Theme: A Psalm on the Word of God
In this first stanza of Psalm 119, we are told of the importance of loving and obeying God’s Word.
Scripture: Psalm 119:1-8
The most striking feature of Psalm 119—one that every commentator mentions because it is so important to the psalm’s theme—is that each verse of the psalm refers to the Word of God, the Bible, with only a small handful of exceptions. The Masoretes said that the Word of God is referred to in every verse but verse 122. Derek Kidner claims that there are three exceptions, verses 84, 121 and 122. Kidner seems to be right about verse 84, but verse 121 may not be an exception, if “righteous and just” can be understood as an oblique reference to God’s Word. On the other hand, verses 90 and 132 also fail to mention the Bible, unless “faithfulness” in verse 90 and “name” in verse 132 mean God’s Word. Whatever the case, at least 171 of the Psalm’s 176 verses refer to the precepts, word, laws, commandments or decrees of God explicitly.
This brings us to the synonyms for Scripture that dominate this psalm. There are at least eight of them that occur again and again: “law” (torah), which occurs twenty-five times; “word” (dabar), twenty-four times; “rulings” or “ordinances” (mispatim), twenty-three times; “testimonies” (hedot), twenty-three times; “commandments” (miswoth), twenty-two times; “statutes” (huqqim), twenty-one times; “precepts” or “charges” (piqqudim), twenty-one times; and “sayings,” “promise” or “word” (imra), nineteen times. However, there are other terms that are close to being synonyms, such as “way” (vv. 3, 15, 30) and ” path” (vv. 104, 105, 128), and I have already mentioned the possibility that “righteous and just” and “name” mean the Bible. The rabbis said that there are ten synonyms for the Scriptures in this psalm, one for each of the Ten Commandments.
When I started this study I quoted Derek Kidner, who referred to Psalm 119 as “the full flowering of that “delight…in the law of the Lord which is described in Psalm 1.” That is a happy reference on Kidner’s part, because Psalm 119 also begins like Psalm 1 by pronouncing a blessing on the one who forms his or her life according to the Word of God. Psalm 1 says, “Blessed is the man [whose] delight is in the law of the LORD” (vv. 1, 2). So does Psalm 119. There is a sense in which Psalm 119 is the Bible’s most thorough exposition of the beatitude of Psalm 1, which it indicates from the start by its opening lines:
Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD.
Blessed are they who keep his statues and seek him with all their heart.
Many writers acknowledge that to be happy is a universal goal of men and women. The only people who do not want to be happy are abnormal. But apart from being instructed by God, human beings do not know how to achieve happiness. They think they will be happy if they can earn enough money, be respected by those with whom they work, acquire enough power to do whatever they like or to be free from all restraints, or discover someone who will love them without conditions. But these pursuits do not ensure happiness, and sin always warps and destroys even the best achievements.
How can a person find happiness? The Bible tells us that the path to a happy life—the Bible’s word for it is “blessedness”—is conforming to the law of God.1
1The story is in Rowland E. Prothero, The Psalms in Human Life (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1904), p. 327; and Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 3a, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), p. 132.
To what does nearly each verse of Psalm 119 refer? Why is that significant?
What are some synonyms for Scripture?
Which other psalm begins like Psalm 119? What is the blessing pronounced in each?
How can people achieve happiness?
Reflection: Are you building your life on a foundation of the Word of God or the trappings of this world?
Key Point: The path to a happy life is conforming to the law of God.