THE VALUE OF THE WORD
Like me, I expect you are currently reading through the longest of the Psalms. And what a Psalm it is! packed full of instruction about the enduring profitability of Gods Word, instruction which is reiterated in so many different ways to make sure that it gets firmly drummed into our thick heads. I think it was G H Lang who said that the only figure of speech really worth anything was repetition; well, the Psalmist, whoever he was, certainly knew that! You might pause to consider how much is repeated (with some subtle variations) in Scripture. Deuteronomy, for example, means "the second law" and reminds Israel of the Sinaitic commandments; Psalm 14 turns up again as Psalm 53; much of Samuel/Kings is revisited in Chronicles; and of course the Gospel narratives provide a quadrupled account of the earthly ministry of Christ. As I read through this mornings portion of Psalm 119 I found myself jotting down on my scribbling pad some of the lessons we can learn about the Word. For your interest, here they are.
First, we note the necessity of the Word. This is brought home by the simple fact that every verse in this Psalm apart from two (vv.90,122) refers to the Scriptures. Indeed, the entire poem is a kind of A to Z of the Scriptures, because it is divided into sections representing the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet: that is, the whole of human language is mobilised into celebrating Gods Word. There can be no true living for God in this world without reliance upon His Word (v.106). We cannot do without it.
Second, we also observe the variety of the Word because the poet uses a range of synonyms to describe the Scriptures. Properly to grasp the different shades of meaning of these Hebrew terms you will need to consult a good concordance or use your e-Sword, but it is easy enough to list the English nouns which keep coming back: law (v.1), testimony (v.2), way (v.3), precept (v.4), statute (v.5), commandment (v.6), judgment (v.7), word (v.9). Just as the created universe is beautiful, complex, and varied, so too is the Word (Ps 19.1,7). Our God knows how easily we become bored. The craving for variety is an aspect of our humanity, but Scripture fully satisfies it. Just think what we have in the Bible: historical narrative, legal codes, detailed religious ceremony, biography, poetry (including wedding hymns, lament, thanksgiving, aphoristic wisdom), architectural blueprints, personal and doctrinal letters. Every genre imaginable is exemplified in the Scriptures.
Third, the Psalm testifies to the unity of the Word. You might note the way in which both plural ("testimonies", "ways", precepts", "statutes", "commandments", "judgments", vv.2-7) and singular nouns ("law", "word", vv. 1,9) are used of the Scriptures. Gods Word, you see, consists of a vast range of particular details, commands, instructions all of which comprise His complete revelation of Himself. Scripture (Jn 17.8,14) is both the word (seen as a coherent and consistent body of truth) and the words (viewed as a multiplicity of reliable details).
Fourth, the authority of the Word is emphatically underlined by the use of pronouns. Most of the Psalm is addressed directly to God Himself, and therefore constitutes a prayer; but never does the Psalmist allude to "my word". Always he reminds us that the information of which he speaks is Gods: it is, in the words of his introductory caption verse, "the law of the Lord" (v.1), "his testimonies", "his ways". Thereafter the key possessive pronoun is "thy". And because it is Gods Word, it is to be obeyed without question.
Fifth, the Psalmist underlines the veracity of the Word. It is, of course, only to be expected that that which God breathes out will be as reliable as God Himself, for He cannot lie (Num 23.19; 1 Sam 15.29; Tit 1.2). "Thy word is true from the beginning [or, "the sum of thy word is truth"]: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever" (v.160; and see also v.142). Keil and Delitzsch comment on this phrase: "If he reckons up the word of God in its separate parts and as a whole, truth is the denominator of the whole, truth is the sum-total". What confidence this gives us as we read a book we can implicitly trust. Whether it speaks about the past (creation in six 24-hour days), the present (the constant overruling power of God in His universe, doing exactly as He will), or the future (the soon return of Christ to take His people away), the Word can be believed.
Sixth, we learn of the inexhaustibility of the Word. The Psalmist keeps telling us that there is matter here for perpetual meditation: "O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day"; "Mine eyes prevent the night watches, that I might meditate in thy word" (vv.97,148). If you speak to older believers who are beginning to experience that sleeplessness which Solomon informs us is an accompaniment of age ("the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird", Eccl 12.4) you may well find that in those times they have learned to chew over the Word. Just as God is Himself infinite in His glory so too the written Word cannot be measured but constantly fulfils the requirements of young and old alike. Like the life-bringing river which will flow from Jerusalem in the Kingdom age (Ezek 47.1-5) there is water here for the babe in Christ to paddle in yet depth enough for the oldest believer to swim in. Johns Gospel feeds the youngest believer yet exceeds the grasp of the wisest scholar.
Seventh, the Psalmist speaks so often of the utility of the Word. There is nothing aridly academic about the Scriptures, even though unsaved people may study them purely as an intellectual exercise. Take three verses: "The bands of the wicked have robbed me: but I have not forgotten thy law. At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee because of thy righteous judgments. I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts" (vv.61-63). The godly man is by no means exempted from trial and suffering, for he is surrounded by enemies and knows it, but he finds his resource in the Word: "Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me, I do not forget your law" (ESV). When you feel under pressure, feed on the bread of life. More, he has such satisfaction in Gods Word that he can rise in the night to give thanks. We only have to start thinking about Gods mercy to our souls as revealed in the Word (how else would we know about it?) to discover an unending reason for praise. And it is the Word that chooses his friends for him: "them that keep thy precepts". Let Scripture direct your steps in every particular and you will not go wrong.
Eighth is the vitality of the Word (vv.25,50,93,107,149). That is to say, it is living and powerful (Heb 4.12) and wonderfully able to rouse sluggish saints. So often we are for various reasons cast down. It may be self-disgust, or a sense of failure in our service, or ill health, or the pressures of a godless world about us whatever it is, it brings us low. And that is when the Word can revive our souls by reminding us of Gods immutable love for His people, His infinite power, and His unthwartable purpose for our blessing. Thats why the effective preaching of the Word is like a spiritual tonic which bucks us up, rekindling our zeal, warming our affections, and stirring us into spiritual exercises for God.
Ninth, the writer confesses the enjoyability of the Word (vv.77,97,103,111,162). Far from being a dusty, old-fashioned document relating to a by-gone era, the Word is alive, relevant, and a pleasure to read. May we be able to say with the Psalmist, "Thy law is my delight"!
Finally (as I have reached ten), the whole Psalm demonstrates the memorability of the Word (v.11,16,52,93,109). The writer has hidden it in his heart (for very practical purposes): he will not forget it; he remembers it (and is comforted). There is something about the Word that draws Gods people. I suppose it is because the regenerate heart instinctively craves it as a baby cries for its mothers milk. Those born of the Word will long for it (1 Pet 1.23; 2.2). And the more we read it the more it takes possession of the command and control centre of our lives.
Affectionately as ever in Christ Jesus.
To be continued.