Wednesday of Epiphany 6 – Psalm 119:1-8

Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
    who walk in the law of the Lord!
Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
    who seek him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong,
    but walk in his ways!
You have commanded your precepts
    to be kept diligently.
Oh that my ways may be steadfast
    in keeping your statutes!
Then I shall not be put to shame,
    having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.
I will praise you with an upright heart,
    when I learn your righteous rules.
I will keep your statutes;
    do not utterly forsake me!

I find the reading of the psalter sometimes to be a confusing exercise. This is only more so when I slow down and try do so seriously. But when I do so, I am always rewarded. These words are the first section of the longest chapter in all the Bible, Psalm 119. It is a long reflection on the Torah, the first five books of Moses and the teaching of God. The psalmist seems to love the laws of God. I wonder if we would not have diagnosed a psychological problem with this fellow today. We might put him on medication of some sort. But that would be a mistake. He is not neurotic or psychotic, he is profound and filled with the Spirit of God.

He has ordered this amazing poem as an acrostic. The 8 verses of each section begin with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet. I think that order and structure is vitally important to reading this long poem. The author is inviting us to look at patterns and development within this beautiful psalm. Consider these words before us. Read them carefully, slowly. Notice how the emotional tenor of the psalmist changes from beginning to end of these 8 verses. The beginning is sure and bold. It speaks words of blessing upon those who keep the Law of God. In verse 4, however, if we read carefully, there is a shift in emphasis. God has commanded that His precepts be observed, but this prompts a question: have we observed them? In verse 5 the psalmist prays and longs that his ways be steadfast. In verse six, he admits that this is a future event, “then I shall not be put to shame…”

It is verse 8, however, that really grabs us. The psalmist says that he will keep God’s statutes. But then he begs God not to utterly forsake him. He knows he does observe the Torah perfectly, not now. He will someday, but now he really needs God not to forsake him. That is a cry for mercy and grace from the Lord.

God’s Ten Commandments, His laws, Jesus’ call to love our neighbor and our enemy, can sometimes feel like a terrible burden laid upon us. We also need God’s help. But one day, by His help, those commandments, those words of Jesus, all the Laws of God will describe us perfectly and joyfully. The psalmist sees that day and rejoices with us.