So Long

Psalm 119 is so long.
It’s 5 months of study long.
It’s 98 blog posts long.
It’s 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet long.
It’s 47,725 words of reflection long.
It almost outlasted a pandemic.
Psalm 119 is a long song.

My thumbs need a rest so I’m going to say
“So Long”
for a couple of weeks.
Thanks for joining me on this amazing journey.
I hope we all come back to Psalm 119 someday
and remember this sweet time in the Word.
And find more treasure.
There’s always more.

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Y is for Yes

Another one of David’s favorite phrases in Psalm 119 was “according to your promise.” When David read the Torah, he saw loads of promises, and he wasn’t shy about reminding God about them.

“Be gracious to me, according to your promise.” (V. 58)
“Comfort me, according to your promise.” (V. 76)
“Sustain me, according to your promise.” (V. 116)
“Preserve my life, according to your promise.” (V. 154)
“Deliver me, according to your promise.” (V. 170)

Along with all the “regular” promises, God made David a “special” promise. In fact, it’s called the “Davidic Covenant”. It went something like this: “David, I promise you that the Messiah, the Savior of the world, My Son, will come through your family line and He will be a King over My Kingdom forever. There are no conditions on this promise, it’s all on Me. You can’t screw it up. Signed, God.”

David had his eye on his son Solomon, wondering if his boy was the fulfillment of that promise. God had His eye on His Son, Jesus, who would come from David’s line one thousand years later. Jesus came the first time to suffer and die. He will come again one of these days to rule and reign.

We have a promise-keeping God. How many promises did God make, exactly? Well, that depends on who you ask. According to Everet R. Storms, there are 7,487 promises in the Bible. (He counted them on his 27th time reading through the Bible.) Biblegateway.com tallies 5,467 divine promises. Another source counts 3,573. But you know what? It doesn’t matter! God knows and He can’t screw it up.

David stood on the promise God made him. We also stand on a whole boat-load of promises. The reason we can be sure about every single one is because of 2 Corinthians 1:20. (And now I’m finally getting to my favorite word.)

“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.”

yes

Me: Is it true that if I lack wisdom, I can ask and it will be given?
Jesus: Yes!

Me: Will You really work all things together for good?
Jesus: Yes!

Me: If I resist the devil, will he actually run away from me?
Jesus: Yes!

Me: If I confess my sins, will you truly forgive me and purify me?
Jesus: Yes!

7,483 to go….

My favorite word in the Bible that starts with Y is YES.

Tav

Tav is the twenty-second and final letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Tav (also written as “Taw”) has the same sound as “t” as in “tall”. Every line in Psalm 119:169-176 starts with this letter. Tav looks like this:

taw

The word Tav means “mark” or “seal” or “sign”. In the earliest Hebrew script, the letter tav was the shape of a cross, much like our English letter “t”.

tav

The last letter of the Aleph-Bet reveals Jesus in a powerful way. The first letter, “Aleph”, showed the God-man who came to be a bridge between heaven and earth. That bridge came in the shape of a cross, or “tav”. Jesus’ death on a cross was foreshadowed in the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. He is the Alpha and Omega, the Aleph and Tav.

When Aleph-Tav is seen together in one word in Hebrew scripture, it’s like a verification signature or seal of the Author. It appears in significant places in the Bible, but because it is not translatable, it is overlooked in our English translations. But the combination of Aleph-Tav is all over the Old Testament, about 7,000 times! The combination of the two letters is even found in the very first verse of the Bible, Genesis 1:1. The message of Jesus’ coming to earth and His death on the cross is embedded in the dawn of creation!

The word “tav” can be found in Ezekiel 9:4, where God put a mark (tav) on the foreheads of the people who opposed the worship of idols. The death angel was told, “Do not come near anyone who has the mark.” This same idea is in Revelation 22:4, “They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” Some believe that mark will be the Hebrew letters Aleph and Tav.

Tav also stands for “truth”.
The Hebrew word for truth is “emet” which is spelled
Aleph (The Creator)
+
Mem (gives His life)
+
Tav (on the cross).

The gospel is also easily seen in the word “Torah”,
which is spelled
Tav (the cross)
+
Vav (the nail)
+
Resh (the Captain, or Leader)
+
Hey (Behold!).

tavdagesh

Next: My favorite word in the Bible that starts with Y.

Long Song Study, part Y

Sprinkled throughout the 119th Psalm is a phrase that David used often and it’s here in the last section twice: “according to your word”. That’s a good way to sum up David’s heart’s desire — he wanted to live his life in accordance with God’s Word. “According to” means “in agreement with”. This favorite phrase of David’s reminds us that a life of faith is agreeing with God more and arguing with God less.

Verse 169
Let my cry come before you, O Lord;
give me understanding according to your word!
We don’t know if David was aware that this was his final entry in his long song. We also don’t know how old David was as he penned these words. Certainly he was an older man at this point, yet he was still crying out to God and asking for understanding. Not all cries are in desperation — the word used here can also mean “shouts of joy, singing, gladness”. That exclamation point might indicate a triumphant cry!
None of us will get everything all figured out this side of eternity. Albert Einstein said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” The key is to continue to seek understanding according to the Word. “To be given understanding means more than to be given cognitive content, it means to be changed inside.” (Christopher Ash)

Verse 170
Let my plea come before you;
deliver me according to your word.
David spent his whole life coming to God with his requests and he had seen the hand of God move on his behalf in mighty ways. Coming to the Lord for help was nothing new for David; it was completely natural for him. We shouldn’t expect to “out-grow” our need for God’s help. In fact, challenges often increase as we age, so developing the holy habit of coming before God with our needs is wise. 

Verse 171
My lips will pour forth praise,
for you teach me your statutes.
David followed his two prayer requests with two promises. The first was to praise God, out loud and profusely. The Hebrew word for “pour forth” means “to gush, blurt, flow abundantly”. After laying out his requests, David went directly into praise, probably before the understanding and deliverance arrived. This was also his holy habit — so many of his songs gush with exultant adoration. Again, it was natural for his lips to pour forth praise because it had been his life-long practice.

Verse 172
My tongue will sing of your word,
for all your commandments are right.
David’s second promise was to sing! Words of praise gave way to songs of praise. Charles Wesley wrote the hymn, “O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing” and the lyrics always make me smile. Here is Charles, wishing he had 1,000 tongues in his mouth so he could use them all to praise God. And here I am, having more than enough trouble with my one and only tongue. What would happen if I had 1,000 tongues? Yikes. The truth is, we can control how we use our tongues but it’s not easy. James wrote, “The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.” (Jam. 3:5-6) The Holy Spirit can redeem our tongues to be used for praise!

Verse 173
Let your hand be ready to help me,
for I have chosen your precepts.
The pendulum swings from praise to petition once more. It’s like David can’t make up his mind how to pray. I can relate. There is an unresolved tension that oscillates between good days and bad days, ups and downs, highs and lows. We praise Him, we cry out to Him. Over and over and over. But we have something David didn’t have — Jesus, a High Priest that sympathizes with our weaknesses and invites us to approach the throne of grace with confidence. (Heb. 4:15-16) Jesus proved that God’s hand is ready to help us. 

Verse 174
I long for your salvation, O Lord,
 and your law is my delight.
The longing David felt might have been for personal deliverance, but it also may have reached beyond that to the salvation God promised in the coming Messiah. Everything inside David yearned for the fulfillment of the covenant and the establishment of a kingdom that would last forever. David looked forward to the promise with faith, as did all the Old Testament saints. We are the blessed generations who get to look back on Messiah’s coming to purchase salvation while also looking forward to His glorious return. In the meantime, His Word is to be our delight.

Verse 175
Let my soul live and praise you,
and let your rules help me.
Years ago, I read this verse in the Message translation and wrote it in my NIV Bible. “Invigorate my soul so I can praise You well. Use Your decrees to put iron in my soul.” I love that! To invigorate means to infuse with life, energy, and vitality. That’s how I want to live — with Holy Spirit energy running through my veins, providing vital praise to my lips. That’s how I want to grow old — with Holy Spirit strength in my inner being, providing iron-clad endurance and faithfulness. 

Verse 176
I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant,
for I do not forget your commandments.
Wait. What? What just happened? Can we please lop off this last verse and end on a high note? No, we can’t. Because even though David affirmed his belief, he was aware of his frailty and his dependence on God’s grace. We are lost sheep — “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it.” But do not forget, God does seek after us, especially in His Word. 

I’m going to close David’s long song with a long quote from “Bible Delight” by Christopher Ash. You can skip it or read it later. However, his comments on this ancient psalm seem to speak right into our present world. 

   “As so often in the Bible, the end of the psalm is not the end of the story. If we think of the psalm as portraying the believer as a building under construction, this last verse is a reminder that the scaffolding is still in place. At the end of this psalm we are still in painful tension. This is how it is. This psalm will not be sung in the age to come.* But for now it is authentic Christian experience. This is so realistic.
‘How are you?’ ‘I really don’t know. I cannot work out whether I am in prayer or praise. I seem to feel both strongly and inconsistently.’ This is the authentic Christian response. There are two simpler responses; and neither of them is Christian. If I just say it is grim grim grim, that is not an authentic Christian response. And if I say it is great great great that also is not an authentic Christian response. The authentic response is to say I really don’t know. I am held by the word of God from a painful present to a glorious future. And that word brings into the present a foretaste of joy, hope, peace and praise. And the praise is all muddled up with the prayer. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry; and I do both at the same time. That is authentic Christian experience.
The people of God delight in the word of God, because this word alone ties us in the pain of the present to the glory of the future. May God help us sing it.”

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*Mr. Ash seems to think David will not be performing Psalm 119 on the New Earth. Darn. Oh well. He’s got a lot of other good songs and is probably writing more even now. I’m keeping my front row seat.

Next: Tav

Stanza Y

Well, friends, this is the final week of the Long Song study! I am simultaneously doing cartwheels (in my mind) and wiping tears (for real). Maybe that’s how David felt, too.

At first, I wished David would have called it good after last week’s stanza because it was full of joy, love, praise, peace and hope. But that might have been too neat and tidy of an ending. This is more real. After 176 verses, David still needed God as much as he did in verse one. After 22 stanzas, David was still crying out for the Shepherd.

Psalm 119:169-176

Yelling, I hope You hear me, Lord;
     please help me comprehend Your word.

You listen to every request;
     now rescue, just like You promised.

Yakking all day, I can’t help it,
     because You have taught me so much.

Yes, songs of praise are in my mouth,
     exalting Your faultless commands.

Yank me along with Your right hand,
     for I pick You above all else.

Yearning for Your deliverance,
     still, I find Your word delightful.

Yielding my life to Your purpose,
     let Your law invigorate me.

Yet I wander, so come get me;
     let Your words stick with me always.

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Next: Long Song Study, part Y

Presto! 41 Years!

PB and I celebrated our 41st wedding anniversary this week.img_0755

Also this week, the electric knife we got as a wedding present bit the dust.
“The Cutup” made by Presto was a darn good product.
It carved many a Thanksgiving turkey,
sliced heaps of warm bread loaves,
and de-kerneled cobs of corn for the freezer.
Sure, we had to wrap it with electrician’s tape to hold it together.
And the label had to be glued on a few times over the years.
But forty-one years of slicing is nothing to sneeze at.

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The key to a good electric knife is the smooth motion of the two blades.
They have to go back and forth in sync,
while staying firmly attached to each other.
One goes forward, the other one moves back.
Then the other one slides up as the one slips back.
It happens so fast, you might not even notice all the slipping and sliding.
All you see is the whirring teamwork of the blades working in tandem.

That old knife is a little like PB and me.
We’re a good team.
We keep each other sharp.
We’ve cut through a lot together.
We’ve patched up a few cracks.
We haven’t gotten too bent out of shape.
We’ve stayed attached to God and each other.
Of course, PB is quite a “cut-up”.
But he’s also been a faithful, reliable partner.
There’s no one I’d rather slice through life with.

Seems like yesterday when we unwrapped that wedding present.
Presto! Forty-one years!

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W is for Why

Is it okay to ask, “Why?”
Some would have us believe that it shows
lack of faith or wavering trust or a wobble in our walk.
Not so, I say.
We are in good company.

“Why, Lord, do You stand far off?” (Ps. 10:1)
“Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble?” (Ps. 10:1)
“Why are You so far from saving me?” (Ps. 22:1)
“Why have You forgotten me?” (Ps. 42:9)
“Why have You rejected me?” (Ps. 43:2)
“Why do You sleep?” (Ps. 44:23)
“Why do You hide Your face and forget our misery?” (Ps. 44:24)
“Why does Your anger smolder?” (Ps. 74:1)
“Why do You hold back Your hand?” (Ps. 74:11)

And that’s just a sampling from the Psalms.

There are hundreds of “whys” in the Bible.
I counted 447 why questions in the NIV.

why

I found that…
…sometimes people ask each other “why?”
…sometimes people ask themselves “why?”
…sometimes people ask God “why?”
…sometimes God asks people “why?”
…sometimes God asks God “why?”

“My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”
Mark 15:34

So it must be okay to ask.

My favorite word in the Bible that starts with W is WHY.

Shin

Shin is the twenty-first letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Shin (also written as “Sin” or “Sheen”) has the same sound as “sh” as in “shy”. Every line in Psalm 119:161-168 starts with this letter. Shin looks like this:

shin

Shin is one of the most important letters in the Hebrew aleph-bet for several reasons.

First, Orthodox Jews hang a mezuzah on the right doorpost of their front entrances. This decorative case contains a small scroll with a prayer on it and whenever someone goes out or comes in, they touch the mezuzah to remember the prayer: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” The letter Shin is engraved on all mezuzahs to represent 1) “El Shaddai”, a name for God which means “God Almighty”, 2) “Shema”, the prayer written on the scroll, and 3) “Shomer”, which means protection.

mazuzah

Second, God has written His name on His city, Jerusalem. An arial photograph of the Holy City reveals three valleys that create the shape of the letter Shin. God Almighty wasn’t kidding when He said, “In Jerusalem, I will put my Name forever.” (2 Kings 21:4)

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And third, God has embedded His name in every human heart. The shape of the letter Shin mimics the structure of the human heart: the lower, larger left ventricle (which supplies the full body) and the smaller right ventricle (which supplies the lungs) are positioned like the lines of the letter Shin.

heart

Shin looks a bit like a flame and that’s no accident. The Hebrew word for “fire” is made up of the letters Aleph + Shin. God’s presence in the Old Testament was often seen as a flame. A burning bush drew Moses’ attention and a pillar of fire led the Israelites through the desert. When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai, He descended on the mountain with flames, smoke and thunder. The Israelites celebrated that day every year with a holy feast called Pentecost.

Fifteen hundred years later, to the day, the Holy Spirit descended on believers with tongues of fire and the church was born. Fire purifies, burns off the dross, and provides heat and light.

One last thing: When the temple priests would give the Hebrew Priestly Blessing at the end of the service, they would lift their hands and make the sign of Shin while reciting, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” (Num. 6:24-26)

blessing

As a child, Leonard Nimoy went to synagogue services with his grandfather. He was intrigued by this sign of “shalom” or peace. As Dr. Spock, Nimoy implemented the gesture on Star Trek to mean “live long and prosper”.

spock

Shalom!

Next: My favorite word in the Bible that starts with W.

Long Song Study, part W

treasure

This section of Psalm 119 is probably the most upbeat of all the stanzas. “If section 11 (Kaph — Verses 81-88) was the midnight of the psalm, this is the noonday. This section is trumpets all the way.” (Christopher Ash) In fact, it is the only section that does not contain a request. A quick mention of persecution gives way to soulful lyrics celebrating the wonders of God’s words.


Verse 161
Princes persecute me without cause,
but my heart stands in awe of your words.
Persecution in any form is never pleasant, but David wasn’t dealing with a crotchety neighbor or a disgruntled staff member. Heads of state (plural) were harassing him persistently for no apparent reason. It’s hard not to take it personally. It’s hard not to strike back. It’s hard not to fall into a depressed heap and quit. But. My. Heart. Stands. No matter what was happening on the outside, David was able to keep his interior life stable by focusing on God’s words. They were a constant source of inspiration that kept David’s heart fired up with love for God.

Verse 162
I rejoice at your word
like one who finds great spoil.
Here is a testimony to the power of the Word. With persecution all around, still David could rejoice as if he was the luckiest guy in the world. He felt like he stumbled onto a hidden treasure in a field, a treasure chest in the sand, a golden ticket on the sidewalk. The words “great spoil” mean “abundant booty” in the original language! As David put the Word squarely in front of him, joy was the first thing that sprang up, so he rejoiced. 

Verse 163
I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law.
The second result of setting his heart on God’s Word was renewed love for it. Could it be that the more we love the scriptures, the more we will have an aversion to lies and deception? Could it be that there is so much dishonesty and deceit in the world because there is no delight in or fondness for God’s laws? The living and active word of God has a way of straightening out our values and setting our loves in order. 

Verse 164
Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules.
As David found himself in the awesome presence of God’s words, he overflowed with praise. This third benefit wasn’t a one-and-done kind of experience, but it kept popping up all day long. As king, he didn’t have time to sit in long meditation or quiet solitude so he kept doing his kingly duties, yet his days were shot through with praise. Even during intense periods of persecution, he could continue to raise a hallelujah for the good words of the Lord.

Verse 165
Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.
Peace was the fourth thing David found as he considered the scriptures. Great peace. Peace that passes understanding. Lack of peace, or anxiety, causes all kinds of problems. It robs us of sleep, joy, and contentment. It leads us away from still waters and green pastures. It puts us on a road full of potholes and dangers lurking in the ditches. It makes us susceptible to the enemy’s attacks. But when peace reigns in our hearts, it takes the wobble out of our walk.

What a charming verse is this! It deals not with those who perfectly keep the law — for where should such people be found? — but with those who love it, whose hearts and hands are made to square with its precepts and demands. (Spurgeon)

Verse 166
I hope for your salvation, O Lord, and I do your commandments.
David discovered hope as he stood in awe of God’s words. This fifth link in the chain was what kept him going with an eye toward eternity.

The word of God brings the future into the present, because it ties us by a sure and certain hope to the age to come. It is the aroma of a banquet sensed in the air before the dining doors open. (Christopher Ash)

David was banking on better days ahead, but in the meantime, he would faithfully go about the business of being an obedient disciple.

Verse 167
My soul keeps your testimonies; I love them exceedingly.
When David talked about loving the Word, he wasn’t stingy with adverbs and adjectives. He didn’t just love God’s testimonies — he loved them exceedingly. The Hebrew word used there means “vehemently, wholly, speedily, diligently, mightily”. (I had to look up “vehemently”: “intensely passionate, strongly zealous”.) So there you go. David wound up his penultimate verse in his penultimate stanza with a strong affirmation of the place God’s Word had in his heart. He loved it. Exceedingly.  

Verse 168
I keep your precepts and testimonies, for all my ways are before you.
I’m so glad all my ways are not before you. That could be embarrassing. Can you imagine starring in your own reality TV show and having millions of viewers watch your every move? And then tweeting their judgmental criticism? It sounds like a nightmare. Not many of us would be comfortable with that much vulnerable transparency. But with God, it’s different. Our hearts are open books before our Maker, yet they are safe. God is for us, not against us. God is not mad at us, He’s mad about us. We can live before Him, in all our brokenness, with joy, love, praise, peace and hope. 

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Things I know for sure from this passage:

  • My awe should be reserved for God, and not spent on people.
  • Treasures are waiting for me in the scriptures, but it takes some digging.
  • Do I praise God seven times a day, or once every seven days?
  • I can never underestimate the greatness of God’s peace.
  • I can’t hide anything from God.

Next: Shin

Stanza W

I learned a new word this week — penultimate. It means “next to last”, so this is David’s penultimate section in his long song. Which reminds me once more, this is a song. This stanza seems especially singable, and I’m looking forward to the day David takes the stage on the New Earth and sings Psalm 119 for us. I’d like a front row seat, please.

Psalm 119:161-168

Wily foes are out to get me,
     yet it’s Your words that thrill my heart.

Wild joy springs up from Your promise;
     it’s like finding buried treasure.

While I despise and detest lies,
     I love Your law so very much.

Without fail, I praise You hourly,
     because Your law is so perfect.

Wide is the peace for God-lovers;
     no tripping or bumbling for them.

Waiting for You is no problem;
     I will follow You anywhere.

Whatever You say, I’ll do it;
     I love Your law tremendously.

Wanting to comply with Your words,
     is my way of life — You know that. 

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Next: Long Song Study, part W