NOTE: This is the first portion of a book Keith is writing on Psalm 119 and the insight we gain from the Hebrew background of the writer -- King David. It is written for Christians so our Jewish visitors may find some insight in it about what Christians believe and how they apply it. Let us know if you like it.
A Hebrew Acrostic Psalm
The Longest Psalm and Chapter in Scriptures
G-d's goodness in the midst of affliction
Psalm 119 is one of nine Acrostic Psalms that begin each verse or stanza with one of the 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Psalm 119 contains eight verses for each of the letters for a total of 176 verses. Each verse in the eight verse stanza has the same meter and rhythm when read in Hebrew. The Psalm then is a collection of twenty two poems each made up of eight verses starting with the same letter. Hebrew tradition said King David used the Psalm to teach his children the alphabet. This Psalm is one of the ways we know the order of the letters in Ancient Hebrew to this day.
The clear theme of the Psalm is David’s love and respect for TORAH. For most readers the word TORAH is thought of as the five books of Moses called the Pentatuch but within Hebrew tradition it represents the whole of the Tanakh or The Bible. Tanakh is an acronym for Torah (Teaching), Nevi’im (Prophets) and Ketuvin (Writings). In Christian tradition we translate the word TORAH as LAW but the word is much more than that. The word Torah in Hebrew has many meanings like most every other word in that language. Hebrew is an active language with an emphasis on doing and not on creeds or things (nouns). There are few nouns that do not come from an extra letter being added to a two or three letter root word that is a verb. . In this case the root word for Torah is yara meaning meaning 'to shoot out the hand as pointing, to show, indicate', 'to teach, instruct', 'to lay foundations', 'to sprinkle, to water', 'to shoot, as an arrow." Torah is an archery term that speaks more of hitting the mark or target then it does of rules and regulations as Christian tradition tends to see it. TORAH, or LAW. then really has more to do with instruction or directions for hitting the target than it does to rules and regulations meant to bind. Torah is translated as nomos or law in Greek but the meaning in Greek does not adequately describe the way the word is understood in Hebrew.
For disciples of Yeshua HaMashiac (Jesus the Messiah) the importance and blessings of G-d’s WORD is the focus of the Psalm. The book of John starts with “1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with G-d, and the Word was G-d. 2 He was in the beginning with G-d. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” To Christians then, Yeshua is the one we need to look to every time the LAW is mentioned in the Psalm as He is the focus and fulfillment of, but not the elimination of, the law. He is the example of the perfect life lived in love and in the will of the Father demonstrating the perfection at the heart of Torah. To Christians all of Hebrew Scriptures points to Yeshua HaMashiach in whom was found perfection in Torah. Jews understand all of creation to be the physical manifestation of the spoken word of G-d. On His spoken word then all things are created. John understood that as he began his gospel.
As we read this prayer filled Psalm we must begin with looking at every occurrence that speaks of the commands or the law as instruction from G-d intended to correct our aim toward living a life filled with the blessing of serving and worshiping Him. Although G-d has written His laws in the heart of man in our conscience we have hardened our heart through selfishness and fleshly desires. When we give our life to the LORD and He sends the Holy Spirit to live within us He let’s our spirit commune with Him so that our desires change, but the battle over thought and temptation and selfishness of the flesh continues. Psalm 119 is one of many blessings G-d has sent us to help make that battle less difficult and more in line with His will.
Many of the verses show David’s desire to have G-d assist him in understanding and practicing Torah. David was described as a man after G-d’s own heart which was seen in his actions and his desire to study and observe Torah to connect with G-d and seek His will. For David, then, Torah knowledge or wisdom was the most important asset he had on earth and was the motivation behind his great sacrifices, tremendous efforts and heartfelt and tearful love of G-d. David recognized the joy and comfort that comes from G-d and this Psalm represents that.
In this study we will look at some of the things Hebrew tradition and culture adds to the Psalm as we dig deeply into it. Hebrew is the kind of language that encourages and requires digging into it to get the meat of the understanding that is richer than the milk of the simple understanding. Hebrew is the language used to reveal the hidden nature of G-d to the world.
As we dig into the study look for terms that refer to the study or observance of Torah such as: Derech (path), Edut (testimony), Pekudim (ordinances), Amira (divine statement), Hok (statute), Misva (commandment) Mishpat (law), Davir (divine word). One theme that recurs throughout the Psalm is the scorn and ridicule David had to endure as a result of his commitment to Torah. Like most of the Psalms, Psalm 119 should inspire us to worship G-d and receive the blessings and joy that comes from the privilege of knowing Him. With a closeness that comes from His Torah ( Word) a person will never despair or feel abandoned during difficult times.
In my own personal devotions I have found turning to the Psalms as a key to my prayer time, particularly during times of difficulty. One such time occurred when I was in the hospital waiting for open heart surgery on the eve of my 54th birthday. Suddenly overcome with fear as a result of something a nurse said I turned to the Psalms for the day and began to pray. To get the Psalm for the day take the Psalm numbered for the date, which in this case was Psalm 25 for the 25th of January 2000, as the start of your time with G-d. Begin your prayer with thanking G-d for His love and recognizing Him as the creator of the heaven and the earth asking Him to highlight for you His desires and message for you. Pray what comes to your mind looking for words to almost jump off the page at you. Then add 30 to this number until you have read Psalms in each of the five sections of book. This meant I read 25, 55, 85, 115 and 145 on that day. Here are the things that jumped off the page to me:
In Psalm 25:17 I read “The troubles of my heart are enlarged; Bring me out of my distresses. The Psalm also asks G-d to guard my soul and deliver me as I take refuge in You. Wow that was great to find the Psalm talking about a troubled heart for mine was physically and mentally in need of refuge.
In Psalm 55:4 I read that my heart is in anguish within me and the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Again, wow was that true! The Psalm, in verse 16, said to call upon G-d and the Lord will save me. It ends with telling us to cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you in verse 22 and concludes with I will trust in you. Thank you Lord I know that I need not fear and I call upon You to both sustain me but also to bless and amplify the gifts of the doctors and staff. Psalm 85, written by the sons of Korah, told me that G-d will speak peace to His people. Psalm 115 ended my prayer with clear instruction that the glory belongs to G-d and that He alone is sovereign. It reminded me that He alone has a plan and path for my life and I was in His hands at this point. The verse that said that Israel was to trust in the Lord for He is their help and their shield to those who trust in Him brought calm to my fears. The Psalm ends with Praise the Lord! My prayer was complete and once again G-d had spoken to me by the Holy Spirit.
With this desire to hear from G-d in our hearts let us begin this devotional study of Psalm 119 asking Him to open our eyes and speak to us. I trust that in this writing each of us will receive a unique and personal message from G-d.
Each chapter will represent one of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet and in our study we will first examine what each letter holds for us in the history and understanding of the Jews, particularly up until the time of Yeshuah, G-d’s Word to the world came to the Jews and was in Hebrew. Jesus was a Jew and so was Paul and virtually all (but perhaps one) of the authors of the 66 books of the Bible were Jews. This study will examine the customs and understanding of the letters and see if they offer us any insight into the things David may have been thinking and acting upon as he wrote this Psalm inspired by the Holy Spirit.
BEGIN DEVOTIONAL -> Psalm 119 - Aleph