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 Zayin, Heth, and Teth. The Revised Standard Version entitled these stanzas as; “The hope and comfort in God’s law,” “The Lord our portion,” and “God’s law taught by affliction.” The part of this reading that spoke to me was from the Heth stanza (verses 57-64), “Your love, God, fills the earth! Train me to live by your counsel.” What a wonderful thought, God’s love filling the earth.
Last night, thirty three Chilean miners were rescued from the mine they had been trapped in for sixty nine days. The miners ranged in age from nineteen to sixty three years. They shared in an experience that few of us can imagine and none of us want to have. They also were recipients of something very unique; worldwide petitionary prayer and concern. Why? There had been other miners trapped in other places that did not garner such attention. There were other mining accidents that involved larger numbers of miners that were largely ignored by the world. Why these miners? I don’t know but, it was almost as if God had decided to fill the earth with love, care, and concern for these poor miners. Throughout the world, people of faith lifted these men up in their prayers. Down in the mine and on the surface these men and their families prayed for mercy. As the dramatic scene of their rescue unfolded chants of, “Chi! Chi! Chi! Le! Le! Le! Los mineros de Chile!” erupted at Camp Hope each time a miner was brought to the surface. Across the globe there were prayers of thanksgiving being lifted up to God in the wake of these chants. Mercy was shown and the poor were blessed. O God, teach us now to live by your counsel!
Most people in the United States would probably say that they are familiar with this psalm. This was the first psalm that I memorized as a small boy. For many people it is the only psalm that they ever memorize. Today, as I look out at our society and hear the various commentaries on our nation’s economic and social condition, I am struck by the seemingly pervasive mood of fear that has seized us. This fear is not limited to just our secular world. In many ways, it has seized the church. It is often displayed in terms of worry about the shrinking number of people on our church rolls and the financial challenges that some of our congregations face. If we took seriously the first declaration of this psalm, we would be freed from this spiritual prison of fear. “You, LORD, are my shepherd. I will never be in need.” (CEV) If this is true, we don’t have anything to worry about. The question is, “Do we really believe this?” Or more importantly, “How can we come to believe this?” Rest and be at peace for God will care for you.
In this psalm of Asaph, we hear a lament for the destruction of Jerusalem. The horrible scene is laid out before us in poetic fashion. The emotion of the lament swells as the recounting of the destruction proceeds. Then in verse nine, we hear the psalmist petitioning God for forgiveness, “Help us, O God of our salvation, Because of the honour of Thy name, And deliver us, and cover over our sins, For Thy name’s sake.” (YLT) The answer to this petition was and still is Jesus. We need God to cover over our sin. We need God to make a way for us to God: God has done this in Jesus. The psalmist concludes with a promise to praise God, “So we thy people and sheep of thy pasture will give thee thanks for ever: we will shew forth thy praise to all generations.” (KJV) Let us do likewise.