In a three-part series on approaching Psalm 119, I’ve considered the composition of the Psalm. The way it navigates through the alphabet indicates the totally sufficiency found for God’s people in the Word. And I have considered the kinds of words the Psalm ties together to describe the Scriptures, denoting its absolute truth predicated on the authority of God.
Another feature to note about Psalm 119 is its placement in the psalter—and how that placement teaches a practice of preparing for worship through the Word. As I understand it, the book of Psalms was compiled with an inspired editor; it is organized into books and has a true introduction and also an intentional flow.
Recalling the First Psalm
Psalm 119 recalls the first Psalm—the introduction to the psalter. Read Psalm 1:1-2 and Psalm 119:1 together:
“Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on His law he meditates day and night.”
“Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the LORD!”
Psalm 119 expounds upon a purpose statement Psalm 1 gives of living according to the law of God. In this sense, the content of Psalm 119 can be overlaid across every Psalm. As writers are crying out for God in their suffering, worshiping Him, declaring who He is, singing His praise, and petitioning for His help—every hope, joy, comfort, and help proclaimed comes back to this basis of submission to and dependence upon the Scriptures. Psalm 119 follows after Psalm 1, amplifying this introduction.
Preparatory for Worship
Dr. Peter Lillbach teaches that Psalm 119’s placement especially has significance for the Psalms following it. Psalm 120 starts the “Songs of Ascent.” Three times per year, the Israelites would worship at the temple. These Songs of Ascent were sung on the way up Mount Zion. Psalm 119, the Psalm about God’s Word, can be viewed as the preparatory foundation leading to these times of scheduled worship.
Scripture holds promises to believe in and be encouraged by; it also holds instructions for conviction and conformity to God’s ways and thought as we seek to think His thoughts after Him and to obey. Our status as God’s true children, by grace, can never change, like the Word never changes. Having that confidence in God’s grace provides strength and perspective for heeding our warnings in Scripture and adjusting as needed. Psalm 66:17-18 teaches that if a person is unwilling to forsake and fight sin, God does not hear his or her worship.
“I cried to Him with my mouth,
and high praise was on my tongue.
If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.”
Carefully Kept, as with Tender Plants
Yet, Psalm 119 teaches that those who keep His testimonies—who cherish them and collect them closely as treasures—are blessed in the worship of God.
“Blessed are those who keep His testimonies,
who seek Him with their whole heart,”
While keeping in the Word as a receiver of God’s great grace and, thus, a humble learner, the human spirit is continually realigned to rejoice in the truth and hate what is false. Paul Bayne writes of the word “keep” in Psalm 119:2, “The word here used signifieth such a careful custody as that is wherewith we use to keep tender plants” (quoted by Charles Spurgeon). This tending work of preparation for worship lasts all of earthly life. That can be a discouraging truth, yes. On this earth, I will never be all I desire to be. But it is also a joy-filled message. For there is always more truth to learn and more of God to know, love, and honor. Carefully growing, watering, and feeding the heart and mind in such a way that His testimonies, precepts, ways, commandments, and Word thrive within is certainly worthy of a blessed lifetime of effort and humble, needy submission.
When walking in purity—opposing known sin, striving to hate all that God hates, and love all He loves—goodness, joy, and blessing ensue. It seems to follow from Psalm 66:17-18 that on this path, worshipers are heard by the Lord (cf. Rom. 12:1). And, best of all, God is extolled in all of His purity, holiness, and truth. For through submitting to the Word, His people acknowledge how important these characteristics and values are to Him—the Alpha and Omega who has spoken in law, testimonies, precepts, statutes, commandments, rules, way, and word.
“I will praise You with an upright heart,
when I learn Your righteous rules.”