When we consider Psalm 119, the longest of all the psalms, we see in a very real sense that its meaning is in its magnitude. It is an extended meditation upon the revelation of God, the sheer size of which overwhelms the reader with an inundation of lofty poetry and exalted refrains. One-hundred and seventy-six verses—each of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet represented by its own set of eight verses—all pile upon one another to form a psalm whose weightiness cannot be ignored.
Yet even in the midst of so many verses, the psalm never comes across as merely repetitive. It reveals subtle nuances, takes delicate turns, and makes use of varied perspectives. Not one of the lines is a throw-away. Every word contributes to the psalm. The psalm itself serves as a microcosm of the depth and variety of God’s self-revelation.
Perhaps no better overview could be supplied than that of Charles Spurgeon:
This psalm is a wonderful composition. Its expressions are many as the waves, but its testimony is one as the sea. It deals all along with one subject only; but although it consists of a considerable number of verses, some of which are very similar to others, yet throughout its one hundred and seventy-six stanzas the self-same thought is not repeated: there is always a shade of difference, even when the color of the thought appears to be the same. Some have said that in it there is an absence of variety; but that is merely the observation of those who have not studied it.
Spurgeon goes on to expound further on the variety of Psalm 119:
Its variety is that of a kaleidoscope: from a few objects innumerable permutations and combinations are produced. In the kaleidoscope you look once, and there is a strangely beautiful form; you shift the glass a very little, and another shape, equally delicate and beautiful, is before your eyes. So it is here. What you see is the same, and yet never the same: it is the same truth, but it is always placed in a new light, put in a new connection, or in some way or other invested with freshness.
And this is entirely appropriate. After all, the theme of the psalm is God’s revelation—something which the Psalmist itself declares to be a delight (24), good (39), righteous (62), better than gold and silver (72), sure (86), life-giving (93), exceedingly broad (96), sweeter than honey (103), a lamp (105), right (128), wonderful (129), true (142), and enduring forever (160). If these are the qualities of God’s revelation, then it deserves to be praised with the kind of fresh, vibrant reverberation that Psalm 119 affords.
Ultimately, this psalm is meant to inspire love for the word of God within the hearts of the people of God. Those souls who look lazily and indifferently upon the self-revelation of the sovereign Lord of the universe are called to ponder anew the glory and majesty of a speaking, acting, commanding, teaching God. They are called to delight themselves in that which is surpassingly delightful. They are called to feast upon life-giving, soul-nourishing food. And as a result, they are called join the Psalmist in heart-stirring praise. Indeed, nobody who truly understands the nature and merits of God’s word can realistically do anything less than worship.
The question for contemporary readers then becomes this: If forced to write nearly two-hundred verses on Scripture, what could I come up with? Would I merely repeat the three or four dusty old doctrines that have been handed down to me? Or would I overflow with joy while reciting my manifold experiences with God’s word, my confidence in it, and my longing for it? Do I have such a wealth of experiential knowledge that I could wax eloquent for verse after verse without growing bored or running out of material? Or am I merely a well-trained parrot who is able to lifelessly recite certain facts that I have known since first-grade Sunday school class?
The way we answer these questions are perhaps as good of a barometer as any for determining how fervent our affections are for God’s word. And determining how fervent our affections are for God’s word is perhaps as good of a barometer as any for determining how fervent our affections are for God himself.
So as it turns out, Psalm 119 is more than just a really long acrostic poem. It is a pinnacle of Scripture which celebrates the immense depth, complete beauty, matchless perfection, and endless delight of God’s revelation—all while confronting those who see it as anything less than immensely deep, completely beautiful, matchlessly perfect, and endlessly delightful.
Spurgeon’s words once again provide an appropriate closing thought:
What favored beings are those to whom the Eternal God has written a letter in his own hand and style! What ardor of devotion, what diligence of composition, can produce a worthy eulogium for the divine testimonies! If ever one such has fallen from the pen of man it is this 119th Psalm, which might well be called the holy soul’s soliloquy before an open Bible.