An acrostic must wear an artificial form, and one carried out on the elaborate plan set himself by this author could not fail to sacrifice logical sequence to the prescribed form. Why the number eight was selected for each group of verses, or why, when the author succeeded, in all but two of the 176 verses, in introducing some one synonym for the law, he failed in two, Psalm 119:122; Psalm 119:132, we must leave to unguided conjecture. The repetition of the name Jehovah, occurring exactly twenty-two times, could hardly have been without intention, but in the change rung on the terms that denote the Law there is no evidence of design. That the aphorisms in which the praise of the Law is thus untiringly set forth were not collected and arranged as a mere mnemonic book of devotion appears from the under-current of feeling which runs through the psalm, binding the whole together. At the same time, it is quite inconsistent with the ordinary history of literary work to suppose that such a mechanical composition could owe its origin to the excitement of any one prominent occurrence; rather it is the after reflection of one, or more likely of many, minds on a long course of events belonging to the past, but preserved in memory, reflections arranged in such a way as not only to recall experiences of past days, but to supply religious support under similar trials. The same mode of viewing the psalm finds room for the apparent inconsistency which makes one author assign it to a young man (Psalm 119:9; Psalm 119:99-100), another to a man of mature if not advanced age (Psalm 119:33; Psalm 119:52; Psalm 119:96, &c). And if there is a monotony and sameness in the ever-recurring phrases, which under slightly different expressions state the same fact, the importance of that fact, not only to a Jew, but to a Christian also, cannot be exaggerated. “It is strange,” writes Mr. Ruskin, “that of all the pieces of the Bible which my mother taught me, that which cost me most to learn, and which was to my child’s mind chiefly repulsive, the 119th psalm, has now become of all most precious to me in its overflowing and glorious passion of love for the law of God.”
Psalm 119:1ALEPH. Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD.ALEPH.
(1) Undefiled.—Better, blameless or perfect.
Way.—See the same use without a qualifying epithet in Psalm 2:12. There was only-one way of safety and peace for an Israelite, here by the parallelism defined as “the law of Jehovah.” But even heathen ethics bore witness to the same truth: “Declinandum de viâ sit modo ne summa turpitudo sequatur” (Cic, De Amicitia, 17).
Judgments.—Not here in common sense of visitations for sin, but only one of the change of synonyms for law. (See this use in Exodus 21:1; Exodus 24:3, &c.)
Psalm 119:7I will praise thee with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned thy righteous judgments.
Psalm 119:8I will keep thy statutes: O forsake me not utterly.
Psalm 119:9BETH. Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.BETH.
(9) Wherewithal.—There can be little question that the right rendering of this verse is By what means can a young man purify his way, so as to keep it according to Thy word? but from Joshua 6:18 we might render keep himself. The English rendering, which follows the LXX. and Vulg. is, of course, possible, but the other is more natural and more in accordance with the general drift of the psalm. The answer is supposed, or rather left to be inferred, from the whole tenor of the psalm, which is that men, and especially-young men, whose passions and temptations are strong in proportion to their inexperience, can do nothing of themselves, but are dependent on the grace of God. The omission of a direct answer rather strengthens than impairs the impression on the reader.
We must not, from the mention of youth, conclude that this psalm was written in that period of life. Perhaps, on the contrary, it is one who, like Browning’s Rabbi ben Ezra, while seeking how best to spend old age, looks back on youth, not with remonstrance at its follies, but with the satisfaction that even then he aimed at the best he knew.
Hid . . .—As the Oriental hid treasures. (Comp Matthew 13:44.)
In mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.—The best comment on this is contained in our Lord’s words (Matthew 15:19).
Psalm 119:14I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches.
Psalm 119:15I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways.
Psalm 119:16I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.
Psalm 119:17GIMEL. Deal bountifully with thy servant, that I may live, and keep thy word.GIMEL.
(17) Deal bountifully . . . that I may live.—Comp. Psalm 13:3; Psalm 13:6; Psalm 116:7-8, where we see, as here, the same connection between this Hebrew word and preservation from death. Life is connected with obedience to the Divine law throughout the Bible (Leviticus 18:5; Deuteronomy 6:24; Psalm 41:1-2; Luke 10:28).
Psalm 119:25DALETH. My soul cleaveth unto the dust: quicken thou me according to thy word.DALETH.
(25) Cleaveth to the dust.—The same figure is used in Psalm 22:29; Psalm 44:25, in the former of death, in the latter of deep degradation and dishonour.
The prayer, “make me live,” suggests that the dust of death is here prominently in view, as in Tennyson’s “Thou wilt not leave us in the dust.” Else we might rather think of the dryness of summer dust as a type of despondency and spiritual depression.
“A wicked whisper came, and made
My heart as dry as dust.”—COLERIDGE.
It was this verse which the Emperor Theodosius recited when doing penance at the door of Milan Cathedral for the massacre of Thessalonica (Theodoret, v., 18).
Quicken thou me according to thy word.—See Psalm 119:88; Psalm 119:107; Psalm 119:145; Psalm 119:154; Psalm 119:156. This reiterated prayer, with its varied appeal to the Divine truth, lovingkindness, constancy, must certainly be regarded as the petition of Israel for revived covenant glory, though, at the same time, it offers a wide and rich field of application to individual needs.
My ways.—Or, as we should say, my courses, my past life, including, as the context shows, confession of sins and prayer for pardon.
Grant me.—Rather, be gracious to me according to thy law. This is the persistent cry of the psalm.
Psalm 119:33HE. Teach me, O LORD, the way of thy statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end.HE.
(33) To the end.—See Psalm 119:112. This word, used adverbially, is peculiar to this psalm.
“I myself commend
Unto thy guidance from this hour.
Oh let my weakness have an end!
Give unto me, made lowly, wise,
The spirit of self-sacrifice.
The confidence of reason give,
And in the light of truth thy bondsman let me live.”
Psalm 119:41VAU. Let thy mercies come also unto me, O LORD, even thy salvation, according to thy word.
Psalm 119:42So shall I have wherewith to answer him that reproacheth me: for I trust in thy word.VAU.
(42) So shall I have.—Better literally, as the LXX. and Vulg., and I shall answer my reviler a word, for I trust in Thy word, i.e., when reproached it will be enough to pronounce God’s promise. The repetition of davar here and in Psalm 119:43 makes for this explanation in preference to that of the margin.
Psalm 119:49ZAIN. Remember the word unto thy servant, upon which thou hast caused me to hope.
Psalm 119:50This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me.ZAIN.
(50) Comfort.—As in Job 6:10, where the same noun occurs, its only other use. We might render, “This is my comfort, that thy word quickeneth me.”
Psalm 119:57CHETH. Thou art my portion, O LORD: I have said that I would keep thy words.CHETH.
(57) Thou art my portion, O Lord.—This rendering is in accordance with Psalm 16:5; Psalm 73:26. But, even with these passages in view, a better rendering would be—
“This is my portion, O Lord, I said (it),
To keep Thy words.”
Psalm 119:63I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts.
Psalm 119:64The earth, O LORD, is full of thy mercy: teach me thy statutes.
Psalm 119:65TETH. Thou hast dealt well with thy servant, O LORD, according unto thy word.
Psalm 119:66Teach me good judgment and knowledge: for I have believed thy commandments.TETH.
(66) Good judgment.—More exactly, good taste. Here, however, in a moral, not æsthetic sense. Perhaps tact or delicate moral perception represents it. We may compare St. Paul’s use of the Greek words, ἐπιγνώσις and αἰσθήσις in Philippians 1:9.
“You praise yourself by laying defects of judgment to me;
but you patched up your excuses.”
Antony and Cleopatra: Acts 2, Scene 2.
“Who guideth mortals to wisdom, maketh them grasp lore
Firmly through their pain.”
Thousands of.—We must supply shekels or pieces.
Psalm 119:73JOD. Thy hands have made me and fashioned me: give me understanding, that I may learn thy commandments.JOD.
(73) Fashioned.—Literally, fixed, established.
Psalm 119:79Let those that fear thee turn unto me, and those that have known thy testimonies.
Psalm 119:80Let my heart be sound in thy statutes; that I be not ashamed.
Psalm 119:81CAPH. My soul fainteth for thy salvation: but I hope in thy word.CAPH.
(81) Fainteth.—The same Hebrew word as fail in the next verse.
“I would have broke my eye-strings, cracked them, but
To look upon him.”—SHAKESPEARE: Cymbeline.
We find in the ancient poets allusion to the custom of mellowing wine by heat:
“Prodit fumoso condita vina cado.”—OVID: Fast. v. 517.
(Comp. Hor. Ode iii. 8, 9, 10). And so some understand the image here of the good results of the discipline of suffering. The LXX. and Vulg., instead of smoke, have “hoar-frost.” The Hebrew word has this meaning in Psalm 148:8, but in the only other place where it occurs (Genesis 19:28) it is smoke. The possibility of rendering hoar-frost here suggests another explanation. The word nôd (bottle) may be used of a cloud, and as the psalmist has just spoken of his eyes failing, we may have here only another expression for weeping.
Psalm 119:88Quicken me after thy lovingkindness; so shall I keep the testimony of thy mouth.
Psalm 119:89LAMED. For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven.LAMED.
(89, 90) See Psalm 89:2.
“Who keeps a spirit wholly true
To that ideal which he bears?”
But in the word end in Hebrew, as in English, there is a limitation in time, as in space (see Job 26:10; Job 28:3; comp. Symmachus, “I have seen the end of all settled things”), and the Prayer Book version may really give the psalmist’s thought as indicating the difference between mere change and progress.
“The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfils Himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.”
TENNYSON: Morte d’Arthur.
Psalm 119:97MEM. O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day.
Psalm 119:98Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me.MEM.
(98) Better, Thy commandments make me wiser than my enemies. The same correspondence of wisdom with loyal obedience to the Law is found in the Book of Proverbs.
Psalm 119:101I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep thy word.
Psalm 119:102I have not departed from thy judgments: for thou hast taught me.
Psalm 119:103How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Psalm 119:104Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way.
Psalm 119:105NUN. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.NUN.
(105) See Proverbs 6:23.
So Wordsworth calls Duty:
“A light to guide.”
Psalm 119:110The wicked have laid a snare for me: yet I erred not from thy precepts.
Psalm 119:111Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever: for they are the rejoicing of my heart.
Psalm 119:112I have inclined mine heart to perform thy statutes alway, even unto the end.
Psalm 119:113SAMECH. I hate vain thoughts: but thy law do I love.SAMECH.
(113) I hate vain thoughts.—Rather, I hate men who halt between two opinions, following 1 Kings 18:21, where the cognate noun from the same root, to divide, appears. Probably we are to think of those among the Jews who were for political reasons favourably inclined towards foreign customs and ideas, and who would not throw in their lot frankly and courageously with the national party.
For their deceit is falsehood.—Rather, as the parallelism indicates, for their tricks are in vain; or perhaps, to bring out the full intention of the Hebrew, we must paraphrase: “for their wiles are as fruitless as they are deceitful.” So Symmachus: “all their craft is vain.”
“To those who
All treasures and all gain esteem as dross;
And dignities and powers, all but the Highest.”
Psalm 119:121AIN. I have done judgment and justice: leave me not to mine oppressors.
Psalm 119:122Be surety for thy servant for good: let not the proud oppress me.AIN.
(122) Be surety.—Just as Judah became surety for the safety of Benjamin (Genesis 43:9), so the psalmist asks God to be answerable for the servant who had been faithful to the covenant, and stand between him and the attacks of the proud. So Hezekiah (Isaiah 38:14) asks God to “undertake” for him against the threat of death. There is also, no doubt, the further thought that the Divine protection would vindicate the profession which the loyal servant makes of his obedience, as in Job 17:3, where God is summoned as the only possible guarantee of the sufferer’s innocence. This and Psalm 119:132 are the only verses not actually mentioning, under one of its terms, the Law.
Among the faithless, faithful only he.”
Psalm 119:129PE. Thy testimonies are wonderful: therefore doth my soul keep them.
Psalm 119:130The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.PE.
(130) Entrance.—Literally, opening, which the LXX. and Vulg. better represent by “manifestation,” “declaration.” (Comp. “opening and alleging,” Acts 17:3.)
Psalm 119:134Deliver me from the oppression of man: so will I keep thy precepts.
Psalm 119:135Make thy face to shine upon thy servant; and teach me thy statutes.
Psalm 119:136Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law.
Psalm 119:137TZADDI. Righteous art thou, O LORD, and upright are thy judgments.TZADDI.
(137) And upright.—For an interesting historical association with this verse see Gibbon’s account of the death of the Emperor Maurice (chap 46).
Psalm 119:143Trouble and anguish have taken hold on me: yet thy commandments are my delights.
Psalm 119:144The righteousness of thy testimonies is everlasting: give me understanding, and I shall live.
Psalm 119:145KOPH. I cried with my whole heart; hear me, O LORD: I will keep thy statutes.
Psalm 119:146I cried unto thee; save me, and I shall keep thy testimonies.
Psalm 119:147I prevented the dawning of the morning, and cried: I hoped in thy word.KOPH.
(147) Prevented.—See Psalm 18:5; Psalm 79:8. The Authorised Version gives the sense, I was up before the morning.
Dawning of the morning.—The Hebrew word means literally “breath,” and is used of the fresh breeze that blows both at sunset (Job 24:15; Proverbs 7:9) and sunrise (Job 7:4). Generally in our version rendered “twilight.”
Psalm 119:153RESH. Consider mine affliction, and deliver me: for I do not forget thy law.
Psalm 119:154Plead my cause, and deliver me: quicken me according to thy word.
Psalm 119:155Salvation is far from the wicked: for they seek not thy statutes.
Psalm 119:156Great are thy tender mercies, O LORD: quicken me according to thy judgments.
Psalm 119:157Many are my persecutors and mine enemies; yet do I not decline from thy testimonies.
Psalm 119:158I beheld the transgressors, and was grieved; because they kept not thy word.RESH.
(158) Transgressors.—Better, the faithless (or, traitors).
Was grieved.—The Hebrew is a far stronger word, and the sense is intensified by the rare conjugation: was filled with loathing at; sickened with disgust.
“The recreants I survey,
And loathing turn away.”—KEBLE.
Psalm 119:161SCHIN. Princes have persecuted me without a cause: but my heart standeth in awe of thy word.SCHIN.
(161) Princes.—Here again we have an indication of the national character of the psalm. It was the whole community which suffered from the intrigues and violence of princes.
Psalm 119:166LORD, I have hoped for thy salvation, and done thy commandments.
Psalm 119:167My soul hath kept thy testimonies; and I love them exceedingly.
Psalm 119:168I have kept thy precepts and thy testimonies: for all my ways are before thee.
Psalm 119:169TAU. Let my cry come near before thee, O LORD: give me understanding according to thy word.
Psalm 119:170Let my supplication come before thee: deliver me according to thy word.
Psalm 119:171My lips shall utter praise, when thou hast taught me thy statutes.TAU.
(171) Shall utter.—Better, preserving the metaphor of the Hebrew, pour forth a stream of praise.