S is for Said

God is a talker.
In the first chapter of the Bible, we read the phrase “God said” eleven times.
We literally have the very words that God spoke.
At our fingertips.
In quotations.
Selah. (Hebrew for “stop and think about that for a while.”)

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God’s people are talkers, too.
The word “said” is found 3, 071 times in the scriptures.
Words are the method of choice to get the gospel out to the nations.

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For those of us who are not such great talkers, there’s a promise:
“The Holy Spirit will give you the words to say at the moment when you need them.” Luke 12:12

Psalm 119 was David’s long love song about the
extraordinary,
astonishing,
miraculous
record of what God said.

Musicians have been writing songs about the same thing ever since.

Back in 1975, the Heritage Singers recorded an album. The group was made up of men dressed in powder blue leisure suits and women wearing puffy sleeved maxi dresses. Ah, the 70s. Their big hit was titled, “God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It For Me”. Pretty good theology.

Going back farther, in the 1700s, a song was published by an anonymous lyricist identified only as “K”. Pastor John Rippon included it in a compilation of hymns he put together for his church. “K”, whoever you are, thanks for writing such masterful words.

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

What more can He say than to you He has said?
He said it, I believe it.

My favorite word in the Bible that starts with “S” is SAID.

Pe

Pe is the seventeenth letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Pe (also written as Pey or Pei or Peh) sounds like “p” as in “pay”. Every line in Psalm 119:129-136 starts with this letter. Pe looks like this:

pe

The word “Pe” means “mouth” as in “I open my mouth and pant…” (Ps. 119:131) The definition doesn’t just pertain to a physical mouth, but also extends in meaning to “word,” “expression,” “vocalization,” and “speech”.

Genesis states that God created everything by the words of His mouth (Pe). The fact that the letter “Pe” has an opening on its right side shows us that God is still speaking.

Rabbis point out that “Pe” (mouth) follows the letter “Ayin” (eyes), suggesting the importance of seeing (understanding, having awareness) before opening the mouth. If this order is reversed, the result is mindless chatter. Heard any of that lately?

To put it another way:
Engage the brain before putting the mouth in gear.

On the path to discipleship,
learning how to control our words is paramount.
“The tongue has the power of life and death.”
(Prov. 18:21)

The timing of our words is vitally important.
“A well-spoken word at just the right moment
is like golden apples in settings of silver.”
(Prov. 25:11)

The tone we use when speaking is consequential.
“Gracious words are like a honeycomb,
sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”
(Prov. 16:24)

Let “Pe” remind us to make good use of our mouths —
to speak
golden-apple,
honey-sweetened
words of life.

pei

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

Long Song Study, part S

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Just when I think David might run out of things to say about God’s law, he comes up with more. In this section of Psalm 119, David used four words that aren’t found anywhere else in scripture. He even displayed his skills by making up a new word.

Verse 129
Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them.
We’ve studied seventeen sections of poetry with one hundred and twenty-nine verses, and still David keeps finding new ways to extol God’s Word. “Wonderful” (pele) is a Hebrew word that means: extraordinary, astonishing, miraculous. This made me do a double-take. The Book that sits on my desk, the Book that I sometimes ignore and sometimes read over quickly, that same Book is a miracle. And it can do miraculous things in me. Of course, David wanted to keep testimonies that filled him with wonder.

Verse 130
The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.
Again, David reached down deep for just the right word: unfolding. This is the only place in the whole Bible this word is used and it means “revelation”. I love the idea that when we open the pages of our Bibles, God begins to unfold truth and reveal His thoughts to us. He gives us clarity where there is confusion and illumination where there is fogginess. This isn’t just available to seminary students or Bible scholars, but also to the simple. (Can I get an “amen”?) It doesn’t take great intellect to understand God’s Word because it’s the Spirit’s work to activate our hearts and reveal truth. We can’t use the excuse that we’re not smart enough to understand the Bible. Smartness isn’t required.

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Verse 131
I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments.
David compared himself to an animal that was running, open-mouthed, sucking in air, heart beating hard, muscles exerting themselves at full capacity, running for its life. That’s how hard David went after God’s Word. The word “pant” means “to inhale eagerly, breathless.” In other words, approaching the study of God’s commandments should take our breath away. And did you notice what David was yearning for? God’s commandments! Most of us long for God’s promises more that His laws. David’s longing pushed him to action. As Spurgeon points out, “Longing that is not acted upon is more wishing than longing. Never rest content with mere longings.”

Verse 132
Turn to me and be gracious to me, as is your way with those who love your name.
In this verse, David began a list of prayer requests. First, he asked God to turn toward him and second, to be gracious to him. David knew that the moment God faced him, mercy would be needed. But he also knew from experience that this was God’s way of doing things. We can come to the Lord every morning for a fresh batch of mercies. “His loving-kindness begins afresh each day.” (Lam. 3:23) It is His way.

Verse 133
Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me.
Another request by David — this time for steadiness in his spiritual journey. He wanted to stay firmly grounded in the Word. Many people want their steps directed by something else — their feelings or friends, circumstances or comforts. David reminded God of His promise to direct him because he was aware that small compromises could lead to becoming dominated by sin. Paul warned of the same thing, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” (Romans 6:12) Steady obedience is the key, perhaps something David learned the hard way.

“Oh, how we often stagger along! We do what is right, but we quiver and shake while we are doing it.” (Spurgeon)

Verse 134
Redeem me from man’s oppression, that I may keep your precepts.
Once he addressed his internal battle with sin, David looked at his external struggles and requested help with those, too. Man’s oppression came in many forms, including cruelty, injustice, slander, exploitation, lies. Need I go on? Those kinds of outside pressures wore David down and distracted him from focusing on God’s laws.

Verse 135
Make your face shine upon your servant, and teach me your statutes.
David, the wordsmith, took the word “light” that he used in verse 130 (“The unfolding of your words gives light”) and made up a new word by attaching the word “face”. When God turned His face toward David, he saw God’s favor shining out from it. “Light” and “shine” create a beautiful connection — follow me here. When we “unfold” the word of God and let His truth shine on us, it’s the same thing as the face of God shining His favor on us. When we open our Bibles, we’re as close as we can get to seeing God’s face. *Shiver*

Verse 136
My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law.
David cried lots of tears. The word “streams” means “a channel of water” or “an irrigation canal.” You could say David cried a river. To make a point, he used an idiom to express his deep sorrow and anguish. What caused such emotion to rise up in David? He was sick at heart because everywhere he looked, people were blowing off God’s words. Because the people refused to listen, follow or obey, David wept. 
“One of the darkest signs of any age is when the people weep but little for sin.” William Swan Plumer

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Things I know for sure from this passage:

  • I need to seek forgiveness for a flippant attitude toward the extraordinary, astonishing, miraculous gift of God’s Word.
  • If I’m panting after something other than God, it may be an idol.
  • It’s hard to keep a steady walk with God when sin has a hold on part of my life.
  • When I open the pages of scripture, God’s light shines on me.
  • Hardness and pride will keep me from weeping over the brokenness of sin in the world.

Next: Pe

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

Six Dresses

This summer I pulled out my sewing machine.
It’s been a while.
I thought about the dresses I made for my girls when they were little.
Then I thought about my little granddaughters.
So I made six dresses.

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As I sewed, I prayed for their six little hearts.
“Help them to pin their hopes and dreams to You.”
“When things are coming apart at the seams, help them turn to You.”
Hem them in by Your love, before and behind.”
“Give them the desire to gather together with other believers.”
Finish off their rough edges so they don’t unravel.”
“Help them not be afraid to go against the grain of culture.”
“Protect them from developing unfair biases.”
“Help them give grace to people who needle them.”
“May they live according to the pattern set in scripture.”
“Give them Your strength to iron out their problems.”

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May the Word that is sown (sewn?) into their hearts
take root and produce fruit (and pink flowers!).
Amen.

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.