I want to write one final post in my Psalm 119 series, highlighting some others who are thinking about it, and asking whether there is a reference to God’s word in every single verse or not.
Psalm 119 in blogs and songs
During the last month, I noticed a couple of other bloggers tackling this Psalm. First, is Chris Wright, with an article entitled “Experiencing God” on the theology network. As always, he makes several insightful and perceptive points. Also, on the Scripture Zealot blog, which I have been following for some time has a post on Ps 119:120 and another on Ps 119 in general, which includes a link to a free PDF exposition of the Psalm from Charles Bridges.
Also, while at New Wine, I noticed that one of the new songs we sung borrowed many of its lyrics from Ps 119. The song is called “Like Incense”. I would have liked the chorus to more obviously pick up a theme from the Psalm too, but it is nice to see it being used in modern worship songs.
If you’ve blogged, preached or written a song about Ps 119, do please put a link in the comments below.
God’s Word in Every Verse?
As you are probably aware, Psalm 119 is a meticulously crafted Psalm, with 22 sections, one for each of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Each section has 8 verses, each of which starts with the same letter of the alphabet. And almost every verse contains a synonym for the word of God. Here’s a list of the terms I noticed as I worked through the Psalm (in the ESV version):
- Your Word(s)
- Word of Truth
- His / Your Ways
- Your promise
- Your judgments
- A pledge of good
This left me with 6 verses that don’t have an obvious reference to God’s word. Now, it may be that the Psalmist felt at liberty to break from his pattern in a few places, but for such a carefully crafted work (did he have OCD?), it seems plausible to me that he thought himself to have referred to God’s word in every verse, even if obliquely in some cases.
The six verses are:
Ps 119:84 How long must your servant endure? When will you judge those who persecute me?
At first glance, there appears to be no reference to God’s word here, but elsewhere (e.g. Ps 119:120) the Psalmist uses God’s “judgments”, and here, in the more literal translations the phrase is “execute judgment”.
Ps 119:90 Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast.
Possibly God’s Word is depicted here as a manifestation of his “faithfulness” – God’s faithfulness, like his Word, endures forever. Alternatively, the Psalmist may have God’s creative word that spoke the earth into being in this verse.
Ps 119:91 By your appointment they stand this day, for all things are your servants
This one is only an issue in the ESV, since other translations replace “appointment” with “laws”, “regulations”, or “ordinances”. Following on as it does from verse 90, God’s word of creation may be in view still.
Ps 119:121 I have done what is just and right; do not leave me to my oppressors.
Here, doing justice and righteousness is the same as doing what God’s word says. “What is just and right” serves as a summary of the law.
Ps 119:132 Turn to me and be gracious to me, as is your way with those who love your name.
Here the most promising candidate is “your way”, which the NIV translates “as you always do”, and another translation “as you have pledged to do”. In other words, the gracious character of God is testified to in the word of God. The Psalmist is praying for God to act in consistency with his self-revelation.
Ps 119:149 Hear my voice according to your steadfast love; O LORD, according to your justice give me life
Both “steadfast love” and “justice” could be replaced with “word”, but “justice” seems more likely to function as a synonym for God’s word in this verse. And in fact, that is the direction many other translations take, going for words such as “judgments” or “ordinances”. The NIV has “laws”.