Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Sep 29 2019 - Psalm 119:1-16, 97-105 – O how I love your Law

Psalm 119 is the best known of the acrostic psalms. That is to say that the first letter of each verse, or in this case set of eight verses, begins with the 22 sequential letters of the Hebrew alphabet. This is usually indicated in translations as each eight-verse stanza is headed with the relevant Hebrew letter – Aleph for verses 1-8, Beth for verses 9-16 etc. If you have a desire to do so, you can learn the Hebrew alphabet and names of the letters from this psalm.

Psalm 119 is a psalm in praise of God's word – variously called his "law", his "statutes", his "precepts", his "decrees" etc. One aspect of the glory of the Lord our God is that he delights to speak to his people. The synonyms for his word listed above may lead us to think that he is a God who likes to tell others what to do. He is, indeed, a God who gives instruction to his people just as any earthly father will seek to instruct their child in the way that he or she should behave so that they might learn to live well in the world. But God's word to us is filled also with testimonies of his love towards us, his saving goodness and mercy and is also full of great and precious promises.

We lived in Grand Rapids in the USA for a school year more than 40 years ago. While there, we attended a church that made a practice of learning passages of Scripture. We learnt Matthew 5 (the Sermon on the Mount) in sections each week and recited it together in the morning service – by reciting it together, those who had learnt it imperfectly or not at all were carried along by those who had learnt it well. We also learnt Psalm 119, and this was more difficult as it does not have the same narrative flow. Some verses of it, however, stuck in my memory long after we had learnt them. These are verses I want to focus on today.

The first is verse 9: "How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word." All those years ago I was a young man (I was 26 at the time), and this verse struck a chord with me. I wanted to live well for God who had loved and saved me, and here I was being reminded of a vital means to godly living; I needed to read and pay attention to God's word, to understand the call of God upon my life and to put it into practice. I needed to be able to say with the psalmist, "I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you" (v. 11). I needed to delight in the things God had said in Scripture and make sure that I did not neglect God's word (v. 16).

This theme I am picking up again in verses 97 (Mem) to 105 (Nun). Verse 97 reads, "Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long." It is perhaps helpful to remember that the word "Law", Torah in Hebrew, means instruction. The first five books of the Bible are called "Torah" and contain far more than the ten commandments. They speak of God's creation of the world and of humankind and his delight in all he had made. They speak of God's call of Abram and promise to bless all the nations of the world through his descendants. They speak of God's great act of salvation in rescuing his people from slavery in Egypt and his care of them in the wilderness… We should love all of God's word and delight in meditating upon it. His word will give us wisdom that exceeds that of the most lofty of Oxford professors who thinks themselves wise in their own learning – it makes us "wise unto salvation". If we meditate on God's word we will discover that it is sweeter than honey.

All of psalm 119 is worthy of our attention – "useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness" just like the rest of these God-breathed Scriptures. But we conclude the section we are looking at today with what is perhaps the best known verse from this psalm, verse 105: "Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path." Jesus himself is the light of the world and the way to the living God, he is the word incarnate. But God's word written is also the means by which we are directed in the paths of righteousness and helped to follow him in the path he has trodden before us. Jesus treasured, read, delighted in and meditated on God's word; we need to do the same.

Father God, give us a delight in your word even as Jesus our Lord and Saviour delighted in it. Above all help us not only to memorise what it says but to live by its promises and direction. May we also be lights that draw others to delight in you and in every word that you have spoken.

Peter Misselbrook