I find that most of the verses in Psalm 119 fall into one of six themes (I am sure you could find more):
1. The beauty and inestimable value of God’s Revelation
This is a recurrent theme in nearly every verse. This chapter, right in the heart of our English Bibles, is all about the value and beauty of God’s word. It is brought out especially in several verses:
72 The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.
89 Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.
127 Because I love your commands more than gold, more than pure gold,
128 and because I consider all your precepts right, I hate every wrong path.
129 Your statutes are wonderful; therefore I obey them.
What also emanates from this chapter is the passion of the psalmist for the Word of God. What is keeping us from that same passion? We are passionate for the things we value, the things we think are worth our time and attention. Many people are passionate for money because they value money. Many are passionate for the latest iPad or video game because for them it has value. Many are passionate for a sports team, because it has worth in their eyes. Many are passionate for ministry, loved ones, or even their favorite food.
When I see the value of God’s Word, I will be passionate for God’s word. This is not something that can be taught. It must be Spirit wrought! Are we completely yielded to the Lord or are their idols in our lives that keep us from a passion for God’s Word and, thus, God Himself?
Imagine if you had your own personal “ATM” machine that each morning before 6:30 a.m. would produce a sackful of gold and silver pieces if you were there to punch a magical button. I am sure you would find motivation to wake up and withdraw from it everything you could! But here in Psalm 119, we are told: “The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (vs 72) and yet we often can’t seem to get out of bed to receive our spiritual riches. Why? Because we are blind to the value of His Word!
2. The Word of God as the avenue to knowing God Himself
A second theme is shown in these samples:
7 I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws.
10 I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.
11 I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
12 Praise be to you, O LORD; teach me your decrees.
57 You are my portion, O LORD; I have promised to obey your words.
58 I have sought your face with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise.
A very important truth is brought out here: God’s Word is not an end unto itself, but the avenue of communication for knowing Him! The psalmist recognizes this. God’s Word is not to be learned so that we know the right answers and can recite long lists of verses and show how smart we are. God’s Word is to be learned so that we can know him!
3. The importance of memorizing and meditating on God’s word
11 I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
13 With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth.
15 I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.
97 Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.
98 Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me.
99 I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes.
The psalmist in many places praises the dual practices of memorization and meditation. With memorization, we learn the verses “by heart” as we say, so that we can recount them accurately. With meditation, we think on them, turn them over and over, chew on them, personalize them, recount them in our spare moments.
Donald S. Whitney in his immensely practical book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, summarizes many benefits of memorizing God’s word:
- Memorization supplies spiritual power – Consider Jesus in the wilderness, tempted by the devil. Jesus countered temptation with Scripture that was stored in His heart. The Holy Spirit can use passages to guide us and give us strength to face spiritual battle. The shield of faith and belt of truth will do us no good, if we don’t know what to have faith in and what the truth is.
- Memorization strengthens our faith – Memorizing Scripture strengthens faith because it repeatedly reinforces truth, often just when we need to hear it again.
- Memorization aids us in witnessing and counseling – Often the Holy Spirit can guide us to that exact verse that someone needs to hear at just the right time. A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. (Prov 25:11)
- Memorization helps us to know God’s will – God’s will is revealed to us in God’s Word. As we memorize, then God’s will becomes clear.
- Memorization stimulates meditation – Through meditation we are promised spiritual success (Joshua 1:8) and spiritual prosperity (Psalm 1:2-3). If we want our spiritual lives to prosper like the tree illustrated in Psalm 1:3, then we need to meditate deeply on God’s word.
- One other benefit of memorization that I would add to Mr. Whitney’s list is answered prayer. According to John 15:7: “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.”
4. God’s Word as counsel and guidance for life
23 Though rulers sit together and slander me, your servant will meditate on your decrees.
24 Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors.
100 I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts.
102 I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me.
104 I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path.
105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.
130 The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.
Even though we are not under the Old Testament Law, godly principles endure! They bring life; they bring joy; they bring peace. Even unbelievers at times stumble upon a principle laid down in God’s word that just plain works for life! Recent scientific research has confirmed things that Scripture has said for years: the joys of monogamous relationships; the health benefits of laughter; even rudimentary laws like OT hygiene principles promote health and well-being!
5. A desire for a steadfast heart to obey God’s Word
The psalmist displays a strong desire to demonstrate his heart for God by obeying God. There are many, many verses in Psalm 119 like this one:
17 Do good to your servant, and I will live; I will obey your word.
As we saw earlier, this is how we demonstrate our love for God, by obeying Him. (John 14:15) It is true that the purpose of the Law is to show us our need for a Savior (Romans 7:7-11, Gal 3:24), but that does not negate the importance of obedience to God’s timeless, moral principles. Because we are saved by faith, we Evangelicals often downplay the importance of following his Word and holiness of life. We would do well to heed James 1:22: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
6. The frailty of sinful humanity and the need for a Savior
Despite the Psalmists good intentions, he is constantly being made aware of his inability to fulfill God’s righteous standard. Consider the opening words of the Psalm:
1 Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD.
2 Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart.
3 They do nothing wrong; they walk in his ways.
4 You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed.
5 Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees!
6 Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands.
As he goes along, it gets worse for him:
25 I am laid low in the dust; preserve my life according to your word.
26 I recounted my ways and you answered me; teach me your decrees.
Then we begin to see requests for salvation:
41 May your unfailing love come to me, O LORD, your salvation according to your promise;
81 My soul faints with longing for your salvation, but I have put my hope in your word.
82 My eyes fail, looking for your promise; I say, “When will you comfort me?”
145 I call with all my heart; answer me, O LORD, and I will obey your decrees.
146 I call out to you; save me and I will keep your statutes.
147 I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word.
There is dependence modeled here, a clear understanding that without the Lord, without His power, the psalmist has no ability to obey God’s Word in his own strength. So, too, with us. Without His salvation and His working in our hearts through His Holy Spirit, we too are without hope of being able to obey. Paul says this very clearly in Galatians 2:21: “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
Ultimately the revelation of God’s Law, reveals our helpless, sinful condition, which leads us to the person of God’s revelation, the Lord Jesus Christ. Through faith in Him, the Holy Spirit empowers us to love and obey the Word of God.
Meditate on Psalm 119. It is a great place to start this practice, this discipline, of memorization and meditation.
May we all see the value of God’s Word and be passionate for it so that we might know Him better!