Psalm 119:1-8

Studies in Psalm 119 Arranged by Jack Kettler

Introduction:

This Psalm was probably composed by Ezra, although commentator, Matthew Poole believes David is the author.1 The aim of this Psalm is to promote the excellencies of God’s laws, and the blessedness of those who abide by them.

Psalm 119 is organized in a structure known as an alphabetic acrostic. There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Psalm 119 contains 22 sections with 8 verses each. Each of the 22 sections is set to a letter of the Hebrew alphabet and each line of that section begins with that letter. This pattern proceeds until all 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet have been used. If you look at the actual Hebrew text you can see this. Unfortunately, we often miss this in the English translations.

To demonstrate the idea of the alphabetical arranging of the Psalm, look at the following literal rendering of the Hebrew prepared by Pastor Theodore Kubler of Islington England in 1880:

ALEPH

1: All they that are undefiled in the way, walking in the law of the Lord, are blessed.

2: All they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart, are blessed.

3: Also they do no iniquity: they walk in his ways.

4: All thy precepts diligently to keep thou has commanded us.

5: Ah, Lord! That my ways were directed to keep thy statues!

6: Ashamed I shall never be, when I have respect unto all thy commandments.

7: Always will I praise thee, with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned thy righteous judgments.

8: All thy statutes will I keep: O forsake me not utterly.

BETH

9: By what means shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word.

10: By day and by night have I sought thee with my whole heart: O let me not wander from thy commandments.

11: By thy grace I have hid thy word in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.

12: Blessed art thou, O Lord: teach me thy statutes.

13: By the word so my lips will I declare all the judgments of thy mouth.

14: By far more than in all riches I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies.

15: By thy help I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways.

16: By thy grace I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.2

To repeat what was stated at the outset and said another way, the purpose of Psalm 119 is to exalt and extol God’s law. The psalmist uses ten different terms to describe God’s Word in Psalm 119. We see: law, way, testimonies, commandments, precepts, word, judgments, statutes, truth, and ordinances. Psalm 119 is like a thesaurus the way in which these ten terms describe various aspects of God’s Word and its importance for believers.

In this study, we will look at some of the key words in each passage and then list important cross references for certain words in each passage. This approach is valuable since, allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture is full of rich treasures for the student of God’s Word. I will utilize the Strong’s Concordance numbering system in this study and I will show the Hebrew words with transliteration-pronunciation etymology and grammar. After listing some cross references of the underlined words of the verse under consideration, I will make a few brief comments which will then be followed by commentary from a Biblical scholar on each verse in the section.

Psalm 119 The Excellencies of God’s Law

ALEPH

1 Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD.

Doing a Hebrew word study involving transliteration-pronunciation etymology and grammar from Strong’s we learn this about blessed: #0835 אֶשֶׁר ‘esher {eh’-sher} from H0833; happiness; only in masculine plural construction as interjection, how happy!:—blessed, happy.

Cross references for blessedness: Psalm 32:1,2; Psalm112:1; Psalm128:1; Matthew 5:3-12; Luke 11:28; John 13:17; James 1:25; and Revelation 22:14.

In Luke, it is recorded that Jesus said: “…blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.” (Luke 11:28) Hearing the Word of God and keeping it brings special blessings to the believer. In Revelation we learn more about this: “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” (Revelation 22:14) There is a happiness in keeping God’s commandments, and the believer has a right to the tree of life and will be able to enter through the gates of the heavenly city!

Using this same approach, from Strong’s we learn this about undefiled: #8549 תָּמִים tamiym {taw-meem’} from H8552; entire (literally, figuratively or morally); also (as noun) integrity, truth:—without blemish, complete, full, perfect, sincerely (-ity), sound, without spot, undefiled, upright (-ly), whole.

Cross references for undefiled: 2Kings 20:3 2Chronicles 31:20, 21 Job 1:1, 8 John 1:47 Acts 24:16 2Corinthians 1:12 Titus 2:11, 12

“There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” Job 1:1. Job is a role model for all believers. In all the adversity he experienced, “he sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.” (Job 1:22)

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self- controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” (Titus11,12,13) In these passages, the apostle Paul tells Titus what an undefiled or upright Christian life will look like.

Regarding the word law, we learn: #8451 תֹּרָה torah {to-raw’}from H3384; a precept or statute, especially the Decalogue or Pentateuch:—law.

Cross references for law: Psalms 1:2 40:3, 8 119:11, 98 Deuteronomy 6:6 11:18-20 Proverbs 4:4 Isaiah 51:7 Jeremiah 31:33 Hebrews 8:10

The law gives us directions and instructions for living in a way pleasing to God. The word law is used 25 times in Psalm 119.

Calvin’s comments are most instructive on being undefiled or upright:

1 Blessed are they who are upright In these words the prophet sets forth the same paradox which we met with at the commencement of the Book of Psalms. All men naturally aspire after happiness, but instead of searching for it in the right path, they designedly prefer wandering up and down through endless by-paths, to their ruin and destruction. The Holy Spirit deservedly condemns this apathy and blindness. And but for man’s cupidity, which, with brutish impetuosity, hurries him in the opposite direction, the meaning of the words would appear quite plain to him. And the further a man wanders from God, the happier does he imagine himself to be; and hence all treat, as a fable, what the Holy Spirit declares about true piety and the service of God. This is a doctrine which scarcely one among a hundred receives.

The term way, is here put for the manner, or course and way of life: and hence he calls those upright in their way, whose sincere and uniform desire it is to practice righteousness, and to devote their life to this purpose. In the next clause of the verse, he specifics more clearly, that a godly and righteous life consists in walking in the law of God If a person follow his own humor and caprice, he is certain to go astray; and even should he enjoy the applause of the whole world, he will only weary himself with very vanity. But it may be asked, whether the prophet excludes from the hope of happiness all who do not worship God perfectly? Were this his meaning, it would follow that none except angels alone would be happy, seeing that the perfect observance of the law is to be found in no part, of the earth. The answer is easy: When uprightness is demanded of the children of God, they do not lose the gracious remission of their sins, in which their salvation alone consists. While, then, the servants of God are happy, they still need to take refuge in his mercy, because their uprightness is not complete. In this manner are they who faithfully observe the law of God said to be truly happy; and thus is fulfilled that which is declared in Ps 32:2, “Blessed are they to whom God imputeth not sins.” In the second verse, the same doctrine is confirmed more fully, by pronouncing blessed, not. such as are wise in their own conceit, or assume a sort of fantastical holiness, but those who dedicate themselves to the covenant of God, and yield obedience to the dictates of hits law. Farther, by these words, he tells us that God is by no means satisfied with mere external service, for he demands the sincere and honest affection of the heart. And assuredly, if God be the sole judge and disposer of our life:, the truth must occupy the principal place in our heart, because it is not sufficient to have our hands and feet only enlisted in his service.3

2 Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart.

Regarding “keep” we learn: #5341 נָצַר natsar {naw-tsar’} A primitive root; to guard, in a good sense (to protect, maintain, obey, etc.) or a bad one (to conceal, etc.):—besieged, hidden thing, keep (-er, -ing), monument, observe, preserve (-r), subtil, watcher (-man).

Cross references for keep: Psalms 119:22, 119:146, 25:10 105:45; Deuteronomy 6:17; 1Kings 2:3; Proverbs 23:26; Ezekiel 36:27; John 14:23; 1John 3:20

The key to happiness or blessedness is the path of obedience or keeping God’s testimonies.

Regarding testimony: #5713 עֵדָה `edah {ay-daw’} Feminine of H5707 in its technical sense; testimony:—testimony, witness. Compare H5712.

Cross references for testimony: Psalm 119:129; Isaiah 8:20; Matthew 10:32; 1 John 5:11

“And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” (1 John 5:11) God has given us a powerful testimony, namely, that He hath given us eternal life. This is a present possession now for the believer, and this life is in Christ.

“Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32) It is our duty to confess him before men. We know Jesus will confess us before the Father because His Word is true.

Regarding seek: #1875 דּרשׁ darash {daw-rash’} A primitive root; properly to tread or frequent; usually to follow (for pursuit or search); by implication to seek or ask; specifically to worship:—ask, X at all, care for, X diligently, inquire, make inquisition, [necro-] mancer, question, require, search, seek [for, out], X surely.

Cross references for seek: Psalm 119:10; Deuteronomy 4:29; 2Chronicles 31:21; Jeremiah 29:13

“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13) Because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the believer’s heart will pant after God like a deer panting for water. As the hart pants after the water brooks, so pants my soul after you, O God. (Psalm 42:1)

The Puritan John Gill has this to say about verse two:

Blessed are they that keep his testimonies,…. The whole word of God, the Scriptures of truth, are his testimonies: they testify of the mind of God, and of his love and grace in the method of salvation by Christ; they testify of Christ, his person, offices, and grace; of the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow; and of all the happiness that comes to the people of God thereby. The law is called a testimony, which being put into the ark, that had the name of the ark of the testimony. This is a testimony of the perfections of God, his holiness, justice, and goodness displayed in it; and of his good and perfect will, what should or should not be done. The Gospel is the testimony of Christ, of what he is, has done and suffered for his people, and of the blessings of grace by him; the ordinances of it, baptism and the Lord’s supper, testify of the love of God, and grace of Christ; and all these good men keep: they keep the Scriptures as a sacred “depositum”; they hold fast the faithful word of the Gospel, that no man take it from them; and are desirous of observing both the law of God, as in the hands of Christ; and the ordinances of the Gospel, as delivered by him, from a principle of love to him; and such are happy persons in life, at death, and to all eternity;

and that seek him with the whole heart; that is, that seek the Lord by prayer and supplication, with a true heart, and in sincerity; that seek to know more of him, and that in good earnest; that seek for communion and fellowship with him, with the Spirit within them, with all their heart and soul; that seek Christ, and God in Christ, his kingdom, and his righteousness, and that in the first place, early, earnestly, and diligently.4

3 They also do no iniquity: they walk in his ways.

Regarding iniquity: #5766 עֶוֶל `evel {eh’-vel} or עָוֶל `avel {aw’-vel} and (fem.) עַוְלָה `avlah {av-law’} or `owlah {o-law’}or `olah {o-law’} from H5765; (moral) evil:—iniquity, perverseness, unjust (-ly), unrighteousness (-ly), wicked (-ness).

Cross references for do no iniquity: 1 John 3:9 5:18 “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s” and “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.”

Spurgeon is always edifying to consult:

Verse 3. They also do no iniquity. Blessed indeed would those men be of whom this could be asserted without reserve and without explanation: we shall have reached the region of pure blessedness when we altogether cease from sin. Those who follow the word of God do no iniquity, the rule is perfect, and if it be constantly followed no fault will arise. Life, to the outward observer, at any rate, lies much in doing, and he who in his doings never swerves from equity, both towards God and man, has hit upon the way of perfection, and we may be sure that his heart is right. See how a whole heart leads to the avoidance of evil, for the Psalmist says, “That seek him with the whole heart. They also do no iniquity.” We fear that no man can claim to be absolutely without sin, and yet we trust there are many who do not designedly, wilfully, knowingly, and continuously do anything that is wicked, ungodly, or unjust. Grace keeps the life righteous as to act even when the Christian has to bemoan the transgressions of the heart. Judged as men should be judged by their fellows, according to such just rules as men make for men, the true people of God do no iniquity: they are honest, upright, and chaste, and touching justice and morality they are blameless. Therefore are they happy.

They walk in his ways. They attend not only to the great main highway of the law, but to the smaller paths of the particular precepts. As they will perpetrate no sin of commission, so do they labour to be free from every sin of omission. It is not enough to them to be blameless, they wish also to be actively righteous. A hermit may escape into solitude that he may do no iniquity, but a saint lives in society that he may serve his God by walking in his ways. We must be positively as well as negatively right: we shall not long keep the second unless we attend to the first, for men will be walking one way or another, and if they do not follow the path of God’s law they will soon do iniquity. The surest way to abstain from evil is to be fully occupied in doing good. This verse describes believers as they exist among us: although they have their faults and infirmities, yet they hate evil, and will not permit themselves to do it; they love the ways of truth, right and true godliness, and habitually they walk therein. They do not claim to be absolutely perfect except in their desires, and there they are pure indeed, for they pant to be kept from all sin, and to be led into all holiness.5

4 Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently.

Regarding commanded: #6680 צוּה tsavah {tsaw-vaw’} a primitive root; (intensively) to constitute, enjoin:—appoint, (for-) bid. (give a) charge, (give a, give in, send with) command (-er, ment), send a messenger, put, (set) in order.

Regarding precepts: # 6490 פִּקּוּד piqquwd {pik-kood’} or פִּקֻּד piqqud {pik-kood’}from H6485; properly appointed, that is, a mandate (of God; plural only, collectively for the Law):—commandment, precept, statute.

Cross references for commanded in verse four: Deuteronomy 4:1, 9, 5:29-33, 6:17,11:13, 22; 12:32 28:1-14 30:16 Joshua 1:7 Jeremiah 7:23 Matthew 28:20 John 14:15, 21 Philippians 4:8, 9 1 John 5:3

The word precepts is used twenty-one times in Psalm 119. If you study through the cross references, we get the sum of the matter in the gospel of John Jesus says: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Matthew Henry’s comments on verse 4 is instructive:

We are here taught, 1. To own ourselves under the highest obligations to walk in God’s law. The tempter would possess men with an opinion that they are at their liberty whether they will make the word of God their rule or no, that, though it may be good, yet it is not so necessary as they are made to believe it is. He taught our first parents to question the command: Hath God said, You shall not eat? And therefore we are concerned to be well established in this (v. 4): Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts, to make religion our rule; and to keep them diligently, to make religion our business and to mind it carefully and constantly.6

5 O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes!

Regarding ways: #1870 דֶּרֶךְ derek {deh’-rek} from H1869; a road (as trodden); figuratively a course of life or mode of action, often adverbially:—along, away, because of, + by, conversation, custom, [east-] ward, journey, manner, passenger, through, toward, [high-] [path-] way [-side], whither [-soever].

Regarding statutes: #2706 חֹק choq {khoke} from H2710; an enactment; hence an appointment (of time, space, quantity, labor or usage):—appointed, bound, commandment, convenient, custom, decree (-d), due, law, measure, X necessary, ordinance (-nary), portion, set time, statute, task.

Cross references for verse five on statutes: Psalms 32, 36, 44, 45, 131, 159, 173 51:10 Jeremiah 31:33 Romans 7:22- 24 2Thessalonians 3:5 Hebrews 13:21

The apostle Paul captures the Psalmist’s thoughts and prayers when he says: “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.” (2Thessalonians 3:5)

From the notes in the Geneva Bible of 1599 we learn:

“David acknowledges his imperfection, desiring God to reform it, that his life may be conformable to Gods word.”7

6 Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments.

Regarding ashamed: #0954 בּושׁ buwsh {boosh} a primitive root; properly to pale, that is, by implication to be ashamed; also (by implication) to be disappointed, or delayed:—(be, make, bring to, cause, put to, with, a-) shame (-d), be (put to) confounded (-fusion), become dry, delay, be long.

Regarding commandments: #4687 מִצְוָה mitsvah {mits-vaw’} from H6680; a command, whether human or divine (collectively the Law):—(which was) commanded (-ment), law, ordinance, precept.

Cross references for “shall I” Psalm 119:31, 80 Job 22:26; Daniel 12:2,3 1John 2:28 3:20, 21 and “I have” Psalm 119:128; John 15:14; James 2:10

We will not be ashamed, instead, with the blessings of the New Covenant, we will say: “For then you will delight yourself in the Almighty and lift up your face to God.” (Job 22:26)

When we have respect for God’s commandments, Christ we say: “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:14)

It will be beneficial to consult Matthew Poole’s thoughts on this passage:

Verse 6 Then shall I not be ashamed; either of my actions, or of my profession of religion, or of my hope and confidence in thy favour. When sinners shall be ashamed both here, Romans 6:21, and hereafter, Daniel 12:2, I, having the conscience of mine own integrity, shall lift up my head with courage and boldness, both before men, when they either accuse or persecute me, and before God in the day of judgment, as it is said, 1 John 4:17. Respect; a due and true respect, which implies high valuation, hearty affection, diligent study, and common practice. Unto all thy commandments; so as not to be partial in my obedience, not to allow myself in the practice of any known sin, or in the neglect of any known duty.8

7 I will praise thee with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned thy righteous judgments.

Regarding righteous: #6664 צֶדֶק tsedeq {tseh’-dek} from H6663; the right (natural, moral or legal); also (abstractly) equity or (figuratively) prosperity:— X even, (X that which is altogether) just (-ice), ([un-]) right (-eous) (cause, -ly, -ness).

Regarding judgments: #4941 מִשְׁפָּט mishpat {mish-pawt’} from H8199; properly a verdict (favorable or unfavorable) pronounced judicially, especially a sentence or formal decree (human or (particularly) divine law, individual or collectively), including the act, the place, the suit, the crime, and the penalty; abstractly justice, including a particular right, or privilege (statutory or customary), or even a style:— + adversary, ceremony, charge, X crime, custom, desert, determination, discretion, disposing, due, fashion, form, to be judged, judgment, just (-ice, -ly), (manner of) law (-ful), manner, measure, (due) order, ordinance, right, sentence, usest, X worthy, + wrong.

Cross references in verse seven for: “I will” Psalm 119:171; 9:1; 86:12, 13; 1Chronicles 29:13-17 and “when” Psalm 119:12, 18, 19, 27, 33, 34, 64, 73, 124, 194 25:4, 5, 8- 10 143:10 Isaiah 48:17 John 6:45

When we learn of God’s righteous judgments, we will be able to say: “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.” (Psalm 9:1)

Jamieson, Fausset and Brown’s comments are concise:

Verse 7 judgments — rules of conduct formed by God‘s judicial decisions; hence the wide sense of the word in the Psalms, so that it includes decisions of approval as well as condemnation.9

8 I will keep thy statutes: O forsake me not utterly.

Regarding keep: #8104 שָׁמַר shamar {shaw-mar’} a primitive root; properly to hedge about (as with thorns), that is, guard; generally to protect, attend to, etc.:—beware, be circumspect, take heed (to self), keep (-er, self), mark, look narrowly, observe, preserve, regard, reserve, save (self), sure, (that lay) wait (for), watch (-man).

Regarding forsake: #5800 עָזַב `azab {aw-zab’} a primitive root; to loosen, that is, relinquish, permit, etc.:—commit self, fail, forsake, fortify, help, leave (destitute, off), refuse, X surely.

Cross references for “I will” Psalm 119:16, 106, 115 Joshua 24:15 and “O forsake” Psalm 119:116, 117, 176 38:21, 22 51:11 Philippians 4:13

In regards to keeping God statutes, we are called to make a decision: “And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)

Concluding this section of Psalm 119:1-8 we will close with Matthew Henry:

119:1-8 This psalm may be considered as the statement of a believer’s experience. As far as our views, desires, and affections agree with what is here expressed, they come from the influences of the Holy Spirit, and no further. The pardoning mercy of God in Christ, is the only source of a sinner’s happiness. And those are most happy, who are preserved most free from the defilement of sin, who simply believe God’s testimonies, and depend on his promises. If the heart be divided between him and the world, it is evil. But the saints carefully avoid all sin; they are conscious of much evil that clogs them in the ways of God, but not of that wickedness which draws them out of those ways. The tempter would make men think they are at them out of those ways. The tempter would make men think they are at liberty to follow the word of God or not, as they please. But the desire and prayer of a good man agree with the will and command of God. If a man expects by obedience in one thing to purchase indulgence for disobedience in others, his hypocrisy will be detected; if he is not ashamed in this world, everlasting shame will be his portion. The psalmist coveted to learn the laws of God, to give God the glory. And believers see that if God forsakes them, the temper will be too hard for them.10

In conclusion, as said at the beginning, the aim of this Psalm is to promote the excellencies of God’s laws, and the blessedness of those who abide by them. God willing, we will, using the above approach work through all 22 sections of Psalm 119 and by the grace of God come to a richer understanding of God’s law and a deeper love for His Word, which is truly a lamp unto our feet.

Notes on Psalm 119:1-8 (ALEPH)

Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. 2 (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985) p. 182.

C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Vol. II, (Nashville, Tennessee, Thomas Nelson), pp.147, 162.

John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. VI: Psalms, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House Reprinted 1979), p.402-404.

John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments 9 Volumes, Psalms, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), 2011, p. 1370, 1371.

C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Vol. II, (Nashville, Tennessee, Thomas Nelson), pp.151.

Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Hendrickson Publishers, Inc, Fourth printing 1985) p. 914.

The 1599 Geneva Bible, (White Hall West Virginia, Tolle Lege Press, 2006), p. 619.

Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. 2 (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985) p. 182,183.

Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 450.

Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary, An abridgment of the 6 volume Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Bible, (Nashville, Tennessee, Thomas Nelson, reprinted 2003), p. 956.

Mr. Kettler is an ordained Presbyterian Elder and the owner of http://www.Undergroundnotes.com where his theological, philosophical and political articles can be read.

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