Studies in Psalm 119: The Word is Life-Giving

The Bible describes itself in language that seem strange for a book. It is “living and active” (Heb. 4:12). It is no ordinary book. As a living book, then, we find that it accomplishes things in its readers, it is working on us even as we are reading it. The Psalmist, in his praise of the Word of God, notes particularly that the Scriptures are life-giving. The Word gives spiritual life to those who study it.

The phrase that most frequently communicates this point is simply a request: give me life according to your Word. It is a plea for God to uphold the promise of such life spelled out in His Word. God is, of course, a life-giver. He is the creator of all things (Neh. 9:6; Col. 1:16); He is even called life-giver in Scripture (Job 33:4; 1 Tim. 6:13). The apostle John says particularly of the pre-incarnate Christ that He posses the power of life in His very being (John 1:3-4). The Psalmist points to God’s life-giving kindness in several ways in Psalm 119. In verse 77, His mercy is said to give life:

Let your mercy come to me, that I may live;
for your law is my delight.

In verses 88 it is God’s steadfast love which gives life:

In your steadfast love give me life,
that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth.

The same association is made in verse 159:

Consider how I love your precepts!
Give me life according to your steadfast love.

The Psalmist looks to God for spiritual life, for resilience, and health. In each reference he knows that He needs God. Yet, in each reference there is also an association to God’s Word. Over and again, the Psalmist makes this same association.

The plea for “life according to your Word” comes again and again. We see it in verse 25 specifically:

My soul clings to the dust;
give me life according to your word!

In verse 28 it is a prayer for “strength according to your word,” and in verse 37 it is more generally “life in your ways.” The terms vary but he continues to find that life is granted according to God’s Word. So, in verse 107 it is God’s Word, but in verse 154 it is His “promises,” and in verse 156 it is “rules.” Life is promises, assured, and found in reading the Word.

Pastor Jason Meyer draws a beautiful connection for us from this Psalm to God’s life-giving breath. He notes that in verse 25, listed above, the language of dust is theologically weighty. “Dust” is a reminder of our frailty and harkens us back to Genesis. It reminds us of God creating man out of dust and breathing life into his nostrils (Gen. 2:7). Furthermore, notes Meyer, God’s life-giving breath is connected to the Scriptures. God’s Word is said to be “breathed out” by the Life-Giver Himself (2 Tim. 3:16). God’s Word, then, becomes a special means of receiving His life-giving power. When our soul clings to dust, we, like the psalmist, can cry out to God and look to His Word for help.

The Scriptures are life-giving. As we read them we learn, we grow, we are nourished and fed by the Word (Jer. 15:16; 1 Tim. 4:6). Growing believers know, then, that they must study this Word to be spiritually strengthened. They know to pray, “Give me life according to your Word!”

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