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Systematic reading and studying of the Bible is a cornerstone of our faith. A lot of people base their ideas about God on a verse here and a verse there. This can be very misleading. For example, the first day you might read Matthew 27:5 Judas went and hanged himself. Then the second day you run across Luke 10:37 Go and do likewise. And then the third day you go to John 13:27 What you are about to do, do quickly. Maybe you would start a new church based on this new doctrine. This would give new meaning to the term "hanging out in church." As you can see, its better to read a complete section or book in the Bible to get an overall view of Gods teaching.
In order to appreciate the importance of Gods word, I want to look at Psalm 119. The 119th Psalm is the longest chapter in the whole Bible. It contains 176 verses. Some believe the psalm was written by Ezra about 450 B.C., others by David about 1000 B.C. The reason it is so long is that it is a composition from the heart written to extol the virtue of studying Gods word. There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The psalmist wrote 8 verses for each letter with all eight beginning with the same letter. 8 x 22 = 176. The author obviously thought studying the Bible was important.
In English we would say that he wrote the first 8 verses beginning with the letter "A," then the next 8 beginning with the letter "B," and so forth. Some of your Bibles will have the names of the Hebrew letters at the beginning of each section. For example before verse 1 theres aleph, before verse 9 theres beth, before verse 17 gimel, then daleth, he, etc. These are the names of the Hebrew letters. In 174 of the 176 verses the author has used one of nine words to describe Gods scripture. These words show us the completeness and impact of the Bible. They are: law, word, judgement, testimony, command, statute, precept, saying, and way. He methodically switches between these words in a work of love to express from his soul the grandeur of the Bible. As he wrote in verse 89 , "For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven."
Each verse in this psalm tells us something a little different about Gods word. No two verses are exactly the same. Its amazing when you think of it that someone could find so much to say about the scriptures. I hope it causes us to realize how important it is to study the Bible.
Well not look at all 176 verses of this psalm, but I want to look at the first 11 verses.
Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD!
This first verse contains a promise of blessing for those "who walk in the law of the Lord." In order to walk in the law, it seems to me that we have to know what the Bible says. This does not happen overnight. It only comes as we spend time reading and studying Gods word. If you want to be blessed of God, and not be constantly struggling in your Christian walk, you are going to have to make time to read the Bible. I have found its easiest to do when you make it a regular habit. Make yourself reasonable daily goals for Bible reading: such as, one chapter a day, one column a day, one paragraph a day. As you get into the habit of daily reading, you may wish to extend the amount to read but dont set too high a goal at first. If you decided to read five chapters a night and miss a week, youll suddenly find yourself 35 chapters behind. Then you may be so frustrated that you give up altogether. Its best to start off with short, small goals, then build up to bigger reading schedules. Reading the Bible on a regular basis is essential for all Christians, but especially for new believers.
Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with the whole heart!
This verse tells us we are blessed when we "keep his testimonies." Not only do we need to read and study the Bible, but we need to obey it. This means that as we read the Bible, we need to examine our own life. See if there are areas we need to change. We need to consider what the portion of scripture is teaching us. If we find ourselves falling short of Gods standard, then we need to commit to obey. In this way we can apply Gods word to our life. James 1:23-25 tells us, "Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it--he will be blessed in what he does."
Sometimes we will read a part of the Bible, and we will wonder if what is written applies to our particular situation. Its at those times that we have to do what the second half of verse 2 tells us "seek Him with the whole heart." As we read the Bible and seek God for instruction, we will discover new insights from the Lord.
They also do no iniquity; they walk in His ways.
The meaning of this verse is probably better expressed by the New Century Version, "They don't do what is wrong; they follow his ways." Reading the Bible will teach us right from wrong. We wont always succeed in doing no wrong, but we wont be guilty of inadvertently disobeying God because we are ignorant of his ways. I have learned that as I progress in my Christian walk, the Lord is constantly revealing from his word new areas of my life that I must change, or turn over to him. We never truly arrive as a mature Christian. We are constantly in a state of being taught from Gods word. As we read the Bible and obey his commands, we find some areas of sin in our life disappearing or diminishing in their influence. But then we discover new areas of sin in our life that we hadnt identified as sin before. As we learn from scripture, the light of Gods word continues to shine brighter revealing new areas of darkness in our life. It is a constant growing process.
You have commanded us to keep Your precepts diligently.
Jesus said in John 14:15, "If you love Me, keep My commandments." Here in verse 4 the psalmist exhorts us to keep his precepts diligently. We need to be diligent about Gods word: diligent in reading it, diligent in learning from it, and diligent in obeying it.
Diligence is very important for the new believer. When you see believers struggling, or going from one crisis to another, most often they tell you that they havent been diligent. They have been neglecting their Bible reading, neglecting their attendance in church, and neglecting their prayer times. If we want to be victorious Christians, we have to be diligent. We must be determined to discipline ourselves into obeying Gods commands diligently.
My Dad had his own business as a mobile mechanic. Once he received a call from Mariposa. He drove all the way up there, couldnt find the people, and drove all the way back to Livingston where we lived. He told me he couldnt find the right street. Since I was in High School at the time, and confident that I knew more than my parents anyway, I asked him how come he didnt ask for directions. By the look he gave me, I could tell Mom had already asked him that question, and perhaps he was beginning to ask himself the same question. I dont want to give you the wrong impression of my Dad. He was usually very much in charge, but this time he didnt want to ask for directions. Thats the way we are sometimes. We are lost and cant seem to find our way, but we dont want to look in the Bible and find directions.
Oh, that my ways were directed to keep Your statutes!
Here the psalmist reveals the human dilemma. We want to be obedient, but we often fall short. So he cries out in anguish a prayer to God. He prays: direct my ways to keep your statutes. Sometimes we need wisdom, sometimes we need strength, and all the time we need Gods help. Every time you read the Bible, pray. Ask God to help you understand his word, to reveal his truth to you, to help you apply his word to your life, and to help you have the strength to overcome sin. Prayer and Bible reading go together.
In 1827 Charles Bridges wrote, "Attention to the word, however important, can never be practically effective without earnest prayer."
There have been many passages of scripture that have been made clear to me only after a time of prayer for God to help me understand his word. Always pray before you begin reading the Bible. Its also good to pray after youve finished your Bible reading for God to apply his word to your life.
Then I would not be ashamed, when I look into all Your commandments.
The idea of being ashamed when you did wrong may seem like a foreign thought to todays society. Todays culture seems to honor the "bad boy," and seems to promote those with an "attitude." But it wasnt that many years ago that people felt real shame when they did something wrong. As we begin studying the Bible, we will rediscover that shame which is really a feeling of guilt, and we will want to, from deep inside of ourselves, do the right thing. The light of Gods word will reveal sin in our life which we may not realize is there, or which we have ignored for so many years by rationalizing it away.
In this next phrase the psalmist says hes going to look into all of Gods commandments.
This is our life-long goal: to examine Gods word and learn from it. As Jesus said in John 5:39, "Search the scriptures...." This word "look" in the Hebrew is < ytiyb@iha> habity and has the meaning "regard" or "consider." Reading the Bible is good, but its not enough. We must regard or consider what we have read, apply it to our life, and allow it to change us.
I will praise You with uprightness of heart, when I learn Your righteous judgments.
This is what will happen to us when we really start to read and study Gods word. We will find ourselves wanting to do right deep inside of our heart. We will not always succeed, but we will realize our old nature and old habits are slowly being replaced by a new desire to serve God. This will cause us to want to praise God for all that he is doing in our life.
Notice that the psalmist calls Gods word "righteous judgments." Judgements were decrees handed down by the King or his representative. They were the law of the land, and anyone caught disobeying was severely punished. Sometimes kings and judges made mistakes, but God is not this way. He is a righteous judge: his decrees are perfect. I dont believe anyone can take what God says seriously unless they truly believe that Gods words in the Bible are without error. If we believe there are errors and blunders in the scriptures, then we wont know which verses to believe and which to ignore. It will become simply a matter of our own opinion. The whole of Psalm 119 is devoted to the scriptures. Here in verse 7 the psalmist calls the Bible righteous judgements: without error, perfect. If we want to learn from God, we must have the same attitude. When we do, then we will discover what the psalmist wrote in verse 105 of this psalm, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path."
I will keep Your statutes; Oh, do not forsake me utterly!
If we want to live a victorious life, an abundant life, we will have to keep Gods statutes obey his word. So many believers try to justify their actions and make excuses for not obeying Gods word. There was a man who was thinking of leaving his wife and moving in with his much-younger girlfriend. He was in the church one day bemoaning his dilemma, and my former pastor asked him one question, "John, what do you think is the right thing to do?" This is what he answered, "Well, I should dump my girlfriend and go back to my wife. Thats the right thing to do, but I just cant do it." You see he knew what God wanted him to do, but he was unwilling to be obedient. What excuses are you making for yourself? What are you doing that you know God doesnt approve of? Be like the psalmist and keep Gods statutes!
The last part of this verse "do not forsake me utterly" is
better expressed by the New Century Version, "please don't ever leave me."
Before we served God, we felt uncomfortable reading the Bible, going to church, and
hearing people talk about God. We wanted to be utterly
How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word.
There is a cleansing effect from reading and meditating upon the words of the Bible. This cleansing is two-fold: outward and inward.
First, as we read Gods word, we learn to identify areas of weakness in our life: sin, bad habits, wrong attitudes, harmful thinking patterns. Upon recognizing them, we become more aware of their damaging effect on our life. The result is we slowly learn to turn from these sinful things that have entrapped us for years. As the psalmist wrote in verse 18, "Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law."
Second, there is an inner cleansing that takes place in our soul as we meditate upon Gods holy word. We dont understand how this happens, but our soul is being fed and nourished and is growing spiritually stronger. We understand the need for physical food. And few of us skip too many meals, but we dont appreciate the need for spiritual food. As we feed on Gods word, our spirit is refreshed.
With my whole heart I have sought You; Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!
The psalmist sought the Lord with his whole heart. As we study the Bible we need to approach it with our whole being: we need to intellectually understand what it says, we need to emotionally believe that it is true, and we need to spiritually assent that we will obey it. Those who approach scriptures half-heartedly will always find themselves struggling in their Christian walk. When we embrace Gods word with our whole being, we will find it easier to not wander from his commandments. If we are lazy in our Bible reading and our prayer time with God, we will find ourselves easily slipping off into sinful practices. We will have a yo-yo experience. We will mess up our life so bad that we will come back to God for help. But after spending a little time with him and getting our life back together, we will once again neglect Bible reading and prayer. And the next thing we know were back in the abyss of disobedience. We will rush back to the throne of God for help once again, only to return to the pig-pen of sin later. We will be going from one crisis to the next. We will wonder why we can never have the joy of the Lord, and why we fall back into temptation so easily.
We need to seek the Lord with our whole heart and spend time with him: in his word, in prayer, in meditation, in communion. If you are faithful in reading the Bible, you will still sin (none of us ever arrive at perfection), but you will find it easier to not wander too far from his commandments.
Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You!
This is what we want to do: hide Gods word in our heart. Read it, think about it, apply it to our life, and obey it. Just reading the Bible on a regular basis will hide away Gods word in your heart. After awhile youll be surprised how much you know and remember. Memorizing key scriptures is good. Youll be able to share your favorite verses with others when they are going through difficult times, and be able to encourage yourself in your own trials.
Here the psalmist tells us the main reason we learn scriptures: so we wont sin against God. How easy it is to fall into temptation and rationalize our behavior when we dont know what the Bible teaches. But as we learn Gods word, we are forming a hedge of protection around our heart. We are learning first-hand what Gods commandments really are. Someone once said that if God wrote a book full of instructions for us and answers to all our problems, wouldnt we be sure to read it? Well, he has written a book; and that book is called the Bible. We need to be sure to read it and to learn from it.
Bridges commented on this verse, "It is not therefore a mere acquaintance with the word, that will avail us. There must be a cordial assent a sound digestion a constant respect. It must be to us the rule that we would not transgress the treasure that we are afraid to lose."
This study on Psalm 119:1-11 © 1997 by David Humpall. All Rights Reserved.
All scriptures unless otherwise noted are from the New King James Version © 1982, Thomas Nelson Publishers
Psalm 119:89 from the King James Version
James 1:23-25 from the New International Version © 1973, Zondervan Bible Publishers
Psalm 119:3 from the New Century Version © 1987 Word Publishing
Bridges: An Exposition of Psalm 119 pg. 20
John 5:39 from the King James Version
Psalm 119:8 from the New Century Version © 1987 Word Publishing
Bridges: An Exposition of Psalm 119 pg. 22