Theme: Never to Pass Away
In this week’s lessons from Psalm 119, we see the endurance of God’s Word and its saving power.
Scripture: Psalm 119:89-96
If “faithfulness” in verse 90 refers to God’s Word, then these verses are saying that because God’s Word is eternal in heaven, it can also clearly be depended upon on earth. If “faithfulness” is being distinguished from God’s Word, as a separate attribute of God, then they are saying that three things are eternal: 1) God’s Word in heaven; 2) God’s faithfulness on earth; and 3) the laws of God that, like the heavens and the earth, endure “to this day.” The laws of God will endure even longer, of course, since, as the last and summarizing verse of this section states: “To all perfection I see a limit, but your commands are “boundless” (v. 96).
This was also the clear teaching of Jesus Christ. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount, in what is some of his most extensive teaching on this topic, Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matt. 5:17, 18).
The older versions spoke of “a jot or a tittle,” which was accurate but unclear to most people, which is why the New International Version expands the phrase to read “not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen.” The “jot” or “smallest letter” is the yodh, the tiny mark of a letter that begins each verse of the tenth stanza of Psalm 119. You can see what it looks like in the heading to that section. It is like a comma, only it is written at the top of the line of letters rather than at the bottom. The “tittle” is not a letter. It is part of a letter, a small protrusion that we would call a serif. The English reader can see what a “tittle” is by comparing the letter that is found before verse 9 of Psalm 119 (beth) with the letter before verse 81 (kaph). The letters are almost alike, but the first has a small protrusion (a “tittle”) at the bottom. The same “stroke of a pen” distinguishes daleth from resh and waw from zayin.
Therefore, what Jesus was teaching is that not even an “i” or a “serif” of the sacred text will be lost from Scripture until every single portion of it is fulfilled. And not even then! For as he said elsewhere, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my word will never pass away” (Matt. 24:35). The psalmist wrote, “Your word, O LORD, is eternal” (Ps. 119:89).
Neither you nor I can see things from the perspective of eternity, of course. Only God can do that. But we can testify to the enduring qualities of Scripture throughout observable history. Indeed, one reason among many for believing the Bible to be God’s Word and not the word of mere human beings is its extraordinary preservation down through the centuries. Today, after the Bible has been translated, in part or whole, into many hundreds of languages, many with multiple versions, and after millions of copies have been printed and distributed, it would be nearly impossible to destroy the Bible. But such conditions did not always prevail. Until the time of the Reformation, when Gutenberg’s remarkable discovery of moveable type enabled the Bible as well as other literature to be mass reproduced and distributed easily throughout civilized lands, the text of the Bible was preserved by the laborious and time-consuming process of copying it over and over again by hand, at first onto papyrus sheets and then onto parchments. Throughout much of this time, the Bible was an object of extreme hatred by many in authority. They tried to stamp it out, but the text survived. In the early days of the church, Celsus, Porphyry, and Lucien tried to destroy it by arguments. Later the emperors Diocletian and Julian tried to destroy it by force. In some periods of history it was a capital offense to possess a copy of the Bible. Yet the text survived.
If the Bible had been only the thoughts or work of mere men, it would have been eliminated long ago, as other books have been. We know from passing references in other ancient books that we have lost masterpieces by many of the greatest writers of the past. But the Bible has endured and has endured intact. Isaiah wrote, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isa. 40:8).
What can be concluded from verse 90 if faithfulness refers to God’s Word?
Explain what a jot and tittle are. Summarize Jesus’ teaching on the subject of God’s Word. How does his teaching add to our understanding of Scripture?
Reflection: Are you prepared to answer an unbeliever who asks about the nature of Scripture, telling them why it is enduring and trustworthy?
Key Point: One reason among many for believing the Bible to be God’s Word and not the word of mere human beings is its extraordinary preservation down through the centuries.