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Psalm 119

Psalm 119 is by far the longest psalm in the Book of Psalms. It is divided into twenty-two stanzas of eight lines, one stanza for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet with each of the eight verses in that stanza beginning with that respective letter.

The psalm forms a lengthy meditation on the Law. In praying this psalm, it is important that we remember that for the Hebrew people the Law is not a list of rules and regulations. Rather it is a covenant relationship - the covenant that was formed by God and the people at Sinai (Horeb) during the sojourn in the desert.

In addition, this psalm is a prayer in which the psalmist tries to capture the essence of that relationship by reminding the reader that true happiness comes through clinging to the covenant relationship as it is expressed in the Law. The Law is held up as the source of blessing and right relationship. The first two stanzas of the psalm expose this thought with the next twenty stanzas developing the thought through lament, through praise, and through prayers for deliverance, vindication and life itself.

In almost every verse of the psalm, one of eight synonyms for the Law is used (your law, word, statutes, commandments, promises, testimonies, precepts, and judgments).

Acrostic psalms are used frequently in the Book of Psalms. Psalm 119 is by far the most complex in structure. It might be helpful for us to think of its composer as a person who was putting together a very large puzzle which, when completed, reveals a God so in love with us and concerned with our happiness. As the opening verses remind us: "Blessed those whose way is blameless, who walk by the law of the LORD. Blessed those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with all their heart."

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

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