Wednesday, July 13, 2022
Back when I was a child, at Church camp when you stood in line for a meal they made you say a Bible verse. Us young boys learned that John 11:35 was the “go to verse” for quick memorization: “Jesus wept.” A two word verse, easy to memorize- boom “Jesus wept!” the legal requirements are met, now can I eat?
Bonus round—what is the shortest book in the Bible? 2 John or 3 John depending on how you measure it. 2 John has the fewest verses, 3 John has the fewest words. For fun sake, Obadiah is the shortest book in the Hebrew Bible (The Old Testament). We can argue about anything, can’t we?
But there is no argument about the longest chapter in the Bible- Psalms 119 is the big winner. Psalm 119 has 176 verses. Compare that to the shortest chapter in the Bible – Psalm 117 which has only 2 verses. Not only is Psalm 119 unique because of its length, but its structure is quite unique as well. Psalm 119 is written as an acrostic poem. It is made up of 22 sections which are 8 verses each and each section begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet, beginning with the first Hebrew letter “aleph” and ending with the final Hebrew letter, “taw”. This was likely a device that helped the student to memorize the Psalm, which good little Jewish boys and girls did.
Obviously with 176 verses we can’t look at the whole Psalm in one brief devotion and we won’t even try. I’ll just point out something basic for you to consider and then focus on one section in some detail.
Something basic for us to consider is that this Psalm is devoted to an appreciation of God’s Word. Different Hebrew words are used in the Psalm including “Torah”, which can mean: “teaching, direction, guidance and law”; “Debar” which means “word” and “Misva” which means commandment or ordinance. The entire Psalm is devoted to having a love for God’s word or commands or teaching. This clear expression of love for God’s word is important. In many places in the Bible, beginning in the Old Testament in places like Deuteronomy 6:5 , we are told to love the LORD/YHWH/God with all of our hearts. Here in Psalm 119 we are told to also love God’s Word or teaching. Vs. 97 says “O how I love your ‘Torah’ (law/teaching) I meditate (think about/ponder deeply) on it all day long.”
I don’t know about you but there are only a few things that I’ve ever thought about literally “all day long”. (One of them was my wife back when we first began dating, and another may or may not be Krispy Kreme hot donuts-they are beautiful and delicious and hot). You usually only think about something constantly if it’s someone/thing that you really, really love a lot, or something that you are really, really worried about. In the case of Psalm 119 it’s clear that the writer is thinking about God’s Word all day long because he/she loves that Word.
Is there a difference between loving God and loving God’s Word? In one way, yes. There are people who diligently study the Bible simply as literature or history. They tear it apart and analyze it like someone might dissect an animal or human cadaver or look at tiny things in a microscope. But in this case, the person writing the Psalm loves God’s Word and thinks constantly about God’s Word because it’s God’s Word and this person loves God wholeheartedly so he also loves God’s teaching, instructions, commandments. Jesus would later tell his disciples “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15).
Let’s go back to that thing that I said I have literally thought about all day long (not the Krispy Kreme donut, but my wife, Karen, who is also beautiful, delicious, hot and begins with a K- sorry, but I needed to include that in order to embarrass any of my adult children who might be reading this devotion today, you’re welcome). Because I love my wife I usually try to pay attention to the words she speaks to me. (I’ll admit, I’m not always perfect on this, but in my defense, sometimes she’s just talking to herself and I have to clarify who the intended listener is, me or herself, sometimes I miss the things that I’m supposed to hear). Part of love is paying attention to the words spoken by the one we love. So, for the Psalmist, he loved God so he also loved God’s word. So for Jesus, if we love him we also need to keep his commandments/teaching/words. So the overall theme of Psalm 119 is “I love God and so I also love God’s word.”
The section of Psalm 119 I want you to think about is the second section- verses 9-16 which begins with the Hebrew letter “Beth” ב. It begins with a question and answer: “How can a young person stay on the path of purity?” That’s a great question and reveals the important desire that forms the content of this person’s heart. They love God so much that they want to know how to keep on the right path, the path of purity. They want to know how to live a life that is pleasing in the sight of God. The answer is by living according to God’s word. If a person wants to walk a path that is pleasing to God then he or she needs to follow the word of God. God has revealed to us, by His word, how to live a life that is pleasing to him. We need to follow that path.
In order to stay on that path of purity we must be intentional. We need to seek God with all of our heart. Why do I want to pay attention to and follow God’s word? Because I’m seeking God with my whole heart. How do we avoid falling into sin? By putting God’s word deep into our hearts. He speaks about the Law with strong emotional words: joy (rejoice), meditate and delight. For him staying on a path that is pleasing to God brings him such joy that he is thinking deeply about God’s word all of the time and finds his delight in doing what God’s word says.
You can love someone’s words without loving the person, but you really can not love a person if you don’t also care deeply about the words they use to convey what is important and meaningful to them. The next time you look at your Bible, consider this: out of all the trillions of words that have ever been spoken or written in the history of the world, these words contained in this Bible are the words that were spoken by God to human beings in order that we might know, love and serve God. So why would we not love the words that come from the God that we love, and why would we not obey the words that come from the God that we love?
Do you want to keep your way each day pure (pleasing in God’s sight). Then pay attention to those words each day, think deeply about them, immerse yourself in them, delight in them, find joy in reading and obeying them because you love those words because they are the words of the God you love.
- Which words from today’s reading (Psalm 119) will you choose to think deeply about?
- Which words from today’s reading will you take special delight in thinking about?
- Which words from today’s reading will bring you the most joy?
- How will these words from God help you when you find yourself tempted to go in a direction that is not in keeping with loving God?