I’m not sure when this started for me, but it’s been hard to shake reading the longest chapter in the Bible incorrectly. Psalm 119 is the longest of the psalms and celebrates the importance of God’s Word. There are 22 stanzas written around a letter of the Hebrew alphabet with each line beginning with that letter. God’s Word is so central to this psalm that only seven of the verses fail to mention it. However, in my walk with Jesus, I have tended to misunderstand much of this great psalm.
Here’s what I mean. After reading “How can a man keep his way pure?” it’s hard not to hear the Mighty Mouse theme song playing in the background as I get to the answer, “by keeping it according to your word.” For some reason, I read the psalm like it’s written by a guy who has arrived rather than a guy who needs to ask the question. I read it as the proclamation of a Super Follower, rather than the plea of a faithful one. But, the more I explore Psalm 119, I realize that it’s not written for Superman (or even Mighty Mouse). The longest psalm is written to remind us of our need for God and His Word.
I mean, why would a follower of God with no struggle need to say, “Oh that my ways were steadfast” (5)? Why the constant pleas for God to work in his life? Why would Super Follower need to ask the question “how can a man keep his way pure” (9) if his way wasn’t? Why would he pray, “let me not wander from your commandments” (10) if there was not the potential of this happening?
The fourth section of the psalm reads…
My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!
When I told of my ways, you answered me; teach me your statutes!
Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works.
My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word!
Put false ways far from me and graciously teach me your law!
I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I set your rules before me.
Do you see the writer’s desperation and need of God’s grace? Give me life. Teach me. Make me understand. Strengthen me. Who asks for things they don’t need? The author begs God to put false things far from him. Why do this if false things aren’t close and he is unable to put them away on his own?
The section concludes with a beautiful truth of God’s grace.
I cling to your testimonies, O LORD; let me not be put to shame!
I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart!
I cling to your Word, Lord…not because I’m strong, but because I’m helpless. Don’t let me be put to shame. I need you. My only hope is for you to enlarge my heart…change me so that I want to obey you…because apart from that, I will run away from your commandments rather than to them.
So, as I read Psalm 119, I see an extended reminder of our desperate need for God and His grace communicated through his Word. The Psalm points us toward God, who abounds in steadfast love and faithfulness, ready to help any who cry out to Him. The psalm is not the cry of a superhero, but a cry to the Hero—who was, is and is to come.