Psalm 119 Magnifies Jehovah’s Word
“YOUR word is a light to my roadway.” Bible students are very familiar with, and quite fond of, this verse of sacred Scripture. Most fittingly these words are found in Psalm 119 (verse 105). Why most fittingly? Because from beginning to end this psalm magnifies God’s Word.
Among the interesting aspects of Psalm 119 is that it is an acrostic; but, unlike most other acrostic psalms in which each succeeding verse begins with a succeeding letter of the Hebrew alphabet, in this psalm eight verses at a time begin with each succeeding letter. There being twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet, the psalm has 176 verses, making it by far the longest psalm.
But most striking of all is the way the writer has developed his theme of appreciation of God’s Word. Thus we find in it eight terms referring to God’s Word or doings, for an average of twenty-two times each—a total of 176 times. These terms are “commandment(s),” “law,” “orders,” “regulations,” “reminder(s),” judicial decision(s),” “saying(s)” and “word.” Psalm 19 makes mention of five of these.—Ps 19 Vss. 7 to 9.
The term COMMANDMENT(S) translates the Hebrew word mits·wahʹ. When a Jewish boy becomes of age, thirteen years according to Jewish law, his family celebrates with a bar mitzvah, because he has now become a ‘son of the commandment,’ that is, accountable to it. The Hebrew word mits·wahʹ occurs some 180 times in the Bible and with comparatively few exceptions refers to God’s commandments given to his people Israel. Thus the book of Leviticus ends, saying: “These are the commandments that Jehovah gave Moses as commands to the sons of Israel.” It appears to be the most inclusive term referring to God’s requirements as contained in his Word. So, in the conclusion of the book of Ecclesiastes, we read: “Fear the true God and keep his commandments. For this is the whole obligation of man.”—Lev. 27:34; Eccl. 12:13.
Commandments are issued by one having complete control or authority. The writer of Psalm 119 appreciated this, and he was concerned with observing them. Fittingly, he ends the psalm by saying: “O look for your servant, for I have not forgotten your own commandments.”—Ps. 119:176.
LAW translates the Hebrew word toh·rahʹ. It may refer to Jehovah’s complete law or to certain parts of it: “This is the law of the burnt offering,” “of the grain offering,” “of the sin offering,” Moses wrote.—Lev. 6:9, 14, 25; 7:1.
Law is defined as “a body of rules recognized by a state or community as binding upon its members.” The term appears nearly always in the singular form, whereas “commandment” more often than not is in the plural. The psalmist certainly had a great appreciation of God’s law, for he said: “The law of your mouth is good for me, more so than thousands of pieces of gold and silver.” “How I do love your law! All day long it is my concern.” “Abundant peace belongs to those loving your law, and for them there is no stumbling block.”—Ps. 119:72, 97, 165.
The term ORDERS (“precepts” in the New English Bible [NE]) translates the Hebrew word piq·qoh·dimʹ. It comes from the same root as the word “overseer” and means “to inspect.” Its English equivalents mean ‘instructions with explicitness as to details’ and ‘rule of action.’ With warm appreciation the psalmist speaks of these “orders”: “O see that I have loved your own orders.” “I have observed your own orders.” “Owing to your orders I behave with understanding.”—Ps. 119:159, 100, 104.
REGULATIONS (“statutes,” NE) translate the Hebrew word hhoq, which is another word often referring to God’s requirements. However, different from the foregoing words, it is also used to refer to God’s regulations for inanimate creation. (Job 28:26; 38:10) A “regulation” is defined as an authoritative rule or principle.
The psalmist appreciated God’s regulations, for we read: “Melodies your regulations have become to me.” (Ps. 119:54) Repeatedly he asks God: “Teach me your [own] regulations” (Ps 119 vss. 12, 26, 64, 68, 124, 135), and he also praises God for doing so. (Ps 119 Vs. 171) He not only wanted to learn them but also desired to observe them: “Your regulations I continue to keep.”—Ps. 119:8.
With reference to God’s stated purpose for his servants, there is another Hebrew word, e·dah’, translated REMINDERS (“instructions,” NE). This can mean a witness or a testimony, and it comes from a root meaning to go over again, to repeat, for which reason it is translated “reminders” (NW). The psalmist expresses great appreciation for these reminders and repeatedly tells of having kept them. (Ps. 119:22, 88, 129, 167, 168) He prays that God will incline the psalmist’s heart to them. (Ps 119 Vs. 36) He also declares: “I will also speak about your reminders in front of kings, and I shall not be ashamed.”—Ps 119 Vs. 46.
The foregoing five terms (commandment, law, order, regulation, reminder) the psalmist uses in referring to matters that have much in common in God’s Word. An expression of quite a different aspect is JUDICIAL DECISIONS (“decrees,” NE), which translates mish·patʹ. We are to have a wholesome fear of God’s judicial decisions. So the psalmist says: “From the dread of you my flesh has had a creepy feeling; and because of your judicial decisions I have been afraid.” (Ps. 119:120) He tells of his learning them (Ps 119 vs. 7), declaring them (Ps 119 vs. 13), longing for them (Ps 119 vs. 20). He considers them appropriate (Ps 119 vs. 30), righteous (Ps 119 vs. 106), and twice he asks, “According to your judicial decision [O] preserve me alive.”—Ps. 119:149, 156.
Another word of which the writer of Psalm 119 seems to have been especially fond is im·rahʹ, rendered SAYING. It comes from a root meaning simply “to say” and so refers to something said. The psalmist repeatedly uses it to refer to God’s promises, for which reason the New English Bible uniformly translates it “promise” throughout this psalm. The psalmist prays that God will support and show him favor “according to your saying.” (Ps 119 Vss. 116, 58, 170) God’s sayings are a great help to him: “In my heart I have treasured up your saying, in order that I may not sin against you.” (Ps 119 Vs. 11) And he exults over God’s “saying just as one does when finding much spoil.”—Ps 119 Vss. 67, 162.
And lastly we have the Hebrew term for WORD, da·vahrʹ. It does not mean, as it often does in English, a single word, but, rather, refers to an entire thought or statement. Thus the Ten Commandments are called the “Ten Words.” (Ex. 34:28) Typical of his appreciation of God’s “word” are Ps 119 verses 9 and 105: “How will a young man cleanse his path? By keeping on guard according to your word.” “Your word is a lamp to my foot, and a light to my roadway.”
Certainly in all of this the writer of Psalm 119 sets a fine example for all lovers of Jehovah God. He delighted to express his appreciation of God’s Word by weaving his thoughts around eight basic Hebrew words and then casting these thoughts into an acrostic or alphabetical Hebrew poem of 176 verses. Certainly this was a painstaking task. Like King Solomon he “sought to find the delightful words and the writing of correct words of truth.” (Eccl. 12:10) God’s “sayings” were sweeter to him than honey, God’s commandments he loved more than “even refined gold.”—Ps. 119:103, 127.
If we have a like appreciation of God’s Word, what will we do? We will regularly concern ourselves with it and “meditate” on it. (Ps. 119:15, 48, 78, 148, NE) More than that, we will be ready to declare it before others, not abashed even to tell it before kings. Above all, we will keep God’s requirements.