Psalm 119/ A Hymn to the Word

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The Twelfth Decade of Psalms

Introduction:

And here we come to a great hymn of gratitude and praise, offered up to God for His glorious law. We have here the definitive answer for those who accuse us believers of “bibliolatry” simply because we treat the words of God like the profound treasure they are. It is of course true that there is such a thing as the absurd sin of actual bibliolatry out there in the religious world, the kind of sin that misses the whole point (John 5:39). But how could it be bibliolatry if we resolutely refuse to miss the point? The point is that God has condescended to speak to us.

The Text:

“Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord . . .” (Psalm 119:1-176).

Summary of the Text:

This psalm, taken as a whole, is a work of towering literary craftsmanship. It has twenty-two sections, each one presided over by each successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. For example, the first section is ruled by aleph, and that letter is repeated eight times throughout that section at the beginning of each discrete thought. The next section belongs to beth, and it is repeated eight times, and so on.

It is also a song of deep devotion, again showing that true dedication to God and dedicated craftsmanship in literary art are not in any way at odds.

A facile (but very wrong-headed) summary might want to say that a psalm of 176 verses dedicated entirely to praising the law of God might have to get a tad repetitive—as though the psalmist could only say nothing more than yay law a couple hundred times. But this is not what we find at all. There are many shades of meaning here, and many lessons for us to learn. And there is wisdom in all the shades of meaning. 

In the Word

We shall shortly see that the Word of God is an amazing tool chest. It is very large, and contains hundreds of tools. Christians who do not read their Bibles are like those who are given a tool chest that they store in the back of the garage or up in the attic, never acquainting themselves with what they have, with what they have been given. Not only so, but every day they have numerous tasks for which they actually need one of those tools, but which they do not know they have. The same thing goes for elders and ministers. The Word of God is given, in part, so that the man of God might be “thoroughly furnished” for all “good works” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). We need spiritual tools for our spiritual tasks, and the Word is our toolbox.

So how might this psalm be a blessing for you? There are many ways, although we only have time to discuss a handful of them.

Prevention of Sin

We begin with the simple truth that Bible memory will help you in the hour of temptation. What did Jesus do when He was tempted? He quoted the book of Deuteronomy. “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, That I might not sin against thee” (Ps. 119:11).

We are shown that our choice is binary—either/or. Either the Word or covetousness. Either the Word or vanity. “Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness. Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; And quicken thou me in thy way” (Ps. 119:36–37). It is one way or the other. It is either the rock of the Word or the smoke of man.

And when we are in the Word, we learn more than just a tsking disapproval of sin. The Word instills morality, not moralism. “Horror hath taken hold upon me because of the wicked that forsake thy law” (Ps. 119:53)

Instruction

The more we learn, the more we are able to learn. We are enabled to see wonderful things, marvelous things. “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law” (Ps. 119:18). When we eat, we grow bigger, beginning with the heart. “I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart” (Ps. 119:32).

When we are taught in this way, we are given a great advantage over our enemies, and we even find ourselves ahead of our teachers. “Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: For they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers: For thy testimonies are my meditation” (Ps. 119:98–99).

Encouragement

Who does not have moments of discouragement? The Word is there. “My soul melteth for heaviness: Strengthen thou me according unto thy word” (Ps. 119:28).

And the fact that we need to be driven to the Word is one of the reasons why afflictions arise. “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; That I might learn thy statutes” (Ps. 119:71). Some saints, like some oven dishes, can only be adequately prepared at high temperatures.

Guidance

Suppose you don’t know which way to go, or what to do. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Ps. 119:105). And when we wander away from the path—the one illumined by this light—the reason we did so was because of pride. “Thou hast rebuked the proud that are cursed, which do err from thy commandments” (Ps. 119:21). We have a tendency to want to dress up our disobedience as coming from some weird kind of humility, when it is actually pride.

Protection

While affliction drives us to the Word, that Word is not a paper fortress. God drives us there because He wants us to see what He can do. “Consider mine affliction, and deliver me: For I do not forget thy law” (Ps. 119:153).

As we have noted before, the psalmist had enemies. He also had the Lord and His Word, which were together his strong tower. “The proud have forged a lie against me: But I will keep thy precepts with my whole heart. Their heart is as fat as grease; But I delight in thy law” (Ps. 119:69–70).

Praise

And all of this comes back around to the God who spoke the Word. The perfect God spoke the perfect Word. The living God spoke the living Word. The constant God spoke the constant Word. “For ever, O Lord, Thy word is settled in heaven. Thy faithfulness is unto all generations: Thou hast established the earth, and it abideth” (Ps. 119:89–90).

Our knowledge of God is mediated to us. No creature can apprehend God directly—He dwells in unapproachable light. And so He mediates His glory to us in various ways. He does so through the glory of creation. His glory fills the earth. He does so through His incarnate Son, who lived, died, and rose among us, and ascended to the right hand of the Father. He does so through the glory of the gospel. And He mediates His glory to us through the vehicle of His perfect Word, all of which causes us to praise and glorify His name. 

“Seven times a day do I praise thee because of thy righteous judgments” (Ps. 119:164).

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DCL

Thank you for posting this sermon. I remember first reading this Psalm as a young Christian and being struck with the reverence for God’s Law, an adoration, a comfort, etc. Strange, I thought, for the NT portrays His Law as a burden no man can keep. So prayer ensued, seeking understanding, and continues on frequent occasions, asking God to teach me to love His Law. Psalm119:97.

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