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February 3rd, 2009 at 7:03 am

Psalm 119:17 – Meditate on Your Precepts

Today we continue in the devotional meditation upon Psalm 119. If you are just jumping into this series it might be good for you to acquaint yourself with the design and structure of Psalm 119. Since the introductory article seems to have dropped out of the archives I have pasted a little bit about the structure at the end of this piece. Also, Psalm 119, for all its other great attributes, does not have much of a logical linear flow, so it’s fien to jump in anytime.
Today we look at verse 15, the 7th of the 8th verses (all the stanzas have eight verses) in the “beth” stanza. Below I have included all the “beth” stanza leading up to verse 15.

9 How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
10 With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
11 I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
12 Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes!
13 With my lips I declare
all the rules of your mouth.
14 In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
15 I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.

The idea of meditation on the word of God readily calls to mind Psalm One, where it says of the blessed man that “his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”

In our common use of language today the words/phrases “meditate” and “fix my eyes” seem to have very different meanings from each other, but the idea behind each of respective Hebrew words is actually quite similar.

Think “meditation” and one’s mind quickly thinks of devotions and quiet times. But the frame of mind that we often associate with “quiet times” may not fit the meaning of “meditate” very well. So what do we mean by meditation, and what does the Psalmist mean by meditation?

For most American evangelicals the word “meditation” suggests mind-emptying rather than mind-filling exercises or techniques. This is due in part to popular (and cheap) Western co-opting of Eastern religious practices. But is my meditation on the Word just an escape from the world into my corner of peace and silence away from the storm of life?

OK, there may be an element of this. We can only focus on so many things at once. Sometimes we have to get away or step aside from the rat race. Sometimes we have to find a place we can concentrate. For some this may be a very quiet place. I concentrate best when there is noise and activity around me, like in a coffee shop, or outside on a day when the birds are yakking or bugs buzzing. Mountain tops work great for me!

Meditation upon the word is not exactly the same as communion with God in prayer. Nor is it the same as worship of God. But it certainly involves – and evokes – both. Meditation isn’t just a silent intellectual or spiritual gaze. It isn’t mind-emptying. The Hebrew word that we translate as “meditate” carries the idea of chatter or murmuring. It is includes something like talking. Meditation is conversation. It is struggle and argument. It may include a response of quiet worship or loud cries for help in understanding.

Meditation is study. It is preparation for battle and warfare. It happens morning and night. All the many things we confront day to day cause us to examine afresh what we have read in his Word and make us take new questions back to God.

God the Father has kept us hanging around for a reason. Jesus prayed that though we may be in the word we would not be of the world. Our purpose is to know and love God, but not off in a corner. We are to live a life of faith in Him right in the midst of a pagan, idolatrous society. We are to become transformed. This transformation comes about through relationships, through day to day life, even through suffering. ,

It is the Word of God more than anything else that equips us for the life of faith in the real world. We cannot become who we are meant to become without it.

And, thankfully, we are not alone. The Holy Spirit,- Comforter, Counselor, Helper – He has been  sent to us, called to be alongside us in order to teach us, convict us, illuminate our minds and hearts, and help us remember what we read and think about in the Word of God.

And the Spirit is present when we meditate upon and focus our eyes upon the Word of God. The hard work of meditation upon and grappling with Scripture does not cut the Spirit out of the picture – it gives the spirit many more colors and textures and kinds of light to work with as the Father works through the Spirit to do His work in us. We are, after all, His workmanship, “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

(A refresher)

Psalm 119 is an acrostic Psalm. An acrostic is a poem or similar type of writing in which successive lines (or verses, or half lines – acrostics can be arranged in many ways) begin with particular letters. Many Christians are familiar with the symbol of the fish that came in use early in the Christian church to represent Jesus Christ or one’s loyalty to Jesus Christ. What is the connection? Well, the word “fish” in Greek has five letters, and is, as transliterated into English, “ichthus.” There is no way we can represent those five Greek letters as five English letters because our alphabets are not exactly the same. That “ch” for example represents the Greek letter “chi” and  has the sound of a guttural “k,” sort of like in the “ch” of “Bach.” The “th” represents the Greek letter “theta” which is pronounced similarly to “th” in English. So, “ichthus” is really made up of five Greek letters – iota, chi, theta, upsilon, and sigma.

Now, the early Christians had catchy short memory tool for the title and person of Jesus Christ. It was “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.” Yes, you guessed it, “Jesus” starts with the Greek letter iota, “Christ” with the Greek letter chi, “God’s” with the Greek letter theta, “son” with the Greet letter upsilon, and “savior” with the Greek letter sigma. As an acrostic “ichthus” stands for “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.”

An acrostic poem may have each line start with successive letters of a word. Or they may have each line start with successive letters of the alphabet.

As I was walking down the street
Behold a llama I did meet
Can you believe what I just said
Do you think my mind is dead…

You get the picture.

The acrostic Psalms in Hebrew use the Hebrew alphabet in some way as the structure for the acrostic. In Psalm 145 for example, each verse (or pair of lines in Hebrew) starts with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. In Psalm  111 each half verse (in English) starts with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

There are 22 letters in the ancient Hebrew alphabet. Vowels are not actually given symbols, so the letters are consonants.

Now here is the cool thing about Psalm 119. In Psalm 119 there are 22 sections of eight verses each.  In the original Hebrew script what we would call a “verse” is actually one line. So there are 22 sections of eight lines each. In the first section every line starts with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet “aleph.” In the second section each of the eight line starts with the Hebrew word “beth.” I think you get the picture.

Why are their eight lines per section, instead of, say, five, or seven? It seems that the reason is that there are eight synonyms used in the Psalm for God’s word. If you read the second half of Psalm 19 you can see many of these words (as translated into English). These eight words (in English) are “law,” “testimonies,” “precepts,” “statutes,” commandments,” “rules” (or ordinances), “word” and “promises” (sometimes translated as “word”). It seems that decision to make each section eight lines long derived from the eight different ways of speaking of God’s word.

Thus Psalm 119 is without doubt the most highly structured piece of literature in entire Hebrew Bible, it’s only serious competition being Genesis chapter 1.

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