DELIGHTS OF GOD’S LAW Psalm 119
“Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in Your Law” (Ps. 119:18).This, the longest psalm in the Bible, contains a series of eight-line meditations based on each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The psalm celebrates a revelation which brings delight, because each fresh word from God reveals not just information but its Author.
Definition of Key Terms
Some eight different Hebrew synonyms are used in referring to Scripture. These are: Dabar (“word”), a general term for any form of divine revelation. Torah (“law”), a teaching, indicating a single command, the Books of Moses, or all of Scripture. Piqqudim (“precepts”), detailed instructions given by God as guardian of His people. Huqqim (“statutes”), binding laws engraved on a permanent record. Mispatim (“ordinances”), judgments made by God, containing God’s judgments concerning man’s rights and duties. Miswot (“commandments”), orders given by competent authority. ˒Edot (“testimonies”), vivid and unmistakable witnesses to man of God’s will. ˒Imra (“promise”), a term often translated “word,” suggesting the trustworthiness of divine truth in any form. Together these words form a clear picture of the Scriptures. They are God’s authoritative Word, in which we can have complete confidence, and through which we learn to trust God and to live a life characterized by godliness.
Twenty-two brief meditations, each launched with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet, delight the reader. They speak of the love revealed in words which unveil the Author and serve as light to guide the believer all his or her life.
Understanding the Text
Each of the 22 meditations found here has great value. What follows is only a sample of the richness available to us in the 119th Psalm. “How can a young man keep his way pure?” Ps. 119:9–16 We tell Sarah, at nine, how important it is to keep her dental appliance in her mouth. Somehow she can’t grasp the fact that it is either this, or wear metal during her teen years. Sarah is like the “young man” of this verse. She is too inexperienced to have gained wisdom, or be able to judge the future consequences of present actions. How the young need a guide to life’s good! In a sense each of us is “young.” None of us has the wisdom to make right moral choices on his own. And so in grace God gave us His Word to live by. He did not intend to restrict or limit us, but to guide us along paths that assure blessing. We then are faced with a single basic choice. Will we or will we not “stray from Your commands”? If we are to remain safely on that path, we need to hide God’s Word in our hearts (v. 11), recount His laws (v. 13), rejoice in following His statutes (v. 14), meditate on his precepts (v. 15), and never neglect His Word (v. 16). We tell Sarah, “Trust us. Keep your appliance in your mouth, and you’ll have no regrets in the future.” For Sarah too there is only one issue. Do what we say, no matter how little she wants to at various times. Perhaps Psalm 119 can be viewed as the psalmist speaking to you and me as Sarah’s mom and I speak to her. “Trust God,” he said. “Concentrate on knowing and doing God’s Word. If you do, you can be sure. Your future will be bright.” “Turn my eyes away from worthless things” Ps. 119:33–40. What a desperate need we have for perspective. For Sarah, our nine-year-old, everything she passes in the store or sees on TV awakens desire. She sees a colorful tote bag, and wants it. Never mind the fact that she has various bags at home, and has no need. She sees a delightful stuffed bear, and wants it. No matter that the attic has a box of stuffed animals given to her by adoring relatives. When warned against asking for another thing, she says to me, “Buy this bathing suit, Daddy. You deserve it.” I tell her, “I don’t need swim trunks. I already have some.” She pouts, and can’t understand when I tell her that even if I had a million dollars I wouldn’t buy what I don’t need. How hard it is, in a materialistic culture, not only to bring up a child, but even to tell the difference between our own “wants” and “needs.” And so the psalmist asked God to direct him “in the path of Your commands,” and said, “for there I find delight.” As I read on I realize how much I need the Word of God to give me perspective. I know that delight is found in the path of God’s commands, not in possessions or pleasures. Yet I need His Word to: Turn my heart toward Your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; renew my life according to Your Word. I can’t afford to lose the perspective on reality that can be found only in God’s rich and wonderful Word. “I have kept my feet from every evil path” Ps. 119:97–104. One thing you can’t get away from is people. Whether they are your enemies or your friends, you and I are always surrounded by others. Young Sarah finds that both enemies and friends exert a terrible influence. “But everyone has this kind of lunchbox,” she complains. “The new one you bought me is junky.” Or, “Why can’t I have a notebook like Heather’s?” Pouting, at times whining, always fearful she won’t be accepted or liked if she doesn’t have or do what the other kids have or do, Sarah at nine is learning about the tyranny of other’s expectations. We tell her that people will like her for herself, and that she doesn’t need to follow the crowd. But that is hard for little ones, and even for most adults, to realize. The psalmist, however, had made a commitment that guarded his heart against the tyranny of both enemies and friends. “I love Your Law,” he said, and “I meditate on it all day long.” God’s commands made him “wiser than my enemies,” and he cared little for their taunts. Through God’s Word he had “more insight than all my teachers,” and “more understanding than the elders.” The psalmist was able to stand back and evaluate the ways others followed, and to make his own choices, not just mimic them. “I meditate on Your statutes,” he said. “I obey Your precepts.” And we too, through that Word of God which becomes increasingly sweet as we know and obey it, find freedom from the expectations of others, and learn to “hate every wrong path.”
One Step at a Time(Ps. 119:105–112)
One of the most helpful images in Psalm 119 is found in verse 105. “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” In Bible times there were no powerful flashlights. The traveler carried a small oil lamp, whose flax wick gave off only a little light. There was enough to see by. Not enough to see what lay ahead down the path, but enough to take the next step without stumbling or falling. What a reminder for us. The Word of God is a lamp to our path. It doesn’t illuminate our future, but it does shine in our present. God’s Word gives us the light we need to take our next step in life.
If we fill our minds and hearts with God’s Word, we will have the light we need to know what we must do next.
“I would distinguish between academic study and more general study of the Bible. At one level—and perhaps this is the most important level—I approach the Bible with a readiness and an expectation to hear the voice of God there. But there is no conflict between that more devotional use of the Bible and its academic study. I have sought to make available to my hearers, in a form they can assimilate, the results of my trying to enable them, like myself, to recognize and apply the voice of God in Holy Scripture.”—F.F. Bruce