The Righteous One's Alphabet of True Godliness 

a brief study of Psalm 119, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 27 Jan 2011


Psalm 119 is the longest of the Psalms. It is an alphabetical psalm, having 22 parts or strophes according the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Each strophe is made up of eight verses, with each line beginning with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet. So all the lines in the first strophe, verses 1-8 begin with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet Aleph, and all the lines of the second strophe, verses 9-16, begin with the second letter, Beth, and so on to the last strophe.

Moreover, in almost every verse in this long psalm (with the exception of verses 84 and 122), a reference is made to the written revelation of God using a number of synonyms, viz: ‘law’, ‘testimony’, ‘way’, ‘commandment’, ‘precept’, ‘judgement’, ‘word’, ‘righteousness’, ‘statute’, ‘faithfulness’, ‘truth’ and ‘name.’

Accordingly, we may infer that one of the major themes in this psalm must revolve around the Word of God. However, if you read this psalm, you will realise very quickly that it is not a systematic treatise on the Word of God.  In fact, it is not even systematic. As Matthew Henry puts it: “This Psalm is a chest of gold rings, not a chain of gold links.” Or as Martin Luther puts it:

It contains prayers, consolations, doctrines, thanksgivings, and repeats all these with a varied fulness. It is given forth with a deep and blessed intent; namely, that by this repetition and fulness, it may invite and exhort us to hear and diligently to treasure up the word of God.

Indeed, if you take a step back and look at this psalm without any preconceived ideas and without focusing merely on the subject of the Word of God, you will realise very quickly that there is actually a connecting thought throughout the psalm, though it is quite subjective.

A number of commentators have noticed this. Charles Bridges is one of them. He says:

This Psalm may be considered as the journal of one who was deeply taught in the things of God—long practiced in the life and walk of faith. It contains the anatomy of experimental religion—the interior lineament of the family of God. It is given for the use of believers in all ages, as an excellent touchstone of vital godliness.

Jonathan Edwards notices it too. He says:

I know of no other part of the Holy Scriptures where the nature and evidence of true and sincere godliness are so fully and largely insisted and delineated.

I believe this truth is beautifully summarised in the first verse of this psalm: “Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD” (Psalm 119:1).

The extensive and very useful series of sermons on Psalm 119 by Thomas Manton begins with an exposition of this verse and essentially demonstrates that this is what this psalm is about. The Christian life is a life lived in relation to the Word of God. The Word of God is most greatly exalted in the lives of the Lord’s people who love Him and seek to walk with Him.

But now, how is this psalm the Word of Christ? Well, Christ is the Alpha and Omega, the Word of God, so surely this Psalm, which is about the experience of God’s people relative to His Word, must be given by Christ.

But could the Lord Jesus have taken these words in His lips to speak about His own experience? Well, if you examine the psalm, you will realise that almost all the verses could be applied directly to our Lord. However, there are a few verses which present some difficulties, namely, verses 67, 71, 75 and 176. Well, we agree with Andrew Bonar that actually the only verse that presents any real difficulty is verse 67; but as Bonar reminds us, the Hebrew of verse 67 may be rendered “I have not yet been afflicted, as one going astray, and still I have kept thy word.” Rendered this way, the verse could indeed have been taken up by our Lord to speak of His own experience.

But in any case, surely this psalm is given by Christ for His brethren and disciples that we might give expression to our relationship with God vis-a-vis His Word. We may entitle this Psalm, “The Righteous One’s Alphabet of True Godliness.”

Now, to study this psalm adequately, it is necessary at the minimum for us to consider each of the strophes individually. However, for our purpose in this study, we want to look very briefly at each of the strophes to highlight the content and a key verse. And since the Hebrew acrostic devise is not extremely useful for the English reader, let us consider the Psalm using the English acronym—“THE HOLY LAW OF THE LORD GOD.” Perhaps some of us, using this device, may be able to retain in memory at least an outline of this magnificent Psalm.

1. Aleth
The Blessedness of Obedience (v. 1-8)

In this first, strophe, we extol the blessedness of whole-hearted obedience to the Word of God. The key verse of this strophe is also the first verse of this psalm:

1 Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD.

2. Beth
How to be Holy (v. 9-16)

Here we are taught that those who would be holy in life must hide the Word of God in the heart and live according to biblical principles. The key verse, accordingly, is:

11 Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.

3. Gimel
Enjoying God’s Word (v. 17-24)

In this third strophe, we testify of our longing to have our eyes and our heart opened to enjoy the marvelous truths of God’s Word. Verse 18 would be representative:

18 Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.

4. Daleth
Hope for Heavenly Mindedness

Here the children of God are given words to express their hope and desire to have their hearts enlarged so that they may be lifted from earthly-mindedness to have a heavenly perspective in life. Verse 25 may be chosen as the key-verse:

25 My soul cleaveth unto the dust: quicken thou me according to thy word.

5. He
O For Wholehearted Obedience!

Every child of God knows that if he would experience God’s blessings, he must be obedient to the Word of God. In this strophe, we express our desire to have our hearts illumined that we might wholeheartedly obey His Word. Verse 34 expresses this well—

34 Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart.

6. Waw
Let Thy Mercies Come

God’s children will not keep His commandments out of gratitude as they should until they have experienced His love and mercies in their life. As such, in this strophe, we express our desire that God should show His mercies unto us, that we might keep His commandments out of love for Him and His Word. Our key verse, naturally, is verse 41—

41 Let thy mercies come also unto me, O LORD, even thy salvation, according to thy word.

7. Zayin
Yet will I Rest in Thy Word

God’s children can expect to face much persecution in this world when they seek to be obedient to God’s Word. But when we meditate on the promises of God’s Word, we are lifted up and comforted. Verse 50 expresses this thought well—

50 This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me.

8. Heth
Love Quickens Me to Obedience

We may take verse 57 as our key verse for this section:


57
Thou art my portion, O LORD: I have said that I would keep thy words.

As God’s children, nothing motivates us to obedience more than a sense of God’s love and a realisation that He loves us and would bless us.

9. Teth
Afflictions, God’s School of Obedience

Nothing teaches the children of God the value of God’s Law and the importance of obedience more than affliction. It is even said of the Lord Jesus that “though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.” (Heb 5:8).

In this portion of this psalm we express our appreciation for God-sent afflictions. This is well expressed in our key verse for this strophe:

71 It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.

10. Yodh
Wisdom Learned Must be Shared

Our knowledge of God’s Word will remain as intellectual fact in our minds until God brings us to difficult circumstances in life that will compel us to apply His truth. Only then will we have true wisdom (cf. Heb 5:13-14).

But when a child of God has acquired such wisdom, he will have a desire in his heart of hearts to do good by being a godly counsel to his brothers and sisters in Christ. In this strophe is a song that gives expression to this desire. Verse 74 may be taken as our key verse:

74 They that fear thee will be glad when they see me; because I have hoped in thy word.

11. Kaph
O Save Me From the Pit As Promised

Every child of God will experience moments in their life when they feel like a bottle in the smoke or a lamb in a pit. But God has promised deliverance, and so we can find comfort at such times in His word. This assurance is well expressed in verse 81, which we may take as our key verse for this portion:

81 My soul fainteth for thy salvation: but I hope in thy word.

12. Lamedh
Forever Settled is Thy Word

We take our subtitle for this strophe from verse 89, but perhaps a more representative key verse would be verse 90—

90 Thy faithfulness is unto all generations: thou hast established the earth, and it abideth.

All may change but God never. The best things of this world are imperfect and temporary (v. 96). But God and His law is perfect and endures forever. Thank God this is so, otherwise the children of God can never have any real and lasting comfort in this life.

13. Mem
Thy Testimonies Are My Meditation

Testimonies, laws, precepts, commands: these are all used synonymously in Psalm 119 to describe the written Word of God. Every child of God will find great pleasure and benefit to meditate on God’s Word. Almost every verse in this strophe can be a key verse, but let us use verse 97—

97 O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day.

14. Nun
Help Me On by Thy Light

We take our subtitle from verse 105, which is also our key verse—

105 Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.


 
This verse is famous and is applicable in all aspects of our lives. But really the context is about the believer’s need for guidance through affliction and persecution. Thank God for His Word, which is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path to help us through all the changing scenes of life.

15. Samech
Evermore Hold & Hide Me in Thy Truth

The children of God can expect to go though many storms in life. Sometimes these have to do with circumstances, but often they have to do with sin and sinners who care not for the truth. Thank God we can hide in God’s truth and promises. Thank God we confidently cry with the psalmist in verse 114—

114 Thou art my hiding place and my shield: I hope in thy word.

16. Ayin
Lord, Vindicate Thy Servant

God’s children who love God’s Word and hate every false way (v. 127-128) can expect not to be well-liked by those who hate God’s law. In this strophe we call upon the Lord to arise to vindicate His servants. Verse 126 is a suitable key verse—

126 It is time for thee, LORD, to work: for they have made void thy law.

17. Pe
Oh that More will Keep thy Law!

The children of God not only love God, but know the blessing of walking according to His Word. Those who do not have the Word of God live in foolishness (v. 130) and are in bondage to sin (v. 133). Therefore not only do we desire to keep the Law of the Lord, but we long to see others converted. Verse 136 gives expression to this longing:

136 Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law.

18. Tzaddi
Righteous Art Thou & Thy Word

Verse 137 introduces this section well:

137 Righteous art thou, O LORD, and upright are thy judgments.

The children of God are righteous ones not only because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to them, but because the Holy Spirit makes them delight in righteousness (v. 143). Therefore it is fitting that we praise the Lord for His righteousness as displayed in His Word.

19. Qoph
Deliver Me that I May Keep Thy Statutes

Again, those who are lawless and under the influence of the Wicked One have no qualms about persecuting the children of God. One of the reasons, no doubt, is to tempt the righteous to dishonour God when under pressure.

When we are faced with such circumstances, what shall we do but learn to pray and to sing such a song as given in this part of Psalm 119. And if there is one key verse that distills this song, it is verse 146—

146 I cried unto thee; save me, and I shall keep thy testimonies. 

20. Resh
Great Are Thy Tender-Mercies & Justice

In times of suffering, it is good not to focus on the cause of the pain, but on the tender mercies and justices of the Lord as they are revealed in His Word. God will deliver His children out of compassionate love for them, and also out of His judicial wrath against those who touch the apple of His eyes. Such a consideration gives us impetus to pray and sing this song, as sujmmarised in verse 156—

156 Great are thy tender mercies, O LORD: quicken me according to thy judgments.

21. Schin
Obedience, the Key to Peace

The apostle John says: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1 Jn 5:3). Those who love the Lord and His Law will keep His commandments.

Those who do so can expect great peace in their life. This we must affirm. This we must testify for all to hear. This is the truth captured in our key verse for this paragraph, verse 165—

165 Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.

22. Tau
Deliver Me According to Thy Word

Our subtitle in this final strophe is taken from verse 170, but perhaps a more representative verse would be verse 176—

176 I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments.

God’s children, even those who love the Law of God (e.g. v. 174) can stray like a lost sheep. This may be by way of sin and backsliding. Or it may be by way of wandering, as it were, aimlessly in life, having no purpose or aim. This can happen due to discouragement and other reasons. But when the Lord opens our eyes and we are made to realise that this happened to us, the let us cry to the Lord to deliver us to lead us back in the path of righteousness according to God’s commandment, wherein is true joy and meaning in life.


Conclusion

This is Psalm 119 in a nutshell. May the Lord grant us that we may love His Word and live according to His Word. May He grant us that we learn also to sing about how precious His Word is for us in the cultivation of Christ-likeness. Let us realise that the Christian life cannot be lived apart from God’s Word, however sincere one may be. And at the same time, let us understand that the more we walk and think in accordance to God’s Word, the more we will enjoy and glorify God in Christ! Amen. Ω