Nowhere in scripture will you find more attention and greater praise for the written word of God than in Psalm 119. While those familiar with Bible trivia immediate recognize it as the longest chapter in the Bible, totaling one hundred seventy-six verses, the power and beauty of this psalm lie in its detailed insight into the value of God’s word. Divided into twenty-two sections of eight verses a piece following the Hebrew alphabet and basing every line within each section on the corresponding letter, the psalm displays a brilliant aspect of ancient poetry. However, without any doubt, its content more than its style cause the godly heart to sing. Most assume that David penned this ode to written revelation; however, the focus, placement among the psalms, and limited situational references all point to the time following Judah’s return from Babylonian captivity when the rebuilding of the temple coincided with renewed attention to the Law amidst adversity and controversy. If so, the scriptures still offer a hint regarding its potential authorship: “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). The same verbs emphasized in this one verse—seek, do, and teach—demonstrate the same themes that recur throughout this powerful poem, which I encourage you to read in its entirety before continuing. Regardless of the authorship, the content deserves great attention and appreciation for its sublime description of the purpose of studying God’s word.
While various descriptions of God’s word dominate this psalm, its purpose lies not in emphasizing spiritual learning but spiritual living. The psalmist interweaves his love for the word of God, his learning the word of God, and his living the word of God throughout the psalm, all in the process of seeking God, honoring God, and obeying God. Thus, these concepts do not exist independently of one another but rather coalesce to present a unified whole. This should affect how God’s people see God’s word and the role it should play in their lives. For the psalmist, seeking God and living according to what God revealed are part of the same process. The word deserves the utmost attention, respect, admiration, care, and love we can muster precisely because of Who gave it to us. While God introduces the extent of His power and providential care through creation, He reveals His mind, His purpose, and His heart through His word. It serves as the gateway to knowing Him and then also knowing how to please Him. God’s word guides us through life, away from sin, and to the LORD. The word of God opens a window into wisdom far above our own experience that provides insight into the nature of life and into our own soul. It offers a perspective for our existence that lifts us up when we are down, humbles us when we forget our place, and gives strength in times of weakness—not due to offering cliches and feel good stories, but by drawing man closer to His Creator. However, all of inspiration benefits us none whatsoever unless we are willing to spend time, thought, and energy contemplating not only the meaning and wisdom of divine precepts but also considering the God who gave them. Our God does not call on His people to understand His will in some academic fashion; He gave us His word to affect our will so that we submit to His will.
Every aspect of studying God’s word should ultimately focus on living in a way that brings us closer to God. And yet, in today’s world, people seem unaware that obeying what God has revealed is the pathway to that closer relationship. In fact, some speak as if the Bible is an impediment to people’s love for God, as if doctrinal faithfulness and precise obedience—both direct responses to God’s will—somehow diminish joy, hope, and love. We should all adopt the psalmist’s point of view. For him, the word of God was not an impersonal document loaded with burdensome regulations and restrictions. Instead, he allowed himself to embrace its content as though feeling the breath of God as He spoke. Thus, the word was not an impersonal barrier but an essential bridge, making it possible for God’s heart and wisdom to affect our own and so change our lives completely through our obedience. If this is not the end in mind when we study God’s word, we are doing it wrong.