Years ago I created a plan that takes me through all the Psalms three times a year by reading about twenty verses a day. (You can download a copy of the plan here.) I begin my prayer times by meditating on those verses from a psalm.
But my plan means that three times a year I come to the dreaded (if I can say that) Psalm 119. It is not only the longest psalm, it is the longest chapter in the Bible, and it is even longer than several whole books. It has 176 seemingly disconnected verses except that each of them sings ecstatically on some synonym of the “Law.” The Law!
Last week I came again to that psalm, and I cringed; partly in anticipation of the seeming dull repetition and partly because it’s hard to pray these words with heart-felt honesty. How can we pray aloud these verses without tripping over our lips?
- Let your mercy come to me, that I may live, for your law is my delight (77);
- Oh how I love your law, it is my mediation all day long (97)
- Your testimonies are wonderful, therefore my soul keeps them (129)
The only way I can pray them with a hint of authenticity is with inner qualifications like:
- “For your law is my delight” (well, at least I like it sometimes, on occasion);
- “Your law is my meditation all the day” (at least for a few minutes, some days)
- “Therefore my soul keeps your testimonies” (at least when other people are watching).
What joy is there in praying a psalm that troubles our conscience or worse, causes us to lie?
But I Like Most of the Psalms
Praying these songs is a usually a great way to begin my meditations, like this verse:
One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord. (Ps. 27:4)
As I began my Law-Psalm-saga again last week, that verse from Psalm 27 actually came to mind. I asked myself, “What did David mean by ‘gazing on the beauty of the Lord’?” David wasn’t a priest, the temple hadn’t been built yet, they just had a centuries old tent; and it wasn’t like God was visible anyway.
So how did we “gaze” upon the Lord?
So, How Can We?
If Scripture is about God’s self-revelation, then my past dread of Ps. 119 has been wrong. It’s not about me, it’s about him. Augustine said that the psalms are the voice of Christ speaking through the human author. Therefore, we read the Psalms as though Jesus is singing them, and we are simply eavesdropping on his prayer time.
I can’t pray all the verses of Psalm 119 authentically, but Jesus can. As I read them, I meditate on Jesus praying them, and I see his incarnation and cross and inner life. Jesus says:
- I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not your commandments from me! (19)
- Even though princes sit plotting against me, I will meditate on your statutes. (23)
- They have almost made an end of me on earth, but I remember your precepts. (87)
- My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law. (136)
When I prayed Psalm 119 last week by overhearing Jesus, I began to see something I had never seen, and the dreaded psalm grew delightful.
I began to gaze on the beauty of the Lord,
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Love your treatment of this section of scripture! Someone pointed out to me years ago (high school years I think) that the law the psalmist was so exuberantly celebrating with his 176 verses of Hebrew alphabet acrostic was prompted by only five books. That’s all they had at that point. We have much more of God’s word to be excited about. Your take has me imagining Jesus singing. That’s going to stay with me today. Thank you, Sam.
Beliefs of the Heart
Hi Bob, yes, the artist limited himself to a structure (alphabetic) and yet still expressed ecstatic love of God’s words.
But we have so much more of God’s heart.
But, of course, the real artist was Jesus, and he is singing these words to us as well.
Brother Sam and the rest of your disciples!!
Being raised in the Lutheran tradition, I really struggled with the concept of “law” in God’s Word. When I learned Hebrew and discovered that law is Torah – God’s instruction to us, my mind was renewed. No longer a hindrance to grace!! Now I delight in what the Lord instructs me about life!! Still praying for your healing!!
P.S. Leaving right after Christmas for 3 months in Israel!!
This is something that I realized not long ago. I teach Old Testament at a Bible college, so the question comes up frequently. Understanding the concept of Torah in the positive sense allows us to see how the Old Testament saints delighted in this wonderful document.
Beliefs of the Heart
Beliefs of the Heart
Have fun in Israel.
Sing Ps. 119 to the Lord while you are there, in harmony (of course) with Jesus.
Long time no talk. I’m glad you wrote this as I can only imagine most of mainstream Christianity feel the way you do about Psalm 119. As for me it has become one of my favorite chapters in the bible along with Psalm 19 speaking about “The Law”.
The mainstream doctrine concerning Law and Grace can be very confusing. I was actually in my second year of seminary when I ended up having more questions than answers. This was a good thing as it drove me to a journey through God’s word that has been life altering for myself and my family.
Brother, you played a role in this journey in that as I decided that I was going to take EVERYTHING I had learned growing up (Pentecostal, then young adult Calvary Chapel) and what I was taught in seminary and ask myself “is this so?” and decided to be a Berean. Thanking you for your role, is that I started my reading journey using your reading plan. You know I’ve posted my marked-out Psalm pages on Facebook several years running. What happened as this process unfolded, I would have never guessed and has resulted in a reading plan that is simply this: 10 chapters a day, 1 each of:
3. Major Prophets Plus (Isa, Jer+ SOS, JOB, LAM)
4. Minor Prophets
In doing this I’ve read through the entirety of the bible 5 or 6 times and many books over and over countless times. I always start out praying to be filled with the Holy Spirit and ask specifically for wisdom and revelation. Do these things and He is faithful to reveal truth to you and no matter what wind of doctrine creeps in or your flesh acts up His word will correct your course.
I would go into my what I’ve learned about “The Law” and Grace but I’m afraid like anywhere else that I’ve posted about it or even talked about it with my brethren, I get labeled. So many things I thought I knew have been blown out of the water (i.e. Systematic Theology, Eschatology, Etc.) others have been sweetened beyond belief and others I have ran from. I will leave some hints as to where I stand but it will take your own study (with the doctrinal glasses off) to see for yourself.
As way of hints. I love that you said Psalm 119 shows the heart of Jesus. The whole of scripture reveals to us the Father’s nature and if you’ve seen the Son, you’ve seen the Father. God wants us to love Him with all our heart mind and soul and our neighbors as ourselves The Tutor shows us how to do it and grace (The Father’s sacrifice in His only begotten Son) covers us when we miss the mark. The Law was and will always be a target that we aim for and only hit via belief. He said it, I believe it. Think about this: could the commandments be the good works prepared before the foundations for us to walk in?
The doctrines being taught about “The Law” will force you to have to believe there is one set off rules for one group of people and another set for another group of people and to validate this you will be told that this book was written to this group and that book was written to the other group. So sad. There is 1 (echad in the Hebrew) people of God, 1 saints, 1 called, 1 elect, 1 chosen those of belief/obedience.
I think it’s appalling that alter calls happen nearly every day and afterwards the recipient of this great gift is only given a New Testament. Every promise, the gospel, every statement of Paul and the other apostles you can find the roots of in The Law and The Prophets a.k.a. “The Scriptures”. Regardless of your thoughts on Law (too right “pharisee”) and Grace (too left “gone wild”) you will commit error because you don’t know The Scriptures. What’s really scary is a comment that was made in seminary by our teacher was “while it’s not the focus, the Old Testament is important, so you really should read it” as if it’s some kind of afterthought.
I hope anyone reading my brother Sam or sitting in a pew would decide to become a miner. Everything you hear ask yourself “is this so” and go digging for answers. I think you’ll find the narrow road right where The Law is overlapped by Grace. Anything to right or left of that is the broad road.
Happy mining fellow Bereans. God bless you my brother Sam!
Beliefs of the Heart
I love your commitment to reading Scripture so that God will shape your thinking. We need more of that in this world (where everything battles to shape our minds).
Thanks for sharing your method and thoughts.
When I read this Psalm I read “law” as God’s “commands ” or as God’s “word” and never fail to find the psalm inspiring.
Beliefs of the Heart
Wow, that is so cool. Am loving this transformative insight into Psalm 119. Thank you!
Thanks Sam, Good word. I recall the time when the Pastor offer church in Schaumburg, Illinois announced to the women that his wife would be leading a new Bible study. She would ask all the women in the church to read and memorize Psalm 119. My wife dropped pout of the women’s group shortly thereafter. But who knows, if she’d stuck with it, she might have found Jesus relaxing in the passages and been able to behold His beauty, as you did.