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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
Psalms 119

 

 

Verses 1-8

1. The blessing of obeying God"s Word119:1-8

The writer rejoiced in the fact that people who obey God"s Word wholeheartedly enjoy His blessing ( Psalm 119:1-3). Consequently he wanted to be more consistently obedient himself ( Psalm 119:4-6). He promised to be more thankful as he continued to learn more about God"s Word ( Psalm 119:7-8).

"The love for God receives expression in doing the will of God." [Note: VanGemeren, p739.]


Verses 1-176

Psalm 119

The anonymous psalmist who wrote this longest psalm sought refuge from his persecutors and found strength by meditating on the Word of God. This Psalm , the longest chapter in the Bible, is largely a collection or anthology of prayers and thoughts about God"s Word. C. S. Lewis compared it to a piece of embroidery, done stitch by stitch in the quiet hours for the love of the subject and for the delight in leisurely, disciplined craftsmanship. [Note: Lewis, Reflections on . . ., pp58-59.]

"The author of Psalm 119 exemplifies an attitude toward the Mosaic law which was the ideal for all Israel (cf. also Psalm 19:7-11)." [Note: Chisholm, "A Theology . . .," p263.]

"It [this psalm] describes how the Word enables us to grow in holiness and handle the persecutions and pressures that always accompany an obedient walk of faith." [Note: Wiersbe, The . . . Wisdom . . ., p308.]

This psalm contains a reference to God"s Word in almost every verse (except Psalm 119:84; Psalm 119:90; Psalm 119:121-122; Psalm 119:132). The psalmist used10 synonyms for the Word of God, each of which conveys a slightly different emphasis.

"Way" and "ways" (Heb. derek) describes the pattern of life God"s revelation marks out. It occurs13times in the psalm ( Psalm 119:1; Psalm 119:3; Psalm 119:5; Psalm 119:14; Psalm 119:26-27; Psalm 119:29-30; Psalm 119:32-33; Psalm 119:37; Psalm 119:59; Psalm 119:168).

The most frequently used term is "law" (Heb. torah, lit. teaching) that occurs25 times ( Psalm 119:1; Psalm 119:18; Psalm 119:29; Psalm 119:34; Psalm 119:44; Psalm 119:51; Psalm 119:53; Psalm 119:55; Psalm 119:61; Psalm 119:70; Psalm 119:72; Psalm 119:77; Psalm 119:85; Psalm 119:92; Psalm 119:97; Psalm 119:109; Psalm 119:113; Psalm 119:126; Psalm 119:136; Psalm 119:142; Psalm 119:150; Psalm 119:153; Psalm 119:163; Psalm 119:165; Psalm 119:174). It denotes direction or instruction and usually refers to a body of teaching such as the Pentateuch or the Book of Deuteronomy. Jesus used this term to describe the whole Old Testament ( John 10:34).

The word "testimony" (Heb. "edah) occurs23times, all but one time in the plural ( Psalm 119:2; Psalm 119:14; Psalm 119:22; Psalm 119:24; Psalm 119:31; Psalm 119:36; Psalm 119:46; Psalm 119:59; Psalm 119:79; Psalm 119:88 [sing.], 95 , 99 ,111 , 119 , 125 , 129 , 138 , 144 , 146 , 152 , 157 , 167 , 168). It refers to the ordinances that became God"s standard of conduct. Its particular shade of meaning is the solemnity of what God has spoken as His will. The English translations sometimes have "decrees" for this Hebrew word.

"Precepts" (Heb. piqqudim), a synonym for "injunctions" that occurs only in the psalms in the Old Testament, appears21times in this psalm ( Psalm 119:4; Psalm 119:15; Psalm 119:27; Psalm 119:40; Psalm 119:45; Psalm 119:56; Psalm 119:63; Psalm 119:69; Psalm 119:78; Psalm 119:87; Psalm 119:93-94; Psalm 119:100; Psalm 119:104; Psalm 119:110; Psalm 119:128; Psalm 119:134; Psalm 119:141; Psalm 119:159; Psalm 119:168; Psalm 119:173). It always occurs in the plural.

Another common synonym in this psalm is "statutes" (Heb. huqqim, lit. things inscribed). It refers to enacted laws. The translators sometimes rendered the Hebrew word "decrees." It occurs21times ( Psalm 119:5; Psalm 119:8; Psalm 119:12; Psalm 119:23; Psalm 119:26; Psalm 119:33; Psalm 119:48; Psalm 119:54; Psalm 119:64; Psalm 119:68; Psalm 119:71; Psalm 119:80; Psalm 119:83; Psalm 119:112; Psalm 119:117-118; Psalm 119:124; Psalm 119:135; Psalm 119:145; Psalm 119:155; Psalm 119:171).

"Commandments" (Heb. miswah) denotes a definite authoritative command. The writer used this word22times in Psalm 119 , usually in the plural but once as a collective singular ( Psalm 119:6; Psalm 119:10; Psalm 119:19; Psalm 119:21; Psalm 119:32; Psalm 119:35; Psalm 119:47-48; Psalm 119:60; Psalm 119:66; Psalm 119:73; Psalm 119:86; Psalm 119:96 [sing.], 98 , 115 , 127 , 131 , 143 , 151 , 166 , 172 , 176).

"Judgment" or "ordinance" (Heb. mishpot) refers to a judicial decision that establishes precedent and constitutes binding law. Often the English translators rendered this Hebrew word "laws." It sometimes means God"s acts of judgment on the wicked. In this psalm it occurs19 times in the plural and four times in the singular ( Psalm 119:7; Psalm 119:13; Psalm 119:20; Psalm 119:30; Psalm 119:39; Psalm 119:43; Psalm 119:52; Psalm 119:62; Psalm 119:75; Psalm 119:84 [sing.], 91 , 102 , 106 , 108 , 120 , 121 [sing.], 132 [sing.], 137 , 149 [sing.], 156 , 160 , 164 , 175). In Psalm 119:84 it does not refer to the Word of God, however.

The psalmist also identified many different responses he made to God"s Word. One of these was keeping or obeying it ( Psalm 119:4-5; Psalm 119:8; Psalm 119:17; Psalm 119:34; Psalm 119:44; Psalm 119:56-57; Psalm 119:60; Psalm 119:67; Psalm 119:88; Psalm 119:100-101; Psalm 119:129; Psalm 119:134; Psalm 119:136; Psalm 119:145; Psalm 119:158; Psalm 119:167-168).

"This untiring emphasis has led some to accuse the psalmist of worshipping the Word rather than the Lord; but it has been well remarked that every reference here to Scripture, without exception, relates it explicitly to its Author; indeed every verse from4to the end is a prayer or affirmation addressed to Him. This is true piety; a love of God not desiccated by study but refreshed, informed and nourished by it." [Note: Kidner, Psalm 73-150 , p419.]

"The longest psalm in the Psalter, Psalm 119 , is well known for its teaching on God"s law. Yet the beauty of this psalm lies, not only in the recitation of devotion to the law, but in the psalmist"s absolute devotion to the Lord." [Note: VanGemeren, p736.]

In all but14verses, the psalmist addressed his words to the Lord personally. [Note: Wiersbe, The . . . Wisdom . . ., p308.]

This is one of the alphabetic acrostic psalms (cf. Psalm 111 , 112). In each strophe of eight verses, each verse begins with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In Psalm 119:1-8 each line begins with the first Hebrew letter, in Psalm 119:9-16 each line begins with the second Hebrew letter, and so on. In some English versions, the translators have printed or transliterated the Hebrew letter that begins each line in the strophe at the beginning of that strophe.

"Even the literary qualities of the119th Psalm contribute to the development of its major theme-the Word of God in the child of God." [Note: George J. Zemek Jeremiah , "The Word of God in the Child of God: Psalm 119 ," Spire10:2 (1982):8.]

Psalm 145 is another acrostic psalm. In that psalm the intent of the acrostic structure seems to have been to encourage full praise of God. In this one, the intent seems to have been to encourage full obedience to God. [Note: Brueggemann, p39.]

The genre of the psalm is primarily Wisdom of Solomon , though there are also elements of Lamentations , thanksgiving, praise, and confidence in it.

As you read this Psalm , note the consequences of obeying God"s Word that the writer enumerated. These include being unashamed ( Psalm 119:6) and giving thanks ( Psalm 119:7).

"The basic theme of Psalm 119 is the practical use of the Word of God in the life of the believer." [Note: Wiersbe, The . . . Wisdom . . ., p309.]

"The lesson to be learned above all others is that knowledge and practical application of the Word will keep one from sin and thus enable him to know and serve God appropriately ( Psalm 119:9; Psalm 119:11; Psalm 119:92; Psalm 119:98; Psalm 119:105; Psalm 119:130; Psalm 119:133; Psalm 119:176)." [Note: Merrill, " Psalm ," p466.]


Verses 9-16

2. The cleansing power of God"s Word119:9-16

A person can cleanse his or her conduct by obeying the Word of God ( Psalm 119:9). The writer testified that he had internalized and delighted in God"s Word to maintain moral purity ( Psalm 119:10-14). He made it a practice to think about God"s revelation continually ( Psalm 119:15-16).

"The act of "hiding" God"s word is not to be limited to the memorization of individual texts or even whole passages but extends to a holistic living in devotion to the Lord (cf. Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Deuteronomy 30:14; Jeremiah 31:33)." [Note: Ibid, p740.]

"Clearly this psalm probes beyond the simplistic formulation of Psalm 1. A life of full obedience is not a conclusion of faith. It is a beginning point and an access to a life filled with many-sided communion with God." [Note: Brueggemann, p41.]

The word "path" (Heb. "orah) is a synonym for "way." It occurs five times in this psalm ( Psalm 119:9; Psalm 119:15; Psalm 119:101; Psalm 119:104; Psalm 119:128).

Another important synonym for God"s law is "word" (Heb. dabar) that I have found23times ( Psalm 119:9; Psalm 119:16-17; Psalm 119:25; Psalm 119:28; Psalm 119:42-43; Psalm 119:49; Psalm 119:57; Psalm 119:65; Psalm 119:74; Psalm 119:81; Psalm 119:89; Psalm 119:101; Psalm 119:105; Psalm 119:107; Psalm 119:114; Psalm 119:130; Psalm 119:139; Psalm 119:147; Psalm 119:160-161; Psalm 119:169). It is a general term for God"s revelation that proceeds from His mouth.

A poetical synonym for "word" is "saying" (Heb. "imrah) that the translators have sometimes rendered "promise." It occurs19 times ( Psalm 119:11; Psalm 119:38; Psalm 119:41; Psalm 119:50; Psalm 119:58; Psalm 119:67; Psalm 119:76; Psalm 119:82; Psalm 119:103; Psalm 119:116; Psalm 119:123; Psalm 119:133; Psalm 119:140; Psalm 119:148; Psalm 119:154; Psalm 119:158; Psalm 119:162; Psalm 119:170; Psalm 119:172).

Other responses to God"s Word that the writer mentioned and that occur first in this section are "rejoicing" ( Psalm 119:14; Psalm 119:74; Psalm 119:162), "meditating" ( Psalm 119:15; Psalm 119:23; Psalm 119:27; Psalm 119:48; Psalm 119:78; Psalm 119:97; Psalm 119:99; Psalm 119:148), and "delighting" ( Psalm 119:16; Psalm 119:24; Psalm 119:35; Psalm 119:47; Psalm 119:70; Psalm 119:77; Psalm 119:92; Psalm 119:143; Psalm 119:174).


Verses 17-24

3. An appreciation for God"s Word119:17-24

The psalmist"s prayer for God to illuminate his understanding concerning His Word is one that all God"s people need to pray ( Psalm 119:17-18). Psalm 119:19-20 reflect the writer"s great appetite for the Word. In contrast to the wicked, whom the psalmist asked God to remove, he delighted in God"s Word ( Psalm 119:21-24). The wicked who oppress those who love the Scriptures come into view quite often in this psalm ( Psalm 119:23; Psalm 119:53; Psalm 119:61; Psalm 119:69-70; Psalm 119:78; Psalm 119:85-87; Psalm 119:95; Psalm 119:110; Psalm 119:115; Psalm 119:119; Psalm 119:122; Psalm 119:134; Psalm 119:155; Psalm 119:157-158; Psalm 119:161).

One of the writer"s favorite titles for himself in this psalm was God"s "servant" ( Psalm 119:17; Psalm 119:23; Psalm 119:38; Psalm 119:49; Psalm 119:65; Psalm 119:76; Psalm 119:84; Psalm 119:124-125; Psalm 119:135; Psalm 119:140; Psalm 119:176).


Verses 25-32

4. A prayer for greater understanding119:25-32

The writer felt the need of the refreshment that God"s Word can provide ( Psalm 119:25; cf. Psalm 119:37; Psalm 119:40; Psalm 119:50; Psalm 119:93; Psalm 119:107; Psalm 119:149; Psalm 119:154; Psalm 119:156). He then called on the Lord for understanding, strength, and security ( Psalm 119:26-29). He promised to obey God when he received greater understanding because he valued the law highly ( Psalm 119:30-32).


Verses 33-40

5. Loyal commitment to God"s Word119:33-40

The psalmist professed wholehearted loyalty to God"s statutes ( Psalm 119:33-35). He asked Yahweh to keep him from covetousness and vanity ( Psalm 119:36-37). He wanted God to root the Word deeply in his life ( Psalm 119:38-40).


Verses 41-48

6. God"s Word and salvation119:41-48

The writer called for God to deliver him by His love and in fulfillment of His promise ( Psalm 119:41). This would give him an answer for his adversary ( Psalm 119:42). Then he prayed and promised that the Lord"s Word would continue to direct him ( Psalm 119:43-46). He said he loved God"s commandments ( Psalm 119:47-48). Loving the Word of God is another frequently expressed response to it in this psalm ( Psalm 119:47-48; Psalm 119:97; Psalm 119:113; Psalm 119:119; Psalm 119:127; Psalm 119:132; Psalm 119:159; Psalm 119:163; Psalm 119:165; Psalm 119:167).


Verses 49-56

7. God"s Word as a source of hope119:49-56

The poet next expressed his hope in God"s Word ( Psalm 119:49). He said it renews life ( Psalm 119:50). He despised the proud who scorn faith in God and have no use for His law ( Psalm 119:51-53; cf. Psalm 119:69; Psalm 119:78; Psalm 119:85). In contrast, he sang and thought about God"s precepts even at night ( Psalm 119:54-56).

"Remembering [ Psalm 119:49] is not recalling, for God never forgets; it is relating to His people in a special way." [Note: Wiersbe, The . . . Wisdom . . ., p317.]


Verses 57-64

8. Strong commitment to God"s Word119:57-64

The psalmist called on God for mercy because God was his chosen portion in life ( Psalm 119:57-58). He professed having lived in keeping with what God had commanded ( Psalm 119:58-60), even when his enemies intimidated him ( Psalm 119:61-62). He had made others his companions, who followed God"s law as he did ( Psalm 119:63-64).


Verses 65-72

9. Confidence in the Word of God119:65-72

The writer relied on the fact that God would deal with him according to what He had revealed ( Psalm 119:65). However, he felt the need for further instruction to prevent him from wandering away from God"s will ( Psalm 119:66-68). He would trust in God even though other people slandered Him ( Psalm 119:69-70). Affliction had taught him to appreciate God"s statutes more than he had previously done ( Psalm 119:71-72).


Verses 73-80

10. God"s Word as an object of hope119:73-80

God had fashioned the psalmist, who now called on the Lord to use him to encourage other godly people ( Psalm 119:73-74). He needed comfort, and asked God to frustrate the arrogant who opposed him ( Psalm 119:75-78). He prayed that other godly people would encourage him, and that he would continue to walk in God"s ways ( Psalm 119:79-80).


Verses 81-88

11. The reliability of God"s Word119:81-88

The poet had almost given up as he waited for God to save him from his enemies, but he found God"s revelation to be a reliable source of strength ( Psalm 119:81-82). Feeling similar to a wineskin shriveled up by the smoke of a fire, he asked God how much longer he would have to wait for salvation ( Psalm 119:83-86). In spite of severe attacks by his enemies, he had remained true to God"s ways and requested safe keeping ( Psalm 119:87-88; cf. Psalm 119:159).

"When the Father allows His children to go into the furnace of affliction, He keeps His eye on the clock and His hand on the thermostat." [Note: Ibid, p322.]


Verses 89-96

12. The permanence of God"s Word119:89-96

The permanence of God"s Word is evident in that God has preserved it in heaven and faithfully keeps it secure there ( Psalm 119:89-91). Because the writer delighted in this firm Word, he could gain the victory over his affliction ( Psalm 119:92-95). Everything else that is good has limitations, but the Word of God is boundless in its value ( Psalm 119:96).

In1542 , Martin Luther wrote the words of Psalm 119:92 on his Bible with his own hand. [Note: Ker, p148.] At this time much of his reforming work was behind him, and he lived only four more years.


Verses 97-104

13. The sweetness of God"s Word119:97-104

The psalmist loved God"s law because it gave him more wisdom than his enemies, his teachers, and the elderly sages who did not have it ( Psalm 119:97-100). It had enabled him to maintain his personal purity ( Psalm 119:101-102, cf. Psalm 119:9; Psalm 119:104). God"s promises were particularly sweet to him ( Psalm 119:103).

"While God"s truth is food for our souls, it is not a "buffet" from which we select only the things we like." [Note: Wiersbe, The . . . Wisdom . . ., p324.]


Verses 105-112

14. The illumination God"s Word provides119:105-112

God"s revelation is a light that illuminates the path of life, and for this reason the poet determined to follow it ( Psalm 119:105-106; cf. Psalm 119:130; Proverbs 6:23). The Scriptures give us the information we need to determine God"s will. The writer had called on God for help while meditating on His Word ( Psalm 119:107-110), and he would continue to follow it forever ( Psalm 119:111-112).


Verses 113-120

15. The reverence God"s Word inspires119:113-120

Double-minded people disregard God"s revelation ( Psalm 119:113), but those who value it make God their refuge and defense ( Psalm 119:114). The writer wanted evildoers to depart from him so he could keep God"s commandments ( Psalm 119:115). He called on the Lord to sustain and deliver him ( Psalm 119:116-117), because He would judge those who despised His Word ( Psalm 119:118-119). God"s judgments made him tremble because they are sure ( Psalm 119:120).


Verses 121-128

16. The vindication of those who keep God"s Word119:121-128

The first four verses of this pericope are a strong plea for protection from the antagonism of people who do not follow God"s Word ( Psalm 119:121-124). The psalmist appealed to God for safety because he had faithfully observed His will ( Psalm 119:125-126). He claimed to value God"s laws more highly than gold and to hate every false way ( Psalm 119:127-128).


Verses 129-136

17. The wonder of God"s Word119:129-136

The testimonies of the Lord are wonderful because they illuminate the understanding of the simple ( Psalm 119:129-130). The psalmist felt a great need for them ( Psalm 119:131). He asked God to favor him graciously by strengthening him in the Word and by redeeming him from his oppressors ( Psalm 119:132-135). The disobedience of his enemies caused him to weep ( Psalm 119:136).


Verses 137-144

18. The righteous character of God"s Word119:137-144

The righteous God has given us a righteous Word ( Psalm 119:137-138). The psalmist had a pure zeal for God"s Revelation , even though his enemies looked down on him for his commitment to it ( Psalm 119:139-142).

"The world may look upon God"s people as "small and despised," but when you stand on God"s promises, you are a giant." [Note: Ibid, p329.]

The writer found comfort in God"s righteous testimonies when troubles overwhelmed him ( Psalm 119:143-144).


Verses 145-152

19. The truth of God"s Word119:145-152

The psalmist called on God to deliver him because he promised to keep His commandments ( Psalm 119:145-149). He contrasted his condition with that of his enemies ( Psalm 119:150). He knew God was near him since His testimonies were true ( Psalm 119:151-152).


Verses 153-160

20. Love for God"s Word119:153-160

Again the writer prayed for deliverance, appealing to his commitment to God"s law ( Psalm 119:153-154). The wicked have little hope of salvation because they disregard God"s Word ( Psalm 119:155). However, the psalmist could have hope because He valued it ( Psalm 119:156). The righteous have many enemies who despise God"s revelation ( Psalm 119:157-158). The poet appealed for personal restoration because he loved the righteous law ( Psalm 119:159-160).


Verses 161-168

21. Joy in God"s Word119:161-168

The opposition of powerful individuals did not intimidate the writer ( Psalm 119:161). He continued to love God"s Word and to find it a ceaseless source of joy, but he hated falsehood ( Psalm 119:162-164). Great peace (Heb. shalom, the fullness of God"s blessings) is the portion of those who love God"s law and hope in His salvation ( Psalm 119:165-166). Love had motivated the writer to keep the Lord"s commandments and to live openly before God ( Psalm 119:167-168).

"The joy, devotion, and benefits of a godly life radiate through this strophe." [Note: VanGemeren, p762.]


Verses 169-176

22. Salvation in God"s Word119:169-176

The psalmist called to the Lord again to hear his supplication and to save him ( Psalm 119:169-170). He wanted to praise God for His righteous commandments ( Psalm 119:171-172). He requested continued life because he loved God"s law ( Psalm 119:173-175). Finally, he confessed to wandering away from God, but he asked the Lord to seek him and bring him back to the fold, since he had not abandoned God"s Word.

This great and unique psalm should impress the importance of the Word of God on every reader. Apparently the writer worked his way through the Hebrew alphabet selecting key words that express the various aspects of human life. He then related each one to the Word of God and so showed how it touches every area of life and is essential to all of life. He did not just give us a catalogue of the values of Scripture. Instead he showed us how the Word is relevant and invaluable in all types of situations that the godly face. The frequent references to enemies, affliction, persecution, and adversaries keep us in touch with real life as we read this psalm. In this way, the psalmist illustrated the absolute importance of what God has revealed as an adequate resource and indispensable guide through life. This psalm is not only a record of praise for God"s Revelation , but it is also a revelation of the importance of God"s Word (cf. Psalm 138:2, NIV).

 


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Psalms 119:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/psalms-119.html. 2012.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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