This lengthy psalm is a song in honor of the law. It is in twenty-two eight-verse stanzas, which are organized in acrostic order. Each verse of each unit begins with the same letter in the original language. This made the psalm easier to memorize.
THE WAY OF LIFE
It is a prayer to God which sings the praises of his law, and reflects on the security and happiness of those who live by it. To keep God’s law is to walk in the light:
I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free (119:32).
The psalm uses several different terms for God’s word: law, statutes, precepts, decrees and commands. By one term or another, God’s word and way are mentioned in every verse.
The whole psalm is carefully constructed around the twenty-four letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Each letter introduces an eight-verse section or stanza. Each stanza extols a fresh aspect of God’s wonderful law, its beauty and benefits. It is like a great love poem.
God’s law is his truth, his teaching. It has been revealed so that we may live fully, safely, wisely and well. It is found in all the scriptures, but in the Pentateuch (the books of Moses) in particular.
When Moses presented the people with God’s law, he urged them to ‘choose life’! He wrote all the laws in a Book of the Law and gave directions that it should be kept beside the ark of the covenant (Deuteronomy 31:26).
The psalmist refers to God’s guidance as law, precept, statute and commandment.
The psalmist has great delight in God’s law. It thrills him to have God’s truth in his mind and God’s wise counsel in his heart:
Your statutes are my delight;
they are my counselors (119:24).
God’s precepts are important points of detail. They are to be applied, checked
and attended to. They enable the fine-tuning of a well-ordered life:
You have laid down precepts
that are to be fully obeyed (119:4).
God’s statutes are binding and permanent landmarks for living. Their permanence is expressed by writing them down and preserving them for future generations. Their truth will never lessen and their relevance never wane:
Your statutes are for ever right;
give me understanding that I may live (119:144).
The commandments emphasize God’s authority. He is the creator, the Lord. These are his ‘maker’s instructions’—not a matter of opinion, but a necessity. The psalmist humbles himself to receive them:
I wait for your salvation, O Lord,
and I follow your commands (119:166).
FREEDOM AND PROTECTION
Loving God’s law is not to be confused with legalism. Legalism binds us in fearful and obsessive effort, lest we fail to do everything correctly. But love for God’s law sets us free.
God’s law protects us from the opinions of others, and from self-deceit. It steers us away from wrongdoing, hurtful consequences and guilt. It releases us to do right:
How can young people
keep their way pure?
By guarding it according
to your word (119:9).
DISCOVERY AND DELIGHT
The psalmist loves God’s law because he loves God. He can’t get enough of God’s guidance, because it is so good! For him, it is a constant voyage of discovery; a feast of delectable insights:
Open my eyes that I may see
wonderful things in your law (119:18).
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey in my mouth (119:103)!
LIGHT AND LIFE
To know God’s law is to have a light for the path of life:
Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light for my path (119:105).
It gives access to wisdom—like a door opening. This is wisdom which we could never discover by our own efforts; and yet the simplest person can understand it:
The unfolding of your words gives light;
it gives understanding to the simple (119:130).
A CRY FOR HELP
As the psalmist ends his prayer, he cries out for help. He knows God’s law is good and right, but he hasn’t been able to keep it. He has strayed away and become lost, like a sheep. He asks that God will be his shepherd and come to find him:
Seek your servant,
For I have not forgotten your commands (119:176).
God’s law is wonderful, permanent and true, but it is only with his constant help that we may live by it.