God’s Word for You
Psalm 119:1 The Great Psalm begins
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, February 25, 2023
St. Augustine called this Psalm “the Great Psalm,” and there is no reason to dispute with him about this title. While we do not know who wrote it, it has many echoes from the Psalms of David.
Psalm 119 is remarkable for several reasons besides its length. It is made up of 22 8-verse poems (sometimes called strophes; we will call them “stanzas” since that word is more common although less accurate). Each line (verse) of each stanza begins with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In this first stanza, each line begins with the letter aleph. We will not comment about this any further, but each stanza’s letter will be noted. Also, in almost every single one of the 176 verses of this Psalm mentions God’s Word. Several different words are used to do this—law, statute, way, precept, decree, command, word, judgment, and so forth. For the most part, these different words seem to be used for variety. However, each stanza seems to emphasize one aspect of God’s Word: how we consider his Word, and how his Word impacts our lives.
There have been a few attempts at outlining this Psalm, and these outlines generally have some merit. I am going to present my own, and the reader is invited to judge my effort. I will present this outline a little later in March so that today we can get to verse 1.
Aleph ( ﬡ )
1 Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the LORD.
This verse explains that a blameless way means walking (living) in the law of the Lord. The believer who is sound in his way, in his doctrine, is blessed. The person who believes Jesus died for his or her sins has laid hold of the rightness Jesus won for us on the cross. It is the only way to be blameless, and it motivates us to walk according to God’s law. In fact, knowing what Jesus did for us helps us to learn from God’s laws—we learn what God’s holy will is, and we are motivated to want to live by God’s laws, walk in God’s ways, and place ourselves joyfully under the guidance of God’s perfect will.
The first word (the aleph word), “blessed” (’asharey) occurs twice at the beginning of a psalm; here and in Psalm 1:1, but this is not noted in the Masoretic (scribal) notes of Psalms manuscripts. It seems as if the author used this word with great care and intention, as if to tell us: “The very first Psalm tells us that we are blessed if we don’t do certain things (walk in the counsel of the wicked, stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers). But I am going to describe the many, many ways we are blessed when our walk is in the way of the LORD.”
What does it mean to be blessed? To be blessed is nothing less than to receive every blessing from God, beginning with the forgiveness of our sins, and continuing with access to his holy word and the faith which apprehends his word and blessings, and the certainty of eternal life and salvation in heaven. His blessing means the assurance of our resurrection from the dead or the alternative of being translated directly into heaven which was done for the patriarch Enoch and the prophet Elijah and which will also be the transition into eternity for those Christians who remain alive to the Last Day. We have all these blessings and more through the merits of Jesus Christ and sealed by the name of this same Jesus in our baptism, which also connects us to our heavenly Father. His name, the LORD, Yahweh, occurs 23 times in the Great Psalm, distributed evenly (by design or by accident) through the beginning, middle and end. We will consider the meaning of God’s name later, probably in our meditation on verses 41-44.
This verse teaches us to read and occupy our minds every day with the word of God. Our Formula of Concord declares: “We unanimously believe, teach, and confess that, although truly believing Christians, having been genuinely converted to God and justified, have been freed and liberated from the curse of the law, they should daily exercise themselves in the law of the Lord.” (Solid Declaration, Article VI par. 4.)
So this verse is both law and gospel at the same time. While it teaches the Christian that he is blessed, this blessing comes to those who walk in the law of the Lord. “Law” in this verse (Hebrew torah) is broader than the commands and threats of God, but includes the whole message of God which means that the gospel is here, too. So while walking in God’s way is a command in some places, such as when the wicked king Amon is condemned because “he did not walk in the way of the Lord” (2 Kings 21:22), it is also a gospel invitation. The Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look. Ask for the ancient paths. Ask where the good way is. Walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16). And Jesus says: “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Luke 11:28).
A lesson we are taught throughout the Bible is that God gives what he requires. He demands holiness (Leviticus 20:26) and through Christ he makes us holy (1 Peter 2:5). He demands sinlessness, and punishes the sinful (John 16:8), and yet he washes our sins away in baptism (Acts 22:16). So here, he tells us that we are blessed when our way is blameless, but he invites us to walk the only blameless way, which is his way. “Is my way unjust?” he asks. “If a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is right and good, he will save his life” (Ezekiel 18:25,27).
The one who kept the law in our place was the Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus filled up with his life with what man never accomplishes. Jesus atoned with his death for the transgressions man always commits. Blessed be Jesus’ name forever. He makes us blessed, and he blesses us. So this verse motivates us to live a thankful life in his way, under his law, and according to his holy word.
Pastor Timothy Smith