Week 18

  1. Seek him with a whole heart
    Psalm 119

The theme of this psalm is obvious, throughout its 176 verses at least 8 different words are used for the word of God, a total of 171 times. It is the longest chapter in the Bible and was probably compiled by David over the course of his life. It is arranged in 22 sections or stanzas, the first line of each beginning with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet as an acrostic.


The first eight verses of the Psalm in Hebrew, each begin with the first letter of the alphabet – aleph. It opens with the statement that those who walk in God’s law, keep his testimonies and walk in his ways are blessed. They will also be blameless in their conduct and wholehearted in their devotion. Law or torah, is used 25 times in this psalm: it means both ‘law’ and ‘revelation’ and is what we find contained in the commands of scripture. Testimonies appears 23 times it is related to the word for witness. To obey His testimonies means to commit to the terms of his covenant. His ways relate to the manner of life, as seen in his son Jesus.


God has commanded that we don’t only know his laws but that we keep them. Precepts, which is used 21 times is a word drawn from the role of an overseer, a person who is responsible for making things happen, someone who cares about detail. Keeping precepts requires diligence. Statutes (used 21 times) comes from the word to “engrave” or “inscribe”; the idea is that it is the written word of God and carries his authority. We use it today to refer to the written law. The writer of the psalm is hopeful that he will be consistent in the way he keeps these rules and commands, if he does he will not be embarrassed or ashamed. He was convinced that as he applied himself diligently to learning God’s laws and kept them, that God would not forsake him, and he would then be able to praise him.


The second stanza starts at verse 9 with the letter Beth. Evidently David wrote this as a young man and wanted to know how he could keep his life pure, the following verses answer that question. David’s heart needed to be guarded, and the word of God could do that. Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard wrote that purity of heart is to will one thing. He meant that we need to be single minded, not divided in our passions or desires. David understood that he must be wholehearted as must we. Not holy on Sunday but compromised throughout the week; heavenly minded while we worship, but driven by other passions when we are with our workmates.


David would store up the word in his heart, there were no Bible apps or pocket New Testaments for David, he memorized the word of God so that he would not stray from it. William Wilberforce the British politician who led the movement to abolish the slave trade), Henry Martyn  a 19th century pioneer missionary to India, and David Livingstone a 19th century pioneer missionary to Africa and many others all memorized Psalm 119 and testified to its influence in their own lives.


Gimel is the letter that introduces the third stanza. David asks for God to be generous to him, to give him a life of ease so that he could learn more of his word. He did not ask for wealth or riches or influence. Earth was his temporary address; his home was in heaven and he wanted to makes sure that the way he lived here would prepare him for his eternal future. He knew people laughed at him because he insisted on keeping God’s word, but he didn’t care, he didn’t seek advice from them but turned always to God’s word for guidance.
David admitted that there were things that he didn’t understand, and he asked God to open his eyes. He wasn’t seeking to impress people with his knowledge, but he was aware that the more he knew about God and his word the better able he was to live the way God wanted him to. He was consumed with the desire to know God and walk in his ways – this is the theme of the Psalm.

  1. How diligent are you to learn and keep God’s commands?
  2. Do you think memorizing the scripture is important?
  3. Do people laugh at you because you insist on always following God’s ways?
  1. From the dust to a wide space
    Psalm 119:25-48

The fourth letter of the Hebrew alphabet is Daleth and this begins each of the next eight verses. This stanza reflects a period in David’s life when he was struggling. He describes his soul as clinging to the dust and in need of being brought back to life. The dust was ‘the place of death, the place of mourning, and the place of humiliation’. David needed to find new life, and he knew he could find it in God’s word.


He confessed his need to God and God directed him to his statutes and precepts. He wanted to understand and he asked God to teach him, so that he could understand and then meditate on God’s miraculous works. How often is it that when we feel spiritually dry, we seek refreshment from all sorts of places. We listen to uplifting music, seek out fellowship, read self-help or devotional books, but do we turn to God’s word and ask God to explain it to us? This was David’s practice, it brought sorrow today, probably in recognition of how he had failed God and now he needed to be strengthened by that same word. He wanted to hear only the truth, no false promises, and the truth would be found in God’s words. David was going to run to God’s word because there he would gain new life.


The next stanza begins with the letter He. David continues to ask God to teach him his laws, promising that if he did then David would keep them in the way he lived. If he had understanding then he would wholeheartedly observe all that God required. He was not going to obey God out of a sense of duty, but because he delighted in being able to. David knew thought that he could be distracted, he needed to keep a watch on his eyes. We know that David failed because he didn’t do this and committed the sin of adultery with Bathsheba which led to the murder of Uriah. Today we have so many things that fight for attention, media, entertainment, advertising all of which can turn our eyes from God and his words. Like David we need to be intentional in asking God to turn our eyes from those distractions.


David asked God to confirm the promise he had been given, to remind him of its benefit but also the reproach that would come from failing to obey God’s commands. It is in keeping these rules that David would be revived.

Waw is the letter that begins the next stanza. David asks God to show him his steadfast love, just as he promised he would. It is the love of God that guarantees salvation. There were enemies of David who taunted him, they laughed at him because he trusted in God’s word. There are many today who think it is foolish to trust what the Bible says, they believe it is old fashioned, or a made-up story. They would rather trust their own imaginations or intellect than turn to God’s word. David though insisted that he would trust the word of God, his is an example we should follow.


David’s confidence was that as long as he kept to God’s ways, he would be led into a broad place. He would be elevated to speak before kings, instead of reproach and shame he would be exalted. He may have been in the dust, now he was in a broad place, once taunted, now celebrated, because he trusted in God’s word and based his life on his commands.

  1. When you are spiritually dry, where do you turn?
  2. Do you need God to turn your eyes from worthless things?
  3. Do you feel like you are in a broad place?
  1. Affliction is good for you
    Psalm 119:49-72

We came to the seventh letter of the Hebrew alphabet, zayin and this section begins with the writer asking God to remind or bring back to his memory his word. It is this that had provided him hope in difficult times, it seems that at the time David wrote this part of the psalm he was facing some struggles, or afflictions. Once again he turned to this word for comfort, its promises gave him life.


David is speaking very personally, it is ‘my affliction’, ‘my hope’, ‘gives me life’. The word of God wasn’t just a general set of impersonal promises, they met David’s specific need, they addressed his circumstances. It is the same today for you and me, the word of God “is alive and powerful! It is sharper than any double-edged sword. His word can cut through our spirits and souls and through our joints and marrow, until it discovers the desires and thoughts of our hearts.’’(Hebrews 4:12 CEB). In times of trial or affliction we can remember, or read for the first time, the word of God and it will bring comfort. This is why David stored it in his heart (remembered it) and why it is good practice and the instruction of God to meditate on it every day, being careful to do what is in it (Joshua 1:8, Psalm 1:2).


It was possible for David to turn God’s word into songs, and for him to meditate on it during the night because he had memorized it. He didn’t have the benefit of a concordance, or a handy devotional but he had Gods word in his heart, and he counted it as a blessing.


Heth begins the next stanza and David proclaims that his portion, or all that he wanted was God. When they entered the promised land each tribe was allocated a portion, this was their possession from God. The Levites served in the Temple and weren’t given ownership of land, their portion of the inheritance was to serve God and all their needs would be provided by the other tribes. He was content to have God as his portion. David took time to reflect on his life, he wanted to be sure he was on the right track, he was headed in the right direction. It is a good idea to do the same thing, to ask ourselves if we are happy with where our life is going and more importantly to ask if God is. When David noticed he was out of step he made sure that he brought himself back into line with God’s commandments. There were plenty of temptations, but he wasn’t going to get trapped, he kept keeping the law.


David knew that alone he was vulnerable, so he made friends with people who, like him, were determined to follow God’s law. He knew that as the writer of Ecclesiastes said: “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” (4:9,10)


Verses 65-72 begin with the letter teth. David asserts that before he was afflicted he had gone astray, but because he turned to God’s word now he had learnt God’s statutes and he was back were he should be. While the arrogant who rejected God had become insensitive, David had gained a greater appreciation, even delight for the law of God so that he could say it was good to be afflicted. It was affliction that had brought him back to God and now it was worth more than any riches or material gain.


Lamentations 3:31-33 tells us: “For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men”. If you are afflicted, then it may be that God is allowing those circumstances to turn you back to him and his word, because in them you will discover the depths of his steadfast love and promises toward you.

  1. Do you find comfort in your affliction?
  2. Are there friends or companions that encourage you to keep God’s word?
  3. Are you happy with God as your portion – or are there other things you would rather spend your time and resources on?
  1. Settled in heaven
    Psalm 119:73-96

This stanza of the Psalm starts with the letter yodh and according to Jewish tradition it is used to form all the other letters, and since God uses the letters as the building blocks of creation, Yohd indicates God’s omnipresence. The letter yodh also means ‘hand’ or ‘arm’ and here it reflects God’s hand in creation.


In one sense David may be indicating that because God is his creator, in the same way that a potter forms a pot out of clay and can make of it whatever he chooses, so too can God determine the purpose of David’s life. He may also be observing that there was no mistake in now he was formed. God fashioned him, he wasn’t an accident or mass produced – he was individually designed and carefully built. This is true for each one of us, we are fearfully and wonderfully made, he formed us in the womb and determined the course our life would take (Psalm 139).


God has determined the purpose he has for you and it is in meditating on his word that we can be certain that purpose will be accomplished. Where there is affliction there is also comfort and even when godless people will lie to and about us eventually they will be convinced by the way we live and the righteousness we display.


Kaph is the letter that begins the next stanza, in theses verses David describes a spiritual low point of his life. He says his soul longed or God’s salvation, he desperately needed to be delivered from the malaise he had fallen into, his hope was that he find relief in the word of God. He knew the promises of God but why were they taking so long to be fulfilled? He was desperate, he was dry, he needed God’s comfort. David described himself as a withered up wineskin. The custom was to hang empty wineskins from the rafters and when the smoke from the fire below got to them they dried out and became brittle and blackened by smoke -this is what David felt like! How long would he be like this, he hadn’t forgotten or ignored God’s statutes surely there would be some relief.


Despite his misery which was added to by those who persecuted him and lied about him David did not turn from God’s word – it was in them he found evidence of God’s steadfast love and he trusted him to bring revival. It is sad that often when we are spiritually dry we stop reading God’s word. It ceases to bring the encouragement and refreshing it once did and so our Bible sits forlorn on a shelf or alongside our bedside. David went back to the word even when he was disillusioned and feeling forsaken, because he knew that it was where the words of life could be found.


The next eight verses begin with Lamedh the 11th letter of the Hebrew alphabet. David starts by declaring that word of God is fixed firmly or settled in the heavens. It was firmly established, settled for all time there would be no change, it was not the work of even the most spiritual of writers but of God himself. The apostle Peter reminded us “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20,21) and Paul told Timothy that: “All Scripture is breathed out by God…” (2 Timothy 3:16)


These are God’s words, they are not limited by man’s ability to understand them, the discoveries of science or philosophy, they do not change with the times – they are fixed in heaven. In a world that is constantly changing, the word of God is constant, it is trustworthy because he who wrote it is trustworthy. God’s promises are true, because God is faithful. Once he has established a matter it is certain, reflect on his word, store it in your heart and set it as your guide posts in life.

  1. Do you ever think you could improve on the way God fashioned you?
  2. When you feel spiritually try do you neglect God’s word?
  3. Should the Bible be reinterpreted to be more relevant to today’s culture?
  1. Sweeter than Honey
    Psalm 119:97-120

Mem is the thirteenth letter and begins this section of the Psalm. Davis makes the statement “I love your law”; he doesn’t say he will obey the law, or that he trusts it, that he finds it informative or a good guide to follow, he no doubt does have all of those feelings toward the law but here he says that he loves it! Not only does David love the Law but it is his practice to meditate on it every day.


How do we feel about God’s word? For the Jews the law was found in the first 5 books of the Old Testament, from Genesis to Deuteronomy much of which contains detailed instructions and rules. Even if we included the poetic books, prophecies and letters would we say that we loved it? Indeed how many Christians today could say that they have actually read it from beginning to end, and if they truly loved it -would once be enough? There are many books, commentaries, devotionals and study guides that accompany the bible; add to these biographies , how-to guides, discussions of Biblical topics and stories of revival and as the writer of Ecclesiastes says “be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive study is wearying to the body.” (Ch12:12). God says through Joshua 1:8 “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” This was David’s practice, for to him it wasn’t just a guide to success but a delight. It was sweeter than the sweetest honey and much to be desired.


The next stanza begins with the letter nun and David describes the way God’s word lights his path. It is both a lamp and a light, he doesn’t explain a difference between the two except that one is directed to the feet and the other to the path. Some suggest that having a lamp in the time of David would not be much help without it being lit, not unlike having a Bible, or a whole collection of them but never reading them! Another suggestion is that we may know the path we have to walk on, but we need to clearly see where to place our feet as we walk. God’s word provides light when we seek direction and it maybe that it is a lamp that brings light into those areas where decisions are needed.


David needed guidance, there were snares and traps all around him and he needed to be careful where he trod. He knew that by following God’s rules, keeping diligently to his precepts and listening to testimonies of fulfilled promises then his feet would not slip.


The fifteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet is Samech and it suggests a prop or a support (Gesenius). This fits the desire of David for God to uphold him in verse 116 and to be held up in the following verse. He begins though by stating his hatred for double minded people. Later Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal with this offence asking how long they would limp between two opinions. Joshua told the people of Israel to make up their minds and either commit to serving God or to find some other god to follow. We might call these people hypocrites who say one thing and do another, or just those who want to have a foot in the world and one in God’s kingdom.


David wanted God to uphold him in the midst of people who try to lead him astray. Using cunning they would try to find their way around doing God’s commands and encourage others to the same. David said they were dross, the waste product left after metal was refined, good for nothing. He on the other hand would stay true and single mindedly obey God’s word and keep his promises.

  1. Can you say you love God’s word? Have you read it?
  2. Are there areas in your life where you need light?
  3. Are there times when you feel you may have a foot in the world as well as in God’s kingdom?

      6. It is time for the Lord to act
      Psalm 119:121-144

Using the letter Zayin David begins this stanza by asserting that he had done what was right and felt that God should therefore protect him from his enemies. More than that he wanted a guarantee, a pledge of faithfulness. By the covenant God established with Israel he voluntarily bound himself to its terms. God became the guarantee, his honour was a stake, if David kept his side of the covenant then God had promised that he would act on David’s behalf – his word was the guarantee. David longed to see this promise kept, he wanted relief from oppression. In the new covenant of which we are parties, God has given us a pledge of his inheritance and ultimate release form the power of sin – it is the Holy Spirit, “who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:14). This pledge is made to us when we enter into the covenant by faith in death and resurrection of Jesus.


Three times in this stanza David describes himself as a servant. He is making it clear that he has no right to call on God and appeals to his steadfast love. He asks God to teach him about the law and the promises he has made, he wants to understand. Having acknowledged that he has no rights, he tells God it is time for him to act! God’s laws had been broken, his covenant demanded that he act and because David was sure that he would he declared his passion for the law. Justice would be done, the oppressors would be dealt with and he would be exonerated.


Beginning each sentence of the next section with the letter Pe, David carries on his thoughts from the earlier verses. God’s testimonies were wonderful, they produce miraculous results and therefore he would keep them. The word of God gave him understanding, so even though he was simple in his own estimation, when he exposed his circumstances to the word of God, he understood. The Hebrew word that is translated ‘unfolding, or revelation’ is pethach which can also be translated as ‘door or entrance’. Boice and others suggest that this may have been suggestive of the flap of the tent in which they lived being pushed aside and suddenly allowing light to enter and illuminate the whole space. The word of God makes visible things that are hidden from sight.


David panted after the commandments of God, he was desperate to know so that he could make sure his life was lived accordingly. He wanted his steps to be steady, to be kept free of snares and traps and he could only do this with the light of God’s presence showing him the way.

The next letter of the Hebrew alphabet is Tsadhe and when spoken it sounds very like the word for righteousness. Throughout the next stanza David speaks frequently about righteousness; It is God’s own character, it is the source of his testimonies and it is everlasting. The righteousness and faithfulness of God were the guarantee of his promises, they had been tested and found true. David was frustrated because his enemies chose to ignore God’s word and that made him even more passionate about making them understand. David recognized that he was rejected by his enemies, he had no influence, but he was going to keep on speaking God’s word. He didn’t care about the insults of others, he knew God’s word was true and he was going to follow it, even if others thought him a fool and rejected him. David thought himself simple and without influence, rejected by the powerful and influential, but he was going to take his stand on God’s word trusting God to deliver him.

1.    When is it time for God to act?
2.    When you are unsettled by events around you, do you turn to God’s word for illumination?
3.    If people ridicule you because you believe the bible, how do you respond?

  1. Up Before Dawn
    Psalm 119:145-176

The letter Qoph begins each verse of this stanza of the Psalm. David insists that he is wholehearted in his desire to know and to keep God’s laws. He wants to be saved so that he can keep the conditions of the covenant, he so desperate that his prayer begins before dawn and continues into the night.


David plans to meditate on God’s promises as he lies awake at night, his hope was in the words he had read and memorized and he called on God to respond to him out of his own love and mercy. He felt that his enemies were closing in on him but was confident because God was nearer to him than they and that his commandments were true, his testimonies were certain and he would deliver David.


The next eight verses each begin with the letter Resh. Three times in this stanza David calls on God to give him life, it is unlikely he is asking to be spared death even though he was conscious of his enemies, he wanted to be revived. He calls on God to first act according to his promises (verse 154), then according to God’s own rules (verse 156) and finally because of and according to his steadfast love (verse 159). David knew that it was God’s will that he be revived and so prayed accordingly. There may have been times in your life where you have been in need of revival, you may have felt spiritually dry, or even dead. In those times it is good to know that God promises to revive you, it will always be according to his standards and it because of his love and mercy. He is never reluctant to revive you, he waits to hear you call. While he waited David was not going to deviate, or swerve from the ways of God – he trusted God and he knew that he would fulfil every word he spoken to him.


Shin is the letter that begins the next stanza, in it David expresses the joy he finds in knowing God’s word. So much so that he says seven times a day he praises God, it is probable that he meant he praised God continually and seven was a number that suggested completion rather than seven specific times. Of course he may have done that, he might have imposed this discipline on himself to take time to offer praise seven times every day. “There is a general rule that per day every Jew must thank God for at least 100 different things. The idea is clear – the practice of thanksgiving must be so overwhelming that thanksgiving becomes the defining characteristic for a life of a Jew” (Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg). Spurgeon asked: ““Do we praise God seven times a day? Do we praise him once in seven days?”


As David comes to the close of this psalm he uses the letter Taw, the last of the Hebrew alphabet. It as if he makes this final plea for understanding, much of what he has said is repeated – he wants to be delivered, he will praise continually and enthusiastically, he has chosen God’s way and not the way of his enemies, he longs for God’s salvation and he delights in the law. The word of God was the light he chose to live by, it would show him the way and he would commit to learning and practicing the requirements of God’s law, diligently and persistently.


The second last verse throws up a caution though. David had strayed like a lost sheep. Even with all of his diligence and discipline, he strayed from the path and without God’s help he would not find his way back. Diligence and discipline is not enough, like David “all we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned—every one—to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). David knew that he had to appeal to God’s steadfast love and mercy, and so do we. It is God’s word received by grace and acted on in faith that will keep our feet on the right path. It is his grace that will stir up in each of us a love for his word and as we receive his promises by faith we will ‘’walk by the Spirit, and not gratify the desires of the flesh.“ (Galatians 5:16).

  1. When you lie awake at night are you able to recall God’s promises?
  2. Are you in need of revival?
  3. Do you feel you may have wandered of like a lost sheep and can’t find your way home?