One hundred and seventy-six verses! That makes this psalm the longest chapter in the Bible. But that is not all that is unique about this psalm.
Psalm 119 is divided into 22 sections of eight verses each. Each of these 22 sections is identified with a letter of the Hebrew which, in turn, is the starting letter for each verse. As a whole, Psalm 119 is dedicated to the beauty and greatness of God and His Word, so it is not surprising that it refers to scripture in at least 171 of 176 verses.
When we say scripture, we are talking about a discussion of God’s Word – which this psalm describes in many different ways that affect a person’s whole life. The author, (and Ezra is the suspect), identifies scripture in eight different synonyms (Dr. Thomas Constable 1 has named ten and these two additional synonyms are noted with “*”, below) for Word of God:
A. Law (Torah) – teaching, instruction, or direction;
B. Word – the spoken word – God’s revealed word to man;
C. Judgments – to judge, determine, regulate, order and discern;
D. Testimonies – related to “witness” – signifies loyalty to the terms of the covenant between the Lord and Israel. Another way of saying this is “the ordinances that became God’s standard of conduct.”
E. Commandments – Definitive authoritative command; the right to give orders.
F. Statutes – the written word of God and the authority of His written word; the enacted laws.
G. Precepts – the particular instructions of the Lord; injunctions that occur only in the Psalms in the Old Testament.
H. Word of God – anything God has spoken, written or commanded.
I. Way and Ways – the pattern of life God’s revelation marks out.*
These are something to look for to guide us as we read through the psalm and what the intended message might be for us.
When we come across an extensive passage such as this, with its distinctive divisions, it is only natural for us to think that there must be some plan – some rhyme and reason that holds it all together. The synonyms mentioned above are part of the glue that holds this whole together. But it is only the glue: what is the message that it holds together from section to section?
Well, I think that is something that we should look for when we read this psalm. I can’t help but think there is a reason for setting this long psalm up the way the author did, just because he thought it might be clever or some such thing. Perhaps it is, like the Psalms of Ascent, a psalm guides us on a journey and takes us to a higher level on our walk with God.
Let’s keep our eyes and hearts open to any patterns we see develop as we read. Let’s see what this psalm says about the Word of God and the impact it has on our lives. Let’s keep an eye out for the blessings we receive, the knowledge about our Lord and God, about our conduct and about walking the Way of the Lord.
Thank you for reading.
1. Dr. Thomas L. Constable. (2008). Notes on Psalms 2008 Edition. Sonic Light. Retrieved from http://www.soniclight.com/ (Dr. Thomas L. Constable, 2008)