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The Scriptorium

Proem (1)

Begin here. Psalm 119.1

Psalm 119.1-8 (1)

Pray Psalm 119.5-8.

Oh, that my ways were directed
To keep Your statutes!
Then I would not be ashamed,
When I look into all Your commandments.
I will praise You with uprightness of heart,
When I learn Your righteous judgments.
I will keep Your statutes;
Oh, do not forsake me utterly!

Sing Psalm 119.5-8.
(Ode to Joy: Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee)
Let my ways steadfastly keep to all the statutes of Your Word.
Then shall I, no shame enduring, fix my eyes on You, O Lord!
With an upright heart I praise You, in Your rules will I abide.
I will keep Your statutes wholly; keep me ever by Your side!

Read Psalm 119.1-8; meditate on verse 1.

1. Who are the “blessed”?

2. Who are the “undefiled”?

A “proem” is a prelude or an introduction, especially to a song or a poem. All the important ideas and teachings of Psalm 119 are introduced in the three verses of this proem, beginning with verse 1. This is the א (aleph) stanza of Psalm 119, the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet, all of which are consonants. It does not have a sound of its own but depends on whatever vowel accompanies it to give it voice. The first word of each verse in this stanza begins with א, but it is variously pronounced: ah in verses 1-6, oh in verse 7, and eh in verse 8.

Psalm 119 begins where the entire psalter begins, with the idea of happiness (cf. Ps. 1.1). The Hebrew word אַשְׁרֵ֥י (ash-RAY) means something like “completely happy and fulfilled”. Psalm 119 outlines the way to complete happiness, contentment, and spiritual delight and joy. Verse 1 also tips the psalmist’s hand about how to attain this: walk in the Law of the Lord. This means repenting and turning from everything that “defiles” us (“blameless”, cf. Lk. 1.6). Verse 1 also introduces a standard Biblical metaphor for our lives: “way”. We are on a journey, and only one way will get us to the destination that brings happiness. The challenge is to make sure our “way” lines up with God’s “way” by learning, delighting in, and obeying His Law and all His Word. Happiness depends on walking in the Law of God.

Hebrew poetry rhymes ideas more than sounds (although sh and kh sounds repeat in verse 1). Verse 1 begins a rhyming scheme that will be deepened and extended in verses 2 and 3 in a variety of ways, as we shall see. These are the only verses in this psalm that are not in the form of a prayer. They serve as a call to worship, pointing to the object of our worship – God Himself – and describing the way we should come before Him.
Treasures Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162
God, through the psalmist’s pen, is reaching out to His people to tell us how to be pleasing to Him.
When we are pleasing to Him, we are blessed. And when we are blessed by God, we are happy. It’s like a heavenly round of “Row, row, row your boat”.

God gave us a concise and cogent list of how to realize this in Exodus 20.1-17. This Law is the Ten Commandments. As many have pointed out through the years, it is not known as the Ten Suggestions. It is Law. It is essential. It is necessary. Without it, and without Him, we cannot survive. “…for in Him we live and move and have our being…” (Acts 17.28).

Keeping God’s Law is our greatest and most potent testimony: “Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but such as keep the law contend with them” (Prov. 28.4). Our obedience speaks loudly and clearly that we are Christians. It is truly the best witness we have. Bar none.

“Blessed is every one who fears the LORD, who walks in His ways” (Ps. 128.1).

“The LORD of hosts, Him you shall hallow; let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread” (Is. 8.13).

“Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who delights greatly in His commandments” (Ps. 112.1).

And to cap it all off, it is how we show Jesus that we love Him. He said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (Jn. 14.15).

God is pleased. We are blessed. And Jesus knows that we love Him. All this goodness through our simple and straightforward obedience. What could be better than that?

When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
(Sammis/Towner, 1887)

For reflection

1. Why do people continue to think that happiness can be found apart from God and His Word?

2. How would you explain the nature of the happiness God promises for obedience to His Word?

3. How does obeying God’s Law demonstrate that we love God?

In these words the prophet sets forth the same paradox which we met with at the commencement of the Book of Psalms. All men naturally aspire after happiness, but instead of searching for it in the right path, they designedly prefer wandering up and down through endless by-paths, to their ruin and destruction. John Calvin (1509-1564), Commentary on Psalm 119.1

Pray Psalm 119.1-3.
Pray that your time in God’s Word will find you focusing on Him, His will, and His Word – our Lord Jesus Christ. Concentrate on seeing Jesus, exalted in glory, and commit yourself to Him afresh.

Sing Psalm 119.1-3.

(Ode to Joy: Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee)
Blessed are they whose way is blameless, all who walk within God’s Law,
who, His testimonies keeping, seek Him, filled with joy and awe.
These are they who, no wrong doing, ever walk within God’s ways.
Lord, Your precepts You command us; we would keep them all our days.

T. M. and Susie Moore

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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. For sources of all quotations, see the weekly PDF of this study. All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (Williston: Waxed Tablet Publications, 2006), available by clicking here.


T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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