Psalm 119Â (or Psalm 118 in the Septuagint) is the longest psalm in the Psalter. It is also the longest chapter in the Bible. This psalm is a prayer that rejoices in the life in and instructed by the Law. Psalm 119 is a Hebrew alphabetic acrostic. Its 176 verses are divided into twenty-two stanzas of eight lines each. Each of its stanzas starts with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet, with each line in each stanza beginning with that same letter. This psalm is a sort of alphabetic soup for the soul.
Today’s passage contains three Stanzas corresponding to the Hebrew letters Mem, Nun, and Samekh. The Revised Standard Version entitled these stanzas as “The love of God’s law,” “God’s law a lamp to the feet,” and “God’s law a hiding place.” The part of this reading that spoke to me was from the Mem stanza (verses 97-104), “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (NIV) This verse brings back very fond memories. When this section of Psalm 119 is part of the lectionary readings for Sunday morning, I bring honey and a fresh loaf of bread for the Children’s Sermon. The children always respond in such a predictable way. There is however, that part of the Mem stanza that sounds rather arrogant, “I have more insight than all my teachers,” “I have more understanding than the elders,” and “I have kept my feet from every evil path.” Most of us would hesitate to make these sorts of claims less we appear to be self-righteous. This arrogance is mitigated here only by its source, “for I meditate on your statutes,” “for I obey your precepts,” and “so that I might obey your word.”
This psalm describes with great beauty what it means to have experienced God’s presence. The psalmist begins by describing his need to be in the presence of God in terms of survival itself. His body thirst for and aches to be in God’s presence. The psalmist describes God’s love as being “better than life.” The psalmist also describes the nature of his response in terms of singing praises, “with singing lips my mouth will praise you,” (NIV) and offering up prayers, “I will lift up my hands and call on your name.” (NRSV) One of the questions we might ask ourselves after praying over this psalm is, “Have we had an experience of God’s presence?” I find it interesting to note that the psalmist says that he saw God “in the sanctuary.” Many of us today seek God’s presence in so many different places; out on the lake, on the golf course, hunting, alone on the beach, or in the presence of our families. Do not misunderstand me. I believe that we can experience God in many different places and in many different ways. I also believe that we can most easily and fully experience God as we gather together around God’s Word with other believers lifting our voices together in prayer and in praise. So, if you want to experience God this weekend go to worship somewhere.
Psalm 99 is the last of the enthronement psalms in Book 4 of the Psalms. It is interesting to note that there are similarities between this psalm and Moses’ Song of Praise in Exodus 15. This psalm is a doxology which emphasizes the majesty of God while holding forth the incarnational work of God. It is no wonder that this psalm has been traditional used on Transfiguration Sunday. It is a psalm that makes clear the “otherness” of God while showing God as near. This is a psalm that calls us to worship God. Do we at times in our attempts to recognize the incarnation do injustice to the “otherness” of God in our worship and everyday lives? “The LORD reigns, let the nations tremble; he sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake.” (NIV)