Day 150: The Magnificent Obsession (Psalm 119)

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[c] 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.
16 I will delight in your statutes;
    I will not forget your word. 
(Psalm 119:9-16)

Have you ever spent time with someone who has a singular obsession? Maybe there’s a Beatlemaniac in your life. Or someone who eats, sleeps, and breathes fishing. Or maybe you can remember your first crush when you were fifteen years old. You couldn’t stop thinking about him or her. You could have filled a dozen Trapper Keeper notebooks with bad poetry about their hair, their eyes, their smile. I’m remembering some of my own awful poetry from those days.

Psalm 119 is like that about God’s Word. Only instead of being cringeworthy sophomore poetry, it is divinely inspired, sublimely magnificent, and utterly awe-inducing.

Psalm 119 is an epic, 22 stanza, one hundred seventy-six verse love poem in which the Psalmist, like a master jeweler, carefully examines every facet of the priceless gem that is God’s Word.

I’ve been immersed in 119 for almost fifteen years now, ever since the youth ministry I helped with spent a year memorizing it. I try to meditate on one stanza a day for the first 22 days of the month, then read the whole thing on the 31st of every month. It’s been a huge part of my devotional life.

(By the way, what has helped me with my memorizing is the work of a musician named Charles Ciepiel, who has set the entire Psalm to music. Check out his work on this YouTube playlist:

What I loved about today’s Recap was that Tara-Leigh didn’t just talk about the magnificence of God’s Word, but about the glory of God as He’s revealed in His Word. Yes, there are words for the Word that are repeated 20, 30, even 40 times each throughout 119.

But there are also words that describe God Himself: His righteousness, His faithfulness, His unchangableness. I pray that my obsession would not just be with the perfection of God’s Word, but with the perfect character revealed in the Word. Because that’s when I can move from simply knowing about fishing to loving the lake.

And it’s why the Psalmist has so many different words for God’s Word. It is his ultimate preoccupation, his magnificent obsession, his singular fixation. Of the 176 verses of Psalm 119, only 6 do not contain any synonym for God’s Word.

There’s eight words for the word that are repeated over and over in 119.  There are nuances of meaning between them, Here’s a handy-dandy guide:


  • “Ways” – This is the Hebrew word derek and can be found in 13 verses. It is a course of life, or a mode of action. It’s a method of doing things. Fun fact: it was one of the easiest words for me to memorize when I was taking Baby Hebrew in seminary: When you hear derek, think “direction.”


  • Testimonies” – This is the Hebrew word edah and can be found in 23 verses. It is a word often used synonymously with the 10 Commandments. It is a word meaning “to bear witness. For example, Israel was told to place the Law next to the Ark so it would be a witness against them (Deuteronomy 31:26). His testimony is equal to His will for each individual of all mankind.


  • Statute” – This is the Hebrew word chok and can be found in 22 verses: vs. 5, 8, 12, 16, 23, 26, 33, 48, 54, 64, 68, 71, 80, 83, 112, 117-118, 124, 135, 145, 155, 171. Its base meaning is “to inscribe, to cut.” It seems to speak of the permanence of Scripture as it is engraved on our hearts (Isaiah 30:8). His statute is something that He permanently holds all of mankind to.


  • Word” – This is the Hebrew word dabar. You might remember that Mephibosheth was living in Lo-Debar when David sent for him in 2 Samuel 9 (see Day 129: Living in Lo-Debar). It is the most general of the 8 titles and refers simply to anything that comes from God’s mouth. Anything that comes from His holy, perfect mouth is His “word” for mankind. It shows up 23 times in 119.


  • Rules/Judgments” – This is the Hebrew word mishpatim and can be found in 24 verses: vs. 7, 13, 20, 29-30, 39, 43, 52, 62, 75, 84, 91, 102, 106, 108, 120-121, 132, 137, 149, 156, 160, 164, 175. It means “what the Divine Judge has ruled to be right” or “ordinances” It refers to any divine legal issues. It looks at the judicial side of God’s Word; it sees truth as something that is legally binding upon mankind.


  • Commandments” – This is the Hebrew word mitzvah and can be found in 24 verses: vs. 6, 10, 19, 21, 32, 35, 47-48, 60, 66, 73, 86, 96, 98, 115, 127, 131, 143, 151, 158, 166, 172-173, 176. Its root refers to teaching. The title means “what God has taught us to observe.” A commandment refers to truth as something taught to mankind. This is another easy one to remember. When a Jewish boy turns 12, he has his Bar Mitzvah ceremony, which means “Son of the Covenant”


  • Precepts” – This is the Hebrew word piqqudim and can be found in 21 verses: vs. 4, 15, 27, 40, 45, 56, 63, 69, 78, 87, 93-94, 100, 104, 110, 128, 134, 141, 159, 168, 173. It means “what God has appointed to be done, like a covenant.” It is synonymous with covenants. A precept is that aspect of truth that refers to anything God has covenanted with mankind over.


  • Law” – This is the Hebrew word torah and can be found in 25 verses: vs. 1, 18, 29, 34, 44, 51, 53, 55, 61, 70, 72, 77, 85, 92, 97, 109, 113, 126, 136, 142, 150, 153, 163, 165, 174. This is the most common title for God’s Word in the O.T. Its root meaning is “instruction.” It refers to the totality of everything God teaches mankind.

One response to “Day 150: The Magnificent Obsession (Psalm 119)”

  1. […] you read the Bible, you get the whole spectrum of prayer. You get epic prayers like Psalm 119– where every letter of the Hebrew alphabet gets its own stanza. You get prayers like Jonah 2, […]

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