• The Bible Studies for Life lesson for Feb. 9 focuses on Psalm 119:1-8, 137-144.
I always have loved words. Finding the right word at the right moment is like Dorothy stepping out of her black and white life into the Technicolor world of Oz. Words pop. The right words paint portraits on the canvas of our imaginations. I think that’s what always has drawn me to poetry.
Studying the great masters has given me a new appreciation for what an artist can do with language. That especially comes through in structured poetic forms like the sonnet. Sonnets have a tight structure both in rhythm and rhyme, yet great writers can take that structure and say something incredibly beautiful and profound. Sonnets aren’t a form authors choose on a whim; it takes effort to write a good sonnet. It’s a form you choose when words aren’t enough to say what needs saying.
The longest psalm
Psalm 119 isn’t a sonnet, but I think the author must have chosen the psalm’s form for similar reasons. With 22 sections, Psalm 119 is the longest of the Bible’s 150 psalms. Psalm 119 is an acrostic with one stanza for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
While most acrostics start each line of the poem with a different letter, Psalm 119 is organized differently. Each verse within an eight-verse stanza starts with the same letter of the alphabet. Verses one through eight all start with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, aleph.
The second set of eight verses all start with the next letter, bet, and the pattern continues from there. The psalm repeatedly uses eight different terms to describe Scripture. The repetition of those eight words may have inspired Psalm 119’s eight-verse stanzas.
From a writer’s viewpoint, Psalm 119 is a remarkable and beautiful achievement. This kind of attention to detail isn’t produced in a moment; it’s labored over for days and weeks. A single subject—God’s word—inspires the psalm’s artistry with language. Psalm 119 is a love song to the word of God.
What makes that even more remarkable is the part of Scripture Psalm 119 praises is the part of the Bible we’re most prone to skip. When the Psalm was written, the events of the New Testament still were in the distant future. Psalms were sung in the temple, but not collected into our biblical book.
The beauty and perfection of the Torah
The stories of the kings and books of the prophets still were being written. Psalm 119 is about the beauty and perfection of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible—Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. They are the books that cover all those passages about sacrifices and cleanliness and the description of the temple—the parts we get bogged down in and groan over when they show up in our Scripture-reading plan.
Why? What the psalmist knew is life is lived most fully in right relationship to God. God’s word is worthy of praise and honor because it helps us know God. It conveys his character, his expectations and the way he deals with his people. Following God’s word opens the door to a life of blessing.
In the Old Testament, to be blessed is to be a recipient of God’s favor. According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, blessing means a person possesses the power for “abundant and effective living.” A blessed life is a life imbued with the power to live faithfully, fruitfully and victoriously amidst the challenges of life. God is the only source of blessing for his people.
Psalm 119 begins with a proclamation of blessing: “Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the Lord” (v. 1). Walking in obedience to the Lord creates channels of blessing in our life. If we want to live a life that matters, if we want the power to live in victory and produce lasting fruit, then we must learn to live in a manner that pleases the Lord. Obedience cultivates presence.
The pleasure of God’s presence and power in our lives is connected to our loving obedience. It is not that we earn our salvation or God’s favor, but that loving God should look like something in our lives. Sin puts barriers between us and God because our sin demonstrates God’s word isn’t important enough for us to obey. Obedience is the reflection of a heart right before God, and a life lived rightly before the Lord is a life God blesses.
God’s word is good
We can delight in God’s commands because they are the revelation of God’s heart. God’s word to us is good because God is good. God doesn’t give commands just for the sake of issuing orders. God always desires the best for us, and he expresses that in his word.
God’s word is true, righteous and everlasting. As we seek to know and understand the word of God, we grow in our understanding of who God is. Lived out, God’s word guides us into deeper experiences with God as obedience stretches our faith and God continues to prove himself faithful. Scripture is a guide that points us to the heart of God. We can trust his word because we trust him.