Psalm 119: Aleph - Die Glückseligkeit dem Wort zu gehorchen
This poem is composed of 22 strophes, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Each strophe is made up of eight lines, and each line of a given strophe starts with the same letter of the alphabet; so, for example, the first eight lines all start with the letter Aleph. This alphabetic acrostic form serves to underscore the completeness of the celebration of the Lord’s torah, the perfection of that torah (see 119:96), and its comprehensive wisdom that is applicable to all of life (see 119:98–100).
Seven other synonyms are used, yielding a total of eight words used for the Lord’s instruction; this eight matches the eight lines per strophe (Allen 1983:139) and further underscores the message of the poem. The eight words in order of frequency are torah [8451, 9368] (“instruction”; 25 times), dabar [1697, 1821] (“word”; 24 times), mishpatim [4941, 5477] (“laws”; 23 times), ‘eduth [5715, 6343] (“statute”; 23 times), mitswah [4687, 5184] (“commandment”; 22 times), khoq [2706, 2976] (“prescription, rule”; 21 times), piqqudim [6490, 7218] (“instructions, procedures”; 21 times), and ’imrah [565, 614] (“promise”; 19 times).
The word torah is the lead term, as indicated by its use in 119:1 and the fact that it is the most frequent term (Allen 1983:139), and it highlights God’s instruction as the theme of the song.
5 Themen gehen aus hervor, welche er uns über Gottes Unterweisung lehrt:
1. Unsere Haltung gegenüber der Unterweisung des Herrn:
Our Attitude toward the Lord’s Instruction. Love is the first word. We love the Lord’s instruction very much (119:167). In fact, we love it more than “the finest gold” (119:127). Our love means we honor that instruction (119:48). We not only love to study it (119:97), we also love to put it into practice (119:127–129). Coupled with our love for the Lord’s instruction is our delight in it: “How I delight in your commands! How I love them!” (119:47). We delight in the Lord’s instruction as we would delight in finding a great treasure (119:111). This delight is joined with our longing to experience more of God’s salvation (119:174) and thus serves as a basis for our appealing to the Lord for his mercy in our lives. Our love and delight in the Lord’s instruction shows that our relation to this instruction is not just a matter of external conformity to principles but a desire that comes from deep within our hearts. We search for God with all our hearts (119:2), hide his instruction within our hearts (119:11), and desire to put his instructions into practice with our hearts (119:34). “Of ‘legalistic piety’ there is not a trace” in this psalm (Kraus 1989:420). Rather, in Psalm 119 we read of a relationship wherein we desire from our hearts to live in keeping with the instructions of our God.
2. Unser Verlangen für des Herrn Unterweisung:
Our Desire for the Lord’s Instruction. Repeatedly the psalmist uses an imperative verb form to ask God for instruction. We desire that the Lord teach us both so we can better understand his instruction (119:26–27) and so we can better put those instructions into practice (119:33). Good judgment for living well in God’s world is one key thing we want to learn from the Lord (119:66). We want to learn from the Lord, because of his character: He is good (119:68), and he is love (119:64, 124, 135), so we can be confident that all he teaches us will be for our good and that we might love even as he loves. Our desire to be taught by the Lord is one way we show him that we are grateful for his goodness and love (119:108).
3. Unsere Entschlossenheit zu Leben im Halten der Unterweisungen des Herrn:
Our Resolve to Live in Keeping with the Lord’s Instruction. Committing ourselves to live in keeping with the Lord’s instruction is our choice. It is a choice that the psalmist made (119:113, 173). That this choice is coupled with a firm resolve is seen in 119:30: “I have chosen to be faithful; I have determined to live by your regulations.” The psalmist wholeheartedly searches for and devotes himself to God’s word (119:2, 10, 45, 94). The psalmist also frequently uses the cohortative to express this resolve, as in the expressions, “I will study your commandments and reflect on your ways” (119:15), “I will meditate on your wonderful deeds” (119:27), “I will obey your decrees” (119:145). This resolve is no fair-weather commitment but is strong even in the face of hardship and opposition. Throughout the psalm we read words like: “Even princes sit and speak against me, but I will meditate on your decrees” (119:23); “The proud hold me in utter contempt, but I do not turn away from your instructions” (119:51); “Evil people try to drag me into sin, but I am firmly anchored to your instructions” (119:61); “Though the wicked hide along the way to kill me, I will quietly keep my mind on your laws” (119:95); “Many persecute and trouble me, yet I have not swerved from your laws” (119:157). This resolve results in great benefits.
4. Unser Vorteil von der Unterweisung des Herrn:
Our Benefits from the Lord’s Instruction. Following the Lord’s instructions results in great benefits to us. One benefit is peace: “Those who love your instructions have great peace and do not stumble” (119:165). Another is comfort: “Your promise revives me; it comforts me in all my troubles” (119:50; see also 119:52, 76). Another is freedom: “I will walk in freedom, for I have devoted myself to your commandments” (119:45). Along with the mention of these benefits are the frequent references to the tremendous, life-renewing power of God’s word, e.g., “I lie in the dust; revive me by your word” (119:25) and “I have suffered much, O LORD; restore my life again as you promised” (119:107). And then there is the hope that fills our hearts through the medium of God’s instruction: “Do not snatch your word of truth from me, for your regulations are my only hope” (119:43) and “I rise early, before the sun is up; I cry out for help and put my hope in your words” (119:147). The psalmist says, “Your instructions are more valuable to me than millions in gold and silver” (119:72). One of the reasons this is so is because of all the benefits God’s instruction brings into our lives. Another is because our Lord’s instruction reveals his heart.