By: Rev. James McManus
Some time ago I saw a video filmed by a missionary to China. It showed a group of native Christians receiving a copy of the Bible in their own language. These men and women were so excited because, for many of them, it was the first time they had the Bible in their own language, and it was their first time having their own personal copy of the Bible. The video shows them tearing into the box like children at Christmas, and they are laughing, weeping, and holding their copy of God’s word like it was the most valuable treasure in all the world. It’s one of those videos that makes you both smile at their joy, and groan at your own lack of passion for God’s word.
Psalm 119 contains that same passion for God’s word. It reads like a love poem about the Bible. “I hate the double-minded men, but I love your law. You are my refuge and shield; I have put my hope in your word” (Psalm 119.113-114). The author is clearly infatuated with God and His word, and he wants everyone who reads this Psalm to know exactly how he feels about God and His word. Psalm 119 is also a call to our convictions, to get us to consider our love for God’s word, if there be any love at all for it. It gets us to examine our desire to read and study and meditate on the Bible, so that we may be sanctified. Psalm 119 is a poem that is directed both to our mind and heart. It is a poem that is meant to make us more like its human and divine Author.
Psalm 119 is a long love poem! It contains 176 verses and 315 lines. All of it is built around that one theme of love for God and His word; a long love poem about God and His word.
Psalm 119 is written as an acrostic poem. It is divided into twenty-two stanzas, one stanza for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet; within each stanza, each of the eight verses begins (in Hebrew) with that letter. Some speculate that it was written as an acrostic to aid in memorization. Twenty-two stanzas, each made up of eight verses, and all telling of a love for God and His word – that is something worth memorizing!
At nearly the center of this Psalm is v.97, “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all the day.” I would say that this is the theme verse of this Psalm. Herein lies the passion and the conviction of the Psalmist for his God and His word. Notice where his love is placed: in God’s law. The law of God can refer to different things; it can refer to the 1st five books of the Bible, it can refer to the Ten Commandments, it can refer to other laws found in Scripture. It can also refer to all of Scripture, and that is what the psalmist is doing here. He is expressing his love for all of God’s word! When he wrote this, only the Old Testament was in place. His was a love of what all the Old Testament taught. It was a love that encompassed the Genesis account of the creation of all things, Noah and the flood, God using Moses to lead His people out of captivity, David killing Goliath, and Job and his suffering and restoration – the psalmist loves all of it! If it was in the Bible, the psalmist loved it. We understand that this law of God now includes the New Testament as well. For us, it is a love of Genesis to Revelation, and all that lies in between. If it is in the Bible, we love it!
It is a love that is meant to be from the heart. This isn’t a cold, distant feeling. This is a love of the heart, a love that cherishes and values. It is a love that is worthy of poem! This love isn’t meant to just be internal. The psalmist also says “it is my meditation all the day long.” This love is in both heart and mind. The idea of meditation here is of thinking it through, trying to mine all the gold that you can from it. I liken it to a cow with its cud – a cow will chew its cud until it gets all the nutrients that it can from it. The psalmist is the same with God’s word. He reads it, he studies it, he thinks about it, he prays about it … and then he repeats it all over again! He is going to take all that he can from Scripture. The psalmist’s reading of the Bible wasn’t cursory and quick … rather, we can imagine him at a desk, bent over his copy of God’s word, and he has this look of intent concentration of his face, and he is nodding his head as he reads, and re-reads, the Bible. His act of reading the Bible was to take all that he could from it.
What a wonderful conviction of heart and mind! The example of this psalmist is there for us to emulate, for it is the same example that Christ set. To Him, God’s word is what we live by (Matthew 4.4). It is what He prayed would sanctify us (John 17.17) It is what He said is the measurement of our love (John 14.15). It is what was on His lips as He died on the cross (Matthew 27.46).
As you and I continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we can only properly grow when our hearts and minds are set upon God’s word, and we can, like the Psalmist, confess with heart and mind, “Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.”
Rev. James McManus is the pastor of Bethel ARP Church in Winnsboro, SC. He went to seminary at RTS-Charlotte. He and his wife, Beth, have three children – Maggie (8), Hannah (4), and Patrick (3 months old). He enjoys music, sports, reading, and convincing Rev. Clint Davis to grow a beard.