Stanza M

The second half of Psalm 119 begins today!

The first eleven letters of the Hebrew alphabet tell the story of our rescue, from the God-man bridging the gap between heaven and earth (Aleph) to the believer’s place of safety and security in the hands of the Father (Kaph). The 12th letter marks the beginning of the second half, and a new story. The theme shifts from God’s work on our behalf, to our response and our need to persevere to the end with our faith intact.

Psalm 119:89-96

Made to last beyond space and time,
     Your divine word stays rock solid.

Marching through time, You are faithful.
     The earth lasts because You say so.

Morning to night, Your laws live on,
     and all creation waits on You.

Minus Your laws that delight me,
     I couldn’t have survived for long.

Mindful of all You’ve said to me,
     I feel reinvigorated.

My life is all Yours, so save me,
     for I keep on searching Your Word.

Many foes are out to get me,
     still I fix my thoughts on Your law.

Most of the time I’m deficient,
     But not You — You are limitless.

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Next: Long Song Study, part M

L is for Love

It’s the obvious choice.
“Love” is my favorite word in the Bible that starts with “L”.
It may be my favorite word in the whole Bible.
It might be my favorite word in the English language.
But I’m not a good enough thinker or writer to do this word justice.
Today, I defer to the Apostle Paul who wrote the consummate essay on love.

You know it well
You’ve heard it at weddings.
You’ve seen it on coffee cups.
But today, read it like it’s something brand new
that just landed in your inbox.
Go ahead.
Read it out loud.
Today and every day.

If I were to speak with eloquence in earth’s many languages, and in the heavenly tongues of angels, yet I didn’t express myself with love, my words would be reduced to the hollow sound of nothing more than a clanging cymbal.

And if I were to have the gift of prophecy with a profound understanding of God’s hidden secrets, and if I possessed unending supernatural knowledge, and if I had the greatest gift of faith that could move mountains, but have never learned to love, then I am nothing.

And if I were to be so generous as to give away everything I owned to feed the poor, and to offer my body to be burned as a martyr, without the pure motive of love, I would gain nothing of value.

Love is large and incredibly patient. Love is gentle and consistently kind to all. It refuses to be jealous when blessing comes to someone else. Love does not brag about one’s achievements nor inflate its own importance. Love does not traffic in shame and disrespect, nor selfishly seek its own honor. Love is not easily irritated or quick to take offense. Love joyfully celebrates honesty and finds no delight in what is wrong. Love is a safe place of shelter, for it never stops believing the best for others. Love never takes failure as defeat, for it never gives up.

Love never stops loving. It extends beyond the gift of prophecy, which eventually fades away. It is more enduring than tongues, which will one day fall silent. Love remains long after words of knowledge are forgotten. Our present knowledge and our prophecies are but partial, but when love’s perfection arrives, the partial will fade away. When I was a child, I spoke about childish matters, for I saw things like a child and reasoned like a child. But the day came when I matured, and I set aside my childish ways.

For now we see but a faint reflection of riddles and mysteries as though reflected in a mirror, but one day we will see face-to-face. My understanding is incomplete now, but one day I will understand everything, just as everything about me has been fully understood. Until then, there are three things that remain: faith, hope, and love—yet love surpasses them all. 

1 Corinthians 13, The Passion Translation

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Kaph

Kaph (also written as Kaf or Khaf or Chaf) is the eleventh letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Kaph has the same sound as “k” as in “kite”. Every line in Psalm 119:81-88 starts with this letter. Kaph looks like this:

kaph2

The word “Kaph” means “the palm of a hand” and is shaped like a hand curving around a cup to hold it. In the Old Testament, fathers would place their hands on their children’s heads when pronouncing a blessing. In the New Testament, Jesus often laid His hands on people who needed healing.

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Orthodox Jewish men wear a “kippah”, or a skull cap, that represents the palms of God’s hands (Kaph) resting on the head, as a protective covering for the mind, body and spirit.

“Kaph” is closely associated with the idea of “covering” as described in Exodus 33. When Moses said to God, “Show me your glory,” the Lord replied, “I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand (Kaph) until I have passed by.” (Ex. 33:22)

The word “cover” is the same word for “atonement”.
Can you see where this is going?
Jesus,
who is at the right hand of God,
provided covering
for our sins
through His blood.

God made clothes with His hands
out of animal skins for Adam and Eve.
He’s been covering for us ever since.

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Hear Jesus’ last words on the cross:
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Luke 23:46

See Jesus’ hands, which bore the mark of sacrifice — and still do.
“Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself!” Luke 24:39

Watch Jesus’ final act before ascending:
“When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany,
he lifted up his hands and blessed them.” Luke 24:50

We are safe in His hands.
“See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” Is. 49:16

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

 

Long Song Study, part L

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This is the 11th week of the Long Song Study, which means, after part L, we are halfway through! Back in April, when I started this series, I wondered if anyone would stick with it. I wondered if I would stick with it. But here we are — 11 down, 11 to go.

Psalm 119:81-88

Verse 81
My soul longs for your salvation;
I hope in your word.
There’s a lot of longing in this section of Psalm 119. It is definitely the low point, or as Spurgeon said, “the midnight of the psalm.” David was not just wishing for better days; he had worn himself out with yearning for a rescue, even to the point of fainting. His struggle had gone on for so long, that his spiritual strength was faltering. So David lamented. He honestly expressed his anguish and asked the questions we all wrestle with when experiencing periods of suffering: When? How long? Why? As in verses 43 and 74, David’s hope came from the word of God. Paul wrote, “But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (Romans 8:25) David was running out of patience.

Verse 82
My eyes long for your promise;
I ask, “When will you comfort me?”
David could read the words of God’s promise and he believed them, but he couldn’t see them working on his behalf.  Time was ticking away and nothing seemed to be happening. For the first time in his long song, he asked questions. God’s comfort was something he had experienced many times in the past, but what about now? David was saying, “If You’re not going to save me right now, can’t You at least comfort me? Like, right now?” Instead of asking, “When will you deliver me?” David’s question revealed what he truly desired: God’s reassuring presence with him.

Verse 83
For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke,
yet I have not forgotten your statutes.
You probably don’t have an animal skin full of wine hanging in your chimney. It was common in David’s day, as the smoke added flavor and mellowed the new wine. However, if the heat became too intense or if the wineskin was left too long, the skin would dry and crack, ruining the contents. David felt he was coming dangerously close to cracking under the heat of persecution. He was burning out during this prolonged time of stress.
True to the biblical form of lament, it didn’t take David long before he turned his mind back to God
. Although at the moment he felt as if God had forgotten him, he would not forget God’s statutes. 

Verse 84
How long must your servant endure?
When will you judge those who persecute me?
Almost immediately though, the questions returned. Like David, we ask, “How much longer until this is over? On what date and time will You come through for me? If I knew when this trouble is going to pass, I would be able to gut it out.” But God does not often let us in on His timetable. Faithfulness and perseverance matter more to God than worldly success and ease.
Did you notice that something is missing in this verse? There are no “word” words here: law, word, precept, statute, commandment, etc. This is one of only five verses in the entire psalm that doesn’t refer to God’s word. Perhaps lingering too long on the questions fostered doubt and crowded out the Word.

Verse 85
The insolent have dug pitfalls for me;
they do not live according to your law.
David wasn’t just whining about minor offenses. He had legitimate enemies that were trying to take him out. He couldn’t reason with them about their malicious attacks because they had no basis for morality, living apart from God’s law. David was dealing with cruel and crafty deceivers who were intent on causing the kingdom and the king to fail. He had to watch his step, knowing land mines were everywhere, waiting to blow him up.

Verse 86
All your commandments are sure;
they persecute me with falsehood; help me!
In contrast to the pits that caused fear with every step, David reminded himself of the sure foundation and solid footing of God’s truth. Even so, he was near the end of his rope. His reputation was being sullied by a smear campaign based on lies. Things were spiraling down so David desperately prayed, “Help me.” It wasn’t the first time. “When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.” Ps. 94:18

Verse 87
They have almost made an end of me on earth,
but I have not forsaken your precepts.
If this was it — if this was the way it was going to end for David — then his days on earth would be over, but it wouldn’t be his final chapter. David kept the promise of eternal life before him. He also knew “the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” (Is. 40:8) He hung on with incredible tenacity to the words of God, knowing he would take them with him into eternity. In troubling times, the Bible should be the one thing we cling to above all else. We can’t quit reading, memorizing, studying and meditating on God’s Word in times of hardship. It shouldn’t be the last resort. (Did you notice that big “but”?)

Verse 88
In your steadfast love give me life,
that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth.
There it is again — that “hesed” love: “steadfast love, lovingkindness, mercy, unfailing love, faithful love, loyal love; a long-suffering love that extends to the undeserving and even intervenes on their behalf”. David wasn’t eager to see the curtain come down on his time on earth. He wanted to live. Why? So he could clear his name? Or get his popularity back? Or see his persecutors judged? No! It wasn’t about him at all! David wanted to live so that he could make God’s name great, so that he could display the steadfastness of God’s character, and so that the Words of God could be exalted! 

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Things I know for sure from this passage:

  • God is not offended by our questions.
  • We need His presence more than His answers during times of suffering.
  • God’s Word provides stability, certainty, and steadiness.
  • Those who are hostile to God are often hostile to God’s people.
  • We are to stay faithful and leave the timing of things to God.

Next: Kaph

The Exodus Music recording of this section of Psalm 119 is especially beautiful. I’m a sucker for a cello accompaniment. You can feel the ache in David’s lament – take a listen!

Stanza L

Maybe you noticed that I skipped from J to L? I have nothing against K. My firstborn’s name starts with K. It’s just that I had to shave 4 letters off the English alphabet in order to match the 22 letter Hebrew aleph-bet. K, Q, X and Z got the boot because they have the least number of words in my thesaurus. It was strictly an objective decision. K?

Psalm 119:81-88

Longing for rescue, I fade fast,
   till I think of Your hopeful words.

Looking high and low for lifelines,
     I say, “Are you coming, or not?”

Listless as a shriveled up leaf,
     I make myself remember You.

Lonely, long days pass while I wait;
     when will my foes get their payback?

Look! Those hotshots plan my downfall;
     surely that goes against Your law.

Listen, Lord, I trust Your commands,
     but I need help with these bullies.

Life just about ended for me,
     still I won’t turn my back on You.

Love me, Lord, and safeguard my life;
     say the word and I will obey.

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Next: Long Song Study, part L

 

J is for Joy

“J” may not have many pages in the thesaurus (only 81 words), but it’s a different story in the Bible dictionary. There are 244 proper names in the good book that start with “J”. Here’s a sampling: Jesus, Jacob, Judah, Job, John, Joshua, James, Joseph, Joanna, Judas, Josiah, Jonah, Jezebel, Jeremiah, Jabez….. “J” was very popular in Bible times. Of course, in Hebrew these names started with “Yodh”.

Since I’m going to stick with my self-imposed rules, my favorite word that starts with J is JOY. It’s a happy word. I think we all could use a happy word right now.

I’ve heard it said that there is difference between happiness and joy. Some believe happiness is based on external happenings while joy comes from within. Maybe. But in the original Biblical languages there isn’t a delineation between the two. Joyful people are happy — happy people have joy.

Here is one of the best definitions of joy I’ve  heard:

Joy is the settled assurance
that God is in control
of all the details of my life,

the quiet confidence
that ultimately everything
is going to be alright

and the determined choice
to praise God
in every situation.”
(Rick Warren)

Did you get that?
Settled assurance,
quiet confidence,
determined choice.

That’s what joy looks like while we’re on this side of eternity.
We can get help from the Holy Spirit to cultivate this fruit of joy.

But just you wait.
We ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

“Those the LORD has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”
Isaiah 35:10

We’re gonna sing with joy!
We’re gonna wear joy-crowns!
We’re gonna be carried away with joy!

joy

My favorite word in the Bible that starts with “J” is JOY!

Yodh

Yodh (also written as Yod) is the tenth letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Yodh has the same sound as “y” as in “yes”. Every line in Psalm 119:73-80 starts with this letter. Yodh looks like this:

yodh

The Yodh is the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet.
It’s the one that looks kind of like an apostrophe.
hebrew
Yodh may be small, but it is the most used letter in Hebrew writings.
Every letter has a Yodh in it, making it the basis of the entire language.

Because the Yodh is used to form all the other letters, it represents God’s omnipresence. Rabbis took it even farther and said the Yodh was the single point from which all creation emerged. Yet because it is the smallest letter, it shows how God delights in using the weak and insignificant to demonstrate His power and glory.

Yodh is the first letter in the divine name of God — Yahweh
Yodh is the first letter in the Savior’s name — Yeshua (Jesus)
Yodh is the first letter in the name of the chosen people — Yisrael (Israel)

Take another look at the Yodh.
That pen stroke that curves down on the right is called a “jot”.
That tiny swoop up on the left side is called a “tittle”.
These are the smallest of markings and the reason why scribes bent over their parchments with their faces so close to their careful copy work. If one jot or tittle was missing, the whole scroll had to be buried and they had to start over.

That would be like throwing out a whole book
because one “i” didn’t have its dot
or one “t” wasn’t crossed.

Jesus talked about the Yodh.
In Matthew 5:18 Jesus said,
“Till heaven and earth pass,
one jot or one tittle
shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled”.

In other words, every period and every comma in God’s Word has purpose and meaning. It’s all true and trustworthy, right down to the apostrophes. It contains no errors and it is guaranteed to come to pass just exactly as it is written. There is no changing it and no stopping its fulfillment. God is reliable, and so is His Word—every jot and tittle of it.

God’s meticulous and precise attention to detail is breathtaking. We see it in nature, in our physical bodies, and in His Word. The Yodh reminds us that He cares about the details of our lives, too. Even — especially — small, weak, insignificant people like you and me.

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

 

Long Song Study, part J

The Bible doesn’t always tell us what we want to hear.
We tend to skip over those parts.
Not today.
Prepare your heart for Affliction, Round 2.

verse 76

Psalm 119:73-80

Verse 73
Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments.
We weren’t accidents. God’s hands made us. Then His hands shaped us — and that shaping is still going on. Affliction is one of those “shaping” experiences that either gets us “bent out of joint” or helps us learn and grow. Look at how intricately God fashioned our bodies — “He is prepared to take equal pains with the soul.” (Spurgeon) We need only to trust the hands of the Potter as He continues to shape us, and pray for understanding instead of becoming embittered.

Verse 74
Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice, because I have hoped in your word.
Here’s why. People are watching to see how we handle adversity. A suffering believer who doesn’t lose faith has a powerfully positive impact on others. Christopher Ash says it better than I can:

When they see me, afflicted but trusting, hurting and hoping, holding on to your word of promise, they too will rejoice and take courage…
When I see the living faith of a suffering believer, I am deeply encouraged to persevere myself…
It is good to hear of answers to prayer that change circumstances. But it is better to hear of answers to prayer that change people, so that they persevere in unchanged circumstances…
To be quite honest, I am not nearly so encouraged in my struggles as when I see a believer who is really going through hard times, and yet still holding on to the word of God. (Bible Delight)

I’ve known people who gave up on faith when their prayers didn’t stop the suffering and bring a miracle. I’ve known people who got their miracle healing, but still drifted away. And then I’ve known a mother of four young children sit in the front pew on the Sunday after her husband’s funeral. And every Sunday after that. Which one had an impact on my faith? Who inspired me to hang on?

Verse 75
I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.
Ouch. This verse stings a little. Perhaps it reveals that we have a faulty understanding of the point of affliction. We tend to think we need to “just get through” times of trial until everything is back to normal and we can continue on our merry way. We grit our teeth, power through, and get back on track with God when it passes. The Psalmist saw it differently. He saw his hardship as the concrete proof of God’s faithfulness!

Were He not faithful to His promise, He would not trouble to afflict me. For he does not willingly afflict; He afflicts because it is the only way to achieve His promise and to keep me walking in His way. The affliction is not the failure of God’s faithfulness, but precisely the expression of it. (Bible Delight, Christopher Ash)

Verse 76
Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant.
David wrestled with this, but instead of begging for the trial to be lifted, he asked for comfort from God’s hand while in it. He craved that “hesed” love during his time of trouble, claiming his right to it under the covenant, as a humble servant.

Verse 77
Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight.
The King James Version says, “Let Thy tender mercies come unto me…” As Spurgeon stated, “He needed not only mercy, but mercies, and these must be of a very gracious and considerate kind, even tender mercies, for he was sore with his wounds.” David knew, as we should, that the mercy of God always comes. It comes especially easy for those who continue to delight in His Word.

Verse 78
Let the insolent be put to shame, because they have wronged me with falsehood; as for me, I will meditate on your precepts.
Although David desired his arrogant, proud persecutors to be publicly exposed and to receive just punishment, he didn’t take it on himself to carry out justice. He left that to God. Even in the days of King David, there was the spinning of lies to undermine leadership. It must have been so hard to refrain from retaliation. How did David do it? He meditated on the covenant promises and truth of God’s word.

Verse 79
Let those who fear you turn to me, that they may know your testimonies.
David turned his attention away from his accusers and toward his fellow believers. He asked to be an encouragement to his community of faithful followers. Christopher Ash asks important questions: “What happens when Christians turn to us? Do they see in us men and women who hope in the word of God, who walk his way, who in the midst of affliction have our hearts and minds filled with his testimonies rather than the lies of the world?” (Bible Delight) Are people impacted by our testimonies? Or do we keep our afflictions under wraps so no one has any idea of the pressures we’re facing, and therefore can’t rejoice in the inspiring example of our faith? What are we missing by refusing to be vulnerable and honest?

Verse 80
May my heart be blameless in your statutes, that I may not be put to shame!
The word “blameless” in Hebrew means “entire, with integrity”. One version says, “Let my heart be whole.” (Voice) Although we have sin natures and can’t be perfect before God, He provided a way for us to be “whole and holy” (Message) through Jesus Christ. We don’t need to worry about being put to shame when we are whole-heartedly living for Him.

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Things I know for sure from this passage:

  • The same God who created me is continuing to work in me.
  • I need to re-consider my understanding of affliction.
  • Comfort and delight are possible even during times of trial.
  • I am meant to have a positive effect on believers in my community.
  • Suffering teaches me things I couldn’t learn any other way.

Next: Yodh

Stanza J

Another week is here, so that means another section of Psalm 119, another Long Song study, another Hebrew letter, and another favorite word.

There are only four pages of words that start with “J” in my thesaurus, and not many of those seem to fit into biblical language. Evidently, jangle, jingle and jungle weren’t in David’s vocabulary. So brace yourself for Stanza J. I didn’t have much to work with.
If this sounds like I’m making excuses, I am.
If this rewording seems a bit contrived, it is.
If you’re willing to cut me some slack, let’s go!

Psalm 119:73-80

Joints, muscles, skin — Your hands shaped me;
     now help me to study Your ways.

Joy spreads when others observe me;
     they see I pin my hopes on You.

Just and upright are Your commands,
     and so are the trials You allow.

Join me with Your loving comfort,
     based on Your covenant promise.

Jam my life full of Your kindness,
     for I find Your words refreshing.

Judge the haughty who bring me down,
     while I concentrate on Your law.

Jerk the God-lovers toward my path,
     those who know what You’re all about.

Just keep me steady in Your word,
     so I can hold my head up high.

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Next: Long Song Study, part J

I is for In

in

“In” is such an itty-bitty word.
We use it hundreds of times a day without thinking.

“In” was a key word in Jesus’ teaching on the vine and the branches.
“Abide in me
and
I will abide in you.”
John 15:4

We are in Jesus
and Jesus is in us.

When Jesus prayed for all of us in John 17, He said,
“…that all of them may be one, Father,
just as you are in me
and I am in you…
…that they may be one as we are one
I in them
and you in me.”

God is in Jesus
and Jesus is in God
and Jesus is in us
and we are in Jesus.

Paul used the phrase “in Christ” over 160 times in his letters.
It’s an important little word.
Nevertheless, it’s a hard concept to get the mind around.

Here’s some help from Bible commentator William Barclay:

When Paul spoke of the Christian being “in Christ”, he meant that the Christian lives “in Christ” as a bird in the air, a fish in the water, the roots of a tree in the soil. What makes a Christian different is that he is always and everywhere conscious of the encircling presence of Jesus Christ.”

We often hear that the life of faith begins
when we invite Jesus in —
into our hearts, into our lives.

But it sounds to me like Jesus is inviting us in —
into His life, into His power, into His presence.

Maybe it’s both.
Jesus is in me.
I am in Jesus.

May we always and everywhere be conscious of His encircling presence.

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

My favorite word in the Bible that starts with “I” is IN.

in christ