The psalmist could have begun all eight verses in the Aleph section with the first person pronoun "I" because of how the pronoun and verbs are often written in Hebrew. Yet, he humbly only did so in one verse (7). Even then, he simply said, "I will praise You." thus lifting up the Lord rather than himself.
Psalm 119:1 Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD. 2 Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart. 3 They also do no iniquity: they walk in his ways. 4 You have commanded us to keep your precepts diligently.
When the Psalmist finally mentioned himself in verse five, he wished that he were more steadfast so that he might keep the Lord's statutes, admitting thereby that he was not. This was like the young Hebrew slave girl in Second Kings 5:3 wishing that Naaman were in Samaria with Elisha but knowing that he was not.
Psalm 119:5 O that my ways were directed to keep your statutes!
2 Kings 5:3 And she said unto her mistress, O that my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would heal him of his leprosy.
The last three verses show that the psalmist would nevertheless still try to live biblically and serve the Lord. He hoped that he would not be put to shame because of personal sin (6), and at the end of the section he asked the Lord to not totally forsake him (8). In this, he acknowledged his sinfulness while making a humble request.
Psalm 119:6 Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all your commandments. 7 I will praise you with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned your righteous judgments. 8 I will keep your statutes: O forsake me not utterly.
What is the Aleph stanza (#1) like?
It is like approaching the beginning of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia (above) and being greatly impressed with the significance of the trail but feeling inadequate and unprepared. Yet, at the same time, the desire to hike the trail is present as well. Many hikers are overconfident at first, but the psalmist was not. (Neither was Jeremiah, Jer. 1:6.)
Therefore? -- Above all, the Aleph stanza is about serving God and approaching his word with humility. Thankfully, the psalmist was not so discouraged by his lack of stability (5) that he gave up. True humility does not lead to quitting.
The tone of the Beth stanza is set by the opening "How" question. "How" literally is "by what." So the Beth stanza is about means, and every verse except verse 12 begins with a prepositional phrase. The same Hebrew preposition is translated various ways in English since its meaning is broad. So we have "by" in verse 9, "with" in verses 10 and 13, and "in" in verses 11, 14, 15, and 16.
Most sentences in Hebrew begin with a verb. Yet seven out of eight Beth verses begin with a prepositional phrase in the original word order. By putting prepositional phrases first, the psalmist emphasized the contents of those phrases. Notice the bold type in the verses below.
Psalm 119:9 By what shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word. 10 With my whole heart have I sought you: O let me not wander from your commandments. 11 Your word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against you. 12 Blessed are you, O LORD: teach me your statutes. 13 With my lips have I declared all the judgments of your mouth. 14 I have rejoiced in the way of your testimonies, as much as in all riches. 15 I will meditate in your precepts, and have respect unto your ways. 16 I will delight myself in your statutes: I will not forget your word.
It is helpful to read the prepositional phrases first. Thus verse 11 becomes, "In my heart, I have hid your word so that I might not sin against you." If the psalmist had put the verb (to hide) and subject (himself) first, he would have emphasized what he himself could do, but since "in my heart" comes first, the place where God works (in the heart) through his word is emphasized instead. Moreover the opening "By what" question shows from the beginning that the Lord has something, his word, by which he can change a person, even a young person, from within.
What is the Beth stanza (#2) like?
It is like an inexperience hiker going to a good outfitter and being equipped by an expert with exactly what he needs to avoid trouble during a long hike. How thankful such a young hiker would be! He would bless the outfitter for sure (12) as well as rejoice in the (biblical) equipment.
Therefore? -- Our equipment is God's word, and it is only by God's word that we can please him. We must delight in this equipment (16), use it constantly (15), and not forget to take it with us day by day (10-11).
Gimel (17-24) is the first valley section, since proud (21) princes (23) appear for the first time and the psalmist was reproached and treated with contempt (22). His rejection was so complete that he felt totally out of place (19). He was the Lord's servant (17) but also a stranger (19). Verses 20 and 46 show that he was a prophet, probably Jeremiah who was treated terribly by the proud rulers of his day. There were various plots against him which sound like what is said in verse 23.
Psalm 119:17 Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live, and keep thy word. 18 Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things out of your law. 19 I am a stranger in the earth: hide not your commandments from me. 20 My soul breaks for the longing that it has unto your judgments at all times. 21 You have rebuked the proud that are cursed, which do err from your commandments. 22 Remove [roll] from me reproach and contempt; for I have kept your testimonies. 23 Princes also sat and speak together against me: but your servant meditated in your statutes. 24 Your testimonies also are my delight and my counsellors.
In many sections of the Psalmist's Trail, first-in-verse terms are used multiple times, and this helps us discover the theme of the stanza. In Gimel, however, the only such repetition is "also" in verses 23 and 24. This usage shows that verse 23 and 24 go together in some way. The rulers conferred together against the psalmist (Jeremiah?) in verses 23, but at the same time in verse 24 the psalmist also did not feel totally alone because meditating in God's word was like enjoying the company of multiple delightful counselors.
What is the Gimel stanza (#3) like?
In one way, it is like an overflowing muddy river, full of dirt and debris. On the other hand, it is like a beautiful bridge which spans the river. Thus when the psalmist prayed in verse 18 to see wonderful things from God's law, it was like a traveler praying to find the bridge on a foggy day (18-19).
Therefore? -- When there is a coming together of proud and powerful men against you (23), turn with delight to God's word (24) and you will not be alone even if humanly speaking you seem to be so (19). Also pray that your eyes may be open to clearly see biblical and spiritual things (18).
The opposition and constant danger cause the psalmist to become weary. So he asked the Lord to preserve his life in line with his promise. (Assuming that Jeremiah is the author, this may refer to the promise in Jer. 1:17-19.) Protection was not all that the psalmist needed, however. He also asked the Lord to strength him, because living with heaviness, the lack of joy in a difficult situation, is exhausting (28).
Psalm 119:25 My soul clings to the dust: preserve my life according to your word. 26 I have declared my ways, and you answered me: teach me your statutes. 27 Make me to understand the way of your precepts: so that I may meditate on your wondrous works. 28 My soul melts from heaviness: strengthen me according unto your word. 29 Remove from me the way of lying: and grant me your law graciously. 30 I have chosen the way of truth: your judgments I have laid before me. 31 I have clung unto your testimonies: O LORD, put me not to shame. 32 I will run the way of your commandments, when you shall enlarge my heart.
The psalmist's heaviness was not because of ongoing personal sin (26), but it was related to the false and dishonest living around him (29). He had chosen the way of truth (30), but others had not (29). The Daleth section is about maintaining a biblical lifestyle for a long time in a difficult setting. So "way" is the first-in-verse term in five Daleth verses. It refers to ongoing ways. This is also why "cling" is the first-in-verse term in verse 31. The psalmist had to cling to the Lord's testimonies, like a football player holding firmly onto the ball which others are trying to strip it away.
At the end of the section, however, the psalmist confidently said that he would later be able to run the biblical path because the Lord would strengthen him (32). Thus, he believed God would answer his prayer for strength (28).
What is the Daleth stanza (#4) like?
It is like the weariness that sets in after walking with a heavy pack for days, knowing that there are many more ahead. Eventually, long-distance hikers become stronger, but until then, they often feel like quitting or collapsing in the dust.
Therefore? -- Like the psalmist, we need to remember God's promise(s) (25) and pray for spiritual strength in the midst of the long, grinding process that we are in (28). Like him also, we need to believe that the Lord will strengthen us through his word (32).
The "He" (pronounced "hey") section is one of the high points on the trail, and seven out of eight verses in it begin with a petition calling for inner change. Only the final verse, verse 40, does not.
Moreover, each of the seven petitions at the beginning of the verse is a causal form, as the psalmist asked God to cause certain things to be changed. Look for this as you read through these eight verses. The key phrases in each opening petition is highlighted with bold italic letters.
Psalm 119:33 Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end. 34 Give me understanding, and I shall keep your law; indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart. 35 Make me to go in the path of your commandments; for therein I delight. 36 Incline my heart unto your testimonies, and not to covetousness. 37 Turn away my eyes from beholding vanity; and preserve my life in your way. 38 Establish your word unto your servant, who is devoted to your fear. 39 Turn away my reproach which I fear: for your judgments are good. 40 Behold, I have longed after your precepts: preserve my life in your righteousness.
To better see the causal nature of the petitions, we need to adjust our thinking as follows: (34) Give me understanding = Cause me to understand, (35) Make me to go = Cause me to go, (36) Incline my heart = Cause my heart to incline, (37) Turn away my eyes = Cause my eyes to turn away, (38) Establish your word = Cause your word to be established, and (39) Turn away my reproach = Cause my reproach to be turned away.
These small adjustments in thought are fairly easy to understand, but the section's opening "Teach me" petition in verse 33 is more difficult. It too is causal in form. Yet it sound like a straight forward request to be taught. It could be written as "Cause me to be taught," but that is not very helpful. The basic idea is that psalmist asked the Lord to teach him and subtly included his desire to be made more teachable in the process.
What is the HE stanza (#5) like?
It is like the series of open hill tops called balds in southern sections of the Appalachian Trail. They are not naturally treeless because of high elevation but because they have been used, especially in the past, for grazing animals. Thus they have been changed, so that they are now characterized by their openness.
Therefore? -- The psalmist repeatedly asked the Lord to change him, and we too should be open before God and ask him to change us rather than just our circumstances or those around us. (Notice that the psalmist's enemies are not directly mention in this section.)
A quick reading of the verses in the Waw stanza below shows that Waw is a conjunction which can be translated as also, and, and so. Since it is almost never used as the first letter in a longer word, its only use as a first-in-verse term in this stanza is as a conjunction.
Psalm 119:41 O Let your mercies come also unto me, O LORD, even your salvation, according to your word. 42 So shall I have wherewith to answer him that reproaches me: for I trust in your word. 43 And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth; for I have hoped in your judgments. 44 So shall I keep thy law continually for ever and ever. 45 And I will walk at liberty: for I seek your precepts. 46 I will speak of your testimonies also before kings, and will not be ashamed. 47 And I will delight myself in your commandments, which I have loved. 48 My hands also will I lift up unto your commandments, which I have loved; and I will meditate on your statutes.
It is considered poor usage in English to begin every sentence with and, but Hebrew narratives are characterized by long strings of linked sentences using this conjunction. So linking is also important within the Waw stanza. Moreover, the first and or also, the one in verse 41, may indicate that the change theme in the previous He section continues in this stanza as well.
In verse 41, the psalmist began by praying for the Lord's mercies to come to him. Then the next verse is about a result which would follow. The psalmist would be able to answer those that reproached him. Therefore verse 42 begins with so.
A second petition is made in verse 43, for the psalmist to be able to continue speaking the truth. Then in verse 44 we again have a verse with a result. The psalmist would be able to continue living in light of the Lord's teaching, by applying the word of truth to himself. Therefore verse 44 begins with so just like verse 42 did. Not only that, all the remaining verses in the Waw section could begin with so since they are all about the results that flow from the petition in verse 43 being answered.
What is the Waw stanza (#6) like?
It is like a spring of living (moving) water which overflows as a result of bountiful rain from heaven. Everyone loves it. (Notice that love of the word or delighting therein is mentioned in the last two verses, in 47 and 48.)
Therefore? -- The psalmist was a speaker (43, 46), but he applied the word to himself first (44) and as a result he had liberty in his speaking (45-46). Like him we should pray about our ministries and speaking (43) and be doers of the word (James 1:22) so that our speaking may prosper. -- By the way, the lifting up of the hands in the final verse (48) is an expression of openness and willingness to obey.
The Zayin stanza is the second valley in Psalm 119, which means that the psalmist needed help because he faced a lot of opposition. First, he needed to be comforted because he was afflicted (50) and subject to scorn (51). Because of persecution, he may have felt sorry for himself. Second, the psalmist needed to calm down because he was hot with anger over the lawless deeds of the wicked (53). It was not wrong for him to be angry because of their sin, but it was dangerous for him to focus on the wicked so much that he lost his joy in God's word (54). Third, the psalmist needed to be able to rest and sleep well with a clear conscience (55-56).
Psalm 119:49 Remember the word to your servant, upon which you have caused me to hope. 50 This is my comfort in my affliction: for your word has given me life. 51 The proud have had me greatly in derision: yet I have not declined from your law. 52 I remembered your judgments of old, O LORD; and have comforted myself. 53 Hot zeal has taken hold upon me because of the wicked that forsake your law. 54 Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage. 55 I have remembered your name, O LORD, in the night, and have kept your law. 56 This I have had, because I kept your precepts.
Notice that to remember - which begins with Zayin in Hebrew - is used as the first-in-verse term three times (49, 52, 55). These three usages correspond to the three points above: 1.) the need for comfort because of persecution (49-51), the need to control anger regarding the wicked (52-54), and 3.) the need for rest well with a clear conscience (55-56).
What is the Zayin stanza (#7) like?
It is like fording a river at the right spot and in the right way. It is as if our biblical hiker found a spot with three large rocks which broke up the crossing. On the first rock, he rested by prayerfully remembering God's promise (49, Jer. 1:17-19?). On the second large rock, he rested by remembering and rejoicing in God's just works (52, 54). And on the third rock, he rested by remembered that the Lord is the one who does not change (55). At all three stops, the psalmist was able to truly rest because he had a clear conscience (56).
Therefore? -- Like the psalmist we need breaks. If we always think about those who persecute us, we will drown in self-pity, and if we always think about the evil deeds of the wicked, we will lose our joy (54). So we need to prayerfully remember God's promises (49), his justice and righteous words (52), and the fact that he is the One who does not change (55).
The Heth stanza is much higher ground than the previous one, which means that the psalmist was not thinking about the wicked as much. (They are only directly mentioned once, in verse 61.) In this portion of the the Psalmist Trail, the writer had a strong sense of being with God. The Lord himself was his portion (57). Though the wicked could bind him and force him to go with them physically, like Jeremiah was taken to Egypt (Jer. 43:1-7), his thoughts were higher (61). In his mind, it was those who feared the Lord who were his real companions (63), and the Lord's covenant mercies were everywhere (64).
Psalm 119:57 You are my portion, O LORD: I have said that I would keep your words. 58 I entreated your favor with my whole heart: be merciful to me according to your word. 59 I thought on my ways, and turned my feet to your testimonies. 60 I made haste, and delayed not to keep your commandments. 61 The bands of the wicked have surrounded me: but I have not forgotten your law. 62 At midnight I will rise to give thanks to you because of your righteous judgments. 63 I am a companion of all them who fear you, and of them who keep your precepts. 64 The earth, O LORD, is full of your mercy: teach me your statutes.
When a farmer owns a piece of land, he will do whatever is necessary in order to make it productive, because it is his land. Likewise, the psalmist took action in verses 58 through 60 because the Lord was his portion. Notice the many verbs in verses 58-60 which follow his declaration of ownership or relationship in verse 57. A land owner will try to improve his land, but the psalmist quickly focused on changing himself, since the Lord was already perfect.
What is the Heth stanza (#8) like?
In terms of hiking, it is like several different but related things. First, it is like hiking on a pleasant mountain trail and sensing God's presence (57). Second, it is like asking for the Lord's blessing as one walks (58). Third, it is like thinking about how to change in order to hike / live better and please the Lord more (59-60). Fourth, it is mentally rejected the attempts of the secular world system to control everything (61-62). Fifth, it is looking forward to good (i.e. godly) fellowship at the next shelter (63). And sixth, it is like thinking about the fact that God is faithful and at work everywhere (64).
Therefore? -- The various things mentioned above should ALL be done, but the main point is to begin like the psalmist did in verse 57. He made the Lord being his portion the number one relational fact in his life. Expressed negatively, he affirmed that the wicked, the world system around him, was not in charge of his life (61). Thus he rightly acknowledged the Lord (62) and was blessed mentally with peace as a result (63-64).
Hikers on the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) refer to those who do kind deeds for hikers as trail angels. Although the psalmist also appreciated the few good and godly companions that he had (63, 74, 79), he looked to the Lord himself as the true source of good things. The Teth stanza is about God's goodness since the word good in Hebrew begins with the letter Teth, the ninety letter in the Hebrew alphabet. In Hebrew word order, five of the eight verses in the stanza begin with this term.
Psalm 119:65 You have dealt well with your servant, O LORD, according to your word. 66 Teach me good judgment and knowledge: for I have believed your commandments. 67 Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now I have kept your word. 68 You are good, and do good; teach me your statutes. 69 The proud have forged a lie against me: but I will keep your precepts with my whole heart. 70 Their heart is fat like grease; but I delight in your law. 71 It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn your statutes. 72 The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver.
One might expect the Teth stanza to be one of the peaks on the Psalmist Trail since it is about God's goodness, but it is neither a valley nor a peak. This is because God's goodness to his servants includes bringing us through affliction in order to change us for the better. Affliction is good for us, since it helps helps restore us to fellowship when we stray (67) and helps us understand God's word (71). The proud rulers (21-23) who slander the psalmist (Jer. 37:11-15), were not good themselves, of course, but the persecution still did some good (Rom. 8:23).
What is the Teth stanza (#9) like?
It is like trail towns that provide opportunities for hikers to rest and reflect on the goodness they have experienced along the way. As they do so, unpleasant experiences will be remembered as well, but overall the conclusion will be that the trail has been good for the hiker. -- Alternatively, the Teth stanza is like a mountain resthouse with a wonderful, long-distance view that encourages reflection on trail experiences. Such resorts are usually built near, but not on, the actual peaks, which matches the Teth location on our graph.
Therefore? -- Like the psalmist and A.T. hikers, we must not allow persecution or tough times to blind us to God's goodness. He is good, and he does good (68). When we think rightly about this, God's word becomes more precious to us (72) and spending time in the word will be a joy.
By the way, how old do you think the psalmist was when he wrote the Teth stanza? He apparently had been through a lot (67, 69-71). So he probably was not young (9-11). It is good to listen to or read the reflections of older godly people (Psa. 37:25).
The Psalmist Trail is rarely flat, for the psalmist tended to oscillate between focusing primarily on his inner struggles with sin and thinking more about external enemies. So there are many big ups and many big downs on our graph. However, the Teth stanza (65-72) and the Yod section (73-80) are flat like a high plateau or "tableland" because the psalmist did not have a lot to say about his enemies in either stanza.
Psalm 119:73 Your hands have made me and fashioned me: give me understanding, that I may learn your commandments. 74 They who fear you will be glad when they see me; because I have hoped in your word. 75 I know, O LORD, that your judgments are right, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. 76 Let, I pray, your merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to your word to your servant. 77 Let your tender mercies come to me, that I may live: for your law is my delight. 78 Let the proud be ashamed; for they dealt perversely with me without a cause: but I will meditate on your precepts. 79 Let those who fear you turn to me, and those who have known your testimonies. 80 Let my heart be sound in your statutes; that I may not be ashamed.
In Teth (65-72), the psalmist reflected at length on the Lord's goodness to him, and in Yod (73-80) he summarized this (73-75) and went on to made several petitions based on God's goodness (76-80). He began doing so in verses 76 and 77 with two petitions for God's goodness (mercies) toward him to continue.
There are at least seven petitions in the Yod stanza, more than in most others. The logical reason for this is because of God's goodness (75), but there is a grammatical reason as well. When the letter Yod is attach to the front of a Hebrew verb stem it often turns it into a petition. So when the psalmist thought of this letter he naturally thought about prayer and phrases like "Let (be, come, turn)...". Prayer was very important to the psalmist.
The verbs to know and to fear in Hebrew begin with the letter Yod. So the psalmist used them each once as first-in-verse term, in verses 74 and 75. Yet he could have begun several verses with "I know..." statements, but he did not do so. He valued biblical knowledge and the fear of the Lord as seen in verse 79, but he prayed more and talk less about what he knew.
What is the Yod stanza (#10) like?
It is like a hiker truly appreciating God wonderous creation and saving grace by praying throughout the day, rather than complaining about the rocks. In is also like a hiker thinking about and praying for the godly people that he or she knows (74, 79), rather than thinking about the wicked (78) continually. The hiker is able to do these things because he knows that the Lord is good (75).
Therefore? -- Though knowing God's word is very important (73b), what God does in answer to prayer (76-80) is even more important than what we know. So we should not study much and pray little. We should be like one who rides a bicycle properly. The front wheel of the bicycle, like God's word, gives direction. The rear wheel of the bicycle, like prayer, is where God's power comes into play.
This is the lowest point in the psalmist's journey through the Hebrew alphabet. He felt that his life on earth was nearly finished (83, 87) because of what his proud and dishonest adversaries had done (85-86). So he used the verb meaning to be finished or consumed three times (81, 82, 87). This set the tone of the stanza. On the one hand, he did not think that his circumstances would allow him to continue to live (87). Yet, he still expected the Lord to intervene to save his life (88), for God had promised to protect him (81, 82).
Psalm 119:81 My soul faints for your salvation: but I hope in your word. 82 My eyes fail for your word, saying, When will you comfort me? 83 For I am become like a bottle [wineskin] in the smoke; yet I do not forget your statutes. 84 As what are the days of your servant? When will you execute judgment on them that persecute me? 85 The proud have dug pits for me, which are not according to your law. 86 All your commandments are faithful: they persecute me wrongfully; help me. 87 They almost [in a little] consumed me on earth; but I forsook not your precepts. 88 Give me life according to your lovingkindness; so shall I keep the testimony of your mouth.
The negative lines in Kaph sounds much like a prayer of Jeremiah for swift judgment upon his enemies (Jer. 18:20-22), in which the digging of pits is mentioned twice (Jer. 18:20, 22). Moreover in Jer. 38:4-13, the prophet was lowered into miry pit-like cistern in which he would have died if Ebed-Melech had not rescue him. His rescue was in line with God's promise to him in Jer. 1:17-19 and 15:20-21. -- The psalmist probably was Jeremiah. (Verses 43 and 46 show that he was a prophet, rather than a king.)
What is the Kaph stanza (#11) like?
It is like a fallen hiker desperately calling out from a deep crevasse from which he can not escape without help from above. He fell because someone dishonestly changing an important trail marker. (Murder by accident on hiking trail is rare, but not unheard of.) Fortunately, our imaginary hiker has a special companion, whom he hopes will rescue him before it is too late, though there is little time left.
Therefore? -- In desperate times, like the psalmist, we should pray and hold on to hope because of the Lord's promises (81, 82) and faithfulness (86, 88). Our eyes may fail from waiting, but HE will not fail to bring comfort when the time is fully come (82).
The earlier low point in the psalmist's journey (81-88) is recalled in verse 92, but the Lamed stanza (89-96) is a high point because the psalmist thought deeply about how the Lord has preserved the heavens and the earth (89-91) and then applied this to himself (92-93). This is the biggest upward change in the psalm.
Psalm 119:86 For ever, O LORD, your word is settled in heaven. 90 Your faithfulness is unto all generations: you have established the earth, and it abides. 91 They continue this day according to your ordinances: for all are your servants. 92 Unless your law had been my delights, I would then have perished in my affliction. 93 Forever I will not forget your precepts: for with them you have kept me alive. 94 To you I am, save me; for I have sought your precepts. 95 The wicked have waited for me to destroy me: but I will consider your testimonies. 96 I have seen an end of all perfection: but your commandment is exceeding broad.
The twelfth letter of the Hebrew alphabet is a preposition which is commonly translated "to," though it is also translated for, according to, and unto in these verses. The only verse that does not begin with this preposition in Hebrew word order is verse 92 where the negative term "unless" comes first.
Every verse in this stanza could have started with a negative, since the common word not in Hebrew begins with Lamed. Yet, the psalmist only used not once (93), and even then it was not as the first-in-verse term. He remained positive despite persecution (92, 95).
What is the Lamed stanza (#12) like?
The beginning of the stanza (89-91) is like thinking deeply about the longest horizon imaginable and the fact that the Lord's authority and care through his word is even longer. It is over everything that he has made (89-91). Yet the bottom line in verse 96 is like closing one's eyes and thinking about the fact that everything in creation, unlike God's command, has limits and will come to an end.
The middle portion of the stanza (92-95) is like thinking and praying about the physical, mental, and spiritual dangers that a biblical hiker faces in the valleys of life. Thanks is offered for past deliverance (92-93), and petition is made for ongoing deliverance (94).
Perhaps the most important practical point of analogy is that the psalmist is the Lamed stanza is like a hiker who delights in the biblical hiking equipment that God has supplied (92). He seeks it out (95) and uses it eagerly (95).
Therefore? -- In order to remain positive like the psalmist did in this stanza, we must delight in God's word like he did (92). Remembering that the Lord preserves the heavens and the earth by his word, should help us realize that he will persevere us mentally as well, IF we use his word as we should day by day.
The Mem stanza is like the last great peak in a range of mountains, since trouble and enemies are mentioned more in each subsequent stanza. The psalmist was happy in Mem because his enemies (98) had faded from view, but that was not all. He was spiritually healthy and wise with superior biblical understanding (99a, 100a, 104a) obtained through constant meditation (97b, 99b) in God's word. Notice the three verses which begin with more (98, 99, 100).
Psalm 119:97 Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. 98 You through your commandments have made me more wise than my enemies: for they are ever with me. 99 I have more understanding than all my teachers: for your testimonies are my meditation. 100 I understand more than the ancients, because I keep your precepts. 101 I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep your word. 102 I have not departed from your judgments: for you have taught me. 103 How sweet are your words to my taste! more sweet than honey to my mouth! 104 From [through] your precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way.
There is an interesting play on words in several verses since the Hebrew word for "more" is also often translated in English as "from." So the three verses that begin with from in English (101, 102, 104) begin with the same word in Hebrew as the three that begin with more (98, 99, 100). The psalmist had more wisdom and understanding (98-100) than others because he got more from God's precepts than others did (104). How? He spent more time in God's word (97), AND he was careful to obey God's word as well (100b, 101).
What is the Mem stanza (#13) like?
Long-distance hikers love to eat because they need more calories than others do. So in Mem the psalmist was like a happy hiker finishing an awesome, healthy meal which included a whole-grain dessert topped with honey (103). A truly wise hiker eats well and often (97b, 99b) and is therefore able to hike more miles than others (98-100). Moreover, the nourishment keeps him from making bad decisions (101-102, 104). Resupply is taken seriously in order to gain the nourishment (biblical understanding) that is needed (100a, 104a), and junk food is avoided (101a, 104b).
Therefore? -- The bottom-line message is in the final verse. First, we need to be MORE serious about daily spiritual resupply (104a). Second, we need to take sin and error MORE seriously as well (104b).
In the Nun stanza, the psalmist faced more affliction (107) and danger (109, 110) than in the previous two sections, and continuing to go forward with God was not easy. The lamp-like enlightenment of God's word made it possible. So the image of the lamp in the opening verse (105) catches everyone's attention. Yet, in many other verses the will or determination of the psalmist stands out.
Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path. 106 I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep your righteous judgments. 107 I am afflicted very much: preserve my life, O LORD, according to your word. 108 Accept, I pray, the freewill offerings of my mouth, O LORD, and teach me your judgments. 109 My life is continually in my hand: yet do I not forget your law. 110 The wicked have laid a snare for me: yet I strayed not from your precepts. 111 Your testimonies I have taken as an heritage for ever: for they are the rejoicing of my heart. 112 I have inclined [bowed] my heart to perform your statutes forever, even to the end.
God's provision for the believer is stressed through the lamp image coming first (105), and human will is secondary. Nevertheless, there is much about the psalmist's will to continue serving God in his promising in the second verse (106) and his bowing or incline his heart to do so in the final one (112). His freewill offerings of praise in 108 and his willingness to risk his life in 109 also involve the will. The psalmist determination was not cold and stoic, however, for the Lord's testimonies were the rejoicing of his heart (111).
What is the Nun stanza (#14) like?
In order to keep promises that they have made, long-distance hikers sometimes need to keep hiking into the night. LED headlamps make this possible (105), but the hiker's will to keep going is very important as well. Night hiking involves additional danger, outward danger from the trail itself and others on it (110a) and inward dangers from the natural human tendency to go astray (110b). Nevertheless, the psalmist kept going like many hikers do, for he was properly equipped (105). He prayed as he did so (107).
Therefore? -- The message is twofold. First, trust in God's provision (105) and protection (107) rather than in yourself. Second be determined to keep going for the Lord (106, 111-112), doing so freely from the heart without pressure from others (108) and with heart-felt joy (111). It is good to continue to serve. So DECIDE to keep going.
In the Samek stanza, the psalmist had to deal with half-hearted or hypocritical and worldly evildoers who would not leave him alone. He asked them to depart in verse 115 which is one of the very few verses in Psalm 119 which is not addressed to God. Probably they did not leave, however, because he prayed to be saved from them in the next two verses (116-117). After that, there was a great change in 118-119.
Psalm 119:113 I hate the double-minded: but your law I love. 114 You are my hiding place and my shield: I hope in your word. 115 Depart from me, you evildoers: for I will keep the commandments of my God. 116 Uphold me according unto your word, that I may live: and let me not be ashamed of my hope. 117 Hold me up, and I shall be safe: and I will have respect for your statutes continually. 118 You have regarded lightly all those who stray from your statutes: for their deceit is falsehood. 119 You put away all the wicked of the earth like dross: therefore I love your testimonies. 120 My flesh trembles for fear of YOU; and I am afraid of your judgments.
The psalmist saw that God had removed (or would remove) the wicked and deceitful men who had harassed him (118-119). This is reminiscent of the Lord removing the false prophets who opposed Jeremiah (Jer. 37:19).
What is the Samek stanza (#15) like?
In the Samek stanza, the psalmist was like a hiker who was being stalked on a section of trail near the city. A group of men who did not look like hikers were following him. After a while, he directly confronted them (115), but they still kept following. So our hiker prayed fervently for the next two miles (116-117) after which there was a steep section of trail that rose several hundred feet. He kept going, but his followers disappeared (119). He looked for them, but they were gone! As he shivered and thought about the fear that he had felt, he realized that he should fear the Lord and his word more and people less (120).
Therefore? -- As the graphic above and the verses themselves show, when evil and danger are present we need to rely on the Lord's presence. Confronting the opposition may be necessary (115), but hope, faith, prayer, and the fear of the Lord are needed even more.
The psalmist was opposed by powerful men who oppressed the poor and the weak, but opposing them directly was too much for him to do alone. As God's servant (122, 124, 125) and in contrast to the oppressors, he did what was right (121), but only the Lord had the means and power to ensure his safety (122, 124) and deal with the proud rulers (121, 126). So the Ayin stanza is prayerful from beginning to end.
Psalm 119:121 I have done judgment and justice: leave me not to my oppressors. 122 Be surety [guarantor] for your servant for good: let not the proud oppress me. 123 My eyes fail for your salvation, and for the word of your righteousness. 124 Deal with your servant according to your mercy, and teach me your statutes. 125 I am your servant; give me understanding, that I may know your testimonies. 126 It is time for you, LORD, to work: for they have made void your law. 127 Therefore I love your commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold. 128 Therefore I esteem all your precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way.
Done in verse 121, deal in verse 124, and act in verse 126 are all the same verb in Hebrew. This repetition along with the psalmist three references to himself as God's servant (122. 124, 125) shows that the psalmist was an active servant of the Lord as well as a prayerful one.
The last two verses in the stanza (127-128) are about the psalmist's value system which stand in sharp contrast to the greed of oppressive rulers in the first two verses. This all probably relates to Jeremiah's anti-oppression message in Jer. 7:6 and 21:12. Many of those who opposed Jeremiah had economic reasons for doing so.
What is the Ayin stanza (#16) like?
In Psalm 119:121-128, the psalmist was like a hiker on a section of trail that had been purposefully altered by a powerful group of outsiders in order to take advantage of and endanger lawful hikers like himself (121-122). So our loyal but weak hiker prayerfully called upon the only One who has the power and wealth to restore the trail. He asked the Owner and Maker to act personally on his behalf for good (122-125) and to deal with those who have done the damage (126). In closing, our hiker of limited means spoke of his love for the trail's riches (127) and voiced his righteous indignation about each deceitful change (128).
Therefore? -- Do what is biblical and right rather than that with is oppressive and greedy (119:121. Jer. 7:6-7), praying for the Lord himself to do what is merciful (119:124) and right (119:126) as you do so.
There are many terms having to do with the face in 119:129-136, including the face of God (132, 135). These make this stanza very personal. The psalmist sought the blessing of the Lord in a person way that impacted him deeply. Notice, for instance, his open mouth and panting in verse 131.
Psalm 119:129 Your testimonies are wonderful: therefore my soul keeps them. 130 The entrance of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. 131 I opened my mouth, and panted: for I longed for your commandments. 132 Turn (your face) to me, and be merciful to me, as you always do to those that love your name. 133 Direct my steps in your word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me. 134 Deliver me from the oppression of man: so will I keep your precepts. 135 Make your face to shine upon you servant; and teach me your statutes. 136 Rivers of water run down my eyes, because they do not keep your law.
"They" in verse 136 refers to people who did not keep the law or teaching of God, but it does not say who these people were. In light of verses 53 and 139, "they" probably does not refer to the wicked who opposed the psalmist since he did not weep for them. Probably the psalmist was referring to the simple in verse 130. If "they" had regarded the Lord's testimonies as wonderful and made them their own as the psalmist did (129, 31), their ignorance would have been take away (130). Apparently, most of them did not do so (136).
Caution: it is important to realize that verse 129 refers to the psalmist choosing God's testimonies as his own rather than to perfectly obeying them, which he could not do (176).
What is the Pe stanza (#17) like?
The psalmist was like a long-distance hiker who carefully fills his pack with that which is most needed. This involves choosing that which is wonderfully useful (129) and rejecting things that are not. Those who are simple do not prepare this way. So they lack light (130) and come to ruin (136) like hikers whose packs are full of heavy, useless things (Heb. 12:1).
Moreover, the psalmist was also like a hiker who does not naturally know what to pack. So the many petitions in the stanza are like an inexperience hiker asking a loving and knowledgeable father to teach him (135) and help him pack. This would be done in close company.
The ending of the Pe stanza (136) shows that the psalmist was like a godly hiker who deeply cared for others on the trail. (Jeremiah wept for the people in Jer. 9:1, 9:10, 13:17, Lam. 1:16, and 2:11.)
Finally, the psalmist in 119:129-136 was somewhat like the young man who hid God's word in his heart in the second stanza (119:9-16). So the graphics for these two stanzas are similar.
Therefore? -- Choose God's wonderful word (129), seek after it fervently like air that you constantly need to breath (131), and seek God in a personal (face-to-Face) way (132, 135), so that you can know it and Him better. Yet, in this, do not just think about yourself. Pray for and help others (130, 136).
The key terms in the Tsadde stanza are "righteous" and "righteousness." Look for them as you read through these eight verses. They are used as first-in-verse terms three times and appear two other times as well.
Psalm 119:137 Righteous YOU (!) are, O LORD, and upright are your judgments. 138 Your testimonies that you have commanded are righteous and very faithful. 139 My zeal has consumed me, because my enemies have forgotten your words. 140 Your word is very pure: therefore your servant loves it. 141 I (am) small and despised: yet I do not forget your precepts. 142 Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and your law is the truth. 143 Trouble and anguish have taken hold of me: yet your commandments are my delights. 144 The righteousness of your testimonies is everlasting: give me understanding, and I shall live.
The proud, earthly rulers, who opposed the psalmist (78, 85, 122, 139) were not righteous. Only the Lord is. So the psalmist may have been indirectly contrasting the Lord with earthly rulers. For instance, the divine commanding of righteousness in verse 138 (Cf. verse 4) obviously differs from the unrighteous commands and decrees that ordinary rulers give and make. Their words are not right (137) or pure (140) like the Lord's, and, of course, they do not live or rule forever (142, 144).
Moreover, the psalmist's smallness within society (141) undoubtedly reflects how he was mistreated by unrighteous rulers. Yet, by not forgetting the Lord's precepts (141b), the psalmist acknowledged Him as the righteous Ruler of all things. His enemies forgot the words of the true King (139), but the psalmist did not (141). If Jeremiah was the author, such an extended contrast makes perfect sense. There was no Old Testament prophet who was more despised and belittled (141) by earthly rulers than Jeremiah. His distress and anguish were great (143).
What is the Tsadde stanza (#18) like?
The psalmist was like a long-distance hiker crossing a ridge above the tree line on a cloudless summer day. The path was rocky and steep, especially in three spots (139, 141, 143). So he sensed a degree of danger (144b), but his sense of awe and delight were greater (140, 143). The air was pure and fresh (140), and it seemed like he could see forever (142, 144).
Above all, the absence of trees spoke to our hiker of the otherness of God. How could evil men forget the Lord and his word in such a place (139)? Perhaps it is because they come with sinful motives. Many climb so that they can look down on others rather than in order to look up to the righteous One. (This photo is of the Franconia Ridge in New Hampshire part of the Presidential Range.)
Therefore? -- When you are persecuted by or disappointed in earthly rulers or those over you in daily life, think of the Lord and his righteous, authoritative words. Remember the Lord Jesus who was despised and rejected, yet lives and shall rule righteously forever. Today's rocky road will not last forever!
The Qoph stanza is a downhill section since trouble is mentioned more than in the previous stanza. (See the graph.) Yet, the psalmist did not fall head-over-heals downhill. His emotional cries for deliverance in the first two verses are balanced by his confident calm in the final two verses. Despite the trouble, he was balanced.
Psalm 119:145 I cried with my whole heart; hear me, O LORD: I will keep your statutes. 146 I cried to you; save me, and I shall keep your testimonies. 147 I go before the dawning of the morning, and cry: I hope in your word. 148 My eyes go before the night watches, that I might meditate in your word. 149 Hear my voice according to your lovingkindness: O LORD, preserve my life according to your judgment. 150 They draw near [those] who follow after a wicked plan: they are far from your law. 151 Near YOU [are], O LORD; and all your commandments are truth. 152 Concerning your testimonies, I have known [of] old that you have founded them forever.
The stanza is emotional and loud since the psalmist cried out to the Lord in four verses (145, 146, 147, 149). Yet, the psalmist also quietly meditated in the word of the Lord (148) as hehad done for years (152). Thus his devotional life was balanced. He made his personal needs and troubles known in prayer, but he also sought to know the Lord betterl. Though those who devised a wicked plan drew near to harm him (150), their attack was overshadowed by the Lord's nearness (151).
What is the Qoph stanza (#19) like?
In hiking, descents are often more dangerous than assents. Likewise, it is especially important to be well-balanced spiritually when confronting the wicked (150). So in verses 145-152 the psalmist was like a hiker carefully descending a slope. Biblical hikers do not hop down hills on one foot! So the psalmist meditated on God's word as well as cried out for protection. His bottom lines in verses 151-152 are about Lord's unchanging stability which was key to the psalmist's balance.
Therefore? -- A balance devotional life (148-149) brings stability to all of life. It helps us realize that the Lord is near, when the wicked begin to draw near (150-151). Is my devotional life calm as well as energetic? Is it prayerful as well as biblical? If not, I am like a hiker foolishly trying to hop down a mountain side (or pose for a photo) on one foot.
In addition, hiking poles are very helpful when descending, and Bible studies and prayer meetings in a good church help our stability as well. Sadly, the psalmist was mostly alone. So it was very difficult for him. Likewise, the present pandemic isolates many believers today. Yet, God has not changed (152).
The psalmist's enemies are prominent in this stanza, since they are mentioned often and referred to in various ways. He referred to them as the wicked (155), my persecutors (157), my enemies (157), and the traitors (158). These terms are all plural, and they were many (157). No wonder then, that in this stanza the psalmist three times prayed for his life to be preserved (154, 156, 159). He was in grave danger. Yet he also knew that the Lord saw him (153, 159). Notice that the Hebrew verb "to see" is the first-in-verse term in verses 153, 158, and 159.
Psalm 119:153 Consider [See] my affliction, and deliver me: for I do not forget your law. 154 Plead my cause, and deliver me: preserve my life according to your word. 155 Salvation is far from the wicked: for they seek not your statutes. 156 Great [many] are your tender mercies, O LORD: preserve my life according to your judgments. 157 Many are my persecutors and my enemies; yet do I not turn from your testimonies. 158 I beheld [saw] the traitors, and was grieved; because they kept not your word. 159 Consider [see] how I love your precepts: preserve my life, O LORD, according to your lovingkindness. 160 The sum of your word is true: and every one of your righteous judgments endures forever.
What is the Resh stanza (#20) like?
As always, the psalmist was like a faithful hiker who stays on the appointed path and loves doing so (153b, 157b, 159a), but in this stanza much of the focus is on those who did not. They did not simply get lost or leave the trail because of personal weakness or ignorance, however. That would not have been so bad (130). They deliberately went a different way (155, 158) and attacked our faithful "hiker" as they did so. Thus they were like belligerent and dangerous people who live near a hiking trail but hate hikers.
That said, the last two verses are positive, because the psalmist was like a long-distance hiker who continued to love the trail (158a) despite being hated and threatened by many. They were traitors (158), but he was not (159-160). Moreover, the Lord was on his side like a righteous Judge (160b) and sympathetic Lawyer (154, 1 John 2:1).
This all makes wonderful sense, if Jeremiah is the author of Psalm 119. He was accused of being a traitor, but it was the ruling elite and the false prophets who were the real traitors who caused the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. There is more about false prophets and wicked kings in Jeremiah than in the wirings of any other prophet, and this fits perfectly with what the psalmist said in this stanza.
Therefore? -- We should expect opposition from those who are more focused on power and money than on the way of truth. In fact, we should loath such (158). Yet, at the same time, we must love and trust the Lord and his word (159). When under attack like the psalmist, we need a positive, biblical bottom line like verse 160.
The persecution in the previous stanza (153-160) is mentioned briefly in verse 161, but most of the Shin stanza is positive. Even waiting for salvation in verse 166 is positive in the sense that deliverance was fully expected. So the psalmist did not ask the Lord to preserve his life or even for anything else in these eight verses. (The only other stanza without a petition is Mem, 97-104.) Instead of persecution or petitions, rejoicing (162), praise (165), and love for the Lord's teaching (163, 165, 167) stand out in the Shin stanza.
Psalm 119:161 Princes have persecuted me without a cause: but my heart stands in awe of your word. 162 I rejoice at your word, as one who finds great spoil. 163 I hate and abhor lying: but your law do I love. 164 Seven times a day do I praise you, because of your righteous judgments. 165 Great peace have they who love your law: and nothing shall offend [stumble] them. 166 LORD, I have hoped [waited] for your salvation, and I have done your commandments. 167 My soul has kept your testimonies; and I love them exceedingly. 168 I have kept your precepts and your testimonies: for all my ways are before your.
Perhaps the key thing to notice in this stanza is that the last two verses both begin with the psalmist declaring that he has kept or keeps the Lord's testimonies. He had remained loyal to the Lord, and his declarations of love in 167 and verse 163 were declarations of loyalty. He did not claim to be sinless (176), but his heart was right with God (161b).
In line with this, the psalmist humbly refrained from directly including himself with those who had great peace in verse 165, just like he did not claim to be one of those who are blessed in verses one and two. Yet, in the final Aleph verse (8), the psalmist promised to keep the Lord's statutes, and, in the final Shin verses (167-168), he said that he was doing so or had done so. Thus, these stanzas seem to be closely linking.
What is the Shin stanza (#21) like?
In verses 161-168 (and especially in 167-168), the psalmist was like a long-distance hiker finishing the final climb on a very long trail. Like an honest and humble hiker, however, he admitted that the Lord had protected him and saved his life repeatedly along the way (166). So finishing the trail is more about divine salvation and deliverance than personal victory.
However, there are still eight more verses to go (169-176). So why does there seem to be an ending in 167-168? For more on this, see the next stanza.
TENSES & LIFE'S TERMINUS
Nearly all modern translations render the Hebrew perfect form of the verb "to keep" in 167 and 168 in simple present tense ("keep") rather than as present perfect ("has / have kept"). This is questionable for various reasons. Chief among them is the fact that the Hebrew perfect verb form still has a past tense aspect to it even when it involves the present as well. For sure, the psalmist did NOT say that he was keeping the Lord's testimonies at the present moment but had never done so previously.
The psalmist had set his heart to serve the Lord from at least verse eight onward. His enemies had not (155). Above all, the Shin stanza is about the psalmist's heart for God. He was a saved man who was committed to serving the Lord, and he had probably already done so for many years. Thus he was like Paul who said near the end of his life that he had kept the faith (2 Tim. 4:7). Paul was not an apostate, and neither was the psalmist. They both finished their God-appointed course.
Therefore? -- We should rejoice in the fact that the Lord leads, protects, and blesses those whose hearts are right with him. This includes rejoicing when a great and godly project—or a life of service for him (2 Tim. 4:7)—is completed. Yet, this must always be done with humility. (The final stanza is a humble and prayerful one.)
How did the psalmist (Jeremiah) survive? It was because the Lord had promised to deliver him from those who opposed him (Jer. 1:18-19), and this promise is probably referred to in verse 170, as well as in verses 25, 41, 58, 65, 76, 88, 107, 116, and 154. In fact, it probably upheld all or most of the psalmist's petitions in this stanza and others. Personal commitment and choice were also involved, according to verse 173.
Psalm 119:169 Let my cry come near before you, O LORD: give me understanding according to your word. 170 Let my supplication come before you: deliver me according to your word. 171 My lips shall utter praise, when you have taught me your statutes. 172 My tongue shall speak [sing] of your word: for all your commandments are righteousness. 173 Let your hand help me; for I have chosen your precepts. 174 I have longed for your salvation, O LORD; and your law is my delight. 175 Let my soul live, and it shall praise you; and let your judgments help me. 176 I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant; for I do not forget your commandments.
Aside from God's special promise, there are two grammatical reasons why there are many petitions and future oriented (shall...) statements in this stanza. First, when the letter Tau is attached to the front of a Hebrew verb stem it often turns it into a petition (as in 169, 170, 173, and 175). So when the psalmist thought of this letter he naturally thought about prayerful phrases. Second, when the letter Tau is attached to the front of a Hebrew verb it often becomes a "shall... " statement about future action, such as in verses 171 and 172. Translations vary in these verses, but either way the orientation of most lines in 169-175 is futuristic.
The psalmist may have been approaching the end of his life, as suggested by the way the previous stanza ends (167-168), but he was still alive and still had God's special promise of deliverance (170). Likewise, Paul also spoke of future actions and prayed in Second Timothy chapter four after declaring that he had kept the faith (2 Tim. 4:7). There were still things to do.
The final verse in Psalm 119 may be a humble summary of the psalmist's life. He had gone astray at times (176a, 67), but he never forsook his initial commitment to the Lord (176b, 8). He failed like Peter, but he was not like Judas.
What is the Tau stanza (#22) like?
In the final eight verses, the psalmist was like a long-distance hiker who was concerned about finishing well. In a way, he had already finished the course (167-168), like Paul said he had done (2 Tim. 4:7). Yet, the psalmist and Paul both still had things to do. So the psalmist prayed and Paul gave instructions to Timothy.
In addition, Paul went on to speak of receiving a righteous crown in 2 Tim. 4:8. Likewise, verses 171 and 172 have a heavenly, futuristic ring to them, especially in the King James and the New King James. The psalmist's lips and tongue would praise and sing God's word because of its righteousness. The psalmist may have been thinking about eternity as well as earthly ministry.
The ending is a humble one, however. Long-distance hikers often finish their hike by raising their hiking poles over their head in the shape of "V" for victory. The psalmist, however, looked back humbly at the end of his long journey and asked the Lord to seek him because he had strayed. The humility that the psalmist exibited at the beginning in verse five is still seen at the end in verse 176.
Therefore? -- We need to pay special attention to finishing well. This may involve mundane details as seen in Paul's final instructions to Timothy, but finishing what is really important by God's grace must be our goal. Above all, the bottom line in whatever is accomplished must be a humble one, since every servant of God has strayed to some extent, even the psalmist, Jeremiah (176).