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3 lessons for Christians from Psalm 119: Reflections on the longest psalm in the Bible

Unsplash/Alabaster Co
Unsplash/Alabaster Co

Evangelist Billy Graham once said that “The Book of Psalms is the Bible’s hymnbook. It will show you what it means to walk with God in prayer and praise.”

Indeed, the Psalms are a rich treasure trove of worship and wonder for Christians today. In the Psalms, we find 150 unique chapters that cut right to the heart of what it means to trust God in a broken and sinful world. Across the book, we encounter the entire spectrum of human emotions — joy, sorrow, despair, forsakenness, confidence, trust, and hope — poured out before God in uncut and uncensored prose. They teach us how to rejoice when it is time to go to the house of the Lord and how to persevere when we must walk through the valley of the shadow of death. They are musical masterpieces that weave together both doctrine and devotion. They are the embodiment of what it means to be “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10).

And at the high point of the glories of the Book of Psalms, we find Psalm 119. Clocking in at 176 verses, it is both the longest Psalm and the longest chapter in the entire Bible.

Matthew Henry, the prolific English pastor and Bible commentator, had this to say about Psalm 119:

“This is a psalm by itself, like none of the rest; it excels them all, and shines brightest in this constellation. It is much longer than any of them, more than twice as long as any of them.”

If you’ve never read Psalm 119, pause and make a point to do so now. It’s okay, the article will be here when you get back…

Welcome back! Now, with those glorious 176 verses singing in your soul, here are three key lessons we can learn from the Psalmist in Psalm 119.

1. The Psalmist’s exaltation of the goodness of God’s Word and His law

This is, in fact, what this Psalm is most known for, coming from verses like 105: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

But with almost every breath in the passage, the Psalmist exclaims the goodness, trustworthiness, and beauty of God’s law. There is no doubt, no question, no hesitation about God’s Word, but it also provides a steady drumbeat declaring that God’s law is good and right and is to be kept, trusted, and valued above all else.

Perhaps even more remarkable than the objective praise for the goodness of God’s law is how the Psalmist clearly understands that it is by keeping this law that he will know goodness and life.

Consider an unborn baby in the womb, attached to its mother by the umbilical cord. Without that life-giving source of nutrition, the baby would die. In a similar way, the Psalmist, in a truly humble fashion, makes it clear that without this good and right law of God, his life would be lost. All of his well-being, all of his present life, and his future hope, including his deliverance from evil, are bound up in the righteous decrees of a good God.

2. The Psalmist’s constant intercession and confident hope of deliverance

Psalm 119 is equal parts a prayer of praise and an intercessory prayer for deliverance. In fact, the Psalmist is desperate for deliverance. Look at verse 25:

“My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!”

Throughout the Psalm, he repeatedly asks God to put an end to his persecutions, to stop his oppressors, and to deliver him from arrogant men. Consider verses 50-51,

“This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life. The insolent utterly deride me, but I do not turn away from your law.”

And, incredibly, where does the Psalmist put his confidence in his ultimate deliverance? Not in weapons or warriors, but in the purity and goodness of God’s decrees. He will be delivered because God is faithful to keep his word, or he won’t be delivered at all. Consider verse 116:

“Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live, and let me not be put to shame in my hope!”

Thankfully, as we know, because God will never let his promises fail, the Psalmist is standing on firm ground as he appeals to God’s decrees for his salvation. Just like God delivered him, so too shall He deliver us.

3. The Psalmist’s willingness to endure suffering as sanctification

Suffering is always a trial in the life of a Christian. But as Christians, we know, like Elisabeth Eliot, that “suffering is never for nothing.” This theme is evident in Psalm 119.

Towards the middle of the psalm, for example, the Psalmist refers to some affliction, perhaps the evil men he was dealing with, that he acknowledges came into his life 1. under God’s control and 2. as a means for his sanctification. He claims that this affliction either helped bring him back to, or helped keep him on, the path of God’s commands — that is, the path of life. This is seen most clearly in verse 67, in which the Psalmist proclaims,

“Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now I keep your word.”

This theme resurfaces at the very end of the psalm, in verse 176:

“I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.”

Thus, he closes the psalm/prayer with a final reference to his tendency to go astray, and a humble plea that God would do the seeking that is ultimately necessary to save His servant.

Conclusion

In his commentary on Psalm 119, Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon said this:

“Nor is it long only; for it equally excels in breadth of thought, depth of meaning, and height of fervor. It is like the celestial city which lieth four square, and the height and the breadth of it are equal. Many superficial readers have imagined that it harps upon one string, and abounds in pious repetitions and redundancies; but this arises from the shallowness of the reader’s own mind: those who have studied this divine hymn, and carefully noted each line of it, are amazed at the variety and profundity of the thought.”

Spurgeon is spot on to praise the “variety and profundity of thought” in Psalm 119. Here, I just wanted to highlight three in particular: 1. the exaltation of the goodness of God’s Word and His law, 2. the Psalmist’s prayer for deliverance, and 3. his willingness to endure suffering as a means of sanctification.

May we, like the Psalmist, have this same confidence, hope, and patience in our own Christian walk. And may we also run in the path of God’s commands when He gives our hearts understanding (Psalm 119:36).


Originally published at the Standing for Freedom Center. 

William Wolfe is a visiting fellow with the Center for Renewing America. He served as a senior official in the Trump administration, both as a deputy assistant secretary of defense at the Pentagon and a director of legislative affairs at the State Department. Prior to his service in the administration, Wolfe worked for Heritage Action for America, and as a congressional staffer for three different members of Congress, including the former Rep. Dave Brat. He has a B.A. in history from Covenant College, and is finishing his Masters of Divinity at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Follow William on Twitter at @William_E_Wolfe

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