Intentionally written, intentionally read
There are times in our lives when we recognize that we are lacking, that we need to remember certain information or develop a particular skill. The wise response to this realization is the choice to grow, but it is also just the first step in the process. The hard part is to actually put forth the effort and energy to make sure we retain the desired information or develop the required skill.
The author of Psalm 119 apparently felt this way also. The psalm forms the longest chapter in the Bible, with 176 verses. However, the structure of the psalm is just as striking as the subject matter.
The psalmist’s main topic is his relationship with God, through His revealed word. The psalmist marvels at the depth and riches provided by the Scriptures as they point toward the ultimate relationship of our lives. The author thought so highly of the topic, that not only did he discuss it for 176 verses, but he intentionally wrote the psalm in a format that would make it easy to memorize.
Psalm 119 is divided into 22 sections of 8 verses each. Each section corresponds to one of the 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. In fact, each of the 8 verses in every section begin with a word that starts with the same letter. For example, the first word of the first 8 verses always begin with the letter Alef; the first word of the second 8 verses always begin with the letter Bet; and the pattern continues through all 22 Hebrew letters.
Why would the author go to this level of detail?
The psalmist is providing the ABC’s of a relationship with God, in a format that would make it easy to memorize. This level of intentionality shows how important the psalm’s topic is to the author. Pick a letter, any letter – because having even one section, just 8 verses, committed to memory would form a bedrock reminder of how our relationship with God is founded upon our handling of God’s Scriptures.
We’re going to look though several sections of Psalm 119. I would highly encourage you to read through all 22 sections…but not in one sitting. This psalm isn’t a microwave meal, it is meant to be slow-cooked and allowed to simmer in our minds. Since the author intentionally wrote it that way, let’s handle it that way also.
The first verse sets the tone for the entire psalm:
How happy are those whose way is blameless, who live according to the law of the Lord!
Other translations render the first word of the “Alef” section as Joyful or Blessed…and this feeling, this state of mind, is a direct result of us living our lives according to the law of the Lord.
Do we believe him? Given the amount of effort the author has put forth for this psalm, let’s intentionally look at the Scriptures and find out.