Stanza S

There are more English words beginning with the letter “s” than any other letter of the alphabet. According to a two second Google search, there are exactly 76,816 “s” word entries in the dictionary. Well then, given the number of words I have to choose from, this should be fun.

Psalm 119:129-136

Sensational are Your commands;
     I want to submit to them all.

Shining light spills out of each page;
     I’m slow, but You get through to me.

Similar to a panting dog,
     I long for a drink from the Word.

Spare me the spanking I deserve,
     but let Your grace reign, like always.

Show me how to walk by Your word
     so sin doesn’t boss me around.

Save me from cruel injustice,
     so I can stay in step with You.

Smile down on Your humble servant;
    I’m ready and willing to learn.

Some days I can’t keep from sobbing,
     when I see open rebellion.

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Next: Long Song Study, part S

R is for Ran

There is a lot of running in the Old Testament.

Abraham ran. (Gen. 18:7)
Rebekah ran. (Gen. 24:20)
Esau ran. (Gen. 33:4)
Joseph ran. (Gen. 39:12)
Moses ran. (Ex. 4:3)
Aaron ran. (Num. 16:47)
Samuel ran. (1 Sam. 3:5)
David ran. (1 Sam. 17:48)
Elijah ran. (1 Kings 19:3)
Jonah ran. (Jon. 1:3)

In the New Testament, there’s more running.
Mostly to Jesus.
The demon-possessed man ran to Jesus. (Mark 5:6)
People who needed healing ran to Jesus. (Mark 6:55)
Large crowds ran to Jesus. (Mark 9:15)
A rich young man ran to Jesus. (Mark 10:17)
Zacchaeus ran to see Jesus. (Luke 19:4)

Once, Jesus told a story about running.
Only this time, God the Father was the Runner.
“But while he was still a long way off,
his father saw him
and was filled with compassion for him;
he ran to his son,
threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
Luke 15:20

My favorite verse about running is in John’s Gospel. Mary had gone to the tomb of Jesus early in the morning and saw that the stone was moved away from the entrance. She ran to where Peter and the disciples were hiding out and told them.

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. John 20:3-4

They ran.
(John, the “other disciple”, pointed out who won the race. Really, John?)

peter

We’re supposed to run, too.
“Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
Heb. 12:1
Not stroll, not strut, not saunter — run!
So we can say someday,
“I have fought the good fight,
I have finished the race,
I have kept the faith.”
1 Tim.4:7

running

My favorite word in the Bible that starts with “R” is RAN.

Ayin

Ayin is the sixteenth letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Ayin (also written as Ayen) has no sound of its own, but usually has a vowel associated with it. Every line in Psalm 119:121–128 starts with this letter. Ayin looks like this:

ayin

Like the first letter of the aleph-bet (Aleph), Ayin is a silent letter, so it represents an attitude of humility. The Ayin doesn’t speak, but it “sees” because it is the Hebrew word for “eye” and “to see”.

Rabbis teach that the letter Ayin shows two “eyes” at the top, portraying how Yahweh is able to see both sides of every situation. This letter reminds us that God is watching over us all the time. The eyes of the Lord represent His intimate knowledge about every part of our lives.

“The eyes of the Lord are everywhere,
keeping watch on the wicked and the good.”
(Proverbs 15:3)

In Psalm 119:120-128, David described himself as a servant three times (v. 122, 124, 125). The word servant starts with the silent letter “Ayin”, showing that our service to God and to others should be done without bragging about what we do or drawing attention to ourselves.

Jewish scholars love to find numerical connections in the scriptures. They point out that in Genesis 16, Hagar said, “You are the God who sees me. I have now seen the one who sees me.” The sixteenth letter plays big in the sixteenth chapter of the first book in the Torah.

Because we have two eyes, traditional Hebrews teach that everyone has one evil eye and one good eye, and we choose which one to use to interpret the world around us. Even Jesus used the idea of “good eyes” and “bad eyes” in the Sermon on the Mount.

The eye is the lamp of the whole body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. Matthew 6:22-23

The meaning of this is easily lost on us because He was using an idiom, or a figure of speech, that was relevant in Jewish culture. (Like when we say, “It’s raining cats and dogs,” we don’t mean literal cats and dogs are falling out of the sky.)

In Jesus’ day, to have a “good eye” meant you were generous and open-hearted and to have a “bad eye” meant you were stingy and always chasing after money. Reading this passage in context, it makes sense. Just prior to these verses about eyes, Jesus talked about storing up treasure in heaven. Just after, He taught that we cannot serve both God and money. He wasn’t preaching about eyes! He was teaching about money! He was using an idiom that His audience completely understood. Be generous. Don’t be stingy.

“If we love others sincerely and have a generous spirit, our life will be full of light. If we think only of our own gain, turning a blind eye to the needs of others, our lives will be dark indeed.” (Listening to the Language of the Bible, Lois Tverberg)

The dual nature of our eyes means we need to “keep an eye” on our eyes. On one hand, we can have the eyes of our hearts enlightened by the Spirit. (Eph. 1:18) On the other hand, we have to constantly battle against “the lust of the eyes.” (1 John 2:16)

eyes

Oh be careful, little eyes, what you see.
Oh be careful, little eyes, what you see.
For the Father up above is looking down in love,
So be careful, little eyes, what you see.

ayin (1)

Next: My favorite word in the Bible that starts with “R”.

Long Song Study, part R

In the words of songwriter Bob Dylan,
“You’re gonna have to serve somebody.”
David may have been the king of Israel,
but he never forgot that he was the servant of God.

choose

Verse 121
I have done what is just and right; do not leave me to my oppressors.
As ruler of Israel, King David could say with confidence that he had done his best to uphold justice and make honorable and ethical decisions. Therefore, he approached God with boldness and pled for deliverance. We come humbly to the throne of God when dealing with our sin, but when we are being unjustly accused, we can call on our Deliverer for rescue.

Verse 122
Give your servant a pledge of good; let not the insolent oppress me.
What is a “pledge of good”? Let’s get some help with this one.

To give a pledge means to take responsibility for someone else, perhaps for their debt…. It means you will guarantee the payment of my debt, if necessary by paying it yourself. (Christopher Ash)

So, David was asking for back-up, a promise from God to stand between him and his oppressors. The thing David asked for, we now have in Jesus.

David was praying for the cross. This prayer points forward hundreds of years later when God did just that, in the person of his Son; when he took responsibility for our debts, and nailed them to the cross. (Christopher Ash)

We now have Jesus, who stands between us and our Accuser, the devil. He interposed His precious blood to pay the debt we could not possibly pay. Hallelujah for living on this side of the cross!

Verse 123
My eyes long for your salvation and for the fulfillment of your righteous promise.
We have something David longed for: salvation and fulfillment of the promise. This verse makes me ask some questions, “What do my eyes long for? Am I yearning for the final consummation of the remaining promises? Have I set my heart, my mind and my eyes on things above and not on earthly things?”
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18)

Verse 124
Deal with your servant according to your steadfast love, and teach me your statutes.
God always deals with us from a standpoint of love, specifically “hesed” love. His mercy comes in one of two ways: God either removes us from trouble or supports us in trouble. “God hasn’t promised temporal deliverance from every trial we encounter. He hasn’t promised us that we will live above the turmoil of this fallen world. He has promised to guard us from ultimate evil — the loss of Him. And He has promised to sustain us through seasons of lament by reviving our sense of His distinguishing love as revealed in His word.” (Stephen Yuille) And He promises to teach us, if we will only be teachable. David asked God to teach him twelve times in Psalm 119. There’s always more to learn.

Verse 125
I am your servant; give me understanding, that I may know your testimonies!
For a third time, David emphasized his position as a servant. Humbly he asked to be taught and then to take the next step — to gain understanding. A human teacher can present the material, lay out the facts, and write down the equations. But she can’t make a student understand all the nuances and underlying truths. God can do that. He can both teach us and give us spiritual insight which results in real knowledge. Which leads to real wisdom.

Verse 126
It is time for the Lord to act, for your law has been broken.
This might sound a bit audacious or a little bossy. But it’s not! This is the prayer of saints throughout time: “Your kingdom come!” “Come, Lord Jesus!” God actually loves it when we pray like that. Except we usually call for God to act on our behalf when we are personally hurt or in trouble. David was most concerned about God’s honor, not his own comfort. The king’s heart was broken because the commands of God were being broken. What makes your heart break? “Let my heart be broken for the things that break the heart of God.” (Bob Pierce)

Verse 127
Therefore I love your commandments above gold, above fine gold.
David was surrounded by people who despised God’s law. And what was his response? To love the words of God even more. “The more the pressure grows to abandon it, the more passionately and delightedly he embraces it. He is deeply loyal.” (Christopher Ash) The word for gold in Hebrew is “zahab”, which means “gold colored”. The word for fine gold in this verse is “paz” which means refined, pure, 24-karat gold. David valued God’s word more than all the shimmery, shiny, veneered things the world had to offer. Then he intensified his statement: God’s word meant more to him than the most pure and precious thing in creation.

Verse 128
Therefore I consider all your precepts to be right; I hate every false way.
When the secular, God-less culture begins to find fault with God’s Word, we can be all the more sure that God’s Word is right. “When confidence in God is counted vile, we purpose to be viler still.” (Spurgeon) You have to admire David for this: “he was a good lover and he was a good hater, but he was never a waverer.” (Spurgeon)

(You didn’t think I could get through a passage without a quote by Spurg, did you?)

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Things I know for sure from this passage:

  • If I want to hear someday, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” then I need to be a good and faithful servant today.
  • God Himself is willing to teach us, which is an act of great grace.
  • All of God’s precepts are right; not most, not some, not just the ones I agree with.
  • False ways are to be hated; not flirted with, not dabbled in, not excused.
  • Love for the Lord leads to love for His Word.

Next: Ayin

Stanza R

Another week.
Another passage from Psalm 119.
Another Hebrew letter.
Another favorite word.
You know the routine.
Ah, but never let the study of God’s Word become routine!
Routine: a habitual, unimaginative, rote procedure;
dull or uninteresting;
commonplace

Far from routine, true open-hearted study of the Bible is riveting.
Welcome to Week “R”!

Psalm 119:121-128

Resolving to make wise choices,
     I need You to wipe out my foes.

Renew me and keep me healthy;
     away with those cocky bullies.

Restless, I watch for Your coming,
     my eyes are worn out from looking.

Respond to me with love, O Lord,
     and help me learn to trust in You.

Ready to serve, I need Your thoughts,
     so I can grasp Your every word.

React quickly — now would be good,
     for Your law is being ignored.

Really, I love Your words so much;
     they are priceless, worth more than gold.

Reflecting on how right You are,
     wrong paths have become disgusting.

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Next: Long Song Study, part R

P is for Paul

Although I’ve chosen a proper noun for my favorite word that starts with “P”, I’m well within the bounds of the rules I set for myself. (Use only small words, 4 letters or less.)

“What’s the big deal with all these rules?” you say.
Well, the Apostle Paul and I are both #1s on the Enneagram scale.
We like rules.
We like to make the rules.
We like to obey the rules.
We like to make sure everyone else obeys the rules.

rules

Paul is my Bible Buddy.

Before he was Apostle Paul he was Pharisee Paul, a devotee to all things rules and laws. So much so, in fact, that he set out to arrest, imprison and seek the death sentence for all rule-breakers. In Acts 8:1, we see Paul’s dark side as he gave approval to the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr.

Characteristics of unhealthy Ones:

  • Highly critical, both of self and of others
  • Picky, judgmental, perfectionistic
  • Self-righteous, intolerant, inflexible
  • Corrects others, badgering them to do the “right thing”
  • Is the only one who knows what the “right thing” is

But then Paul met Jesus and God began the transforming work of bringing health into his personality. God redeemed Paul’s temperament and used him to carry the gospel to the Gentile world. The man who was determined to destroy the church became the man who built it.

Characteristics of healthy Ones:

  • Inspiring, hopeful and wise
  • Conscientious with strong personal convictions
  • Fair, objective, and ethical
  • Values truth and justice
  • Self-disciplined, mature and moderate in all things

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I have been known to go into a business to inform them that a word is spelled wrong on their sign. Sometimes I correct PB when he puts the silverware in the dishwasher the wrong way. I shake my head at those who fold towels improperly. And I refold them. So far, I haven’t made any citizen’s arrests or breathed any murderous threats (Acts 9:1).

God is still at work in me,
transforming my not-so-healthy side of my personality
into a more grace-filled person, both toward myself and others.
Me, Mary Poppins and Paul.

My favorite word in the Bible that starts with “P” is PAUL.

Samekh

Samekh is the fifteenth letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Samekh (also written as Samech) has the same sound as “s” as in “saw”. Every line in Psalm 119:113–120 starts with this letter. Samekh looks like this:

samekh

Samekh is the only letter in the Hebrew alphabet that is enclosed. It is a complete circle that portrays how God completely surrounds and encompasses His people. We are upheld by the loving arms of the Father, whose surrounding presence is like a hug.

What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms?
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

tree

The circular nature of God is evident all over creation.
The planets orbit around the sun.
Tree trunks have concentric rings.
A pebble thrown in water makes circular ripples.
Sand dollars, acorn cups, the center of a daisy.
Onion rings, a slice across an orange, blueberries.
Rabbit droppings.
The cycle of seasons.
The circle of life.

ripples

Rabbis also teach that the “Samakh” is a picture of a strong support,
propping us up so we can weather the storms of life.
“Uphold me….” Psalm 119:116
“Hold me up….” Psalm 119:117
Jesus is our “Samakh”, our great Upholder.

“In Him all things hold together.” Col. 1:17

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

Long Song Study, part P

study

This section of Psalm 119 might be the most difficult one for me so far. It’s tempting to “clean up” scripture that seems a bit shocking or disturbing. I look up the Hebrew meanings, hoping to find a less harsh definition — something more pleasant. But it’s real and raw and right there in God’s Word. We have to deal with it!

Verse 113
I hate the double-minded, but I love your law.
Right off the bat, David started with a cringe-worthy word. Hate. It’s a hated word, especially in our present culture. I checked it out in Hebrew. It means “hate” as in “to hate”. There’s no way around it, folks. What is the object of this hatred? Double-minded people. I looked that up, too. This is the one and only time in the whole Bible this word is used (in Hebrew). It’s a word David was saving for this moment. It means “skeptical, doubtful, divided in thinking”. Also, “two-faced”, “double-dealing”, and “underhanded”.
James said it like this: “The one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:6,8) The Greek word James used is “di-psychos” = two-spirited, vacillating in opinion.

Or in the words of Aaron Burr,
“Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for.”
Or in the words of Alexander Hamilton,
“If you stand for nothing, Burr, what’ll you fall for?”

Verse 114
You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word.
In the midst of such inconstancy all around him, David turned to the stability of God and His word. God Himself was David’s safe place. He found shelter and protection in the Lord. It wasn’t the first time. “You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble.” (Psalm 32:7) Spurgeon said, “It is easy to exercise hope where we have experienced help.”

Verse 115
Depart from me, you evildoers, that I may keep the commandments of my God.
David was clear about who he could and could not hang around with. It’s hard to keep God’s commands when in the company of those who insist on evil behavior. Instead of leaving the scene of evil shenanigans, David sent them packing: “Get away from me! Leave me alone!” And he told them why. It is our right and our duty to kick out all sources of wickedness from our midst. “Evildoers make evil counselors, and therefore we must not sit with them.” (Spurgeon)

The distance he has in mind is more the avoidance of partnership than of physical proximity. He wants to avoid sharing their values and being infected by their fellowship. This cry points up an ongoing tension for believers who are in the world but must not let the world’s values get into them. As D. L. Moody is supposed to have said “The ship is in the sea; but woe betide the ship if the sea gets into the ship.” (Christopher Ash)

Verse 116
Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live, and let me not be put to shame in my hope!
In this verse and the following verse, David asked to be held up. The double-minded influences would try to bring him down, so he asked God to lift him above the rancor that sucked the life out of him. (Sound familiar?) Aware of the weakness in his own heart, David went to prayer, pleading for the grace of God. “David meant to keep the law of the Lord, but he first needed the Lord of the law to keep him.” (Spurgeon)

Verse 117
Hold me up, that I may be safe and have regard for your statutes continually!
Without the hand of God holding him, David questioned his physical safety and his spiritual fortitude. He didn’t want to be tossed by the winds of popular culture. Instead, he desired to maintain a steady gaze at God’s word — to develop a regular, consistent, daily time studying and meditating on the statutes.

Verse 118
You spurn all who go astray from your statutes, for their cunning is in vain.
We know how David felt about double-minded people (v. 113), but here he seems to think God feels the same way. What happens to those who spurn (which means: to reject with disdain, scorn and contempt) God? Does He spurn them back?
Paul addressed this in his letter to the Romans.

Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity….because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie.” (Ro. 1:24) “For this reason God gave them over to dishonorable passions.” (Ro. 1:26) “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” (Ro. 1:28)

When we choose sin over the goodness of God, we spurn Him. No matter how sly or smart we think we are, that choice will always be futile. If we insist that sin is what we want, God will give us over to it. Thankfully, just as the Father let the Prodigal Son go to a far country to squander the inheritance, that same Father also ran to embrace him when the wayward child turned toward home.
Still, God’s judgment is certain. “Sooner or later, God will set his foot on those who turn their foot from his commands; it has always been so, and it will be so to the end.” (Spurgeon) 

Verse 119
All the wicked of the earth you discard like dross, therefore I love your testimonies.
Yep. God discards the wicked like dross.
Dross: waste matter, slag, or scum left over after melting metal in a furnace; something regarded as worthless or rubbish; impurity.
It may be that the things that are so highly valued in this world (fame, power, money, celebrity status) will become nothing but garbage in the next world. The testimonies of God, on the other hand, will be pure gold in eternity. “But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire.” (Malachi 3:2) “Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory.” (1 Peter 1:7)

Verse 120
My flesh trembles for fear of you, and I am afraid of your judgments.
David shivered at the thought of God’s righteous judgment. He had goosebumps and the hair on his arms stood straight up. That’s a fitting reaction to God’s power. The word “afraid” means reverence and awe, so for the believer, it sounds like “awe”; for the unbeliever, who defies God with contempt, it will sound more like “AHHHHH”. As beloved children, we don’t need to feel dread or terror in the presence of God, only stupefaction (overwhelming amazement)!

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Things I know for sure from this passage:

  • Double-minded thinking is to be avoided, as it casts doubt and creates instability.
  • We are responsible to keep evil influence from entering our homes and our hearts.
  • God holds us up as we place our hope in Him alone.
  • I need to discard “dross” from my life and focus on investing in “gold”.
  • It is right and good to be awe-struck by God Almighty.

Next: Samekh

Stanza P

This trek through Psalm 119 started way back on April 4th.
The trees were just starting to bud and spring was in the air.

Today we start week 15 with only 7 more weeks to go.

When we finish this Long Song series,
the trees will be dropping their leaves and a chill will be in the air.

May your summer of 2020 be remembered for more than Covid-19.
May your summer of 2020 be remembered as the days of Psalm 119.

summer

Psalm 119:113-120

Pretense in people is loathsome,
     but I adore Your commandments.

Protection and shelter are mine;
     Your word helps me face the future.

Push those scoundrels away from me,
     so I can focus on your word.

Promise me You’ll keep me alive;
     I’m hoping You’ll come through for me.

Prop me up and I will be safe;
     I’ll respect Your law forever.

Put aside those who snub Your ways;
     there is no point to their falsehood.

Purge the world of the wicked ones;
     Your lovely law will outlast them.

Panic sets in at thoughts of You.
     No, it’s more like wonder and awe.

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Next: Long Song Study, part P

(If you’re new here, click here to get the gist of what this is all about.)

O is for O

Not many letters get to be words.
I can only think of three: A, I, and O.
As in, “O Lord, I have a problem.”

O!

We usually write this word with an “h” (oh!) but it means the same thing with or without the “h”. The original biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek don’t include the word “O”, but there are markings in the text that indicate intense emotion, which translators express as “O”.

Every time you come across an “O” in your Bible reading, give your voice a little oomph, a small burst of energy, a bit of zing. The Holy scriptures are not monotone. They are full of power and life, so read them with zest and zeal. Especially the “O”s.

It can mean awestruck wonder.
O Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.” Ps. 8:1

It can mean spirited approval.
O Lord my God, you are very great.” Ps. 104:1

It can mean desperation.
“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” Ps. 13:1

It can mean urgency.
“Arise, O Lord, in your anger.” Ps. 7:6

It can mean exasperation.
“Answer me when I call to you, O God.” Ps. 4:1

It can mean joy.
“Praise the Lord, O my soul.” Ps. 146:1

Jesus said it.
“Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Matt. 8:26

Paul said it.
O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 1 Cor. 15:55

The angels in heaven say it.
“Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was.” Rev. 16:5

Oh, such a versatile little word that packs a punch with just a breath!
My favorite word in the Bible that starts with “O” is “O”.