Through the Bible Day by Day
ALEPH. Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD.
GOD’S WORD AN INNER POWER
This long and noble psalm is devoted to the praise of God’s Word, which is mentioned in every verse but one, Psa_119:122. Probably if we were to substitute Will for Word we should not be far wrong. The earnest desire of the writer was that his will should be brought into blessed and unbroken union with the divine purpose in his life.
In its structure the psalm is an elaborate acrostic. In the original, each verse in a given section begins with the same letter, so that the twenty-two sections present the complete Hebrew alphabet.
It needs to be often used to be understood and valued. Chrysostom, Ambrose, Augustine, and Luther have left on record high tributes to its worth. There are several key expressions, which recur again and again, such as quicken and teach me thy statutes. It is interesting, also, to construct the psalmist’s biography from his confessions. He had gone astray like a lost sheep, was small and despised, had many adversaries, was like a bottle in the smoke; but he accounted God’s will and service more than food or gold, and his one desire was to be taught to do that will.
GIMEL. Deal bountifully with thy servant, that I may live, and keep thy word.
A PRAYER FOR UNDERSTANDING
These verses are full of yearning and unsatisfied desire. The soul breaks for longing, cleaves to the dust, and melts for heaviness. We are reminded of the complaint of a godly man, uttered two centuries and a half ago: “If God had not said, ‘Blessed are those that hunger,’ I know not what could keep weak Christians from sinking into despair. Many times all I can do is to complain that I want Him and wish to recover Him.”
We learn from this psalm to pour out before God such desires. If we can do nothing else, we can complain that we are lacking in relish, in the sense of His nearness, and in the comfort of holy prayer. The expression of desire for God is prayer, which He accepts and will answer. “He will fulfill the desire of them that fear Him; He also will hear their cry, and will save them,” Psa_145:19. When the father of the prodigal first saw him, he was a long way off, but love could not wait till the son had traversed that intervening distance. He ran to meet him, and kissed him, while the words of confession were trembling on his lips. So God will draw near to quicken, strengthen, teach, and cause us to understand. Then we shall run where now we limp.
HE. Teach me, O LORD, the way of thy statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end.
LOVE FOR GOD’S COMMANDS
Twice over the psalmist says, “thy commandments which I have loved,” and then proceeds to give the key to perfect love of them in the words, “I will meditate in thy statutes.” Fugitive moments spent over God’s Word will never lead to a deep and fervent affection for it. If you look cursorily at a great painting, you will fail to become enthralled with it. In the Dresden gallery connoisseurs will spend hours before a single painting by Raphael. They go away, and return the next day. They make the painting their own by prolonged communion with its matchless forms. One of them said: “I could spend an hour every day, for years, upon that assemblage of human, angelic, and divine ideals, and on the last day of the last year discover some new beauty and a new joy.” But what thoughts, what ideals, can genius express in a painting which can be compared with those great thoughts of God, of heaven, and of eternity, which are given on the page of Scripture. Surely we cannot hope to spring into possession of such thoughts in less time than lovers of art spend on a masterpiece! We must meditate!
ZAIN. Remember the word unto thy servant, upon which thou hast caused me to hope.
COMFORTED BY GOD’S JUDGMENTS
Rays of comfort begin to steal into the psalmist’s heart. Thou hast caused me to hope; this is my comfort in my affliction; thy statutes have been my songs; at midnight I will rise to give thanks. Often prayer clears itself as it proceeds. It is the repeated testimony of all who have become proficient in the art of prayer that the seasons which begin with a struggle against depression, gloom, and the sense of absence, end in triumphant joy. Jeremy Taylor puts it thus: “So have I seen a lark rising from his bed of grass and soaring upward, singing as he rises, and hoping to get to heaven and climb above the clouds; but the poor bird was beaten back by the loud sighings of an eastern wind, his motion became inconstant and irregular, till the little creature was forced to sit down and pant, and stay till the storm was over; and then it made a prosperous flight, and did rise and sing, as if it had learned music and motion from an angel, as he was passing through the air about his ministries of mercy.”
TETH. Thou hast dealt well with thy servant, O LORD, according unto thy word.
PROFITING FROM AFFLICTION
Before I was afflicted, I went astray; it is good for me that I have been afflicted; thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me. Here is the far-off interest of our tears. God measures out our sorrows and the trials which cause them. But our condition requires the stern and bitter regimen. The stone must be cut by the lapidary. The heavy clouds, with their drenching showers, must hang over the landscape. The fire must cleanse the metal. If need be, ye suffer heaviness through many temptations. Yes, there is a need-be, and only if need be, for He doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men. It is His strange work, Isa_28:21. The very least and the very greatest sorrows that befall us are provided, or permitted, by his unspeakable love. If we be without chastisement, whereof all children are partakers, then are we bastard and not sons, Heb_12:8. But amid the affliction, his loving-kindness always waits upon our comfort, Psa_119:76. “God, that comforteth those that are cast down,” says the Apostle, “comforted us by the coming of Titus,” 2Co_7:6.
CAPH. My soul fainteth for thy salvation: but I hope in thy word.
THE WORD THAT STANDS FAST
They persecute wrongfully; they dig pits; they have almost consumed; they have waited to destroy; but thy Word abides steadfast. The driven soul flees to the cleft of the Rock and hides there.
At the beginning of our religious life we rest on the assurances of others. Our parents, teachers, ministers, all insist on the truth of Scripture and the certainty of the facts which it reveals; but as life goes on we change our foundations and advance to the personal and experimental conviction which has been wrought in us by years of testing the Word of God for ourselves.
The famous Scotch clergyman, Thomas Erskine, said that no demolition of outward authority, even if such demolition were possible, could deprive him of the conviction of the divine origin and authority of the Bible, because it so exactly coincided with the experiences of his life, and had been verified in so many remarkable instances. We have experienced God’s faithfulness to His promises too often to be afraid of any attack upon the truth of Scripture. It is settled in heaven, Psa_119:89.
MEM. O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day.
“THY WORD IS A LAMP, UNTO MY FEET”
The psalmist cries, O how love I thy law! He then proceeds to say that he has become wiser than his enemies and has more understanding than all his teachers. But this is not to be wondered at, because love is so quick and unerring in its intuitions. They who love, know. We have two organs of knowledge the head and the heart. The latter is the swifter and truer of the two; and it lies open to love, human and divine, as the lyre to the musician’s hand. The study of God’s Word by a loving heart gives, to simple and unlearned people, an understanding which no college learning can impart. They have a lamp that lights them unerringly on the devious tracks of this mortal life.
There is also this advantage: the soul which is deeply instructed in God’s Word hates every false way. It is not simply warned against taking it; it does not want to take it. A distaste for sin is the result of Bible love and Bible study. We may not retain all that we read, but the water that percolates through a sieve cleanses it.
SAMECH. I hate vain thoughts: but thy law do I love.
“TIME FOR THE LORD TO WORK”
There is an ineradicable difference between the child of God and evil-doers, and the believer does not want to be involved in their fate. Therefore he bids them depart from him. But though we know that in the end the wicked shall be put away as the dross, there seem to be long periods of divine inaction. Sin grows and flourishes like the green bay tree, Psa_37:35. Wicked men are prosperous and at ease. The divine procedure of judgment seems to be arrested; and we set ourselves to awaken it with the reminding suggestion that it is time for God to work, because men are making void His law, Psa_119:126. Our eyes fail with long watching for His salvation and the award of righteousness, Psa_119:123.
In the meantime let us not lose heart. Let us continue to keep the commandments of God. Let us prize the precepts and promises of God above fine gold; and let us dare to regard all his precepts as right. Thus shall we nurse our souls in patience and faith, Luk_21:19, conscious that though we cannot be God’s timekeepers, yet the Judge will come and will not tarry, Heb_10:37.
PE. Thy testimonies are wonderful: therefore doth my soul keep them.
WHY LOVE GOD’S WORD?
What a beautiful soul this is that utters itself in these stanzas! The psalmist acknowledges his simplicity; is quite content to be among the unknown and despised of men. He is very anxious to be free from iniquity and transgression. He sheds bitter tears as he beholds the sin around him. He humbly asks only to be remembered, taught, and cared for. Nothing is left to him but what is God’s or of God. God is his own desire, God’s Word his stay and comfort, God’s love his solace. God is the one goal and purpose of his search.
And his whole nature glows with love. He opens his mouth and pants with pure desire for God. He wants only that face to shine which fills heaven with brightness. The very purity of the Word only stirs again the embers of his true affection. He is one, therefore, with all the saints of every age, for humble, meek, merciful, and loving souls are everywhere of one religion; and when death has taken off the mask, as William Penn put it, they will know one another, though the divers liveries they wear here make them strangers.
KOPH. I cried with my whole heart; hear me, O LORD: I will keep thy statutes.
THE JOY OF COMMUNION WITH GOD
There is great eagerness in the psalmist’s prayerfulness. He calls with his whole heart; he awakes before the dawn and continues long after the fall of night; he asks that his case may be considered, his cause pleaded, and his soul quickened. When we draw near to God in prayer, our prayers must not be vague or languid. Jeremy Taylor says: “Easiness of desire is a great enemy to the success of a good man’s prayer. It must be an intent, zealous, busy, operative prayer. For consider what a huge indecency it is that a man should speak to God for a thing that he values not. Our prayers upbraid our spirits when we beg tamely for those things for which we ought to die.” But when we pray after the manner of the psalmist, we become aware that God is near. Thou art nigh, O Jehovah, Psa_119:151, r.v. This is the crowning moment in prayer, when we cease speaking and almost hold our breath, because we are suddenly aware of a presence, the dear and awful presence of our Lord.
SCHIN. Princes have persecuted me without a cause: but my heart standeth in awe of thy word.
JEHOVAH INSPIRES CONTINUAL PRAISE
What a noble conclusion we reach in these closing stanzas! I rejoice at thy word; thy law do I love; seven times a day do I praise thee; let my lips utter praise; let my tongue sing; let my soul live and it shall praise thee. There are many beautiful things in the world around us. We eat and drink and sleep; we read and meditate; we walk in the pleasant fields of nature. We have our homes, our loved ones, the respect and good-will of many. But, above all, we have God, and His Word, our eternal hope, and blessed foretastes of the heaven that is to be. Surely we should be less peevish and morose! We should rejoice in every good thing that the Lord our God gives us. We should take the cup brimming with salvation and praise His holy Name. “He that hath so many causes of joy must be very much in love with sorrow, who chooses to turn aside and sit upon his little handful of thorns.” And is not this the most wonderful of all, that though we were going astray like lost sheep, the Great Shepherd Himself came to seek and to save? Te Deum Laudamus!