“Let my cry come before you, O Lord; give me understanding according to your word! Let my plea come before you; deliver me according to your word. My lips will pour forth praise, for you teach me your statutes. My tongue will sing of your word, for all your commandments are right. Let your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts. I long for your salvation, O Lord, and your law is my delight. Let my soul live and praise you, and let your rules help me. I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.” Psalm 119:169-176
So ends the longest chapter in the Bible.
Every year, there is a day when I know Psalm 119 will be my daily reading. Typically, I’ll read multiple chapters a day, but because of its length, one day is dedicated to Psalm 119 alone. It’s a beautiful poem that loses part of its wonder when translated out of the original language. The Psalm has twenty-two sections, one for each of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Each section has eight lines, and each line of the section begins with the first letter that corresponds to the letter of that section. (Each of the eight lines in the aleph section begins with the letter aleph. Each of the eight lines in the beth section begins with the letter beth, and so on.) There are eight words that dominate the poem; typically translated into English as law, decrees, statutes, commandments, ordinances, word, precepts, and promise. The theme of the poem is the beauty in learning the way of life from God through the law.
The Psalmist loves the law, or we may think of it more as scripture. The Psalmist has discovered the value of learning the ways of the Lord through scripture. Not just for memorization or piety, but because the Psalmist finds life in these words. The law becomes the words of praise that are lifted up to God in moments of joy, as well as the words of grief lifted to God in times of tragedy. The words of the law provide comfort during the storms of life and protection when one is living through pain and turmoil. The Psalmist loves the commands of the Lord because these commands bring the Psalmist into right relationship with God which leads to a deeper peace, knowledge, and love. All that God has ever done is revealed through the law. By reading and meditating on the law, one not only gains knowledge of who God is, but one becomes drawn into the life of God and encouraged to embrace the things that God loves while distancing oneself from the things that God hates. It is because the law has played such a transforming role in the life of the Psalmist that the Psalmist has written this poem, which not only highlights the beauty of the law but ultimately gives praise to the law giver.
Scripture should fulfill a similar role in our own lives. How we view scripture matters. If we view scripture as a constitution or rule book then it will be a lifeless document that controls how we act, but nothing more. If we view scripture as a history lesson, then it will provide some wonderful stories to hold our attention, but ultimately it will be placed along side other pieces of literature. But if scripture is viewed as the word of God, a word that is life transforming, a word that impacts all of life, then it has the power to shape who we are and make us better individuals.
Paul tells Timothy that “all scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16) If this becomes our view of the law, of scripture, then it changes how we read scripture or even our desire to read scripture. If we view scripture as a means to life, then finding time each day to meditate on the word of God becomes a priority, and an activity I anticipate joyfully. When my view is that scripture is profitable for life then meditating on the word of God becomes more valuable than checking the latest sports scores or reading the twitter feed. And the words of Psalm 119 make sense. Praise and admiration for the law make sense, because it’s not just a list of rules, but it is where life is found.
Today was the day I read Psalm 119, this chapter that is the longest in the Bible. Over the last few days I anticipated this read. I tried to embrace the Psalmist’s love for the word of God. I joined my voice with the voice of the Psalmist as I thanked God for this precious gift of transforming power. And I was renewed in my desire to continue to love this law because it is beautiful.