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)

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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

V is for Vine

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I am the vine, you are the branches.
If you abide in me and I in you,
you will bear much fruit;
apart from me
you can do
nothing.
John 15:5

The vine nourishes the branches,
the branches produce the fruit,
the fruit nourishes the world.
That’s how it works.
Get any of those out of order and you have nothing.

Union with the Vine is the only way to stay spiritually alive.
Hang on to the Vine, all you lovely branches.
The fruit will come.

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My favorite word in the Bible that starts with “V” is VINE.

Resh

Resh is the twentieth letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Resh (also written as Reish or Reysh or Rosh) has the same sound as “r” as in “rain”. Every line in Psalm 119:153-160 starts with this letter. Resh looks like this:

resh

Resh means “head”, as in leader, captain or beginning.

The letter’s shape represents someone bending over, just as we bend down to explain something to a child. In the same way, God bends toward us in order to bring His wisdom down to us in His Word. Because God is our “captain” or “leader”, we are to put ourselves under His authority, or headship.

That’s a problem for most of us.

More often than not we want to say,
along with poet William Ernest Henley,
“I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.”

Another meaning for the letter Resh is “reason”, or our ability to think logically. Unfortunately, our heads often get in the way of our faith. We use our own human reasoning instead of trusting in the Lord with all our hearts. We tend to lean hard on our own understanding and fleshly logic. Many even use their God-given reasoning abilities to try to disprove God! Instead, our intellect was given to us to enable us to appreciate our Creator.

Resh comes toward the end of the alphabet because even the smartest academician needs something more than raw brain power. In fact, Resh comes after Tsadhe (righteousness) and Qoph (holiness) to show us that our reasoning needs to be led by righteousness and holiness, not the other way around. But when our brains are led by righteousness and holiness, our understanding will be a blessing.

reason

There’s a lot I don’t understand right now,
so I’ll gladly lean on God and let Him lead.

This world is a confusing place,
so I’ll go to His Word to get help sorting it out.

When I feel lost amid the many flawed theories that seem empty,
I’ll hang on to The Way, The Truth, The Life.

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

Long Song Study, part V

At first glance, Psalm 119 may seem to be a bit repetitive. After all, it uses the same eight words (law, word, statutes, precepts, promises, judgments, testimonies, commandments) over and over and over. Ah, but if we’re bored by this, it might be more of a reflection on us. I give you Spurgeon:

Where we think we have a repetition of the same idea in this psalm we are misled by our neglect of careful study. Each verse is a distinct pearl. Each blade of grass in this field has its own drop of heavenly dew.

Let’s get our feet wet and go pearl hunting, shall we?

revive

Verse 153
Look on my affliction and deliver me,
for I do not forget your law.
David is at the throne of God once again, asking for deliverance. It seems like he had a lot of enemies, doesn’t it? Before you start assuming he was dramatically exaggerating his affliction, keep in mind that every nation around Israel wanted to see it destroyed along with its King. Not only that, there was trouble right inside the royal palace, with several of David’s sons attempting to overthrow their father. Add in all the headaches of being the head of a government and the commander of an army. Oh, and don’t forget, David had numerous wives (eight are named, but there were many more) and at least 20 children. No wonder he felt afflicted (depressed, miserable). Somehow he was able to keep his head on straight and stay mindful of God’s commandments. Whereas affliction sometimes drives people away from God, it drove David closer to God.

It seems a strange thing that such a truly godly man, as David was, should have many enemies; but it was inevitable. The disciple cannot be loved where his Master is hated. (Spurgeon)

Verse 154
Plead my cause and redeem me; give me life according to your promise!
Perhaps David also had some legal trouble, because he used technical courtroom jargon in this verse. He was asking God to defend his case, to give him acquittal and declare him not guilty. God is the perfect defense attorney, as one of His names is “Wonderful Counselor”. “Give me life” is a recurring theme in this section of Psalm 119, and it means “revive me”. David knew the Word of God was his best source of revival.

Verse 155
Salvation is far from the wicked,
for they do not seek your statutes.
The ungodly had no interest in the things of the Lord. They didn’t inquire about His ways, they didn’t darken the door of the temple, and they didn’t hang around with believers. Since they didn’t seek, they didn’t find. Yet David saw their disadvantage: they had no one to consider their affliction, they had no one to deliver them, and they had no one to plead their cause. They were difficult people to deal with, but David maintained a sense of sorrow over their lost condition.

Verse 156
Great is your mercy, O Lord;
give me life according to your rules.
When God’s mercy is truly and fully experienced, it is always a great thing. It is never stingy, always abundant. The Message version says, “Your mercies, God, run into the billions.” The King James Version says, “Great are thy tender mercies”. The magnificent mercy of God can be staggeringly overwhelming, so He is tender with them and us. David asked for the kind of mercy that would revive him in the midst of his present state of discouragement.

Verse 157
Many are my persecutors and my adversaries,
but I do not swerve from your testimonies.
“Many” is the same word that is used in verse 156 for “great”. As persecutors and adversaries grew in number, so also did the mercies of God. No amount of trouble can swallow up God’s tender mercy — there’s always more mercy than trouble. Still, a momentary lapse in faithfulness might be expected when crisis hits without warning. Yet David resolved not to slip off course, not to wander or waver from the truth.

Verse 158
I look at the faithless with disgust, because they do not keep your commands.
David saw what faithlessness looked like, and he didn’t want to have anything to do with that way of life. He viewed the godless as treacherous betrayers, living under the common graces of God while giving Him the cold shoulder. The revival David sought was already having an effect. As David Guzik points out, “This sensitivity towards sin and passion for the glory of God is entirely characteristic of the revival that the Psalmist prays for repeatedly in this section.” In other words, you are experiencing revival when 1) the sins you used to flirt with begin to make you terribly uncomfortable, and 2) the glory you used to enjoy begins to feel empty and you want God to be in the spotlight instead.

Verse 159
Consider how I love your precepts!
Give me life according to your steadfast love.
Look how far he’s come in seven verses! The beginning of this section says, “Consider my affliction” and now he says, “Consider my affection”. That’s real progress! David stated his love for God’s words, but he dared not use the same word for love that he attributed to the Lord. Only God loves with “hesed” steadfast love — He’s on a whole other level when it comes to love. David made his third request for revival based on that unique love, making it a sure thing. 

Verse 160
The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.
Every bit of God’s Word is truth. Every word, every letter, every comma, every period. Every “jot and tittle”. “The word of our God endures forever.” Isaiah 40:8

“The Scriptures are as true in Genesis as in Revelation, and the five books of Moses are as inspired as the four Gospels … There is not one single mistake either in the word of God or in the providential dealings of God. The Lord has nothing to regret or to retract, nothing to amend or to reverse.” (Spurgeon)

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Things I know for sure from this passage:

  • I am never alone in my troubles. God sees and helps.
  • The quickest way to revival is time in the Word.
  • New mercies are waiting for me every morning.
  • A mature faith swerves away from God’s Word less and loves it more.
  • The unchanging truth in the Bible is an anchor in a world of change.

Next: Resh