God’s rules are Great!

A Reflection on Psalm 119.97-104 by Canon Rob,
16th October, 18th Sunday after Trinity

With 176 verses, Psalm 119 is by far the longest of all the psalms and unless you have plenty of time or, better, read only a few each day, for once I won’t suggest you read and reflect upon them all! Not only is it long, but it is also an acrostic psalm: with each line in every stanza, of eight verses, beginning with the same letter in the Hebrew alphabet. So in the verses we are reflecting upon today, we are up to the Hebrew letter pronounced “mem.” As well as that, in each verse we find a facet of God’s law. For example, in verse 99 we read of God, your testimonies are my meditation” and in verse 102, “I have not turned aside from your judgements.” This may all sound rather complicated but the message of the whole psalm is simple: God’s law is loved, even venerated, and today some of the verses, like the one in the picture above, which is actually verse 105, have found their way into Christian worship and devotion. And look at verse 103, “How sweet are your words on my tongue! They are sweeter than honey to my mouth.” The author certainly knew how to paint a beautiful picture with words and who would have thought that God’s rules, or Law passed down from the time of Moses, could be thought of with such pleasure. Many look upon the Ten Commandments as restrictive and inhibiting, but for the psalmist they were freeing and to be rejoiced over.

I wasn’t the brightest of pupils at school nor always the best behaved, but there were bullies who regularly taunted me for trying my best. Yet when I reflect upon the verses of today’s psalm it’s easy to think the author was a bit too clever for his own good. Read slowly through the verses set for today and you might agree with me. Isn’t he boasting when he says in verse 97, “Lord, how I love your law! All day long it is my study.” Or in verse 100, “I am wiser than the aged, because I keep your commandments.” But here is someone who is passionate about the thing which matters most to him and which he has found from personal experience has brought him great joy and lasting contentment. However, like the other authors of the psalms, the writer of Psalm 119, is a realist and has faced his own share of suffering. For example back in verse 95 he wrote, “The wicked have waited for me to destroy me,…” and he refers to his “enemies” in verse 98. Yet it is his trust in the Lord which encourages him to keep studying and far from boasting, in verse 102 he acknowledges God as the One who has “been my teacher.” The honour and glory are given to God!

There is no doubt at all that the author of Psalm 119 is writing and speaking from the heart. As you reflect upon these verses, and perhaps others if you care to read them, you will find that he has an integrity second to none. But he is not alone. Look at Psalm 1 verse 2 for instance where the author refers to those who trust in God: “Their delight is in the law of the Lord and they meditate on his law day and night;” and in Psalm 19 verse 10 we read that the Lord’s judgements are “sweeter…than honey dripping from the honeycomb.” Then, outside the Psalter we find similar sentiments. So in Jeremiah 15.16 we read, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart.” Sweeter than honey perhaps? In Ezekiel 3.3 we find the Lord asking the prophet to open his mouth and eat the scroll containing the Lord’s words and, “I ate it and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey.” [Both quotations from the NRSV.]

There is much to encourage us in the verses of this psalm set for today and I recommend you read them slowly several times and ask God to help you in your understanding, not only of God’s Law but also in you prayer and reading of the Bible, especially the psalms. They are a great source of inspiration and wisdom because, whilst always about God who is Mighty and in heaven, they are also grounded in human experience.

You are gracious and do good; O Lord, teach me your statutes.

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