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Article 91 - Psalms 119
Psalms 119 - The Pathway of Faith
Jon Gary Williams
The 119th chapter of Psalms stands as one of the most awe inspiring and informative chapters of this great book. It is by far the longest chapter in Psalms, over twice the length of any other, and is the longest chapter in the entire Bible. While the book of Psalms is actually composed of five books, Psalms 119 makes up a healthy part of the fifth, which begins with chapter 107.
Being the virtual center of the inspired record, Psalms 119 has been called the "hub" of the scriptures. With its central theme being the exalted word of God, around it spins the wonderful message of God's eternal truths.
The writer of this chapter remains in question. It has been attributed to several different men including, of course, king David. Whoever it was, this scribe was of considerable knowledge and able to focus on a diversified range of life experiences and appears to reveal the personal encounters of his own life. We can rightly conclude he was a person of some age, yet was able to reflect on his youthful years. "How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word" (v. 9). From what we know of king David there is reason to believe he is the likely candidate, a position assumed by many of the Greek fathers.
This chapter reveals an unusual arrangement unlike any other found in the Old Testament. It is divided into twenty-two sections which correspond remarkably to the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. This is no accident and testifies to the divine nature of Scripture. At the beginning of these sections is found in precise order the names of the twenty-two Hebrew letters. Additionally, each of these twenty-two sections contains exactly eight verses. By inspiration the composer of this chapter was uniquely explicit in his arrangement. It is, indeed, the marvelous "Alphabetical Psalm." Worthy of note, is the fact that the sacred name of "Jehovah" is recorded twenty-two times as well.
Psalms 119 contains numerous proverbial statements. Over and over it deals with such topics as: responsibility, adversity, prosperity, truth, temptation, righteousness, affliction, mercy, pride, covetousness, vanity, iniquity and lying. The remarkable thing is that throughout the text these thoughts are in some way associated with the word of God. In every instance God's word is the pivotal connector from which the writer draws the lessons.
While there is no grouping of subjects, this psalm is made up of a wealth of meditations and prayers regarding the law of God. It is virtually a psalm of praise to the law of God and a chapter of Hebrew praises which extol the matchless value of God's word. It is a testimony to the importance God attaches to the written scriptures.
Probably the most notable feature of Psalms 119 is the repeated use of synonymous terms describing God's word. Such terms as "testimony," "way," "precepts," "statues," "commandments," "judgments," "laws," and of course, "word" are dispersed throughout the chapter. These descriptive Hebrew words are found in 172 of the 176 verses, the exceptions being verses 90, 121, 122 and 132.
Reading this psalm, one is captured by the extraordinary way these nouns are repeatedly used to describe the value of God's word, yet not seeming at all to be repetitious. Just here Barne's comments are appropriate. "It is remarkable that a single subject could be pursued so far with so much variety, and with so little that can be regarded as repetition; for there are perhaps no two verses in the psalm so exactly similar that there cannot be seen, either in themselves, or in their connection, some new phrase given to the subject, or some new shade of thought not expressed elsewhere." (Notes On The Old Testament, Psalms, Vol. III, p. 176).
Many times God's holy word is attributed with such marvelous characteristics as giving direction (v. 5), counseling (v. 24), encouraging (v. 33), righteous affliction and persecution (vv. 75, 86), teaching, (v. 102), giving light (v. 130), creating love (v. 140), giving understanding (v. 144), providing truth (v. 160) and providing peace (v. 165).
Psalms 119 contains a number of memorable verses which students of the Bible easily call to mind. "Your word have I hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You." (v. 11). "It is good for me that I have been afflicted." (v. 71). "Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven." (v. 89). "O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day." (v. 97). "How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth." (v. 103). "The entrance of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple." (V. 130). One of the most recognized verses in the entire Bible (the John 3:16 of the Old Testament) is, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." (v. 105).
In this Psalm is found an immeasurable collection of information, a wealth of material designed to help us more accurately appreciate the value of God's written message. A thoughtful reading of these 176 verses leads to greater esteem for all the inspired record. Its profound message creates in the heart more love for its eternal truths.