Spiritual Insights from the Hebrew Language
If you were to open your King James Bible (or any other similar Bible, e.g. the NAS, NIV, NKJV, etc.) to the exact middle of the Bible, where would you land? Somewhere in the Book of Psalms at or near Psalm 119. Actually, by chapters, either Psalm 117 or 118 is the exact center of the Bible—so Psalm 119 isn’t too far off.
Interestingly, Psalm 117 is the shortest chapter in the Bible with only two verses, while Psalm 119 is the longest. In this chapter, David exuberantly declares that all people everywhere should be praising YHVH because of his merciful kindness (or his grace) toward us, and for his truth (i.e., his Word or Torah, which is the biblical definition for truth, see Ps 119:142,151).
The mercy of YHVH and having faith in him is the theme of the first part of Psalm 118. The latter half of the chapter goes on to teach about the salvation of YHVH, and many understand this to be a messianic prophecy pointing to Yeshua, our heaven-sent Savior and Redeemer, who is the Living Torah–Word (John 1:1,14).
Then we come to Psalm 119, which, for 176 verses divided into 22 sections (one for each of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet), extols the supreme and inimitable virtues of the Word of Elohim (i.e., the Torah). David treats the Torah as if he were a jeweler who, after discovering the world’s rarest, largest and most beautiful diamond, carefully and in awe scrutinizes its every facet and all of its unique qualities, and then expresses his unspeakable delight over its supreme virtues.
In Psalm 119, David discusses Torah in all of its ramifications, and he uses many different terms for Torah. The most common is the word law, which in most cases is the Hebrew word Torah meaning “teaching, instruction, precept or law” of Elohim, which are his instructions in righteousness that when followed lead man to life, blessings, peace, joy, favor with Elohim and deliverance from evil. Beside the word law, Psalm 119 contains many other words that are synonymous with the Torah. They include:
- your way
- your testimonies
- your precepts
- your statutes
- your commandments
- your righteous judgments
- your word
- your wondrous works
- the path of your commandments
- the word of truth
- your ordinances
- everlasting righteousness
- the truth
Overview of Psalm 119
Though we don’t know who wrote this psalm it was written by a young man (vv. 99 and 100), and the author (and as Keil and Delitzsch in their commentary point out) finds himself derided, oppressed, persecuted, among those who despise the divine word, among apostates, living under a government that is hostile to the biblical religion (vv. 23,46,161), lying in bonds (v. 61, cf. 83), and expecting death (v. 109). He recognizes that YHVH’s judgments and affliction bring spiritual growth (vv. 67, 71), and that in the midst of trials, comfort and wisdom is to be found in YHVH’s Word, all the while he is earnestly yearning and praying for it.
The poet opens this psalm by blessing and praising those who are faithful to the word of Elohim (in Aleph), describing it as the highest virtue, to which the young man should devote himself (in Beth). He then describes himself as a persecuted pilgrim standing on the rock of YHVH’s word in the midst of a scoffing and persecuting generation (Gimel). He then prays for strength after having been knocked down (Dalet), calling for Elohim to preserve and fortify him in Elohim’s ways (He). He then makes a positive, public and joyful confession of his faith (Vav), expressing hope in Elohim’s word, which is his life and comfort in the face of spiritual opposition (Zayin). After finding strength and refortifying himself in the word of Elohim, he then expresses his desire to commune with those who fear Elohim (Heth). The clarity of thinking that faith in Elohim’s word brings allows him to recognizes that trials and humbling are beneficial to spiritual growth (Tet), but that despite it all, he still needs comfort (Yud) wondering how long must he endure these trials (Kaph). Without the eternal, sure, mighty word of Elohim, we would despair (Lamed), which is his wisdom in difficult circumstances (Mem). Yet despite persecution, he swears to be faithful to Elohim’s word (Nun), and abhors and despises apostates (Samech). Though oppressed, Elohim will not allow him to be crushed (Ayin), and despite the overwhelming grief and weariness brought on by those who refuse to heed the Word of Elohim he refuses to take his eyes of Elohim’ word (Pe). In spite of all odds and opposition, he refuses to let his zeal diminish for the Elohim’s word, which is his life and delight (Tsade). In the midst of the long days and night of trials, sometimes it seems that Elohim isn’t there (Kuph), and he cries for spiritual strength and revival (Resh), but even though leaders persecute him, he will still praise YHVH, walk in his shalom and cling faithfully to the word of Elohim (Shin), who he prays will seek him like the lost sheep that he is on the merits that he hasn’t forsaken his word (Tav).
Keil and Delitzsch summarize Psalm 119 as follows,
The whole Psalm is a prayer for stedfastness in the midsts of an ungodly, degenerate race, and in the mist of great trouble, which is heightened by the pain he feels at the prevailing apostasy, and a prayer for ultimate deliverance which rises in group Kaph to an urgent ‘how long’? If this sharply-defined physiognomy of the Psalm is recognized, then the internal progression will not fail to be discerned.
About this psalm, it is also worth noting the numerous words and expressions that the author uses to record his emotional feelings toward the Torah-word of Elohim. They include such phrases as whole heart, have delight, have respect, will praise, rejoiced, soul breaks, soul melts, soul cleaves, have longed, have hoped, give thanks, be glad, soul faints, inclined my heart, I longed, etc. This underscores the point of the shema that man is not only to love Elohim with the whole mind, but the whole heart as well. A letter-of-the-law obedience to the Torah is insufficient if it doesn’t proceed from a heart of love, devotion and worship for Elohim and love for one’s fellow man. In Elohim’s eyes, having all truth (or Torah) without love counts for nothing (1 Cor 13:2). Obedience to the Torah must be premised out of a love for Yeshua (John 14:15). Furthermore, love, not a punctilious approach to Torah-obedience is the identifying mark of a true disciple of Yeshua (John 13:35). To conclude this thought, if the Torah is like a diamond with many facets, which in this psalm the author carefully examines and rejoices in, then one’s emotional response toward the Torah of which love is the highest expression or pinnacle is the sparkle on the diamond that will draw other people toward the Torah and obedience thereto.