Click on the link for the Psalm above (my links show up as red words) or find it in your favorite Bible or digital Bible or listen to Psalm 119:113-136
Each stanza of Psalm 119 in the NIV translation is marked with a different Hebrew letter. That is the letter that begins each line of that particular strophe. Check out Sefaria.org if you want to see how it looks completely in Hebrew. In the lectionary only portions of Psalm 119 are used. This is mostly for the sake of brevity. However, some find reading the entire Psalm is desirable for meditation and reflection. The repetitions help them achieve the concentration and focus needed for meditation. I recorded the entire Psalm if you want to give it a listen and see what you think.
Bonus: The Lord’s Prayer is about the amount of time you need for hand scrubbing 😉
Breath Prayer: I am including breath prayers because this is the practice that I engage in most often. Sometimes, I simply manage my breathing as I would when I was singing as a warmup and strengthening exercise. This practice helps me to feel centered, strong, and connected with myself and the divine. Sometimes, I add words or intentions for the inhalation and exhalation.
If I had to pick a theme for Psalm 119, it would be love for the word of God in all of its various forms. The psalmist has a love for the oral and written tradition but remains open to new experiences of the divine word. God teaches Torah in all of creation and we God’s students should be keeping our eyes, ears, and hearts open to the various ways God communicates to us.
Our Jewish brothers and sisters might remind us to stay awake for God’s word. You see, this weekend while we are remembering Pentecost, those who practice Judaism are observing Shavout. Shavout is seven weeks after the first night of passover. It commemorates the day that God’s people were given the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai. God came to dwell with them on earth in a new way. One of the traditions of Shavout is to stay up all night studying Torah. This year, our friends are finding ways to celebrate Shavout at home, as we are finding ways to celebrate Pentecost at home. And we are all doing this because we love our neighbors.
“Rightly understood, the psalm is a precursor of the finest flowering of both Judaism and the Christian faith.”Leslie Allan, Word Biblical Commentary, Psalm 119
As we celebrate Pentecost we remember that Jesus, the word of God incarnate, lived and loved, died for our sins, rose from the dead, ascended into glory, and sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. We celebrate this day by wearing red reminding us of the flames above the disciples heads as they spoke in tongues so that all could hear about God’s love. This day is often thought of as the birthday of the Christian Church. Occasionally, we celebrate this day with cake and ice cream. It is a day that some will schedule baptisms, confirmations, and new members joining the church.
For Third Church, Pentecost has taken on some unique significance in the last few years. Our senior pastor retired on Pentecost, which was also our organists first day on the job, and we knew that God was doing something big and scary and wonderful in our midst. Three liturgical years later, we will hear a pastoral candidate preach on Pentecost and vote to receive that candidate, marking a new chapter in the life of Third Church. And or course, we are doing this in the midst of a pandemic, because we know that the Holy Spirit is still at work in the world. As we worship through the zoom platform, I’m not wearing my beautiful red stole, we won’t be seeing gorgeous red floral arrangements at the pulpit, or eating cake, but we have learned to experience God in new ways. And isn’t that what this weekend is supposed to be about?
I recorded “God Sends Help” from The Jesus Storybook Bible. This is a pentecost story based on Acts 1-5 and John 15.
Let us pray:
Holy God, Your statutes are wonderful; therefore I obey them. The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands. Turn to me and have mercy on me, as you always do to those who love your name. Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me. Redeem me from human oppression, that I may obey your precepts. Make your face shine on your servant and teach me your decrees.
Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your word is with me forever. Amen.
Ok, everyone take a deep breath. Remember you are breathing in an attribute you desire and releasing something you want rid of when you exhale.
Breath in love. Breath out fear. Breath in love. Breath out fear. Repeat as needed.
Sources and notes for Psalm 119:113-136:
113-120 Samek strophe
“The samek strophe begins and (almost) ends with love, that love which is devoid of duplicity and expresses rather the wholehearted commitment of vv 2, 10.” p. 143 WBC
121-128 Ayin strophe
Key term “your servant” is used to claim God’s patronage “in a strophe which is strongly marked by descriptions of a complaint situation. Divine action is implored, vv 124, 126, and the poet ventures to plead that he has done his part in the divine-human relationship, v 121. But help our of distress is not he only need: a petition for Yahweh to teach his Torah is sounded twice.” WBC p. 144
“Verse 122 is the most irregular in the psalm. It contains none of the eight major synonyms, nor a variant form of one of them (as in v. 121), nor even a substitute as in vv. 3, 37, 90. This irregularity perhaps replicates the disorientation caused by the reality of oppression.” NIV p. 644
129-136 Pe strophe
“The pe strophe returns to the theme of appreciation of the Torah, vv 129-131, and its non-appreciation by others, v 136. It is the framework for the prayers of vv 312-135, lest the poet succumb to a double enemy, mortal wrong and human oppression.” WBC p. 144
Sources and notes for Psalm 119 generally:
“God is the teacher (vv. 33-39). Creation is the classroom (vv. 89-91, 73). The students are the servants of God (vv. 17, 23, 124f). The lesson is the “law” of God (vv. 97-100). Learning is the way of life (vv. 9-16). Such is the faith and vision of the longest of the psalms.” Interpretation p. 381
There are 22 sections in Psalm 119, each starting with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The NIV shows the letter before each section. This Psalm also contains “repeated use of eight Hebrew terms that designate God’s revelation”. (NIB p. 637) The first and most frequently used is Torah. “The other seven can be considered synonyms for Torah” (NIB p.638) they are: decrees, precepts, statues, commandments, ordinances, laws, word and promise. “As a literary artist, the psalmist intended the structure of the poem to reinforce its theological content. In short, Torah–God’s revelatory instruction–is pervasive and all-encompassing. It applies to everything from A to Z, or in Hebrew, Aleph to Taw.” NIB p. 638
“The psalm is a many-coloured mosaic of thoughts which are often repeated in a wearisome fashion” (OTL p. 739) and while some find the poem boring and would “welcome brevity” (OTL p. 739) others find the repetition meaningful. “The poem is meant to be read aloud to others or to oneself so that the repetitions guide the hearing and the variations enchant the imagination. It establishes a focus of contemplation and evokes the mood of concentration and submission in which meditation occurs. In liturgical and devotional use, only a part of the psalm, often one eight-lined section, is read. Because of the way the parts are composed, each part can stand for the whole, but the whole is needed to reach the effect of fulfillment.” Interpretation p. 382
“The psalm is an artistic pattern of recurring motifs used in conjunction with eight synonymous terms for Torah. It is both a hymn of praise of the Torah and a prayer expressing man’s continuous need of his Master’s care. There is no hint of legalism in any of its twenty-two strophes. It breathes a spirit of devotion and celebrates the closest of relationships between the psalmist as “your servant” and Yahweh as “my God”. Apart from vv 1-3 and 115, the whole psalm is addressed directly to Yahweh.” WBC p. 142
“While Psalm 119 demonstrates affinities with Deuteronomy, with wisdom materials, and with the prophets (especially Jeremiah), it is not possible to identify the psalmist easily with any particular figure, body of material or perspective. …. [after a longer discussion] …the perspective of Psalm 119 is eschatological. Life is entrusted to the sovereign God in circumstances that seem to belie God’s sovereignty”. NIB p. 639 After a longer discussion, the WBC says that this is a “wisdom psalm … [belonging] “to that branch of wisdom literature concerned with the Torah”. P. 139
“In a sense, Psalm 119 belongs in a class by itself. Because of its length, it contains elements of all types of psalms. This in itself is appropriate, since Psalm 119 articulates so eloquently and powerfully the Torah-piety that pervades the whole psalter. The acrostic pattern of Psalm 119 is its most prominent structural feature and some would say its only organizing principle. Indeed, some scholars suggest that Psalm 119 would make as much sense read backward as it does forward. Soll, however, detects a larger coherence. He suggests the following divisions designated by the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, featured in each eight-verse section: I. Aleph – Bet (vv1-16): Prologue; II. Gimel – Waw (vv. 17-48); III. Zayin – Yod (vv. 49-80); IV. Kaph – Samek (vv. 81-120): Central Section; V. Ayin – Sade (vv. 121-144); VI. Qoph – Taw (vv. 145-176): Concluding section.” NIB p. 639
“The psalmist’s concept of Torah is an expansive one. …. In short, while oral and written tradition were very significant for the psalmist, he or she remained open to God’s ongoing instruction, to God’s further revelation, to new experiences of the divine Word. This openness has profound implications for current discussions of the inspiration of and authority of Scripture as a written word.” NIB p. 638
“Rightly understood, the psalm is a precursor of the finest flowering of both Judaism and the Christian faith.” WBC p. 145
WBC Allen, Leslie C. 1983. Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 101-150. Vol. 21. Waco, TX: Word Books, Publisher.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. 1974. Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible. 8th ed. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Press.
Brueggemann, Walter. 2007. Praying the Psalms: Engaging Scripture and the Life of the Spirit. 2nd ed. Eugene, OR: Cascade.
Brueggemann, Walter. 2014. From Whom No Secrets Are Hid: Introducing the Psalms. Edited by Brent A. Strawn. 1st ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
WBC Craigie, Peter C. 1983. Psalms 1-50–Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. 19. Waco, TX: Word Books.
Creach, Jerome Frederick Davis. 1998. Psalms: Interpretation Bible Studies. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
NIB Keck, Leander E. 2015. The New Interpreters Bible Commentary. Vol. 3. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Mays, James Luther. 1994. Psalms. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press.
Miller, Patrick D. 1986. Interpreting the Psalms. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press.
WBC Tate, Marvin E. 1990. Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 51-100. Edited by David Allan. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker. Vol. 20. Waco, TX: Word.
OTL Weiser, Artur. 1998. Old Testament Library: Psalms. Translated by Herbert Hartwell. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Manchester University Press.
Other Year D Psalm blog posts:
I’m attempting a series exploring the Psalms in year D. Many churches use the revised common lectionary that rotates scripture on a three-year cycle (A, B, and C). Year D was created with the goal of including scriptures that were left out or not used as frequently as others.
I began this series in Lent 2020. These blog posts include examples of meditation or spiritual discipline or mindfulness exercises. Here are the links: Ash Wednesday: Psalm 102; 1st Sunday in Lent: Psalm 6; 2nd Sunday in Lent: Psalm 143; 3rd Sunday in Lent: Psalm 38; 4th Sunday in Lent: Psalm 39; 5th Sunday in Lent: Psalm 101; 6th Sunday in Lent Psalm 94 or Psalm 35. I went a different direction during Holy Week and dropped the Psalms for a while, but I’m hoping to pick them back up again.
I’m going to try to move forward with the Psalms so that it might be useful for worship in the coming weeks and hoping that I can also go back and pick up some of the ones I missed.
The Season of Easter: Resurrection of the Lord (Easter) Psalm 71:15-24 or Psalm 75 or Psalm 76, 2nd Sunday in Easter Psalm 64 or Psalm 119:73-96, 3rd Sunday in Easter Psalm 60 or 108, 4th Sunday in Easter Psalm 10, 5th Sunday in Easter Psalm 49: (1-12) 13-20, 6thSunday in Easter Psalm 129, Ascension Thursday Psalm 119:145-176, 7th Sunday in Easter Psalm 115, and Pentecost Sunday Psalm 119:113-136.