What Is the Meaning of Psalm 119?

What is the meaning of Psalm 119?

If you peruse the first page of Google results, then you will come to the common understanding that Psalm 119 is about God’s word. For most modern day Christians, if the psalm is about God’s word, then that means Psalm 119 is ultimately about the Bible. Therefore, you often find statements like the following to explain the meaning of Psalm 119.

  1. The Bible, the word of God, is all sufficient.
  2. The truth of the Bible, God’s word, is reliable.
  3. God’s character is reflected through the Bible, his word.
  4. The Bible, God’s word, is authoritative.

Matthew Henry, who’s Bible commentary is exhaustive and found everywhere, said, “The general scope and design of this psalm is to magnify the Divine law and make it honourable.” For most modern day Christians, Divine law comes from the Old Testament, specifically the ten commandments. The law is often equated with Torah. We commonly think of Torah as law, but it is better thought of as the teaching of parents to their children.

In almost every verse of Psalm 119, there is a synonym for Torah. Roughly, there are ten different terms referring to Torah or the word of God throughout the psalm – law, way, testimonies, commandments, precepts, word, judgments, righteousness, statutes, and truth/faithfulness. Depending on your translation, you will also see the word ordinances.

According to Matthew Henry, Psalm 119 is an extended prayer or meditation that declares 1) Torah is to be held up as a source of blessing and right conduct and 2) the writer is dedicating himself to Torah. Today, this gets translated to the idea that the Old Testament, God’s law, more specifically the ten commandments, is a source of blessing and right conduct and we should dedicate ourselves to keeping the law, the ten commandments, and everything God said in the Old Testament.

But, as I read through Psalm 119 the other day, the Spirit showed me another way to read and understand the psalm. To read the psalm as the Spirit revealed to me requires two key points of understanding.

First, the Bible is not God’s word. Rather, Jesus is God’s word. My previous post, Do You Believe the Bible is God’s Word?, details my thinking on this. So, I will not rehash it here. Therefore, whenever we read “word” in Psalm 119 we should not think about the Old Testament or the Bible. Instead, we should think Jesus.

Second, 1 John 4.8 and both say, “God is love.” Note that nowhere in scripture does it say “God is law.”

Further, Matthew 22.35-40 says, “And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.'” Luke 10.25-28 records virtually the same exact exchange.

What is Jesus saying?

All of the law, the ten commandments, the Old Testament, and the Torah can be summed up in just one word – love! Love for God and love for neighbor are the only two commandments that Jesus ever gave. Amazingly, Jesus gave us two commandments and neither of them are from the ten commandments that Moses gave. (So instead of Christians posting the ten commandments in courthouses, schoolrooms and elsewhere, shouldn’t Christians simply post Jesus’ two commandments to love God and love neighbor as yourself?) Therefore, whenever we read one of those ten synonyms mentioned above in Psalm 119 for God’s word, law, or Torah, our minds should immediately turn to love.

Further, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. The way of Jesus, the way of God, is love. You can see how I understand the way is love in my post Creation: A Witness to Jesus. So, whenever see the word way in Psalm 119, our minds should turn to love.

The idea that love is the way tells us something about the false way and mentioned several times in Psalm 119 and the wicked and insolent who take it. 1 John 4.18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” Love casts out fear. When our way is motivated by love, fear cannot be a possible motivation for us. But, when we are not perfected by love, we are moving in the false way. Then, our actions are motivated by the false way of fear. Ultimately, it is fear that prevents us from loving God, ourselves, and our neighbor. Therefore, when we read “the false way” in Psalm 119 we can substitute fear.

As the Spirit showed me where to substitute Jesus, love, and fear into Psalm 119, I was overwhelmed with the length, height, breadth, and depth of God’s love. Below is the entirety of Psalm 119 as the Spirit revealed it to me. Read it and see how overwhelming and all-encompassing God’s love is.

Psalm 119

Blessed are those who love is blameless, who walk in the love of the Lord! Blessed are those who keep his love, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do not fear, but walk in his love! You have commanded your love to be kept diligently. Oh that my love may be steadfast in your keeping your love! Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all of your love. I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous love. I will keep your love; do not utterly forsake me!

How can a young man keep his love pure? By guarding it according to your love. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your love! I have stored Jesus Christ in my heart, that I might not fear you. Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your love! With my lips I declare all the love of your mouth. In the love of your love I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your love and fix my eyes on your love. I will delight in your love; I will not forget Jesus Christ.

Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your love. Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your love. I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not your love from me! My soul is consumed with longing for your love at all times. You rebuke the fearful ones, who wander from your love. Take away from me fear, for I have kept your love. Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your love. Your love is my delight; love is my counselor.

My soul clings to fear; give me life according to Jesus Christ! When I told of my fear, you answered me; teach me your love! Make me understand the love of your love, and I will meditate on your wondrous love. My soul melts away for fear; strengthen me according to Jesus Christ! Put fear far from me and graciously teach me your love! I have chosen the way of love; I set your love before me. I cling to your love, O Lord; let me not be put to fear! I will run in the love of your love when you enlarge my heart!

Teach me, O Lord, the love of your love; and I will keep love to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your love and observe love with my whole heart. Lead me in the love of your love, for I delight in love. Incline my heart to your love, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your love. Confirm to your servant life, that you may be held in awe. Turn away the fear that I dread, for your love is good. Behold, I long for your love; in your love give me life!

Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your life; then I shall have an answer for him who taunts me, for I trust in Jesus Christ. And take not Jesus Christ utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your love. I will keep your love continually, forever and ever, and I shall love in a wide place, for I have sought your love. I will also speak of your love before kings and shall not be put to fear, for I find my delight in your love, which I love. I will lift up my hands toward your love, which I love, and I will meditate on your love.

Remember Jesus Christ to your servant, in whom you have made me hope. He is my comfort in my fear, that your life gives me life. The fearful utterly deride me, but I do not turn away from your love. When I think of your love from of old, I take comfort, O Lord. How fear seizes me because of the wicked, who forsake your love. Your love has been my song in the house of my sojourning. I remember your name in the night, O Lord, and keep your love. This blessing has fallen to me, that I kept your love.

The Lord is my portion, I promise to keep your love. I entreat your favor with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your life. When I think on my fears, I turn my feet to your love; I hasten and do not delay to keep your love. Though the cords of the fearful ensnare me, I do not forget your love. At midnight I rise to praise you, because of your righteous love. I am a companion of all who are in awe of you, of those who keep your love. The earth, O Lord, is full of your steadfast love; teach me your love.

You have dealt well with your servant, O Lord, according to Jesus Christ. Teach me love and knowledge, for I believe in your love. Before I was afflicted I feared, but now I keep your love. You are good and do good; teach me your love. The fearful smear me with lies, but with my whole heart I keep your love; their heart is unfeeling like fat, but I delight in your love. It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your love. The love of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your love. Those who are in awe of you shall see me and rejoice, because I have hoped in Jesus Christ. I know, O Lord, that your love is righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your life to your servant. Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your love is my delight. Let the fearful be put to shame, because they have wronged me with falsehood; as for me, I will meditate on your love. Let those who are in awe of you turn to me, that they may know your love. May my heart be blameless in your love, that I may not be put to fear!

My soul longs for your salvation; I hope in Jesus Christ. My eyes long for your life; I ask, “When will you comfort me?” For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, yet I have not forgotten your love. How long must your servant endure? When will you judge those who persecute me? The fearful have dug pitfalls for me; they do not live according to your love. All your love is sure; the fearful persecute me with falsehood; help me! The fearful have almost made an end of me on earth, but I have not forsaken your love. In your steadfast love give me life, that I may keep the love of your mouth.

Forever, O Lord, Jesus Christ is firmly fixed in the heavens. Your love endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast. By your appointment they stand this day, for all things are your servants. If your love had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget your love, for by your love you have given me life. I am yours; save me, for I have sought your love. The fearful lie in wait to destroy me, but I consider your love. I have seen a limit to all perfection, but your love is exceedingly broad.

Oh how I love your love! It is my meditation all the day. Your love makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your love is my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your love. I hold back my feet from every fearful way, in order to keep Jesus Christ. I do not turn aside from your love, for you have taught me. How sweet is Jesus Christ to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your love I get understanding; therefore I hate every fearful way.

Jesus Christ is a lamp to my feet and a light to my love. I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to keep your righteous love. I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to Jesus Christ! Accept my freewill offerings of praise, O Lord, and teach me your love. I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your love. The fearful have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your love. Your love is my heritage forever, for your love is the joy of my heart. I incline my heart to perform your love forever, to the end.

I hate fearfulness, but I love your love. You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in Jesus Christ. Depart from me, you fearful, that I may keep the love of my God. Uphold me according to your life, that I may live, and let me not be put to fear in Jesus Christ! Hold me up, that I may be safe and have regard for your love continually! You spurn all who are fearful from your love, for their cunning is in vain. All the fearful of the earth you discard like dross, therefore I love your love. My flesh trembles for awe of you, and I am in awe of your love.

I have done what is just and right; do not leave me to my oppressors. Give your servant a pledge of good; let not the fearful oppress me. My eyes long for salvation and for the fulfillment of your righteous life. Deal with your servant according to your steadfast love, and teach me your love. I am your servant; give me understanding, that I may know your love! It is time for the Lord to act, for your love has been broken. Therefore I love your love above gold, above fine gold. Therefore I consider all your love to be right; I hate every fearful way.

Your love is wonderful; therefore my soul keeps your love. The unfolding of Jesus Christ gives light; he imparts understanding to the simple. I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your love. Turn to me and be gracious me, as is your love with those who love your name. Keep steady my steps according to your life, and let no iniquity get dominion over me. Redeem me from man’s oppression, that I may keep your love. Make your face shine upon your servant, and teach me your love. My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your love.

Righteous are you, O Lord, and right is your love. You have appointed your love in righteousness and in faithfulness. My zeal consumers me, because my foes forget Jesus Christ. Your life is well tried, and your servant loves it. I am small and despised, yet I do not forget your love. Your love is righteous forever, and your love is true. Trouble and anguish have found me out, but your love is my delight. Your love is righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live.

With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O Lord! I will keep your love. I call to you; save me, that I may observe your love. I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in Jesus Christ. My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your life. Hear my voice according to your steadfast love; O Lord, according to your love give me life. The fearful draw near who persecute me with evil purpose; the fearful are far from your love. But you are near, O Lord, and all your love is true. Long have I known from your love that you have founded love forever.

Look on my affliction and deliver me, for I do not forget your love. Plead my cause and redeem me; give me life according to your life! Salvation is far from the fearful, for the fearful do not seek your love. Great is your mercy, O Lord; give me life according to your love. Many are my persecutors and my adversaries, but I do not swerve from your love. I look at the fearful with disgust, because they do not keep your love. The sum of Jesus Christ is truth, and every bit of your love ensures forever.

Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of Jesus Christ. I rejoice at Jesus Christ like one who finds great spoil. I hate and abhor fear, but I love your love. Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous love. Great peace have those who love your love; nothing can make them fear. I hope for your salvation, O Lord, and I do your love. My soul keeps your love; I love it exceedingly. I keep your love, for all my fears are before you.

Let my cry come before you, O Lord; give me understanding according to Jesus Christ! Let my plea come before you; deliver me according to Jesus Christ. My lips will pour forth praise, for you teach me your love. My tongue will sing of Jesus Christ, for all your love is right. Let your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your love. I long for your salvation, O Lord, and your love is my delight. Let my soul live and praise you, and let your love help me. I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your love.

Love: Everything Depends on It

TODAY’S READING: PSALM 119

Psalm 119 is all about God’s law, commandments, rules, precepts, testimonies, statutes, and words.

Or is it?

As I was reading the psalm this morning, the Holy Spirit impressed upon me that Psalm 119 is all about love.

“God is love.” – 1 John 4:8

How do we know God is love? What makes God’s love real to us?

“God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” – 1 John 4:9

Psalm 119 states a connection between life and God’s law, commandments, rules, precepts, testimonies, statutes, and words.

“Give me life according to your word.” – verse 25

“Give me life in your ways.” – verse 37

“I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life.” – verse 93

“Give me life according to your rules.” – verse 156

But, we saw in 1 John 4 that we live when God’s love is manifested to us when Jesus laid down his life for us on the cross. We live when we come to know that God’s law, commandments, rules, precepts, testimonies, statutes, and words are all about laying down your life for the benefit of another. That is love.

In Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus showed the relationship between love and law.

“And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. this is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.'”

Jesus said everything depends, or hangs, on love. Love is the single principle that holds the creation together.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” – 1 John 4:18

Fear, not hate, is the opposite of love. We fear that we will be without what we need or want. This fear then propels us to act like Satan – lying and doing violence. James 4:2 says, “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.”

Fear is the emotion that drives all lying and violence in the world. But, there is no fear in love and perfect love casts out all fear.

Therefore, in Matthew 5:43-44, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

When you no longer fear that you will be without what you need or want, then you are able to love your enemies. You are no longer desiring and coveting what they have. Instead, you are willing to lose everything that you have so that your enemy will be loved.

Therefore, in Matthew 16:25, Jesus said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

We try to save our life by holding on to whatever we have through lies and violence. This is the way of Satan’s kingdom and the world. But, if we lose our life, that is if we let go of protecting everything we have through lies and violence, then we find life. Then we know the love of God and can live.

The more I spend time with Jesus and the scriptures, the more I understand that salvation is not going to heaven. Salvation is freedom from the slavery of the fear of death. The fear of death leads us to act through all manner of lies and violence. But, salvation is the freedom to live through love. Salvation is to no longer protect my life and my possessions through lies and violence.

With this understanding of law, commandments, etc. depending on love and salvation as the freedom from lies and violence to love, even your enemies, Psalm 119 has some interesting revelation on how Jesus lived and how we are live like him.

“Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes.” – Psalm 119:23

Jesus’ enemies were continually plotting against him, but he meditated on God’s love. Jesus never considered lies and violence toward his enemies because he was always meditating on God’s love.

“Put false ways far from me and graciously teach me your law!” – Psalm 119:29

False ways are lying and violence. We need to pray that all lying and violence – no exceptions – would be far from us. And, we need to pray that God would teach us his love.

“Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise; then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me; for I trust in your word.” – Psalm 119:41-42

When we have God’s promised salvation, the freedom to love with no need for lies and violence, then, and only then, can we respond to our enemies with love. It’s when we are free from lies and violence that we can repay evil with good instead of evil with evil as the world does.

“The insolent utterly deride me, but I do not turn away from your law.” – Psalm 119:51

In our flesh, when someone really gets on us, we want to get back at them in an equal manner through some sort of lie or violence. But, Jesus never did that. He never did because even when the ridicule of his enemies was at its worst – if you are the son of God then take yourself down from the cross – he did not turn away from God’s love.

There are many, many more instances in Psalm 119 where replacing law, commandments, rules, precepts, testimonies, statutes, and words with love and salvation with freedom from lies and violence reveal deeper insight about how we are to be conformed to the image of Jesus.

Psalm 119 – Read by Replacing Word, Law, Rules, etc. with Jesus

Psalm 119 is well known as it is the psalm about God’s law and God’s word. Like the other psalms, I can and do read it as Jesus praying to the Father. Read in this way it gives us a beautiful picture of how Jesus Christ was able to do God’s will at all times.

But, there’s another way to read this psalm. For, what is God’s law? What is God’s word?

One understanding of the Hebrew for law is “the entire body of prophetic teaching.” In Romans 10:4, the ESV says, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” What does “end” mean? That it’s over, done? Hardly, in one sense at least. In Matthew 5:17, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish them, but to fulfill them.” So, “Christ is the end of the law” means he is the fulfillment of it. Other translations of Romans 10:4 say that  “Christ is the culmination of the law” or “the Messiah is the consummation of the written law for righteousness.” When we are talking about the law, we are talking about Jesus.

Today, we get confused that God’s word is the Bible. It is not. God’s word is Jesus Christ. John 1:1-2 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” Was the Bible in the beginning with God? No, but Jesus was. John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt [tabernacled] amongst us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Note how the Word is talked about as a person, using the personal pronoun he. In fact, the whole New Testament makes it clear that Jesus is the word of God and not the Bible or the scriptures.

I write all of this to say that this morning I read Psalm 119 in a different way than I have before. I replace every mention of the law, rules, precepts, commandments, etc. and the word with Jesus. Wow! Let me give you an example below, starting at the beginning of the psalm.

“Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in Jesus! Blessed are those who keep Jesus, who seek Jesus with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in Jesus! You commanded Jesus be kept diligently. Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping Jesus! Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on Jesus. I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn Jesus. I will keep Jesus; do not utterly forsake me.”

Do that all the way through and see how great, how important, how magnificent, how wonderful, how marvelous, how glorious is Jesus Christ!