the letter of that section: for instance, v.1-8 all start with the Hebrew letter aleph, v.9-16 with beth, and so on.
The entire Psalm is devoted to the Word of God, and the author makes many requests of God on behalf of His Word. It is a Psalm that praises God's word and extols it as the guide for living. The writer speaks of God's word in many different ways. He calls it 'law', 'testimonies', 'precepts', 'statutes', 'rules' and 'commandments'
Unfortunately, many of us love the idea of the Bible, but not really the Bible itself. We love having a Bible close by, even within reach, but don’t make time to open it on an average day. We talk about Bible reading like we talk about cutting calories or cleaning our house. We’re grateful for the results, but we don’t wake up dying to do it again. It sounds like a fine thing to do, until we have to choose what we won’t do in order to make time for it.
If that’s you, you probably also know someone who loves reading their Bible. (A perfect example is my Dad) They can’t get enough of it. As far as you know, they would just as likely go a whole day without food as without the Bible. Their happy discipline convicts and, if you’re honest, sometimes even annoys you.
The author of Psalm 119 is unknown but some have suggested it may have been Ezra the priest, written at the time that the temple had been rebuilt.
Though the life of Ezra may not be the most well known in the Bible, he was extremely important and greatly used by God at a time in history when the Israelites desperately needed a faithful, strong leader. Ezra lived his days out of a deep, personal commitment to God, not simply seeking his own personal gain. He was given much responsibility to lead, sent by the King Artaxerxes, to set up a program of religious education for the people. His life proved faithful to study, follow, and teach God’s Word, and his godly example is still very relevant for our lives today. Others have suggested that Psalm 119 may have been written by David, or possibly Daniel. The author is certainly one who experienced great affliction in life, since persecution of those who hold fast to the Word of God is a theme carried throughout.
This Psalm’s passionate love for God’s word can make us uncomfortable. The love seems so real, so right, so beautiful — and so foreign, at least some days. Why do we wake up worried about what’s on Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, instead of wanting to open the Bible? Why are we more excited to read the best new book on whatever, rather than the only book with the very words of God? Why are we still likely to find our identity and worth in what we have or what we've done, instead of what God says about us? Why are we bored reading the Bible while the Psalmist is having the time of his life?
The Psalmist says, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Psalm 119:71). The author praises God for pain, because he believes the pain helped him understand God and his word better. Have you ever been able to draw a line like that, between your suffering and your Bible reading? He goes on, “The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (Psalm 119:72).
Some people love the Bible, and some people love people. Or, some people like to read, and some people like to serve. But the Bible, like the gospel, can’t be relegated only to a few. Bible reading isn’t a spiritual gift like Bible teaching, or biblical counselling. Bible reading and loving is a gift (and calling) for all believers.
Psalm 119 does not model extraordinary Christianity. It’s showing us how people truly in love with God receive actual words from God. They realise the awesome gift they’ve received in this book. When they open their Bibles, or hear the Bible read or preached, they can feel as though God himself were walking down from heaven to speak to them.
John Piper reminds us, narrating his personal Bible reading with wonder, "Think of it. Marvel at this. Stand in awe of this. The God who keeps watch over the nations, like some people keep watch over cattle or stock markets or construction sites — this God still speaks in the twenty-first century. . . . By this voice, he speaks with absolute truth and personal force. By this voice, he reveals his all-surpassing beauty. By this voice, he reveals the deepest secrets of our hearts. No voice anywhere anytime can reach as deep or lift as high or carry as far as the voice of God that we hear in the Bible."
So don't forget about the Bible. It is in that book we can find absolute truth, personal power and relevance, all-surpassing beauty, all-knowing love and wisdom. All from the mind and mouth of God. All in the pages of a book we can hold in one hand.
God’s Word is powerful, living, and active. It never changes, because He never changes. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. His words are breathed straight from His heart to us, a love letter for life, not simply an old-fashioned, outdated book with no relevance for today. His Word is sharper than any two-edged sword.
Psalms 119 reminds us that God's very character is reflected through His Word. He is Righteous, He is Faithful, He is Unchanging, He is True. The opening two verses remind us, that we are "blessed" as we walk in His Truth, and seek him with our whole heart.
So the next time you are reading the Psalms, don't skip Psalm 119 because it's a long chapter or skim through it fast. Take time and cherish the hidden gems in it.