Aleph Beth Gimel

Psalm 119 is unique among the chapters of the Bible: it’s a song, with a stanza for every letter of the Hebrew alphabet, 22 in all, 8 verses per stanza. That’s 176 verses … the longest chapter in the Bible … it’s like the ABC’s of faith.

The stanzas are each titled with a unique Hebrew letter, arranged in alphabetical order, and each verse in each stanza begins with the Hebrew letter in its title: this psalm is a large acrostic poem.

Many stanzas appear to have a theme, captured in the first and fifth verses, followed by related expressions of opposition, affliction or conflict, and the last verse of many stanzas appears to introduce the next one.

Each verse forms a complete, self-contained thought; in English each one is a complete sentence. Except for the first 3 introductory verses, most of the remaining 173 verses are simple prayers: addressing God, talking with Him and engaging Him. There are pleas for help and encouragement, protection and quickening, appeals for justice and mercy, many declarations of God’s nature and character, proofs of His absolute sovereignty, and passionate, personal expressions of what the author is thinking, feeling, valuing and doing as a manner of life as he walks with God.

All of these unique properties suggest that the content of Psalm 119 is extremely significant and valuable, and that God explicitly designed it the way He did to encourage and help us in memorizing it and meditating on it. We can think of Psalm 119 as the ABC’s of spiritual life, God’s primer for knowing and walking with Him, containing the substance and foundation of our faith.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence then that all but 5 of these 176 verses (84, 90, 121, 122, 132) refer directly to God’s Word: His Law, precepts, commandments, judgments, testimonies, statutes … His Way. From a variety of angles and perspectives, this Psalm expresses a right relationship with God in the context of His laws, how our hearts are to be inclined in various circumstances; it evidently contains the definition of a godly disposition, how we should be feeling and responding to God and His Word, and in particular to Torah. It actually appears to define our spiritual life in these terms: the way we treat Torah defines how we feel about God.

As God tells us all to sing Psalms (Ja 5:13), reciting them to ourselves (Ep 5:19), hiding them in our heart, meditating on them and reminding each other of them (Col 3:16), evidently He’d like for us to be meditating on this one in particular; it appears to be at or near the top of His chart.

We can be reasonably sure that Jesus Christ memorized this particular Psalm and meditated on it regularly, praying it continually throughout His life. And we can be sure that He did so perfectly, applying it consistently, feeling and thinking what it expresses as if He wrote it Himself. We’re to follow His steps (1Pe 2:21), beholding Him here as He is, and being transformed into His likeness. (2Co 3:18)

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3 thoughts on “Aleph Beth Gimel”

  1. One of the few verses in Psalm 119 that isn’t a prayer, after vs 3, is: “Depart from me, ye evildoers: for I will keep the commandments of my God.” (vs 115)

  2. Tim,
    Your perspective and exposition of Psalms 119 is an eye-opener and enlightenment for me. It is interesting to discover that just in the first eight verses of Psalm 119, God is encouraging us to keep His WAYS, TESTIMONIES, COMMANDMENTS, STATUTES, JUDGEMENTS, PRECEPTS, and LAWS. I believe that we can be a perfect image and a true likeness of God (as it was intended in Gen 1:26), if we keep and follow God’s WAYS, TESTIMONIES, COMMANDMENTS, STATUTES, JUDGEMENTS, PRECEPTS, and LAWS.

    1. Thank you Julius. Yes, I had not thought about it like this, but I agree that through Torah God is transforming us more into His image and likeness. As you are saying, this is how we are to be “perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” This is His intent and purpose of the Law, so that the man of God may be “perfect,” mature, complete, fully equipped, “throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2Ti 3:16-17)

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