Dr. Cleophus J. Larue is the Francis Landey Patton professor of Homiletics at Princeton Seminary, and has been described as one of America’s most distinguished preachers. When I was at seminary, I had the privilege of being a student in his “Introduction to Preaching” class, where, on the first day he gave this advice to young preachers: “Get yourself out of the way, and let the scriptures do most of the talking.”
That’s precisely my plan today, for a number of reasons. First of all, because Psalm 119 is the longest of all the psalms, and is the single longest chapter in the entire bible. It is long enough to be a sermon in its own right. Second, and more importantly, it is the climax of the Book of Psalms, the greatest literary achievement of Hebrew Poetry, and any words I might add to it would pale in comparison.
I will be using my own translation, which emphasizes and brings back some of the poetic features that usually get lost in translation from Hebrew to English.
I intend to offer a few comments along the way, to help us focus on some things we might otherwise miss, but most of today’s sermon will be a reading of Psalm 119. The whole thing. You might say that the text of today’s Scripture reading is interspersed throughout sermon. Or better yet, the text of today’s sermon is interspersed throughout the psalm. So without further introduction…Psalm 119.
1 Awesome is the way of the blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord.
2 Amazing are those who tend to his testament, who seek him wholeheartedly,
3 Avoiding all wrong, walking in his way.
4 All of your precepts are carefully to be kept
5 Ah! that my path might be straight in preserving your statutes!
6 Ashamed, then, I shall not be when I survey your commandments
7 Authentically I will thank you when I study your justice
8 Abandon me not, for I will abide by your statutes
- Psalm 119 is an Acrostic poem–first word of each line of a stanza begins with the same letter of the Hebrew Alphabet
- Ashreh means blessed, happy (beatitudes)
- Synonyms for Torah in every verse: law, decrees, ways, precepts, statutes, commandments, ordinances.
9 But how can the young stay holy? Through holding on to to your word.
10 By my whole heart have I sought you; don’t let me stray from your statutes
11 Buried in my heart are your sayings; so that sin won’t become my aim
12 Blessed are you Lord, allow me to learn of your laws
13 By my lips I have professed all the proclamations of your mouth
14 Beyond all wealth, I delight in the way of your decrees
15 Brooding over your precepts, I behold your ways
16 Blinded by the light of your statutes, I won’t forget your word.
- Psalm 119 is a wisdom psalm, in the tradition of proverbs
- Torah, or law, is teaching. Acrostic is for that purpose.
- Heart is the Jewish seat of understanding and wisdom, not just emotion (as in the west)
17 Grant favor to your servant, that I may flourish and keep your word
18 Give me open eyes that I may see glimpses of wonder from your law
19 Guest that I am in this country, don’t conceal from me your commandments
20 Great longing pervades my soul for your statutes at all times
21 Gloating and Godless transgressors of your rules receive your rebuke
22 Get rid of their reproach and contempt, for your commandments I have kept.
23 Governing officials slander your servant, but still I will study your way
24 Guidance and great delight are your decrees to me.
- Open my eyes that I may see, hymn by Clara Scott, inspired by vs. 18 (psalms are meant to be sung!)
25 Dust clings to my soul; revive me according to your word
26 Declared I my way–you took notice–now teach me your statutes
27 Direct me in the way of your precepts so I may meditate in your wonders
28 Dissolved in sorrow is my soul; solidify me according to your word
29 Deceitful paths remove from my way, and in your law show mercy
30 Deciding in the way of your truth, I fix your testament before me
31 Do not put me to shame, O Lord, for I have locked myself to your law
32 Develop my heart as I dash down the path of your precepts
- Daleth in hebrew means door, path, way of life (and Derek means road).
- Emphasis on “way” in this stanza.
33 Heavenly Lord, teach me the way of your commandments; I’ll keep them for all time
34 Help me understand; I’ll hold your law and live it with all my heart
35 Have me go down the path of your precepts, for there is my delight
36 Head my heart toward your testimony, and not to dishonorable gain
37 Hide vanity away from my eyes, revive me in your way
38 Honor your promise to your servant, who holds you in awe
39 Halt my fear of disgrace, for great are your decrees
40 How I have longed for your law; in your righteousness give me life.
- Recurring Refrain: Give me life (contrasted with what is not life)
- Torah gives life
41 Welcome, Lord, is your kindness to me, the salvation that comes from your covenant
42 Words you supply me for response to all reproaches, in your word I am secure.
43 Withdraw not your true word from my mouth; for in your judgements I wait
44 Without end and for all time, your teaching I will keep,
45 Walking in your freedom, for I have sought your ways
46 With Kings I will speak of your testimony, and will not be ashamed
47 Willingly, I delight in your decrees which I have loved
48 Weighing over your statutes, I shall lift my hands to your well-loved laws
- Vav is the Hebrew word for AND (The Psalmist cheats–starts each line with “and”!)
49 Just where I rest my hope, there remember your word to your servant.
50 Jeopardy renders this comfort: Your commandments will revive me.
51 Jerks surround me with scorn, but I will not stray from your law
52 Judgments past I remember from you, Lord; and I am reassured.
53 Jealousy seizes me on account of evildoers who spurn your law
54 Joyful songs are your statutes to me, wherever I sojourn
55 Jehovah, I recall your name at night, and keep your law
56 Just this much has come to pass, as I have kept your precepts.
- In Hebrew ZAYIN makes the “Z” sound. Lots of hebrew words start with Z.
- To avoid a zany, zoo-themed stanza with zero appeal, I’ve substituted the related “J” sound.
57 Chosen is my lot with you Lord, and I choose to keep your words.
58 Charity, wholeheartedly I crave from you, and compassion which you promised.
59 Changed were my steps when I considered your ways, turned to your testimonies
60 Charging forth without delay, I follow your decrees
61 Chains of the wicked may wind around me, I will not neglect your law
62 Cheerfully at midnight I rise, making thanks for your righteous ways,
63 Chumming around with God-fearing friends, gathering those who keep your commands.
64 Charged with your faithfulness, Lord, the earth is full; Let me learn your ways
- In Hebrew, this is the guttural “ch” for which there is no English equivalent.
- I use English “ch” instead.
65 Treat your servant well, O Lord, in keeping with your word
66 Trust I shall place in your statutes; School me in judgment and knowledge ((SHOFAR!!!))
67 Transgressing before I answered you, today I take heed of your word
68 Teach me your way, for good is what you do, and good is who you are
69 Tarnished by untruths of the wicked, with my whole heart still I keep your commands
70 Tallowed and obtuse are their hearts, but I delight in your law
71 Troubles, too, have been good to me, for through them I am taught your truths
72 To me, the law from your mouth is greater than treasures of gold.
- Shofar is a ram’s horn used at Jewish festivals
- Traditionally blown after certain verses in this psalm are read.
73 You created me with your hands and crafted me; give me wisdom to heed your commands.
74 Yet may they be happy, who see me and fear you; for in your word is my hope
75 Yahweh, I know your judgments are fair, faithful even in my affliction
76 Your kindness grant as my comfort; in keeping with your promise to your servant
77 Years of life may your mercy bring, for your law is my delight
78 Yea, though the proud dealt perversely with me, put them to shame–I will meditate on your ways
79 Yield me those who flee you in fear, yet may they find your words.
80 Young and pure, let my heart hold to your precepts, so I may not be put to shame.
- Yodh is the smallest letter in Hebrew Alphabet, the size of an apostrophe
- Yodh/Yad means hand in Hebrew, a work, a finished product
- Notice the psalmist has begun to take a more active role considering and interacting with others in the world.
81 Consumed is my soul for your salvation, but still I wait for your word
82 Constrained are my eyes waiting for your commands; when will you comfort me?
83 Curing like a wineskin covered in smoke, still I won’t forget your statutes
84 Counting my days as your servant–when will you conclude the case of my oppressors?
85 Callous people have dug me a pit–they do not conform to your law
86 Commandments from you are truth–save me from the slander of my tormenters!
87 Close to death they left me in this land, still I did not lose sight of your law.
88 Covenant with you is what brings me to life, keeping your lips’ decrees.
- Image of wineskin in the smoke — curing a wineskin to make it stronger.
- Throughout this Psalm is the recurring idea that even our trials are God given to help us.
89 Lord, you are forever; your word is fixed in the heavens!
90 Love for every generation you have firmly established in the land
91 Lo! All things are your servants, standing at your command
92 Lost in grief I should have been, had not your law been my delight
93 Let me not forget your ways, forever will they give me life
94 Looking always for your law, I am yours, deliver me!
95 Lying in wait, while the wicked seek my destruction–I will consider your decrees
96 Limits I can see for perfect things, but your precepts exceed them all
97 My meditation all day long is what? Your law: My love.
98 Make me wiser than my foes by your commandments, ever with me
99 More insight have I than all who instruct me, for your statutes are my meditation
100 More yet I perceive than all the ancients, for your precepts I embrace
101 Malevolent paths I refuse to follow, that I might maintain your way
102 Matters of justice cannot cause me to swerve, since you yourself have taught me
103 My mouth savors your words more than what? The sweetest honey-mead!
104 Misleading paths I hate, for through your way comes wisdom.
- The passionate love for the law and joy in lifelong study of the law reminds me of Judge Ward Koehler, beloved member of our community who recently passed away.
105 Night-time light upon my path, your word is a lamp to my feet
106 Now have I sworn and will confirm, your statutes I will keep
107 New life in my weakness, give to me, Lord, in keeping with your word
108 Notice my gifts of praise–please, God–teach your precepts to me (((SHOFAR!!!)))
109 Never will I forget your law, for my life is ever in your hand
110 Nor will I stray from your statutes, though the wicked have laid me a snare
111 Nearest to my heart is your testimony; truly my heritage forever
112 Now and always I’m inclined to take instructions to heart
- Famous Amy Grant song based on vs. 105
113 Sneaky dissemblers I despise, but dear is your law to me
114 Secret refuge, my shield you are, in your word I will remain
115 Stay apart from me, you wicked, for I will guard the statutes of my God
116 Support me as you have promised, let me live unashamed of my hope
117 Save and sustain me, for your statutes continuously I will revere
118 Spurn those who stray from your laws, their lies are all in vain
119 So much waste you consider the wicked, your commandments therefore I love
120 Skin standing on edge, I’m afraid of the fairness in your sentence
121 If my cause is just and right, don’t relinquish me to my oppressors
122 Insure the good your servant; lest the godless persecute with pride (((SHOFAR!!!)))
123 In strained light my eyes seek out your salvation, your righteous speech
124 Instruct me in your decrees, deal faithfully with your servant as you have said
125 Insight your servant asks of you, that I may see your statutes and know
126 It is time to act, O Lord, for your law has been cast aside
127 Indeed I love your commands more than costly leaves of gold
128 Incorrect paths I abhor, but I am pleased with all of your precepts
- Ayin is the Hebrew word for “eyes,” which show up in this stanza in verse 123.
- In Hebrew, the letter Ayin is actually silent, I’ll be substituting the letter “i”
129 Prodigious are your commandments, therefore, I keep them with my soul
130 Progressing forth, your words light up the minds of the simple
131 Panting open-mouthed, I pine for your decrees
132 Prepare for me your mercy, in the manner of those who love your name
133 Place my steps pursuant to your word; let wrongness never within me rule
134 Persecution of people, deliver me from this, that I may keep your ways
135 Put the shine of your face upon your servant, and let me learn your law
136 Prompting tears to stream my face, your statutes they forsake
- Pe is the Hebrew word for “open mouth,” which shows up in v.131
- This stanza borrows language from the famous Aaronic benediction
137 Thou art righteous, O Lord, thy judgments are upright
138 Things so fairly have you commanded, testimonies faithful and full
139 Thy words forgot by enemies fills me with angry zeal
140 Therefore your servant loves when your word is tried so well
141 Though I am young and yet despised, I don’t forget your law
142 This law is true and lasting, righteous in righteousness
143 Through trial and trouble I discovered your commandments were still my delight
144 The righteousness of your law forever, gives life that I may live
- This letter makes the “Ts” sound, for which there is no English equivalent.
- I’m substituting the “Th” sound instead.
- Notice the theme of eternal righteousness in this stanza
145 Quoth I with all my heart, Lord, “Answer, that I may keep your law.”
146 Questioning about your deliverance, that I might keep your decrees
147 Quietly before dawn I rise: A cry for help–my hope in your commands
148 Quarters of each night pass, my open eyes observing the promise of your word
149 Quicken me in your judgment, Lord, hear me according to your covenant
150 Quarrelers in every quadrant closing in on me, quite far from your law
151 Quality is in your commandments, Lord, close you are at hand
152 Quoted words from long ago, taught me your foundations forever lain
- In Hebrew pronounced the same as KAF, but here using the “Qu” sound.
153 Rescue me–consider my condition–your commandments I have not forgotten
154 Redeem me and revive me, in keeping with your promise, plead my case
155 Remote from the wicked is salvation, for your statutes they do not seek
156 Revive me according to your custom–your compassion, Lord, is great
157 Rife are my oppressors and rivals; yet I will not run from your way
158 Ruefully I recognize the reprobate, for they disregard your word
159 Reflect on my love for your precepts, Lord, revive me in accordance with your rule
160 Right from the start, your word is true, your righteousness judgment reigns (((SHOFAR!!!)))
- Notice that resurrection is a persistent theme throughout the psalm, “revive me, give me life”
- For this reason, Psalm 119 was popular with early Christians, who read it through the lens of Christ’s death and resurrection
161 Shaken-down by sovereigns on scanty grounds, only your statutes strike fear in my heart
162 Shouting for joy at the sound of your speech, just as one who shoulders a prize (((SHOFAR!!!)))
163 Shamefaced lies I hate and abhor, but how I love your law
164 Showing your praise seven times a day for sheer delight in your decrees
165 Shalom (great peace) have those who love your law and have no cause to shuffle
166 Share with me your salvation, O God, and I shall keep your commands
167 Shored-up in my soul are your statutes enshrined, exceedingly with my love
168 Shining forth, your decrees are kept, your precepts displayed in my ways
169 Vulnerable, my cry goes up to you, Lord; give me vision to see your commands
170 Voiced, may my prayer be vested in you; deliver me in accordance with your word
171 Victorious praise flows over my lips, for I follow your wonderful ways
172 Via songs from my tongue, I will tell of your promise, your precepts all are true
173 Visit upon me the help of your hand, your ordinances I made made my own
174 Vindication I long for from you, O Lord, for your law is my delight
175 Vivify me that I may venerate you, vindicated by your commandments
176 Verily I wander like a virtual sheep, seek out this servant of yours, for your verdict I shall never forget.
- The letter TAV (as in, Tavizon) is pronounced just like the letter Teth, earlier.
- Just for fun, and since we haven’t used it yet, I’m going to replace with the “V” sound.