The Great Psalm

Discovery for Teachers

The Great Psalm

OVERVIEW
DAYBREAK

SOURCE FOR QUESTIONS
Psalm 119:1-176

KEY VERSE FOR MEMORIZATION
“For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven. Thy faithfulness is unto all generations: thou hast established the earth, and it abideth.” (Psalm 119:89-90)

BACKGROUND

Psalm 119, often referred to as “The Great Psalm,” is the longest chapter in the Bible; it contains 176 verses. The author is unknown, but most Bible scholars credit it either to David or the prophet Jeremiah, based upon textual references to kings, reproach, enemies, etc. Dating the psalm’s composition to the time of the Babylonian captivity would point toward Jeremiah as the author; however, the context allows for an earlier date as well, making David’s authorship a possibility that must also be considered.

In the original Hebrew, Psalm 119 is presented in the form of an acrostic, or alphabetical writing. While it is one of several acrostics in the Book of Psalms (others are Psalms 9 and 10 combined, along with Psalms 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, and 145), this is the longest and most intricate of these compositions. There are twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet, and Psalm 119 is divided into twenty-two, eight-verse sections. Each of these twenty-two sections is prefaced with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In the original Hebrew, that letter begins the first word of each of the eight verses within the section.

The clear theme of Psalm 119 is the Law of the Lord and its vital ministry in the spiritual life of believers. The word translated law is torah — a word which has a much broader meaning in Hebrew than in English. It refers to the will of God as it was made known to Israel, and has the sense of “teaching” or “instruction.” A unique feature of this psalm is that all but a very few of the verses contain at least one reference to the Law of the Lord. The multifaceted manner in which the truths regarding God’s instruction are presented reflects the importance of integrating Scripture into every part of life and community.

SUGGESTED RESPONSES TO QUESTIONS

  1. What words describing the Law of the Lord are used in the first section, titled Aleph? (Psalm 119:1-8)

    The words describing the Law of the Lord used in these eight verses are “law,” “testimonies,” “ways,” “precepts,” “statutes,” “commandments,” “judgments,” and “statutes” (again).

    It may be interesting to review with your class the slightly different shades of meaning for each of these synonyms. Law (torah) has to do with instruction by God about how to live to please Him. Testimony refers to the fact that the Hebrews were the people who received God’s covenant promises; God’s testimony/covenant is sure toward His chosen people. Precept/statute is the teaching of God through the covenant and is to be obeyed and guarded. Commandment indicates not only an order to be obeyed but implies the authority of the one giving the command, in this case, God. Way has a sense of a course of action. Judgment refers to the justice meted out by God concerning human behavior. Statute (a different Hebrew word than the one translated precept/statute above) indicates a divine decree by the Sovereign Lord of the universe.

    In the remaining verses of Psalm 119, we find two uses of word to indicate the commandments of God. The first usage (as in verse 9) simply refers to a divine utterance or speech proceeding from the mouth of God. As used in verse 11, word means not only an utterance but also a promise or commitment made by the one speaking. One further word referring to God’s Law, translated ordinances, is used in verse 91.

  2. In Psalm 119:2, the psalmist stated that those who seek God with their “whole heart” will be blessed. Contemporary thinking views the heart as the seat of emotions. However, in the Bible the word heart is a far more comprehensive term which encompasses three key aspects of who we are: the intellect, the emotions, and the will. Given that description, what do you think embracing the Word with our “whole heart” might look like in everyday life?

    As your students offer their thoughts about how a wholehearted embrace of the Word might be lived out in our daily lives, they will likely point to attributes such as faithfulness, integrity, hunger for God, putting God first in our priorities, dedication, zeal, etc.

    You may wish to point out that the phrase “whole heart” also occurs in verses 10, 34, 58, 69, and 145; in these, seeking God and obeying His Word is the key message. Verse 32 gives a hint of how this is possible: “I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart.” When we choose to wholeheartedly embrace the Word and keep the commandments of the Lord, God provides an enlarging of our hearts, giving us an increased capacity and ability to do so.

    Depending upon the age and spiritual maturity of those in your class, it may be helpful to point out that seeking God with our whole hearts does not imply human perfection. Even when our hearts are wholly fixed upon Him, there is a process of spiritual growth and maturing that takes place. We can still make errors in judgment, but God sees that the intent of our hearts is perfect before Him.

    You may wish to follow up this discussion by asking your group for specific examples of those in Bible times or the history of Christianity who gave their “whole heart” to the Lord.

  3. In Psalm 119:11, the psalmist stated, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” How will hiding the Word in our hearts help us not to sin?

    Class discussion should bring out that Jesus himself showed how having the Word in our hearts will help us not to sin — when Satan tempted Him, He used the Word to resist the enemy. Matthew Henry says of this verse: “Good men are afraid of sin, and are in care to prevent it; and the most effectual way to prevent is to hide God’s Word in our hearts, that we may answer every temptation, as our Master did, with, ‘It is written…’”

    Based on the point developed in the preceding question, you may also wish to point out that it is with our hearts that we think, intend, know, understand, purpose, and believe. Proverbs 4:23 says that out of the heart “are the issues of life.” If God’s Word is hidden in our hearts, the issues of our lives are going to be affected — since Scripture directs us away from sin, the issues of our lives will also be directed away from sin.

  4. During the period of history when the psalms were composed, history and religious traditions were passed on orally. For this reason, devotional truths were often presented through music (as with many of the psalms) or as an acrostic (as with Psalm 119), as these methods promoted memorization and retention of God’s Word among the Hebrew people. What are some strategies that can help us memorize passages from the Bible?

    It may be helpful to generate a list of the suggestions made by your class members. Ideas may include:

    • Listen to Scripture as you commute or engage in other tasks that do not require mental focus.

    • Use an app designed to help with memorization.

    • Sing songs based upon Scripture.

    • Post the verse on your refrigerator, mirror, or dashboard — somewhere you will see it often. Read or say it aloud each time you see it.

    • Take a screen shot of a Bible verse and use it as your lock screen. Each time you see the verse, say it to yourself.

    • Text the verse to your friends. The act of typing it out and reading it over to make sure it is correct will impress it into your mind.

    • Say the verse out loud.

    • Set aside a specific time on a regular basis that you will devote to Scripture memorization.

    • Pray that God will help you!

  5. The word “delight” (or “delights”) is found nine times in Psalm 119, where it is used both as a verb (for example, in verse 16) and a noun (as in verse 24). In what specific circumstances has the Word of God been a delight in your life?

    You may wish to begin discussion of this question by providing a dictionary definition for both the noun and verb forms of the word “delight.” The noun delight is defined as “a high degree of gratification, extreme satisfaction; something that gives great pleasure.” As a verb, to delight means “to have or take great pleasure in something.” In Psalm 119, the word “delight” occurs in verses 16, 24, 35, 47, 70, 77, 92, 143, and 174. Allow time for your students to share personal examples of times when the Word has brought special comfort, encouragement, or instruction to their lives.
  6. The old English word quicken in verse 25 is derived from a verb form of the Hebrew hayah, which literally means “to give life; to revive or restore life.” How is the Word of God instrumental in quickening or reviving our hearts even after we have been saved?

    Class discussion should bring out that the Word of God can revive our hearts by pointing out a spiritual need, enlightening us regarding God’s will, encouraging us to follow God in obedience, warning us of the dangers of failing to obey, and pointing us in the right paths that lead to life eternal. In a world full of wickedness, His Word renews our hope with its promise of ultimate victory over evil. While we may be mocked or rejected by the world, God’s Word assures us of our value in God’s sight — we are His creation and He loves us enough to die for us.

    Bible scholars see a strong correlation between verse 25 and the familiar Genesis account of the creation of the man from the dust of the ground. The psalmist acknowledged that because of his distress of spirit, his soul clung to dust as if it were dead and buried. It was in great need of being given life, just as in the initial Creation story. Revival comes when we reach the end of our own resources and look to God for what only He can provide. Reading and meditating upon the Word in such a time will restore life and spiritual vigor to the soul.

    The verb
    quicken (hayah) is found in nine verses throughout the Psalm (verses 25, 37, 40, 88, 107, 154, 156, and 159). If you wish to amplify your discussion of this word, review its application in these other verses.
  7. In Psalm 119:36, the psalmist indicated that having a heart inclined toward God’s Word would be a defense against covetousness. How would you define the word “covetousness” as used in this verse, and how do you think a focus upon God’s Word would be a protection against such an attitude?

    Class definitions for the word “covetousness” should bring out that it is an inordinate desire for material things. In the context of this verse, your class should conclude that longing for the creations of God (earthly or material things) rather than God himself is actually idolatry. (In the New Testament, Paul brought out this same thought in Romans 1:25 and Ephesians 5:5). The psalmist underscores his request in verse 36 by asking in the following verse, “Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity [worthless things].”

    As your group discusses how a focus upon God’s Word provides a protection against covetousness, they should conclude that it helps us grasp the true value of what God offers: forgiveness of sin, peace and contentment in this life, and the promise of eternity in Heaven with Him. A life of discipleship is not a list of denials or negatives; it is a joyful way full of unceasing benefits, although these benefits may not be material in nature.

  8. Relativism is a philosophical position that is popular in contemporary society. It asserts that knowledge, truth, and morality exist only in relation to culture, society, or historical context, and are not absolute. How does Psalm 119:160 refute this position? Why is the timeless nature of God’s Word so comforting to believers?

    Psalm 119:160 states, “Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever.” According to this verse, the principles of the Word of God are not only absolutely true but also timeless and eternal — they are applicable to every generation. This is comforting because it gives us a solid foundation upon which to build our lives. When we align our actions, attitudes, and choices to Scripture, we can be assured that our lives will be pleasing to God and that we will ultimately spend eternity in Heaven with Him. If knowledge, truth, and morality are not absolute but rather relative to culture, society, or historical context, there can be no such assurance.

    You may want to follow up with a class discussion centered on how the absolute truth of God’s Word can be lived and shared within a culture which marginalizes the existence of such truth. While this seems like an impossible task, it actually may be similar to the challenge faced by the Early Church in the first century with its plethora of religious tolerance and government controls imposed by Rome. That cultural setting is similar to that of the day in which we are currently attempting to live out and share the Gospel message.

CONCLUSION

We should embrace the encouragements in Psalm 119 and take note of the dire dangers of neglecting the Word of God — the most important foundation for our lives.