G’day! Welcome to Partake and the last in our series “Scriptural Delights!” As a way of concluding, let us take a look at what some people have said about this Psalm. We are going to engage with the minds of Augustine, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon and CS Lewis: and they will give us some insight into this magnificent Psalm.
Augustine – “You will not labour long in listening to it, nor will the labour you devote to practicing it be without fruit. As its title indicates, it is a “song of steps.” Steps are either of ascent or descent, but as used in these Psalms, steps signify an ascent. Let us understand them, therefore, as ascending steps, and let us not seek to ascend with our feet and in a carnal manner but as suggested in another Psalm: “He has prepared ascents in his heart, in this valley of tears, in the place which He has fixed” (Psalm 83:6-7). Where then are these ascents? In the heart. From what should we ascend? From the valley of tears. In designating the place, the human tongue somehow fails us; one knows not how to speak of it nor even to think of it. You have previously heard this passage of St. Paul, that “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, and that it has not entered into the heart of man” (1 Corinthians 2:9). If it has not entered into the heart of man, then the heart of man ascends to it. There- fore, if “eye has not seen, if ear has not heard, if it has not entered into the heart of man,” how are we to say where we should ascend? So in his powerlessness to say where, the Prophet says to us: “To the place fixed.”
John Calvin – “Two things which the prophet mainly aims at; the exhorting of the children of God to follow godliness and a holy life; and the prescribing of the rule, and pointing out the form of the true worship of God, so that the faithful may devote themselves wholly to the study of the Law. Along with these he frequently blends promises for the purpose of animating the worshippers of God to live more justly and piously; and, at the same time, he introduces complaints respecting the impious contempt of the Law, lest they should become tainted by bad examples.”
Charles Spurgeon – “This psalm is a wonderful composition. Its expressions are many as the waves, but its testimony is one as the sea. It deals all along with one subject only; but although it consists of a considerable number of verses, some of which are very similar to others, yet throughout its one hundred and seventy-six stanzas the self-same thought is not repeated: there is always a shade of difference, even when the color of the. thought appears to be the same”. He then goes on to say “I admire in this psalm the singular commingling of testimony, prayer, and praise. In one verse the Psalmist bears witness; in a second verse he praises; in a third verse he prays. It is an incense made up of many spices; but they are wonderfully compounded and worked together, so as to form one perfect sweetness. The blending greatly increases the value of the whole. You would not like to have one-third of the psalm composed of prayer – marked up to the sixtieth verse, for instance; and then another part made up exclusively of praise; and yet a third portion of unmixed testimony. It is best to have all these divinely-sweet ingredients intermixed, and wrought into a sacred unity, as you have them in this thrice-hallowed psalm. Its prayers bear testimony, and its testimonies are fragrant with praise.”
CS Lewis : “Everyone has probably noticed that from the literary or technical point of view, it is the most formal and elaborate of them all. The technique consists in taking a series of words which are all, for purposes of this poem, more or less synonyms, and ringing the changes on them through each of its eight-verse sections – which themselves correspond to the letter of the alphabet. In other words, this poem is not, and does not pretend to be, a sudden outpouring of the heart like, say, Psalm 18. It is 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. Now this, in itself, seems to me very important because it lets us into the mind and mood of the poet. We can guess at once that he felt about the Law somewhat as he felt about his poetry; both involved exact and loving conformity to an intricate pattern.”
A friend of mine, Sharona, commented to me about Psalm 119! This is her memory of the great Psalm! Years ago, I gave my boss a Bible. He had been telling me that he had never owned anything but a KJV and didn’t understand it at all. I gave him a hardback NIV pew Bible. He put it in his desk drawer but never looked at it.
One day I went into his office to find him shuffling through the pages of the Bible, clearly looking for something. I asked if I could help and he told me he had been watching a football game and someone held up a sign that said “John 3:16” so he was trying to find out what it said. I helped him find the verse.
Then he closed the Bible, opened it at random and read aloud, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” and I said “Psalm 119:105 !”. He looked at me in shock, and with sheer admiration in his voice said, “Oh, you’re good!”.
Then he closed the Bible, opened it at random and said “Let’s try again!”. Then he read a verse I had no idea where it came from, but it sounded a bit like it could have been Isaiah. I said tentatively, “Isaiah?”. He said, “No, think bullfrog…” And I said “Oh, Jeremiah!” and we both had a laugh about that.
OK, it’s random, but I have a laugh about that every time I think of that happening, him thinking I was such a brilliant biblical scholar, because I knew a verse from Psalm 119.
Thanks for that, Sharona – terrific story!
So lets sum up what each of these witnesses for Psalm 119 offer us in the 21st century.
For Augustine, the Psalm is like a staircase for ascending to a fixed place where God reigns!
For Calvin, the Psalm encourages followers of God to follow godliness, live and study diligently what God has revealed. He also notes how the Psalmist frequently blends promises in order to animate worshippers of God to live more justly and humbly.
For Spurgeon, It is portrays a sacred unity, whereby prayers, testimony and praise intermingle, intermix and form a sweet incense! Psalm 119’s prayers bear testimony, and its testimonies are fragrant with praise.
For CS Lewis it was like an intricate embroidery, patterned, cunningly weaved and a labour of love for Almighty God and His Law.
What is it for you? Have you considered scripture as being like an elaborately intricate staircase to ascend, so that you can get to know your God more, in order to live a life worthy of him as your prayers bear testimony and your testimonies of God’s goodness bear the fruit of praise?
Hopefully as we are now at the end of these series of studies, you will have found a new delight in reading your Bible: all 66 books of it including perhaps some that you have never read before. Ask yourself how you view the Bible, how you read it, why you read it and do you listen to God speaking to you as you do so? Has your attitude and feelings changed towards the Bible as a whole? Do certain parts of the Bible now captivate you more than they did before?