by Brad Beals
Does the ground under you feel like it’s shifting? Does the air around you make it seem like things are out of focus? Do you find yourself today longing for certainty and clarity?
King David speaks to this.
Smack dab in the middle of the Bible we find its longest chapter – Psalm 119. It is longer than any other both in number of verses (176) and in number of words (2,445). But the theme of the chapter is singular and simple, and in it we find the only source in all of creation for certainty and clarity: that God’s law is sufficient for God’s people.
So why such a long chapter for such a simple teaching? There are a few answers.
First, the psalm is an acrostic. The first letter of each set of eight verses begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This would have been, at least in part, to aid in memorization. But, unless you know your Hebrew, that’s kind of lost on us today.
Second, this structure allows for 22 different expressions of the theme. Calvin says, “To procure greater respect for the law, the prophet [David] adorns it with a variety of titles…” And so we read of God’s testimonies, precepts, statutes, commandments, rules, ways, words, and word, though each of these can be a synonym for law.
Third, David fills the psalm with human troubles and needful conditions, each of which finds its remedy in God’s law. We read of the desire to keep pure, to be taught the things of God, and to have scorn and contempt removed. We read of souls clinging to the dust and melting away for sorrow. We read of being ensnared by the cords of the wicked and of the temptation of looking at worthless things. We read of the desires for comfort, hope, favor, knowledge, and good judgment. We read of calls to God to protect us from enemies and pitfalls, and to remove from us our afflictions and our sins.
In short, David has included in these 22 “mini psalms” the whole range of the needs of God’s people in a sinful world, and the answer for each need is found in the same place: God’s word. Moving from the moral confusion of our fallen world to the certainty of God’s word is, as CS Lewis noted, like stepping from a swamp onto a high, dry road.
Maybe you’ve noticed recently that the sources for confusion seem to be growing louder and more numerous each day. If you find it hard to tune out that noise (as has been the case for me), then you may be in need of the wisdom of Psalm 119. Listen to David and let God’s word lift you out of that swamp and set your feet squarely onto solid ground. It is our only certainty, our only clarity. And for those in Christ, it is all good news and the answer to our every need.