Welcome to the beginning of our journey together through this colossus or giant of the Psalms! The name for the moment of this series is Scriptural Delight. Alas because of its length, a lot of people are put off reading it, let alone studying it. Yet it has a vibrant beauty and pearls of wisdom to offer Christians living in the 21st century with all its rigours, tests and temptations.
Why did the Psalmist write this Psalm? I think the Psalmist wrote it to encourage followers of God to firstly, lead a holy life, a life of obedient godliness and secondly, to show what true worship of God is like, through the study of His written word.
To aid the reader of the Psalm help achieve these twin goals, he wrote it as an acrostic, so as to aid memorisation! The Psalm has 22 stanzas or sections, with each line of that particular stanza beginning with the same letter from the Hebrew alphabet. For example, the first section has 8 lines, all of which begin with the letter Aleph. The second section of 8 lines would all have words beginning with the letter Beth and so on through the Hebrew alphabet until the final section, which has the letter Taw. It would be like you writing a poem that went something like this:
A good boy eats apples
Apples that are rosy red
Always crunchy apples
As crunchiness is best!
That is a poor example of what an acrostic is, but hopefully you get what I mean. That is acrostic because the first word on each line begins with the letter ‘a’. Then each subsequent section would be from B to Z. Now, while all that may be very good for helping memorizing Psalm 119 in Hebrew, in English it does not translate like that, as you can see just by looking at it! That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to memorize it though. The famous David Livingstone once won a Sunday school prize for reciting it from memory – all 176 verses!
CS Lewis described this acrostic form of poetry or psalm, as “a pattern, a thing done like embroidery, stitch by stitch, through long, quiet hours, for love of the subject and for the delight in leisurely, disciplined craftsmanship.” Despite its length and its seemingly repetitive composition, it is indeed an unparalleled work of beauty, colour and descriptiveness.
So lets take this journey together, through this colossus of the Psalms. In the course of these studies, we will be looking together at each of the 22 sections and looking briefly at one or two delights contained in each one of them. At the end of each Podcast, I will ask a question or two so that you have something to think about or do in relation to the section. Then I will be asking you to read and contemplate the verses in the next section of Psalm 119, in readiness for the following Podcast.
Before we start doing some kind of analytical study of Psalm 119, our next Podcast shall be about the key words of the Psalm as the writer expresses different words for Scripture or Law. This is so we can get an overall feel for the Psalm. So why not scan through Psalm 119 and highlight in your Bible whenever you see a word that you think speaks about the Law or Scripture. Then write down what you think the Psalmist is trying to convey to you here.