If you’ve ever read through the whole book of Psalms, you may have been overwhelmed when you came to Psalm 119. It’s the longest chapter in the whole Bible, with 176 verses. You might be tempted to read through it as fast as possible, or even skip it because it seems too hard. But I encourage you to dig deep. There are inexhaustible riches of wisdom in its verses. I’ve found it particularly beneficial for revitalizing my joy in God’s word.
At first glance it’s a bit of a tricky psalm. It seems like the psalmist is claiming to be sinless. But Christopher Ash’s book Bible Delight helped me to understand that the whole psalm is written to the tune of grace, upheld by God’s covenant mercy. If you’re struggling, I recommend reading the psalm alongside his book, your study Bible, or a good commentary. But most of all, make time to soak in the words themselves.
You won’t walk away with a handy ten tips to improve your Bible reading. Instead, Psalm 119 will help you to see why daily time in Scripture is so important. You may end up behind on your regular Bible reading plan, but you’ll be richer for it. Here are some of the gifts God gave me through this psalm.
The psalm opens with these verses:
Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord!
Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
who seek him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong,
but walk in his ways! (Ps 119:1-3)
If you scroll through your social media feeds, you’ll get a glimpse of what the world thinks the blessed life is all about: beaches, good food, relationships, and finding a parking spot near the shops. Yet in this psalm we’re told that the blessed person is the one who lives in obedience to God, following his commands. We can only know these commands when God reveals them to us, and he has done this through his Bible. We will cultivate our joy in Scripture—and our desire to follow it more obediently—when we know this is the true source of blessing.
It’s easy to think that because you know a certain passage you won’t get much out of reading or studying it. But this psalm corrects us. The writer is always desperate to know more of God’s testimonies: “My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times” (v. 20). He begs God to help him comprehend and keep the joy of his Scripture:
Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
and observe it with my whole heart.
Lead me in the path of your commandments,
for I delight in it.
Incline my heart to your testimonies,
and not to selfish gain!
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
and give me life in your ways. (vv. 34-37)
How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (v. 103)
Is this how you view the Bible? It’s not something we master by reading once. The psalmist knows the worth of God’s promises, and he clings to them. Note that in verse 37, turning towards God requires turning away from “worthless things”. I want this kind of zeal—to replace the worthless things I value, like TV and worldly pleasures and my ego—with a clearer sight of God. I want to savour his Word more than anything else that is sweet.
I often turn to the Bible in times of suffering, as I’m sure you do too. I’ve found my soul soothed and my fears dashed by reading about the hope we have because of Jesus: the eternal life that awaits us beyond death. But this psalm adds another dimension to how we should think about suffering:
Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. (v. 67)
It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. (v. 71)
The psalmist not only looks beyond his suffering, but rejoices in it. All through the psalm we see glimpses of his pain, particularly the enemies that surround him and seek to take his life. He sees the good in this.
One of the problems of modern affluent societies is that we don’t feel a sense of desperate need for God. We pursue our own good and turn away from our Creator, because we appear to do just fine on our own. But suffering strips away all self-sufficiency. His affliction has brought the psalmist back to God in desperation and obedience. He has found what is best for him, which is why he prays: “The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (v. 72).
This psalm has taught me to rejoice more in my suffering. The perspective of suffering in Psalm 119 is backed up by the New Testament:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (Jas 1:2-4)
The psalmist clearly treasures the word of God greatly in his heart—but it doesn’t end there. His devotion moves from his heart to his hands (and feet!).
I hold back my feet from every evil way,
in order to keep your word.
I do not turn aside from your rules,
for you have taught me. (v. 101-102)
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (v. 105)
The goal of our Bible reading should be worship. We encounter the words of the living God—what joy this brings! As I read through Psalm 119, I’m reminded that my worship does not end when I’ve closed my Bible and risen from prayer. I must also live out what God has taught me.
It will take you longer to read through Psalm 119 than this article—and far longer to meditate on it properly. But this is one case where a summary is not enough. Go and read it. Soak in the delight of this psalmist for God’s word, and ask God to give you the same delight. We have the full revelation of Jesus Christ, so we should rejoice even more than the psalmist.
More than anything, I hope that reading Psalm 119 drives you to prayer. None of us love God or his word as we ought. I was confronted by my own inadequacy as I meditated on this psalm, and had to keep asking God for his forgiveness and mercy. So I pray that by God’s grace you will love his commands “above gold, above fine gold” (v. 127).