Martin Luther described the Psalms as a tote bag of the Bible, a full expression of the human experience in the interaction with and worship of God. Others have described the psalms as the grammar of how to speak to God and as the reality of life as it relates to living in the presence of God.
The psalms are the hymnal used in the worship of the people of Israel, exploring the breadth of the human condition and emotion in relationship with God. From songs of lament to songs of praise, wrestling with God and praising God, the psalms are honest in their desire for God and longing for him even as they wrestle with him.
Psalm 119 is the longest of the psalms, longer than some books of the Bible. There are twenty-two stanzas of eight verses, with each stanza following one of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. It is described as a wisdom psalm and its wisdom is found in the author’s longing for and praise of God.
In particular, God’s gift of the Torah, his good law and covenant instruction is praised and a longing is expressed to live according to it. There is the realization that the law and covenant were given to guard the people of God, to order their lives, to lead them into life, and to bless them by marking them as God’s chosen people. The psalmist has seen the beauty of God’s gift to his people and is ravished by the beauty of it, longing for the good and true word of God to dwell in our hearts and reproduce its beauty in our lives.
Along with this wisdom is the realization that it will require the power and work of God to enable this gift to flourish in the lives of those who seek him. There is no pretense of sufficient human ability, but instead there is an expressed desire to be like the one we love who first loved us. This is seen in the words that resonate throughout: favor, graciousness, delight, hope, comfort, life, steadfast love, forever, faithful, wise, wisdom, salvation.
The final verse assumes a humble stance before God, but more importantly it displays an understanding of the greatness of our steadfast, faithful God who reveals his glory in the pursuit of his lost sheep. The author writes, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.” (119:176)
Humility and penitence, resting one’s life in God’s grace and forgiveness is wisdom and freedom, joy, and life. Wisdom is found in trusting the shepherd, the one revealed to us fully in Jesus, the Good Shepherd. He is the fulfillment of the psalmist’s longing, “I long for your salvation, O Lord..,” (119:174) and ours.
In resting our life in Jesus, the Good Shepherd who has come to gather lost sheep, we are assured that we cannot be snatched from his hand. He fulfills what the psalmist longs to see fulfilled, the righteousness of God made alive in us. He accomplishes this in us by willingly laying down his life on the cross and taking it up again. In Jesus’ faithfulness he is victorious and we are secure, for he has looked on our affliction and delivered us. (119:153)