Let me start with this question: Can you think of a song that stirs something in you? You know the one: even talking about it gives you the good kind of goosebumps. Perhaps it’s a beautiful choral arrangement, or it could be a song that makes you think of a particular person. In any case, I would guess that very few of you are going to say that Psalm 119 is their particular goosebump-inducing song.
And I doubt that anyone would blame you. Psalm 119, after all, looks like one long love letter—176 verses long. I used to look at Psalm 119 as “the Psalm to skip” because it was just too long…and repetitive…and perhaps too contrived. I mean, who writes like that? An acrostic—really? What are you trying to prove?
But then I took the time to read Psalm 119. All of it. I studied specific verses, small chunks at a time (like today’s devotional of verses 1-8), and I came to realize that it’s beautiful. Forget the acrostic for a minute and let me encourage you to read this like a love letter, many love letters, or—better yet—verses in a song. It tells a story. It’s a living, breathing poem.
Psalm 119 can be read (or sung) as a song about perseverance in the midst of difficulty. It’s about commitment and patience. It’s about learning about the way of righteousness (and probably failing a good amount of the time). This Psalm doesn’t rush it, nor does it promise blessing quickly. Rather, it talks about walking, following, and taking the long way. But the blessing does come: a blessing which is worth describing for another 168 verses. In this description of perseverance, commitment, patience, learning, walking, following…all attributes describe a beautiful love. This is a love for God’s Law because, through it all, the Law provides the means to be close to God and bask in God’s love.
This Psalm talks about the Law—not as some rigid document by which we measure our un-holiness, but rather as a blessing; an encouragement from someone who wants to see us succeed. God gives us the Law as a way to say, “Here’s the way to live a life close to me; a life with fewer regrets, with more gratitude, with abundance and joy and peace!” You want the recipe for “The Good Life”? Look to the Law of God. It will take work, guaranteed—a lot of attention and correction—but it will be worth it. Other places in scripture, such as James 1:12, confirm this, adding in that the “crown of life” will be given to those who persevere—to those who love God.
And sure, this Psalm is repetitive. But if I’m honest about some of the notes that I wrote while I was dating the woman who is now my wife, I was guilty of the same thing. Love can be repetitive, but it still continues to work on all parts of the relationship, growing it together and teaching us about each other through the years.
One of the difficulties of our world is that we are tempted to love many things instead of (or more than) the Law of God: things, or someone else’s opinion of us, or even that “American dream.” Things and people’s interpretations of us offer immediate gratification or instant feedback. But in this age of impatience, I think Psalm 119 invites us to sing a long song of patience, persistence, commitment, and learning from failure. This Psalm invites us into verse after verse of lessons about the length of love.
Yet we are not creatures known for our length of love. We are easily distracted, needing reminders and community to bring us back together—and ultimately, needing a Savior. Jesus taught us that the heart of God’s Law is about relationship and how we might live as people who respond to God’s grace with gratitude. Jesus’s death and resurrection conquered the grave and the punishment for sin under the Law – and what remains is relationship.
What if our worshipping communities made Psalm 119 their anthem? What if talking about the gift of God’s Law made our hearts leap in a good way? I believe Psalm 119 has the potential to be a song that, when mentioned, gives us the good kind of goosebumps.