The Longest Psalm
“The earth is filled with your love, O Lord; teach me your decrees.”
Psalm 119:64 (NIV)
“Teach me your law/precepts/commands/statutes/decrees,” David says repeatedly throughout the 176 verses of this psalm. Through prayer and meditation he is reaching for something: “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law” (verse 18).
It may seem like a fair assumption that David, king of ancient Israel, would be referring to Israel’s written covenant with God, the law of Moses. Commands, precepts, statutes, etc, might be interpreted as the various categories of rulings on religious observance, civil governments, health, economy, ethics, crimes and penalties recorded in the Mosaic books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
But in that case, this long Psalm could be so much shorter. It could simply say, with a few Hebrew-style couplets and Selahs, that in studying the books of the law I get a more coherent view of correct morality, wise behaviour and effective leadership, and that this is good. Why the emotional tension, bordering on desperation; the repeated approaches to illustrating something that is beyond words? Why would David ask God to “teach” him what was already available for him to read, and why does he tie the word “law” to eternity and the universe, to freedom, hope and salvation, but never once to a book?
King David, one of the ancestors of Jesus and a great Messianic writer, is attempting something that had not been done yet. Read in the Messianic sense, this psalm is not a commentary upon the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament), but an effort to reach out in poetry beyond the veil of a behavioural code towards an understanding of God’s own principles of existence. No wonder the psalm ends more in quest than resolution: the veil was only broken much later at the death of Jesus himself—the event that gave humanity free access to God. (Mark 15:37-38; Luke 10:23-24).
Father in heaven, thank you for the knowledge of you that “many prophets and kings wanted to see”, and that Jesus brought.
Study by Fiona Jones
Worldwide Church of God Perth
Combination of house churches and monthly outreach service and lunch Gillespie Centre, Dunfermline,
Ffortnightly House churches on other Saturdays