Skip to content

Psalm 119 — The Mount Everest of Bible Memory

Click to Listen | Click to Read PDF

Reverend Anthony R. Locke February 12th, 2017
Psalm 119:1-8 (English Standard Version) 1 Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord! 2 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, 3 who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways! 4 You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently. 5 Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! 6 Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments. 7 I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules. 8 I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me! [1]


Psalm 117 is the shortest chapter in the Bible with only two verses. Praise the Lord, all nations! Extol him, all peoples! 2 For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!

Two chapters later is the longest chapter in the Bible, Psalm 119 with 176 verses. Look at these commentaries. Charles Spurgeon wrote 349 pages to this chapter. Charles Bridges, a Church of England evangelical of the last century, wrote 481 pages at the age of 33. Thomas Manton, one of the most prolific of the Puritans. Each volume is from 500 to 600 pages in length, for a total of 1,677 pages (Banner of Truth Trust edition). The work has 190 long chapters, more than one for each verse.

Long can be good. A man was condemned to die and as tradition was they offered to sing a Psalm before his death. He picked Psalm 119 and the singing lasted long enough to appeal his death sentence and get a pardon for his crimes. That’s a true story of George Wishart, a Bishop of Edinburgh in the seventeenth century.

Most people know that this Psalm is an acrostic. Like a children’s book. In English we have 26 letters. Imagine a poem or a children’s book with 26 sections, 8 sentences in each section, and each of the eight sentences starting with the same letter.

8 sentences starting with the letter A. Then 8 sentences starting with the letter B. Then 8 sentences starting with the letter C, all the way to the letter Z.

Well, there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. So, there are 22 sections with 8 verses each and each verse in each section start with the same letter.

It’s a teaching aid for young people. It helps in memorization.

Let me throw out a challenge. Anyone who memorizes Psalm 119 with 90% accuracy during this sermon series will earn a $200 prize. There will be 22 sermons as there are 22 Hebrew letters. So you have 22 weeks to memorize the chapter.

And to increase the stakes, anyone in the Atlanta area, within 15 miles of the church can participate in our challenge.

July 23rd is the deadline. Just schedule in advance to meet with someone on July 23rd at this church, quote the whole chapter, in verse order, using the ESV Bible, within an hour’s time, without any help, with 90% accuracy, and you will receive $200 cash. (The church Session has the right to disqualify people in advance according to these rules and you must be registered as a participant by June 4th.)

So let’s start with verse 1. Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord!

That sounds like the first two verses of Psalm 1. It’s a beatitude, explaining how divine goodness rains upon God’s people who seek Him through obedience to His commands.

God pronounces the truth, that if you walk in the ways of the Lord, then you will be blameless and blessed.

Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord! Notice the exclamation point. Blessed! You are blessed! It’s like someone is using all caps when texting.

God connects blessedness to the activity of adherence to His will. Obedience.

Further, verses 2-3 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, 3 who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways!

When we think of the laws that govern us, we might think of the laws enforced by police or the IRS. These are regulations. Statutes. Codes of conduct. Laws that govern our land. These are mostly meant for our good and the good of a well ordered society.

Many of these laws are restrictive, like do not murder. Do not kill. Do not lie or steal.

But when God speaks of the Law of the Lord in the Bible, God is speaking of something much bigger than just the rules. God is referencing the whole of God’s revelation. His testimonies concerning Himself, of Jesus, of beauty, truth, righteousness and Heaven.

All special revelation is the Word, the Divine Promise, the eternal Logos, the Living Word of God as fully revealed in the Incarnate Word the Lord Jesus Christ.

Look at verse 2. The testimonies are to be sought with our whole heart, not our will. We are connected in our hearts to a person, not to rules. We seek HIM with our whole hearts and when we find HIM we are conformed after His likeness. We are made holy and blameless like the Son.

Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, 3 who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways!

We seek and find the Lord when we seek His commandments and keep His precepts. Verse 4 You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.

My hero and mentor in ministry was Dr. James M. Boice. He tells a story that during his sermon on Psalm 117, a chapter which is only 2 verses long, he suggested that people memorize the chapter. After the sermon, and during the next week, only one person came up to him and said that they would attempt to memorize it.

Did you know that memorizing Psalm 119 has been a habit of average church members for hundreds of years.

John Ruskin in the last century was raised by a Calvinist mother who made him memorize dozens of chapters in the Bible. John said that Psalm 119, while the hardest to memorize, was always his favorite for what it did for him spiritually.

William Wilberforce, the British statesman who was largely responsible for the abolition of the slave trade throughout the British empire, wrote in his diary in the year 1819, “Walked today from Hyde Park Corner, repeating the 119th Psalm in great comfort.”

Henry Martyn, pioneer missionary to India, memorized Psalm 119 as an adult in 1804. He had an extremely arduous life, but he confessed that it was the Bible alone that gave him strength to keep going.  

David Livingstone, pioneer missionary to Africa, won a Bible from his Sunday school teacher by repeating Psalm 119 by heart—when he was only nine years old.

The strong have often self-identified within the church by memorizing Psalm 119. We should be seeking Jesus with our whole heart and then holding to Jesus by keeping His precepts diligently.

In verse 5 King David thirsts for a life that is obedient to the commands of God. He desires a blameless life more than anything this world has to offer.

After sinning against God and having a child with someone who wasn’t his wife, another man’s wife named Bathsheba, King David cries out in the night,

Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! Four of my children were taken by God for my sins. Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! I don’t want to sin any more. Sin steals my strength. Sin stelas my joy. Sin stelas my confidence and boldness.”

Sin brings sadness and misery and suffering. So the Psalmist asks God for help to walk the walk, in step with Jesus, by the power of the Spirit, and to the glory of God the Father.

And despite his faith and desire, he knows that it is a prayer that will not be fully answered until he gets to Heaven.

We too walk out of harmony with God’s Holy Spirit. We don’t live for the glory of the Father. Our spirit is willing, but our flesh is weak. We fall and we get discouraged. This Psalm can fix our brokenness.

If we will fix our eyes on God’s laws, on God’s commandments and testimonies, then we will walk step by step throughout our day with Jesus, and over time Jesus will transform us into His likeness.

Just keep fixing your eyes on Jesus. Keep seeking the revelation of the Son in this Holy Book, and that search will put you in His presence, and time in His presence will change you.

6 Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments. Yes. That’s the confidence.

I shall not be put to shame when my eyes are fixed on the fullness of the glory of the Father revealed in the Son.

That’s our confidence if we confess Jesus as the Savior. The Spirit will unite our life to the life of Christ and we will be changed into His glory, one baby step at a time.

This is how our lives are changed out of our sin and misery into the righteousness way of Jesus.

When we fix our eyes on Jesus, we let loose of the empty things in this world and we are filled with heaven’s glory. People who are filled with Heaven’s glory want to praise God.

7 I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules.

That’s saving faith. Verse 7 is an Old Testament example of saving faith in the promises of God.

His commandments and His ways are higher and better than my ways and my ideas for how to live. I repent of my own ideas for a good life. I repent of my own opinions to get blessed and I seek all my blessings from God as detailed for me in the Bible.

This is a transforming grace. We start out concerned we will never measure up, but over time we are transformed and actually happy when we learn more of God’s rules.

Why? Because the more we learn of God’s righteous rules, the more our life becomes connected to the blessings. God’s face shines on us as we live by His righteous rules. We stop thinking of His rules as unrighteous or cruel. We think of His rules as just and pleasant.

This is the path to God’s blessings. Why would anyone make a halfhearted commitment to this path? Let’s join with the Psalmist and commit to this life. 8 I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me!

Let’s pray in our heart this last verse. Pray in your heart. Say,

God, right now I will commit to keep your statues. Your laws and commandments are the blessings I seek. I repent of my sinful ways. I confess that I want to satisfy the desires of my sinful heart. Father, I am not good on my own. Forgive me for my sins. Wash me in the blood of your atoning sacrifice. Make we clean. Make me white as snow.

God, as best I can, I commit to keep your statues. I want to live a life in union with Jesus. I want His life to be the guide for my life. I commit to keeping your statues.

Please do not abandon me. Stay patient with my failures. When I sin, I know it will break the harmony of my heart with your heart.

In those moments, please do not forsake me completely. Stay by my side. Help me get back up, for I will stay committed to walking a life of holiness, until the day I see Jesus face to face.

Father, this is my commitment to myself, to you and to those I love. I will keep the God’s statues. Give me the grace to obey. I pray this in Jesus name. Amen.”

 

[1] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

About Tony Locke

Live in Gwinnett, GA next to Lake Lanier Islands. Married with four children. Pastored three churches over 18 years. Spent time serving as an Army Chaplain. Traveled in ministry to over 34 countries. B.A., M.A., M.Div., M.A.T.S., D.Min. BCC with NSC. Covering Georgia and upstate South Carolina

Leave a Comment