We studied Psalm 119 in our homeschool last fall and attempted to memorize parts of it. I thought I would collect some of the links and facts I learned about the longest psalm here so that I can refer back to these things.
1. It takes about 15 minutes to read aloud or recite the entire 176 verses of Psalm 119.
2. The Psalms are numbered differently in the Catholic (Douay) translation of the Bible which was translated from the Septuagint and takes its numbering. In Douay, this psalm is Psalm 118.
3. There are 22 times 8, or 176 verses in Psalm 119.
4. There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, and Psalm 119 is divided into 22 sections or stanzas.
5. Some people think that 176 different people wrote one verse each to compile the Psalm during the exile about 450 B.C. Other people think that the priest/prophet Ezra wrote all of Psalm 119.
6. The first letter of the Hebrew alphabet is aleph. Verses 1-8 all begin with aleph. Other than verse 115, the first three verses of the psalm are the only ones not spoken directly to God. They are the introduction.
7. Beth is the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Verses 9-16 all begin with beth. Beth also means “house” in Hebrew. We can make our heart a home for God’s word.
8. Psalm 119 may have been written as an acrostic poem so that it would be easier to memorize.
9. The Ortodox have a tradition that King David used this psalm to teach his young son Solomon the alphabet—–but not just the alphabet for writing letters: the alphabet of the spiritual life. They believe that Psalm 119 is a psalm written by David.
10. The name of God (Yahweh/Jehovah) appears twenty-four times in Psalm 119.
11. Psalm 119 is recited or read with special solemnity at Orthodox funeral services and on the various All-Souls Days occurring throughout the year, with “Alleluia” chanted between each verse.
12. In Orthodox monasteries Psalm 119 is read daily at the Midnight Office: “At midnight I arose to give thanks unto Thee for the judgments of Thy righteousness” (v. 62).
13. Eight Hebrew words are used to refer to God’s Word in Psalm 119.
14. The first word is promise or word, dabar in Hebrew, used 24 times: it means God’s spoken, revealed word.
15. The second word is saying, imrah in Hebrew, used 19 times: this is another way to say word, anything God has spoken, commanded or promised.
16. The third word is statutes, chuqqim, used 21 times: these are the rules that God gave to His people early in their history. It can be translated “laws”.
17. The fourth word is judgments, mishpatim, used 23 times: a later word for statutes, can be translated as judgements or rules or rulings.
18. The fifth word is law, torah, used 25 times: this means the first 5 books of the Bible. Later it included other books like Isaiah and Jeremiah. It is translated as “law” or “teaching” or even “revelation”.
19. The sixth word is commands, miswah/miswot, used 22 times: what someone with authority (God) tells you to do, orders.
20. The seventh word is precepts, piqqudim, used 21 times: these give us help when we want to know what to do. This word is sometimes translated as “guidelines” or “instructions” in Psalm 119.
21. The eighth word is testimonies, eduth, used 23 times: these are the things that God tells us to do. Related to the word “witness”, keeping His testimonies means being loyal to the covenant or promise that God has made with us.
22. Way and path both mean the same thing in the psalm. They mean: what we do in our lives. Our way can be good or bad. If we obey Psalm 119, our way will be good. Jesus said, “I am the way” (John 14:6). If we obey Jesus, our way will be good. In Acts 9:2, “in the way” is another name for “being a Christian”.
23. Psalm 119:89 is a popular Nigerian praise song.
25. Psalm 119 is used in Jewish tradition to celebrate Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).
26. Psalm 119 is a prayer that includes many different elements, including prayers of praise (45-48), lament (81-88), vindication (132-134), obedience (57-64), and petitions for wisdom (33-40).
27. Charles Spurgeon liked this Psalm so much, he said, “we might do well to commit it to memory.”
28. “The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express the same delight in God which made David dance.” ~C.S. Lewis
29. The actual author of Psalm 119 is unknown.
30. Verses 14, 72, 83, 119, 127, 162, and 176 contain similes comparing one thing to another like thing.
31. Some great people have memorized this whole Psalm and found great blessing in doing so: John Ruskin (19th century British writer), William Wilberforce (19th century British politician who led the movement to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire), Henry Martyn (19th century pioneer missionary to India), and David Livingstone (19th century pioneer missionary to Africa).
32. George Wishart was the Bishop of Edinburgh in the 17th century (not to be confused with another Scot by the same name who was martyred a century earlier). Wishart was condemned to death and would have been executed. But when he was on the scaffold he made use of a custom that allowed the condemned person to choose one psalm to be sung, and he chose Psalms 119:1-176. Before two-thirds of the psalm was sung, his pardon arrived and his life was spared.
33. He is the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and it is used at the beginning of verbs to make them causative. So the prayers in this section (five) are stated, “Cause me to learn” and “Cause me to understand” and “Cause me to walk” and so forth.
34. “Blaise Pascal, the brilliant French philosopher and devout Christian, loved Psalm 119. He is another person who memorized it, and he called verse 59 ‘the turning point of man’s character and destiny.’ He meant that it is vital for every person to consider his or her ways, understand that our ways are destructive and will lead us to destruction, and then make an about-face and determine to go in God’s ways instead.” (Boice)
35. The yodh stanza (ten) represents the small Hebrew letter Jesus referred to as a “jot” in Matthew 5:18 : “Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”
36. “Kaph is a curved letter, similar to a half circle, and it was often thought of as a hand held out to receive some gift or blessing . . . He holds out his hand toward him [God] as a suppliant.” (Boice)
37. We are held up and supported by the word of God.
Uphold me according to Your word, that I may live. Psalm 119:116
“In the Middle Ages, under the monastic order of the Benedictines, when a novice’s period of preparation was ended and he was ready to become attached to the monastery for life, there was an induction ceremony in which, with outstretched arms, the novice recited Psalms 119:116 three times . . . The community repeated the words and then sang the Gloria Patri, which was a way of acknowledging that the commitments of the monastic life could only be sustained by God, to whom all glory belongs.” (Boice)
38. The Masorites said that the Word of God is mentioned in every verse except Psalm 119:122. Other people reckon differently (with disagreement about verses 84, 90, 121, and 132). But Scripture is mentioned in at least 171 of 176 verses.
39. There have been many lengthy works written on this Psalm, including one by Thomas Manton, a Puritan preacher and writer, who wrote a three-volume work on Psalm 119.
40. Persecution and suffering in the life of a follower of God’s law is a major theme of Psalm 119.
41. The psalm opens with beatitudes. “Blessed” are those whose ways are blameless, who live according to God’s law, who keep His statutes and seek Him with all their heart.
42. John Calvin preached 22 sermons (one for each stanza) from Psalm 119.
43. Charles Spurgeon lists eight marks of true love for God’s Word: 1)reverence for the authority of God’s Word, 2)admiration for its holiness, 3)jealousy for its honor, 4)respect for all that it says, 5)diligence in the study of it, 6)eager desire to obey it, 7)readiness to praise it, 8)great desire to share it with others.
44. The average Bible reader spends less time in the word of God each day than he spends watching the commercials in a thirty minute television program.
45. Psalm 119 is approximately the same length as the books of Ruth, James or Philippians.
46. Psalm 119 is not the psalmist telling me how much I should love God’s word. Instead it’s the psalmist telling all of us how much he has come to love God’s word. It’s a prayer of praise for the sweetness, value, and delight of God’s word.
47. Hymns based on verses from Psalm 119 are Open My Eyes That I May See (Clara Scott), For the Beauty of the Earth (Folliott Sandford Pierpoint), Break Thou The Bread of Life (Mary Lathbury), Lord Keep Us Steadfast in Thy Word (Martin Luther/Catherine Winkworth), and Wonderful Words of Life (Philip Bliss).
48. “”I have hidden your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:11. The Word, locked up in the heart—is a preservative against sin. As one would carry an antidote with him when he comes near an infected place—so David carried the Word in his heart as a sacred antidote to preserve him from the infection of sin.” ~Thomas Watson
49. “Beware of slighting, despising, or neglecting the Bible.
Read it daily,
pray over it incessantly, and
meditate on what it reveals continually!” ~James Smith, The Way of Salvation Set Forth
His delight is in the law of the LORD, and on His law he meditates day and night! Psalm 1:2
50. The Gospel in Psalm 119 by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. “Making resolutions is not sufficient to meet the standard. . . His law is holy and good and righteous; it is pure, but we can’t keep it. Even when we make resolutions, we can’t keep it. We don’t keep it. We can’t. We’re not able to serve the Lord. We are failures, and that comes out in Psalm 119. . . . We need the divine enabling and power of Jesus. He is our righteousness; He is the only one who has fulfilled God’s law.”