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An Explanation of Psalm 119

Interesting facts:

  • Psalm 119 is made up of 176 verses making it the longest psalm as well as the longest chapter in the Bible.
  • Psalm 119 contains more verses than 13 of the books in the Old Testament.
  • Psalm 119 contains more verses than 16 of the books in the New Testament.

Psalm 119 is an abecedarian acrostic.

Acrostic:  a series of lines or verses in which the first, last, or other particular letters when taken in order spell out a word, phrase, or some other specific meaning

Abecedarian:  of or pertaining to the alphabet; arranged in alphabetical order.

  • The 176 verses of Psalm 119 are divided into twenty-two stanzas, one stanza for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
  • Each stanza contains eight verses.
  • Each verse begins (In the original Hebrew) with a corresponding letter from the Hebrew alphabet represented by the stanza.
  • When translated from Hebrew the exact correspondence is somewhat lost but an example can be found in the first stanza:

Alef

A blessing is on them that are undefiled in the way;

and walk in the law of Jehovah;

A blessing is on them that keep his testimonies,

and seek him with their whole heart;

Also on them that do no wickedness,

but walk in his ways.

A law hast thou given unto us,

that we should diligently keep thy commandments.

Ah, Lord! that my ways were so directed

that I might keep thy statutes!

And then shall I not be confounded,

while I have respect unto all thy commandments.

As for me, I will thank thee with an unfeigned heart,

when I shall have learned thy righteous judgments.

An eye will I have unto thy statutes:

O forsake me not utterly.

  • Almost every verse in Psalm 119 incorporates a synonym for the work Torah, which means Law in Hebrew.
  • Psalm 119 is a prayer for the person desiring to dedicate themselves to the Torah, or Law, as the Torah is a source of blessing and proper conduct befitting a child of God.
  • It is a traditional story that King David used Psalm 119 to teach his son Solomon the alphabet along with the statues of the God they served.

Orthodox Christian and Catholic Use:

  • A Kathisma, is a division of the Psalter (Book of Psalms), used by Eastern Orthodox Christians and Eastern Catholics who follow the Byzantine Rite.
  • Byzantine monks recite all 150 psalms on a regular basis. Originally, the hermits in the desert would recite the entire Psalter every day.  With the spread of cenobitical monasticism, the practice began of chanting the Canonical Hours in common, and the Psalter thus became the foundation of the Daily Office, augmented by numerous hymns, prayers and scriptural readings.
  • The custom grew of reciting all 150 psalms each week during the course of the services. To facilitate this, the 150 psalms were divided into 20 sections, called kathismata, meaning literally, “sittings”.  The name is derived from the Psalms being read aloud while others sat and listened.
  • Psalm 119 (118 in the Septuagint) comprises an entire Kathisma (division of the Psalter) in Orthodox liturgical practice. In Orthodox monasteries it is read daily at the Midnight Office.
  • Psalm 119 is read at Matins on Saturdays and is also chanted on many Sundays throughout the year.
  • Psalm 119 is chanted with at Orthodox funeral services and on the various All-Souls Days occurring throughout the year, with “Alleluia” chanted between each verse as Alleluia signifies the victory over death accomplished by Christ’s death and Resurrection, and the eternal reward promised to the faithful.

Judaism Use:

  • Psalm 119:66 is recited prior to the Shofar blowing on Rosh Hashanah along with:  Psalm 119:108, Psalm 119:122, Psalm 119:160, and Psalm 119:162

Shofar is a horn, traditionally that of a ram, incorporated in synagogue services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year.

Yom Kippur means Day of Atonement, and is the holiest and most solemn day of the year for Jews.  Central themes are atonement and repentance and traditional observance incorporates a 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer. Yom Kippur completes the annual period known in Judaism as the High Holy Days or Yamim Nora’im (“Days of Awe”).

  • Psalm 119:72 is found in Pirkei Avot
  • Psalm 119:99 is found in Pirkei Avot

Pirkei Avot translates as Chapters of the Fathers and is a compilation of the ethical teachings and maxims of the Rabbis of the Mishnaic period.  Also known as Ethics of the Fathers.

  • Psalm 119:89–91 are recited during the blessings before the Shema on the second day of Rosh Hashanah.

Shema Yisrael (or Sh’ma Yisrael or just Shema) “Hear, Israel” are the first two words of a section of the Torah and is a centerpiece of the morning and evening Jewish prayer services.

The first verse encapsulates the monotheistic essence of Judaism:

Deuteronomy 6:4  Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is one

The Shema is the most important part of the prayer service and is recited twice a day as a mitzvah or religious commandment.  It is traditional for Jews to say the Shema as their last words, and for parents to teach their children to say it before they go to sleep at night.

The term Shema is used also to refer to the whole of the daily prayers that commence with Shema Yisrael.

The prayers give much insight as to why Psalm 119 is so important.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.

And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.

You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 11:13-21
And it shall be that if you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today, to love the Lord your God and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, then I will give you the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your grain, your new wine, and your oil. And I will send grass in your fields for your livestock, that you may eat and be filled.

Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them, lest the Lord’s anger be aroused against you, and He shut up the heavens so that there be no rain, and the land yield no produce, and you perish quickly from the good land which the Lord is giving you.

Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.

You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, like the days of the heavens above the earth.

Numbers 15:37-41
Again the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel:  Tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a blue thread in the tassels of the corners. And you shall have the tassel, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them, and that you may not follow the harlotry to which your own heart and your own eyes are inclined, and that you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy for your God.

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God:  I am the Lord your God.”

These sections of the Torah are read in the weekly Torah portions Va’etchanan, Eikev, and Shlach, respectively.

  • Psalm 119:165 is part of Talmud Berachot 64a. (Prayers for learning)
  • Psalm 119:166, Psalm 119:162, and Psalm 119:165 are recited in that order by the mohel at a brit milah.

brit milah (bris milôh,or bris) meaning “covenant of circumcision”, a Jewish religious circumcision ceremony performed on 8-day-old male infants by a mohel (a person trained to do circumcisions). The brit milah is followed by a celebratory meal (seudat mitzvah).

  • Psalm 119:142 is part of Uva Letzion

Uva Letzion, “and a redeemer shall come to Zion”, are the Hebrew opening words, and colloquially the name, of the closing prayer of the weekday morning service, before which one should not leave the synagogue.

  • Psalm 119:142 is part of Tzidkatcha.

Tzidkatcha, “Your righteousness”, is a prayer consisting of group of three verses that is recited during the afternoon prayer on Shabbat.  It is said in memory of three righteous individuals who died on Shabbat:   Joseph, Moses and King David.  It is recited at this prayer in particular because these individuals died in the afternoon.

Themes

Psalm 119 contains multiple themes and key words:

  • The goodness of God in the midst of affliction
  • The need to and benefits of delighting in the Law of God
  • The blessings of God
  • The love of God
  • The power of God
  • The Way of God
  • The Providence of God
  • The testimony of God
  • The commandments of God
  • The statutes of God
  • The precepts or teachings of God
  • The Word of God
  • The wisdom of God
  • The judgment of God
  • The Righteousness of God
  • The rule or standard of God
  • The truth of God
  • The faithfulness of God
  • God is sovereign
  • God is eternal

Hebrew to English:

  • DABAR:  word
  • Imrah:  saying
  • Chuqqim:  statutes or decrees
  • Mishpatim:  judgments
  • Torah:  law or teaching or truth or way (Pentateuch of Moses, the first 5 books of the Bible)
  • Mitsvat:  commands
  • Piqqudim:  precepts or guidelines
  • Eduth:  testimonies or instructions
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This entry was posted on May 21, 2012 by in All Sufficient God, Benefits of Serving God, Blessed, Deuteronomy, Devotion, Eternal, Faith, Fasting, Favor of God, Favorite Prayers, Fear of the Lord, Glory of God, God, God Hears Our Prayers, God of Restoration, God Our Defense, God Our Refuge, God Our Rock, God Our Salvation, God Rules, Guidance, Help, Holiness, Holy, Honor, Immutable, Infinite, Knowledge, Living Word of God, Numbers, Obedience, Old Testament, Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omniscient, Pentateuch or The Five Books of Moses, Praise, Prayer, Promises, Protection, Provision, Psalms, Rejoice, Righteousness, Servant, Sovereign, Truth, Understanding, Wisdom Books, Worship and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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