Psalms for the Summer #14: A Psalms Of The Word Psalms 119
The Pony Express was yesterday’s overnight delivery service. This was a mail delivery service that took letters from the east to the west as fast as was possible. The riders changed horses and then would pass the mail satchel to the next rider so the mail never ceased to move. The route stretched from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, CA and was ridden in 10 days. To conserve weight they wore light clothing, small saddles and carried no weapons. The horses wore light horseshoes or none at all, they carried small flat mail pouches, and the letters were written on very thin paper. And what you wrote had better be important because it cost $500 a ounce to deliver. Yet in spite of all this expense and all this weight savings each rider carried a full sized Bible.
From the time of the Exodus to the information age the Bible has remained a keystone in the foundation of God’s people and played a fundamental role in western civilization. Let me give you some examples.
The Bible was the first book printed on Gutenberg’s movable type printing press,
It was the first book read in outer space and left on the moon by Astronaut Edgar Mitchell.
It was the first major book to be translated into another language, from Hebrew into Greek, in 250 BC. A feat so amazing it earned its own name, the Septuagint.
Josh McDowell points out how unique the Bible in Evidence That Demands A Verdict. He says it is Unique in its Continuity, written over 1,500 year time span, that took 40 generations, by 40 different authors, and was written in 3 different languages, Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek and on 3 different continents, Africa, Asia, Europe. Yet it speaks with just one voice, the voice of God.
It is Unique in its Circulation. To print every Bible, New Testament and individual portion of the Bible, published up to just 1974, one printer would have to produce: 1 copy every 3 seconds, 20 copies every minute, 1,200 copies every hour, 28,800 copies every day, 10.5 million copies every year nonstop for 245 years. That’s enough pages of scripture to circle the globe 1,000 times. In 1998 alone the United Bible Society distributed 20 million Bibles, and 20 million New Testaments. That is just one Bible society and does not include the millions published by the major Christian publishing houses, independent publishers or the millions of copies now produced digitally on computers, tablets and smart phones. One Bible app, YouVersion has been downloaded and installed on more than 500 million devices. When I first used this Bible app as an example in 2015 that number was only 50 million. And keep in mind, that is only one app maker, there are literally hundreds that produce the Bible. No other book in all of time and history has been distributed as much as God’s Word, none even come close and given its incredible lead none ever will.
It Is also Unique in its Translations. The Bible has been translated into more than 2200 languages. Though this is only a third of the 6500 languages know today it represents over 90% of all the earth’s most commonly languages worldwide. Wycliffe Bible Translators alone has over 6000 translators working with more than 850 languages to create Bibles in native tongues for the first time. The Bible will soon become the first book ever universally translated.
In most Bibles, the 119th Psalm, is just about in the middle of the Bible, giving it a place of prominence. It is the longest acrostic psalm, each stanza and in Hebrew each verse within the stanza, begins with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet (Aleph, Beth, Gimel, etc.).
The Psalms with all of its 176 verses, and 22 stanzas are about one subject, they sing one theme, the Wonder of the Word of God. All but five of those 176 verses say something directly about the Word of God.
Not only is the Psalms an acrostic using all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, but it is also constructed around the number eight. Each stanza has eight verses; there are eight special names for God’s Word, “law,” “testimonies,” “ways,” “precepts,” “statutes,” “commandments,” “judgments” (ordinances), and “word.” There are eight symbols of the Word given; and the believer has eight responsibilities to the Word. The word “eight” in Hebrew literally means “abundance, more than enough”; and it is the number of new beginnings.
This all means that Psalms 119 is unlike the other Psalms and that the writer was inspired to write something special, all about one subject, the Word of God. What is it about this book that makes it so unique, so special, so unlike any other work of literature ever written? The reason this book is so important is it is God's means of reaching down from the heavens, across the ages, over ignorance and touching the heart of man. It is the revelation, the revealing of God to man. It is His love letter and His declaration of liberty. It is also his warning of the future and the truth of his judgement.
It is no wonder then that the author of Psalms 119 wrote 176 verses extolling the Word of God. It is a wonder he did not write more.
But it is a difficult Psalm to preach. It is really 176 personally proverbs about God’s Word and other than the acrostic arrangement there is not a lot of organization within the Psalms. So I am going to be like a man searching for hidden treasure this morning. I’m going to drill down into the Psalm and bring up just a few nuggets of gold, keeping in mind that there is an entire field of treasure field.
Let’s begin with the first stanza 119:1-8. Here there is a theme and it is that…
God’s Word A Blessing - Psalms 119:1-8
Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord. 2Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart. 3They also do no iniquity: they walk in his ways. 4Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently. 5O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes! 6Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments. 7I will praise thee with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned thy righteous judgments.
The Blessing Way
The first stanza of Psalms 119 sounds very much like a retelling of Psalms 1, which gave us the theme for the entire collection of all the Psalms. Psalms 1:1-2 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
This theme for the Psalms is introduced in Psalm 1, it is repeated in Psalm 19, Psalms 19:7-11 The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward. Then that theme reaches its height in Psalm 119. And the first lesson we learn in stanza 1 is that the Law, God’s word, the statutes, the judgments, the commandments of God leads to blessings.
I Am Blessed
You might ask how God’s Word, especially the Old Testament Law, which is what the writer here is talking about, could bring blessings. Isn’t the law bad? Isn’t it binding? Doesn’t it keep us from true freedom? The answer is yes, when it is misunderstood and misapplied. But the answer is absolutely no, when the law of God is properly placed in the believer’s life and practice.
The Psalmist here tells us that by walking in the law, keeping the testimonies and precepts we are blessed. The Bible cannot contradict itself therefore I must understand that the law, and commandments of God play a necessary role in my life.
If I ignore the Old Testament, if I ignore the Law of God then I become one of those so-called Christians whose entire knowledge of what the Bible teaches is “Judge not lest thee be judged.”
Warren Wiersbe in his commentary “Be Exultant” said it this way and I couldn’t say it better so I’m just going to quote him. “ Many believers today stand guilty of ignoring the Old Testament and therefore many are ignorant of what God’s law teaches. “The law is a yoke,” they exclaim but the psalmist found freedom through the law (vv. 45, 133). “To pay attention to the law is to move into the shadows!” they argue but the writer of Psalm 119 found the law to be his light (vv. 105, 130). “By the law is the knowledge of sin” but the psalmist used the law to get victory over sin (vv. 9–11). “The law kills!” but the law brought the psalmist new life when he was down in the dust. “Law and grace are in opposition!” many declare, but the psalmist testified that law and grace worked together in his life (vv. 29 and 58). God used Moses to liberate the people from Egypt, but then God gave Moses the law to give to Israel at Sinai. The German philosopher Goethe wrote, “Whatever liberates our spirit without giving us self-control is disastrous.” Law and grace are not enemies, for law sets the standard and grace enables us to meet it. - Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Exultant, “Be” Commentary Series, 1st ed., (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications Ministries, 2004), 104.
Remember what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount? Matthew 5:17-20 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Knowing the law of God, helps me know Jesus who fulfilled the law and knowing Jesus as my Savior means that I have fulfilled the law through Him. It works like this, follow Jesus first and the law will be a guide. But if you follow the Law first then you will miss the still small voice of the Holy Spirit within you. You will miss love, you will miss grace, you may even miss Jesus and the salvation He brings.
The proper perspective, and proper priority and proper understanding of the law and all of God’s word bring blessings to our life.
That was the longest I’m going to spend on any one point. Now I’m just going to look at the core sample we bring up and notice a few precious truths. Look all the way down in Psalm 119:105. We sang about this earlier. Here we see that..
God’s Word A Light - Psalms 119:105
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.
I Can See
The only way you can pierce the darkness of sin and wickedness in this iniquity cloaked world is through God’s word. It is our only hope of guidance, our only hope of not stumbling into sin, our only hope of finding our way along the path God wishes us to walk with Him.
Jesus said in John 8:12 Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.
That light, the light of the world can only be seen in God’s word. And He is the most valuable treasure we will ever find.
A bit further down the core sample as we follow the column we come to this golden treasure. In vss 145-147 we find that …
God’s Word A Comfort – Psalms 119:145-147
I cried with my whole heart; hear me, O LORD: I will keep thy statutes. I cried unto thee; save me, and I shall keep thy testimonies. I prevented the dawning of the morning, and cried: I hoped in thy word.
Mine eyes prevent the night watches, that I might meditate in thy word. Hear my voice according unto thy lovingkindness: O LORD, quicken me according to thy judgment.
I Can Hope
What would we do without God’s word to comfort us? Where would we go in our deepest sorrows? Where would we find hope? How would we ever overcome our hardest trails?
When I am hopeless and helpless, defeated by this world and its ruler, the only place I can retreat and be renewed in the Word of God.
Can you as a believer imagine a world without Psalms 23:4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
What would it be like to not know Isaiah 40:31 But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
How empty and hopeless our life would be if we did not know what Jesus promised in John 14:18-19 I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also.
I have hope that endures because I have a book given me from the hand of God that endures forever. Look at vs.89
God’s Word Is True Forever - Psalms 119:89, 152, 160
89 “For ever, O Lord, Thy word is settled in heaven” 152 “Concerning Thy testimonies, I have known of old that Thou hast founded them for ever” 160 Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever.
I Can Stand
I can stand forever, because I know the Truth of God’s Word that stands forever.
The Hebrew word, Nitzav, is translated here “settled” It is “fixed”: it is “established”: And the reality given to the Holy Spirit inspired psalmist is that God’s word is fast, sure and unchanging because it is settled, fixed and established in in heaven. We through God the Holy Spirit have been given an reproduction of that heavenly Word. And our earthly copy is just as secure and eternal as that heavenly original.
Jesus made this comparison in Mark 13:31 Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. He was talking of the heaven that men could see when they looked up and they thought that would was eternal but Jesus said, those heavens and the earth beneath you will pass away but not my words.
This is the book that contains those words of Jesus and it will stand forever. And if I stand upon these promises that cannot fall then I also will stand forever with the One who gave the promises to me.
For our final stanza let’s go to the final stanza of the Psalms vss. 169-176 and it is a good place to finish because it tells us that …
God’s Word Saves – Psalms 119:169-176
Let my cry come near before thee, O LORD: give me understanding according to thy word. Let my supplication come before thee: deliver me according to thy word. My lips shall utter praise, when thou hast taught me thy statutes. My tongue shall speak of thy word: for all thy commandments are righteousness. Let thine hand help me; for I have chosen thy precepts. I have longed for thy salvation, O LORD; and thy law is my delight. Let my soul live, and it shall praise thee; and let thy judgments help me. I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments.
I Am Saved
The most important aspect, the most vital element of the Bible, God’s Word to us is this; through this book and no other is the way of salvation.
Jesus told the Pharisees in John 5:39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.
Salvation is by the Gospel, the good news of the Word of God and the Gospel is in this book. Yes it a book of blessing, yes it is a light, yes it bring hope, yes it is eternal but all of those things are dependent upon the One who is revealed in its pages. Without Jesus nothing in this book would be true, lasting or amount to anything.
Salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ is in the Bible and it has the almighty power of God that is enough to save all mankind.
Paul said it clearly in Romans 1:16-17 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
God has miraculously preserved His Word, because salvation is written from Genesis to Revelation and we must hear it, understand it, believe and receive it. This book tells us how we can and that we must.
Peter in his epistle wrote, 1 Peter 1:23-25 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.
Warren Wiersbe gives an overview of Psalms 119 with three thoughts, What the Bible Is, What the Bible Does and What we must do.
He says, the Bible Is…, cleansing water (v. 9), wealth and treasure (vv. 14, 72, 127, 162), a companion and friend (v. 24). a song to sing (v. 54), sweeter than honey (v. 103), a lamp to show the way (vv. 105, 130), great spoil (v. 162), and a lasting heritage (v. 111).
The Bible blesses (vv. 1–2), it gives life (vv. 25, 37, 40, 50, 88, 93), it gives strength (v. 28). it gives liberty (v. 45), it imparts wisdom (vv. 66, 97–104), it creates friends (v. 63). it gives comfort (vv. 50, 76, 82, 92), and it gives direction (v. 133).
What We Must Do therefore is … love it (vv. 97, 159), prize it (vv. 72, 128), study it (vv. 7, 12, 18, 26–27), memorize it (v. 11), meditate on it (vv. 15, 23, 48, 78, 97, 99, 148), trust it (v. 42), obey it (vv. 1–8) and faithfully declare it to others (vv. 13, 26).
Pilgrim’s Progress: The Key Called Promise
In Bunyan’s great allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress, the incident is related of how Christian decides to leave the Main Highway and follow another Path which seemed easier. But this Path leads him into the territory of Giant Despair who owns Doubting Castle.
Eventually he is captured by Giant Despair and kept in a dungeon. He is advised to kill himself. The Giant said there was no use trying to keep on with his journey. For the time, it seemed as if Despair had really conquered Christian. But then, Hope, Christian’s companion, reminds him of previous victories. So it came about that on Saturday about midnight they began to pray, and continued in prayer until almost morning.
Now a little before it was day, good Christian, as one half-amazed, broke out in passionate speech, “What a fool am I thus to lie in a stinking Dungeon, when I may as well be at liberty. I have a Key in my bosom called Promise that will, I am persuaded, open any lock in Doubting Castle.” Then said Hopeful, “That’s good news. Good Brother, pluck it out of thy bosom and try.” Christian pulled out the Key called promise, pushed it into the dungeon door and as he turned the key, the door flew open.
What dungeons of despair, deep within the Castles of Doubt do you need to be freed from this morning. Here is the key of promise. Here is the good news. Here is the Gospel. Here is blessing, comfort, light, hope and salvation. Do you know it? Can you use it? Do you believe it? The most valuable book in all the world is within your grasp, take it and like Christian from Pilgrim’s Progress put in your heart and use it.