Learning to Love the Bible from Psalm 119

psalm-119-18The longest chapter in the whole Bible is a praise song about the commands of the Lord. It likely strikes you as it does me: strange. We don’t generally have an attitude of joy and praise when we think about God’s commands and laws. We might obey them begrudgingly, or we might abide by them without much thought, but we rarely think to rejoice in laws. The term law, to the modern American mind, carries notions of imposition, of restriction, of bondage. Those are things we are trained to love, but the Psalmist sings in 176 verses of the beauty and goodness of God’s law. There is much we can learn from Psalm 119 about how to love all of God’s Word.

Psalm 119 is likely an expansion of Psalm 19, which is itself a praise of the Word of the Lord. So, in verses 7 and 8 we read:

The law of the Lord is perfect,
    reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
    making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
    enlightening the eyes;

The Psalmist describes the “rules of the Lord” as more desirable than gold, and more sweet than honey. In Psalm 119 this level of affection for the Word of God continues.

The Psalmist uses a number of startling adjectives to describe the attributes of God’s Word. The laws are called: Righteousness (vv. 7, 62, 75, 106, 123, 138, 144, 160, 164, 172); Trustworthy (v. 42) ; True (vv. 43, 142, 151, 160); Faithful (v. 86); Unchangeable (v. 89); Eternal (vv. 90,152); Light (v. 105); and Pure (v. 140). The language he uses to describe the character of Scripture in many ways, parallels the language the rest of the Bible uses to speak of the character of God Himself. The character of God’s Word is a reflection of the Character of God. We ought to love the law, testimonies, precepts, statues, commandments, judgments, word, and ordinances of the Lord because they point us to their author. The Bible is God’s Word and as such it is to be valued, obeyed, and cherished. In this book we do not find merely words, testimonies, and laws. For the Scriptures themselves are “living and active” (Heb. 4:12). Because their author is unique, they themselves are unique. The Bible points us always to God, so we ought to love its contents.

We see this witnessing more clearly in the format of the psalm. Psalm 119 is structured as an acrostic, following the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The first letter of each line follows the pattern of the alphabet, with eight lines per letter. So lines 1-8 start with the letter Aleph, lines 9-16 with the letter Bet, and so on. The words of the Psalm reflect that God is a Lord of order, but so also does the structure of the psalm. The organized acrostic structure points to God’s ordering, to God’s structure. The Psalm calls us to see again the truth of God’s own character.

It also calls us to obedience. One of the major themes of the Psalm is that the followers of Yahweh are to live a lifestyle of submission and obedience. Routinely the Psalm encourages us to submit to God’s precepts in order that we might live godly lives before Him. The author instructs us repeatedly that we will find joy in this submission. So, in the very first verses we read:

Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
    who walk in the law of the Lord!
Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
    who seek him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong,
    but walk in his ways!

This idea continues throughout the Psalm. He tells us that we can live holy lives before God by submitting to His Word:

How can a young man keep his way pure?
    By guarding it according to your word. (v. 9)

I have stored up your word in my heart,
    that I might not sin against you. (v. 11)

I do not turn aside from your rules,
    for you have taught me. (v. 102)

Through your precepts I get understanding;
    therefore I hate every false way. (v. 104)

Likewise, God’s Word directs our paths to holy living. So, famously the Psalmist says:

Your word is a lamp to my feet
    and a light to my path. (v. 105)

God’s laws are not simply about keeping us from sin, but we see here that His Word is about helping us to live holy, pure, and joyful lives before Him. We ought to love the testimony of the Scriptures because they keep us from sin and draw us close to God.

Finally, perhaps surprisingly, the Psalm tells us that God’s Word grants us hope and comfort in the midst of affliction. The Psalm is littered with references to persecution and despair. The author speaks of  plots, slanders and taunts against him (v. 23, 42, 51, 150 ), persecutions (v. 61, 86, 95, 110, 121, 134, 157, 161 ), and afflictions (v. 67, 71, 143, 153). In each instance, however, there is hope and comfort afforded to those who will submit to God’s Word. So, he writes of this hope, saying:

And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth,
    for my hope is in your rules. (v. 43)

Remember your word to your servant,
    in which you have made me hope. (v. 49)

Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice,
    because I have hoped in your word. (v. 74)

And, he says, they give comfort. So we read:

Your testimonies are my delight;
    they are my counselors. (v. 24)

for I find my delight in your commandments,
    which I love. (v. 47)

This is my comfort in my affliction,
    that your promise gives me life. (v. 50)

When I think of your rules from of old,
    I take comfort, O Lord. (v. 52)

Whether the author of this Psalm is David, Ezra, or Daniel we know that each of their stories contained seasons of significant despair and trial. Yet the author finds that regardless of the trial and oppression he experiences, he can take comfort and find secure hope in the Word of God.

This, I imagine, is not how we react to the Word of God. Our thoughts on the Word tend to run the line of responsibility. “I need to read the Word. I must study the Bible.” But the Psalmist delights in the Word, loves the Word, finds comfort in the Word. The Bible, as the Word of God, points us to its author, secures hope and joy for us, and comforts us in affliction. We ought to love the Scriptures like the Psalmist does. We can learn much about loving the Word from Psalm 119.

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