I have always admired Psalm 119 (the longest psalm by far), chiefly for the skill with which it was created. It is an acrostic psalm – all eight verses in a stanza begin with the same Hebrew letter, and each stanza begins with a different letter so that the whole Hebrew alphabet of 22 letters is used successively in the 22 stanzas. However, I’ve always been uncomfortable with the emphasis on the law. Some verses are gems, but a lot seem to repeat themselves and it can get a bit boring!
However, when I read it the other day I realised that the emphasis on obeying God’s commandments is actually vital for Christians. We are saved by God’s grace through Jesus Christ, and are freed from the condemnation that our failure to keep God’s commands brings. Jesus is our Saviour. He is also our Lord – ‘Jesus is Lord’ was probably the most basic statement of faith for early Christians. The Messiah is the King, and Jesus now has all authority in heaven and on earth. So he said, ‘If you love me, keep my commands’ (or, ‘you will keep my commands’) – John 14:15. The point is that we are saved for a relationship with God through Jesus, and that relationship involves treating him as who he is – the Lord. There is no compulsion, no fear, it’s a matter of love.
The person who wrote Psalm 119 knew he was in a relationship with God, as summed up in the words of God, ‘I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.’ (Leviticus 26:11) He knew that God has made a covenant with his people, and given them the law – especially the ten commandments – so that they knew how to relate to him. Through faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit lives in us and has written God’s law in our hearts so that we want to do God’s will and are learning more and more how to do it. He takes us beyond the place the writer of the psalm was, as we follow Jesus who perfectly exhibited and taught us how to live with God. We too can now say how much we love the will of God! But we may not be able to write it in such a clever way as the psalmist!