Psalm 119 is an acrostic poem, with an 8 verse section for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Of course the ABC of this is lost in translation. The very nature of an acrostic poem makes it complete – it goes from A to Z (aleph to taw). It is also somewhat randomly organized, each section speaks to the overall theme, but not in a progressive way. So it is like the randomness of the later parts of the book of Proverbs.
However, in preparing for a prayer group which is studying a book on praying with the scriptures, I fell across the following observation.
The first unit – Psalm 119:1-8 is a celebration of the Goal of walking blamelessly with God. It begins with a double beatitude.
Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord!
2 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
who seek him with their whole heart,
3 who also do no wrong,
but walk in his ways!
4 You have commanded your precepts
to be kept diligently.
5 Oh that my ways may be steadfast
in keeping your statutes!
6 Then I shall not be put to shame,
having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.
7 I will praise you with an upright heart,
when I learn your righteous rules.
8 I will keep your statutes;
do not utterly forsake me!
The next section is about method – we walk blamelessly by keeping the Torah.
How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
10 With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
11 I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
12 Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes!
13 With my lips I declare
all the rules of your mouth.
14 In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
15 I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
16 I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.
One does get the impression from Psalm 119 that this is all rather easy. Simply guard, keep, meditate and delight in the law of God. So where is the acknowledgement that we are flawed people who do not find keeping the rules all that easy? In the book on prayer, that I mentioned before, the last section of Psalm 119 is quoted. It is an aid to prayers of confession.
Notice how this sections acknowledges need .
Let my cry come before you, O Lord;
give me understanding according to your word!
170 Let my plea come before you;
deliver me according to your word.
171 My lips will pour forth praise,
for you teach me your statutes.
172 My tongue will sing of your word,
for all your commandments are right.
173 Let your hand be ready to help me,
for I have chosen your precepts.
174 I long for your salvation, O Lord,
and your law is my delight.
175 Let my soul live and praise you,
and let your rules help me.
176 I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant,
for I do not forget your commandments.
How interesting, the psalm starts with a double Beatitude about keeping the Law and ends with a confession of need. Often the beginning and the end of a thing are where the crucial messages lie. the beginning of Psalm 119 rightly directs us to the wisdom and purity of the Law. The end of Psalm 119 rightly shows us the need for the grace of God – for forgiveness, for rescue and for the ability to follow again.