I love the Psalms. I love the Psalms for numerous reasons. There is the beauty of the language. I am not sure there is anything that is more beautiful than the 23rd Psalm. I love the raw expression of feeling. The Psalms do not hide emotion, when the Psalmist feels forsaken by God, he shouts it loud and clear. Everyone has their favourite Psalm. I have already mentioned Psalm 23. I also love Psalm 121, with its encouragement to look to the Creator of the world in our times of need. I love Psalm 139, with its reminder of how God carefully crafted each one of us. But one of my favourite Psalms is one that rarely gets read and that is Psalm 119. It is rarely read because it is so long, in fact it is by far the longest chapter in the Bible. The Psalm is all about the value of God’s Word. I call this the ABCs of God’s Word because each section begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. But why is it so long? Could the Psalmist not just say that the Bible is good and we should obey it? Yes, but there is a deeper appreciation for the Bible in this Psalm than that. We are going to take a look at some surprising things about the Bible, perhaps some things that you have never thought about before.
This may surprise some people but we are actually supposed to obey God’s Word. The Psalmist says “Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart.” (Psalm 119:2) Is this really that surprising? I think so. Ask people about the value of the Bible. The Bible is our religious heritage. It is a book that we can proudly put on our shelf and know that it helped shape our culture. The Bible is a source of history. What did the Israelites or the early Christians do? Read the Bible and find out. What are the correct beliefs that we need to have? The Bible will tell us. Does Jesus love us? Jesus loves me this I know because the Bible tells me so. But how many of us pick up the Bible with direction of how to live our lives? Do we seek guidance on what we should say, what we should do and what the Christian life should look like? As Christians we focus on grace and that we cannot be saved by works. Is it not enough to just love Jesus? Sure it is enough to love Jesus. Jesus says: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15 ESV) Even the Psalmist links obedience to seeking God with all our heart.
One of the reasons some people avoid the Bible is that it seems to just reinforce how bad we really are. Why read this book and feel even more crummy about ourselves? There is an assumption there that what the Bible teaches is impossible. But is it? The Psalmist says: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Psalms 119:9–11 NIV) The Psalmist seems to think there is some power in following God’s Word and that it is not about feeling guilty. Of course the Psalmist balances this with confessions of weakness. We will never be perfect, but we can be better. I remember as a new Christian reading the Bible and thinking that I could never do these things. And yet over the years as I have immersed myself in God’s Word, I have seen how my life has been shaped and I look forward to that continuing in the years to come.
Closely connected to this is the idea of joy. What attitude do we bring to the study of God’s Word? Oh well, I guess I better read and study the Bible. I suppose that is what God or the church expects. So there we reluctantly plod through the pages, hardly remembering a thing. How does the Psalmist approach God’s Word? “I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches.” (Psalms 119:14 NIV) The rejoices, both in the study and application of God’s Word. It is something that brings great joy, the kind of joy of one who finds riches. Imagine you are doing some gardening. Your spade hits something hard. You dig around and discover an old chest that is just filled with hundreds and hundreds of old silver dollars. You probably would be pretty happy and would be on the phone telling your friends and family. What happens when you read the Bible and a parable comes alive or some saying of Jesus finally makes sense? Do you have that same joy? There is joy to be found in God’s Word.
Another reason that people avoid the Bible is that they think it is irrelevant. No wonder people do not find joy in it, who cares about the intricacies of the finer points of doctrine? The Bible is for theologians and other scholars who have nothing better to do. But what does the Psalmist say? “My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.” (Psalms 119:50 NIV) The Bible is not just for when you are listening to a sermon during a church service. It is for when life is falling apart, when sickness comes, friends die, riches fail. It is when we hit bottom that we really need to hear from God’s Word and be reminded of he is and what he has promised. I love this verse: “Your decrees are the theme of my song wherever I lodge.” (Psalms 119:54 NIV) Where we lodge means our place in life, whatever is happening with us and to us. To allow God’s Word to be the theme of our song is the ultimate acceptance of the relevance of the Bible.
So far, I have been looking at the limitations that people place on the Bible and the need to overcome them. But we also need to place a limitation of the Bible. Some people see the Bible as a magic book that will give us all the answers to all the questions of our life. But the Bible puts a limitation on itself. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” (Psalms 119:105 NIV) God’s Word gives us guidance and helps us on our way. But it is lamp to our feet. That is, it gives us enough light to take the next step or two. It does not provide all the details for everything that will take place. But why not? Would that not be nice if everything was provided, that we would know exactly how family life would go, how our friends would treat us, whether or not we would get sick and when and how we would die? There are those who attempt something along these lines. They would say that God has already provided a way that we need not experience poverty, sickness or heartbreak in our families. The problem is that this does not fit with the Bible. The Bible describes messy lives with a mix of every imaginable victory and defeat. What we know is that God does not leave us alone in this. He is there with the light of his Word, giving us enough light for that next step.
From time to time, people ask me what I am preaching on at church. I often respond sarcastically by saying “The Bible.” Well, this time I really am. When I read Psalm 119, I find my excitement for God’s Word increasing. This book is not just a collection of histories and reflections. This is God’s Word, something that is powerful and life changing. Read what the Psalmist says. Get a sense of the joy and wonder that he has for God’s Word. Let that excitement infect you and begin to look at the Bible in new ways. Thank God for the Bible!