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Bailey Sadler Class
SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON STUDY GUIDE – Winter
Study Theme: Spoken:
The Rhythm of God’s Word
What This Lesson Is About:
focus for this week continues our study of Psalm 119, which provides
believers with instruction for life and shows us just how valuable God’s
Word is for living life.
God’s Word Delights
God’s Word Fills My Heart
God’s Word Gives Courage
God’s Living Word Saves
God’s Word is Always Relevant
God’s Word is Truth
Created for a Purpose
Word teaches us all we need to live well.
Heeding God’s Word Cleanses (Ps.
God’s Word Equips (Ps.
God’s Word Delights (Ps.
Last week’s study introduced Psalm 119.
The first verses of the psalm highlighted how God’s Word can be
our delight. We experience joy
as we follow God’s Word! We
find our fulfillment because God has instructed us to follow His Word.
Joy comes from obeying God’s Word (119:1-3), and as we live
according to His laws and teachings, we live the life God has designed for
119:4-6 commands us to obey God Word.
God desires that we keep His precepts with all diligence (v. 4).
The psalmist desired that his life completely reflect a commitment
to the Lord so he would not be ashamed when he reflected on God’s
commands (vv. 5-6). Third,
Psalm 119:7-8 challenged readers to lean on God’s presence to obey His
Word. He confessed he would
praise God with a sincere heart (v. 7).
He also implored the Lord to stay with him and never to abandon him
as he followed His statutes (v. 8).
119:17-24, the unit that follows this week’s focal passage, highlights
how God’ Word gives courage. We
can stand in a world that opposes us because God’s Word guides us at
every turn. It keeps us
focused when we don’t feel we belong (vv. 17-20).
It also keeps us focused when we face opposition (vv. 21-22).
Finally, God’s Word keeps us focused on His perspective (vv.
in between verses 1-8 and verses 17-24, verses 9-16 highlight how God’s
Word is designed to fill our hearts. It
will keep us from sin (vv. 9-11) and also guide us to further understand
God’s Word (vv. 12-13). Finally,
as God’s Word fills our hearts, we can rejoiced in what God teaches us
in His Word (vv. 14-16). We
will see God’s character and purpose grow in us, and as others see our
growth, God can use us to draw them closer to Him.
SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study;
LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One
LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.
Manuals, how-to books, and online videos abound
with promises to solve a multitude of problems and instruction for
developing any number of techniques and skills that will make life better.
Beware! When it comes
to what really matters—living life—only one source will give us all we
truly need: God’s Word. The
Bible may not answer every single question we raise, but it gives us the
answers we need for the moment and the promises it gives can be counted on
without doubt. If we commit
ourselves to reading God’s Word, He will guide us to understand His
Word, so that we might live well.
Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by
Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza,
God’s Word Cleanses (Ps.
9 How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping Your word. 10
I have sought You with all my heart; don’t let me wander from Your
commands. 11 I have treasured Your word in my heart so that I
may not sin against You.
God’s Word Equips (Ps.
12 Lord, may You be praised;
teach me Your statutes. 13
With my lips I proclaim all the judgments from Your mouth.
do you think prompted the psalmist to want to praise God (v. 12)?
do you think may have been the psalmist’s intention when he asked God to teach
him His statutes?
are some ways God can teach a believer His Word?
is the most effective way God teaches you His Word?
effective has that been for you?
do you think believers still struggle with
knowing the will of God when God has revealed His will in His Word?
do these few verses tell us about God’s Will: 1 Thess. 5:18; Phil. 4:6; Heb.
10:25; Matt. 28:18-20. (In seeking God’s will for your life, start with these
few verses and trust Him to lead you to more of His specific will.)
does the word “proclaim” mean?
does the word “judgments” mean as used in verse 13?
does verse 13 mean to you?
on verse 13, what is the implication for the believer?
does that implication play out in your life?
are some ways we can proclaim God’s judgments?
Lessons in Psalm 119:12-13:
Lord God is worthy of our praise.
should desire to learn more of God’s Word.
desires us not only to learn His Word but to proclaim His Word to others.
God’s Word Delights (Ps.
14 I rejoice in the way
revealed by Your decrees as much as in all riches. 15 I will
meditate on Your precepts and think about Your ways. 16 I will
delight in Your statutes; I will not forget Your word.
was the subject of the psalmist’s joy (v. 14)?
value would you say most Christians place on their material possessions as
opposed to God’s Word?
behaviors do you see around you that indicates we do not really understand the
value of God’s Word?
you think we should celebrate God’s Word?
If so, why?
you celebrate God’s Word? If so,
does your lifestyle tell you about the value you place on God’s Word?
would you explain the meaning of verse 15 for the believer?
does the word “meditate” mean? (See
does it mean to you to meditate on God’s Word?
do you think it means to “delight” in God’s Word?
to the last part of verse 16, what is the implication for the believer?
are some of the things a believer can do that would help him/her to not forget
are some things a believer can do to fill his/her mind with God’s Word?
do you think makes God’s Word more valuable that riches?
you look at the whole focal passage, how would you summarize the message it has
What tends to distract you
from reading/studying God’s Word and hiding it in your heart?
Lessons in Psalm 119:14-16:
Word is worth far more than any riches the world can offer.
should meditate regularly on God’s precepts.
God’s Word fills our minds, it affects the way we think and the way we
act in our daily lives.
believers, we should find delight in God’s Word, because it is a message
of great joy.
God’s Word teaches us all we need to live well.
It keeps us from sin. In
it, we learn eternal truth. It
brings great joy to us as we rely on it to guard our way.
It is truly worth remembering—worth not neglecting.
Herschel Hobbs wrote: “We do not worship the Bible but the triune God
who revealed it, guarded it from error, and preserved it through the ages.
It is His abiding Word for us.
Read it to be wise. Trust
Him who gave it to be saved. Follow
its precepts to achieve victorious Christian living.
Share it with others who grope in darkness.
And so live it that even if another never sees the Book of all
books that person will see Jesus in you.
Thus it becomes God’s Word for
you and in you.
When it comes to God’s Word, does it fill your heart?
Do you celebrate God’s Word with a joyful heart?
Do you meditate on His Word so that you will not forget it?
On a scale of 1 to 10, rate how much God’s Word (1) fills your
heart; (2) is celebrated with a joyful heart; (3) is meditated on, in your
daily life? How do you rate
yourself on each of the three criteria?
If your rating in any of the three criteria is not what you would
like, ask God’s Holy Spirit to help you improve where needed.
are the implications of these truths for your life?
THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!
the safest place for a believer is in the center of God’s will.
Outline, Introduction, Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the
Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources
of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.
Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by
Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville,
SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza,
Focal Passage from three different translations of
King James Version: Psalm
Psalm 119:9-16 (KJV)
shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word. 10 With my whole heart
have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. 11 Thy
word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. 12 Blessed
art thou, O LORD: teach me thy
statutes. 13 With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy
mouth. 14 I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much
as in all riches. 15 I will meditate in thy precepts, and have
respect unto thy ways. 16 I will delight myself in thy statutes: I
will not forget thy word.
New King James Version:
Psalm 119:9-16 (NKJV)
9 How can a young man
cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word. 10 With my
whole heart I have sought You; Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments! 11
Your word I have hidden 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 have declared All the
judgments of Your mouth. 14 I have rejoiced in the way of Your
testimonies, As much as in all
riches. 15 I will meditate on Your precepts, And contemplate Your
ways. 16 I will delight myself in Your statutes; I will not forget
New Living Translation:
Psalm 119:9-16 (NLT)
can a young person stay pure? By obeying your word. 10 I have tried
hard to find you— don’t let me wander from your commands. 11 I
have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. 12 I
praise you, O LORD; teach me your decrees. 13 I have recited aloud
all the regulations you have given us. 14 I have rejoiced in your
laws as much as in riches. 15 I will study your commandments and
reflect on your ways. 16 I will delight in your decrees and not
forget your word.
(NOTE: Commentary for the
focal passage comes from five sources: “The Expositor’s Bible
Commentary Old Testament,”
“Believer's Bible Commentary,” “The Complete Biblical Library Commentary,” “The Moody Bible
and “The Pulpit Commentary,” and is provided for your study.)
Lesson Outline — “God’s Word
Fills My Heart” — Psalm
Heeding God’s Word
Cleanses (Ps. 119:9-11)
Learning God’s Word Equips
Remembering God’s Word Delights
Expositor’s Bible Commentary Old Testament: Psalm
The Beth Strophe (119:9-16)
psalmist as a wisdom teacher asks the rhetorical question, “How can a young
man keep his way pure?” as a teaching device (34:11), similar to that found in
Proverbs (1:4; 25:12-13; Eccl 11:9; 12:1). The “young man” is
the disciple, also known as “my son” in Proverbs. The young man may keep his
way “pure,” an equivalent for “blameless” (v. 1) and
“steadfast” (v. 5), by the practice of godliness. As the wise
“guard” (sh-m-r “keep,” vv. 4-5, 8, rendered in NIV as
“obey”) the revealed will of God, so must the disciple “guard” (sh-m-r;
NIV, “by living”) God’s “word” (dabar).
teacher exemplifies the wise response to God’s revelation in vv. 10-16.
He is sincere in his love for God (“I seek you with all my heart,” v. 10;
cf. v. 2) and demonstrates his love for God by treasuring his “word” of
promise (‘imrah) in his “heart” (v. 11). The act of
“hiding” God’s word is not to be limited to the memorization of individual
texts or even whole passages but extends to a holistic living in devotion to the
Lord (cf. Deut 6:4-9; 30:14; Jer 31:33). The inner devotion to
the Lord also finds expression in a teachable spirit (v. 12) and in
contentment (vv. 14, 16).
The teachable spirit begins
with a proper regard for God (v. 12). The psalmist confesses his adoration
for the Lord (“Praise be to you, O LORD”; cf. 28:6) as an introduction
to his petition (see “hallowed be your name.... Give us,” Matt 6:9, 11).
Also in v. 7 he connects praise with instruction. This demonstrates that
little instruction in godliness takes place unless the heart is full of praise.
Contentment is a true
expression of inner godliness. The psalmist declares repeatedly that his inner
delight and joy is in God and his revelation: “I have hidden” (i.e., “I
treasure,” v. 11), “I rejoice” (v. 14), “I delight” (v. 16;
cf. vv. 24, 47, 70). What brings joy to his life is not material
acquisition (“great riches,” v. 14) but the Lord himself (cf. vv. 72, 111, 162; Prov
3:13-14; 8:10-11; 16:16; Matt 6:33).
The external expression of
the psalmist’s inner loyalty to the Lord is joyful obedience (vv. 10, 15-16).
Joyful obedience finds expression in seeking the Lord with all one’s heart (v. 10),
lest he “stray” (sh-g-h “wander,” “err”; cf. Prov 19:27)
from God’s “commands” (miswoth). His “delight” is not only in
knowing the “ways,” the “decrees” (huqqim), and the “word” (dabar),
but also in the careful practice (vv. 15-16). As part of the practice of
godliness, he speaks openly and positively about God’s revelation of his will.
With his “lips” he “recounts” (s-p-r “count”; cf. NEB, “I
say them over, one by one”) the “laws” (mishpatim), which he
treasures as having come out of the “mouth” of the Lord (v. 13).
The root s-y-h
(“meditate,” vv. 15, 23, 27, 48, 78) has the basic
meaning of a loud, enthusiastic, and emotion-filled form of speaking; but in Psalm
119 it has the sense of a wise, pensive concentration (see Hans-Peter Muller,
“Die hebraische Wurzel שׂיח,”
: 361-71). The psalmist may quietly meditate on what the Lord expects of
him, controlling his emotions as an expression of absolute loyalty to the Lord.
The love for God’s word
is love for God (v. 16; cf. vv. 47, 70), expressed in a heart
attitude, in actions, and in words. In his whole being the godly man cries out
for God and delights in his will. This kind of a teacher can guide “a young
man” to “keep his way pure” (v. 9).
SOURCE: The Expositor’s
Bible Commentary Old Testament; Frank E. Gaebelein; General
Editor; Zondervan Publishing House; A Division of Harper Collins Publishers
Bible Commentary: Psalm 119:9-16
119:9. One of the most crucial
problems in the life of every young man is how to keep pure. The answer
is by practical obedience to the words of the Bible.
the matter of holiness, there is a curious merging of human desire (With my
whole heart I have sought You), and divine empowering (Oh, let me not
wander from Your commandments).
119:11. He does not make us holy
against our will or without our cooperation. Someone has wisely said, "The
best book in the world is the Bible. The best place to put it is in the heart.
The best reason for putting it there is that it saves us from sinning against
God is so great and so gracious, the renewed nature desires to learn His statutes
and be molded by them. The love of Christ constrains us!
119:13. Deep delight in the
treasures of the Word leads inevitably to the desire to share them with others.
It is a law of life that when we really believe something, we want to pass it
119:14. No prospector was ever
more pleased with his nuggets of gold than the one who searches out the hidden
wealth of the Scriptures.
119:15. God's Word provides
endless resource material for the most satisfying meditation, but this should
never be divorced from the determination to be doers of the Word.
119:16. "His commandments are
not burdensome" (1 Jn. 5:3). Whoever is born of God will delight in
the statutes of the Lord and determine to keep them in constant
Bible Commentary; by William MacDonald; Copyright © 1995, 1992, 1990,
1989 by William McDonald. Database © 2014 WORDsearch.
The Complete Biblical Library Commentary: Psalm 119:9-16
119:9-16. The inference drawn from v.
9, that the psalmist was a young man, is precarious. The language would be
quite as appropriate to an aged teacher desirous of guiding impetuous youth to
sober self-control. While some verses favor the hypothesis of the author’s
youth (v. 141, and perhaps vv. 99ff), the tone of the whole, its rich experience
and comprehensive grasp of the manifold relations of the Law to life, imply
maturity of years and length of meditation. The Psalm is the ripe fruit of a
life which is surely past its spring. But it is extremely questionable whether
these apparently personal traits are really so. Much rather is the poet
“thinking... of the individuals of different ages and spiritual attainments
who may use his works” (Cheyne, in loc.).
The word rendered “by taking heed” (HED
#8490) has already occurred in vv. 4f (“observe”). The careful study of the
word must be accompanied with as careful a study of self. The object observed
there was the Law; here, it is the man himself. Study God’s Law, says the
psalmist, and study thyself in its light; so shall youthful impulses be bridled
and the life’s path be kept pure. That does not sound so like a young man’s
thought as an old man’s maxim in which are crystallized many experiences.
The rest of the section intermingles petitions,
professions and vows and is purely personal. The psalmist claims that he is one
of those whom he has pronounced blessed, inasmuch as he has “sought” God
with his “whole heart.” Such longing is no mere idle aspiration, but must be
manifested in obedience, as v. 2 has declared. If
a man longs for God, he will best find Him by doing his will. But no
heart-desire is so rooted as to guarantee that it shall not die, nor is past
obedience a certain pledge of a like future.
Wherefore, the psalmist prays, not in reliance
on his past, but in dread that he may falsify it, “Let me not wander.” He
had not only sought God in his heart, but had there hid God’s Law, as its best
treasure, and as an inward power controlling and stimulating. Evil cannot flow
from a heart in which God’s Law is lodged. That is the tree which sweetens the
waters of the fountain. But the cry “teach me thy statutes” would be but
faltering, if the singer could not rise above himself and take heart by gazing
upon God, whose own great character is the guarantee that He will not leave a
seeking soul in ignorance.
Professions and vows now take the place of
petitions. “From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh,” and the
word hid in it will certainly not be concealed. It is buried deep, that it may
grow high. It is hidden, that it may come abroad. Therefore, v. 13 tells
of bold utterance, which is as incumbent on men as obedient deeds.
A sane estimate of earthly good will put it
decisively below the knowledge of God and of his will. Lives which despise what
the world calls riches, because they are smitten with the desire of any sort of
wisdom, are ever nobler than those which keep the low levels. And highest of all
is the life which gives effect to its conviction that man’s true treasure is
to know God’s mind and will. To rejoice in his testimonies is to have wealth
that cannot be lost and pleasures that cannot wither. That glad estimate will
surely lead to happy meditation on them, by which their worth shall be disclosed
and their sweep made plain. The miser loves to tell his gold; the saint, to
ponder his wealth in God. The same double direction of the mind, already noted,
reappears in v. 15, where quiet meditation on God’s statutes is
associated with attention to the ways which are called his, as being pointed out
by and pleasing to Him, but are ours, as being walked in by us. Inward delight
in, and practical remembrance of the Law are vowed in v. 16, which covers
the whole field of contemplative and active life.
The Complete Biblical Library Commentary – Chronicles.
Copyright © 1998 by World Library Press Inc. Database © 2010 WORDsearch
Moody Bible Commentary: Psalm 119:9-16
Beth: God's Word Provides Protection
Against Sin (119:9-16)
verses focus on what may be called the preparatory benefits of God's Word. It is
essential for a young man to keep his way pure and resist
temptation before theological doubt is encountered rather than during it or
after it. For this reason the psalmist opened this section with an explicit
reference to a young man, beginning in youth and establishing a pattern
throughout life to walk with God. This way entails both treasuring (zealously
guarding; cf. Jos 2:4; Ps 27:5; Pr 10:14) God's word... in one's heart
(v. 11) as well as meditating on it (v. 15, internalizing, memorizing it,
pondering it over time, and considering how it applies to one's situation). This
should form a lifelong habit of hiding God's word in his heart so as to not
sin against the Lord (v. 11).
SOURCE: The Moody Bible
Commentary; by Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham; © 2014 by The Moody Bible
Institute of Chicago. Database © 2015 WORDsearch.
The Pulpit Commentary – Psalm
shall a young man cleanse his way? It does not follow from this inquiry that the writer is
a “young man” — rather the reverse. He is anxious to give advice to young
men, which is naturally the part of one somewhat advanced in life. By taking
heed thereto, according to thy Word. This is the answer to the question
raised in clause 1. By looking to God's Word, and guiding himself thereby, the
young man may “cleanse his way” — not otherwise.
whole heart have I sought thee (comp. ver. 2). O let me not wander from thy
commandments; i.e. “let me not accidentally and through ignorance
stray from the right path.”
Word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee;
rather, thy promise (imrah). To have God's word of promise laid up
in the heart is the only security against being surprised into sin.
art thou, O Lord: teach me thy statutes. God's statutes are really
known to those only whom God teaches. By nature we have but a faint glimmer of
their meaning. God must teach us by his Spirit ere we can apprehend them aright.
lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth. “Out
of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” The “word” hid in the
psalmist's heart (ver. 11) could not but rise to his lips on fit occasion, and
be set forth before the people for their edification — more especially as
there was an express command binding upon all Israelites to teach the Law to
their children and dependants (see particularly Deuteronomy 6:7).
rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches (comp.
ver. 72). God's Word is a treasure, beyond expression precious, calculated to
rejoice the heart of all such as possess it.
meditate in thy precepts. The full force of the Divine precepts is not to be
grasped except by prolonged meditation on them. God's commandments are
“exceeding broad” (ver. 96). And have respect unto thy ways; or,
“consider them,” “reflect upon them.”
delight myself in thy statutes (comp. vers. 24, 40, 47, 70, 77, etc.; and see also
Psalm 1:2). I will not forget thy Word. That which is “laid up in the
heart” (ver. 11) can never be forgotten.
The Pulpit Commentary; Volume 8:
Psalms; Database © 2007 WORDsearch Corp.
TREASURE, TREASURY: What
one values whether silver and gold or something intangible and the storage place
of what is valuable.
In Old Testament times
treasure might be stored in the king’s palace (2 Kings 20:13) or in the Temple
(1 Kings 7:51). In Jesus’ day the term also applied to thirteen trumpet-shaped
offering receptacles in the Temple court of the women where Jesus watched people
make their offerings (Mark 12:41). “Treasure” and “treasury” are also
used as illustrations or figures of speech. Israel was God’s treasure (Ex.
19:5). This is reflected in the idea of Christians as God’s own people (1 Pet.
2:9). A person’s memory is a treasure (Prov. 2:1; 7:1). Fear (awe) of the Lord
was Israel’s treasure (Isa. 33:6).
Jesus Himself used the
term frequently. He contrasted earthly treasures to those of heaven (Matt.
6:19-20). What a person treasures or values determines one’s loyalty and
priorities (Matt. 6:21). Paul marveled that the treasure of God’s revelation
of Himself in Christ had been deposited in an earthen vessel such as Paul
himself (2 Cor. 4:7).
SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General
Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville,
act of calling to mind some supposition, pondering upon it, and correlating it
to one’s own life. A wicked individual meditates upon violence (Prov. 24:2).
The meditation of a righteous person contemplates God or His great spiritual
truths (Pss. 63:6; 77:12; 119:15, 23,27,48,78,97,148; 143:5). He hopes to please
God by meditation (Ps. 19:14). Thus meditation by God’s people is a reverent
act of worship. Through it they commune with God and are thereby renewed
references to meditation occur in the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms.
The Hebrew words for meditation primarily were derived from two separate roots.
The first (hagah) literally means “to utter in a low sound.” The word
is used to denote the growling of a lion (Isa. 31:4) or the cooing of a dove (Isa.
38:14). Therefore it has been suggested that, in ancient Hebrew meditation,
Scripture frequently was recited in a low murmur. The second root word (siach)
has the basic meaning of “to be occupied with,” or “concerned about.”
Thus meditation is the repetitious going over of a matter in one’s mind
because it is the chief concern of life. The constant recollection of God’s
past deeds by the hearing of Scripture and repetition of thought produce
confidence in God (Pss. 104:34; 119:15,23,48,78,97,99,148; Ps. 63:6-8; 143:5).
is only mentioned twice in the New Testament. Jesus instructed Christians to
meditate beforehand on their attitude toward persecution (Luke 21:14). Paul
advised Timothy to meditate on the matters about which Paul had written Him (1
Tim. 4:15). Meditation is an important part of the Christian’s relationship
SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General
Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville,
Words For The Word
Francis X. Kimmitt is professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, director of
dual enrollment, and coordinator of institutional effectiveness at Bryan College
in Dayton, TN.
SALM 119 is
a masterful celebration of the Torah
(translated “Instruction” or “Law”) of the Lord.
It consists of 176 verses, divided into 22 stanzas, each of which
contains 8 verses. In each stanza,
the eight verses begin with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
Thus it is an acrostic poem. For
example, the first eight lines begin with the second letter, beth,
and so forth. An analogy would be if someone were to write a similar poem in
English, the first 8 lines would begin with the letter “a,” the next 8 with
the letter “b.” This pattern
would continue until the poem was complete with 208 lines (26 x 8).
Old Testament scholar Leslie Allen stated
that the number of lines in each stanza seems to have been determined by the
number of the synonyms the psalmist used to focus on the psalm’s theme; the
Torah. These synonyms are as
follows: Torah (used in the psalm 25 times), word(s) (24 times), rulings or
judgments (23 times), testimonies or covenants (23 times), command(s) (23
times), statutes or laws (21 times), charges or precepts (21 times), and saying
or promise (19 times).1 The
8 symomyms do not occur in any regular pattern in the 22 stanzas, and they all
are in only 4 of the 22 stanzas: the ones designated with the Hebrew letters chet,
yod, kaph, and pe.
The other 18 stanzas have 6 or 7 of the synonyms, using them 7 to 9 times
in each case.
acrostic form of the poem serves several functions: (1) a mnemonic device for
“public and private—both individual and corporate—recitation” of the
poem;2 (2) a celebration of the completeness of the Lord’s Torah;
and (3) an expression of the fullness of the wisdom that it contains for all of
human life.3 The form of
Psalm 119 is a wisdom psalm. Wisdom
psalms provide “instruction in right living and right faith in the tradition
of the other wisdom writings of the Old Testament—Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and
Job. And in most of these psalms,
the path to wisdom is through adherence to the Torah, the instruction of the
119, furthermore, is rightly classified as a Torah psalm because of its focus on
the Lord’s Torah. The heart of
Psalm 119 is Torah, the law and instruction that God gave Israel at Mount Sinai.
This law or instruction, however, had already been written on the heart
of Israel’s founding patriarch, Abraham (Gen. 26:5).
As we read the Old Testament and, in particular the Psalms, we find that
God’s Torah is expressed in three forms: His ways, works, and words.5
The psalmists instruct God’s people about Lord’s actions in history,
His “ways,” which are a prime way of revealing His character (see Ps. 25).
As the Lord’s actions show us His ways, they also present His
“works,” such as “justice,” “truth,” “righteousness,” and
“faithfulness” (Pss. 25; 111).
brings us to God’s “words,” the topic of this article.
The psalmist begins this beautiful psalm with a blessing: “How happy
are those whose way is blameless, who live according to the Lord’s
instruction!” (Ps. 119:1, HCSB) The blessing brings us into the treasure room
of God’s Torah. God is waiting for
us to open His Word and receive all of the goodness He has to offer if we will
only hear and obey.
Torah—We have discussed the first of the eight
synonyms—Torah—in detail, but we will look at a few verses to see its
importance. The psalm begins with a
blessing on the one who lives according to the Lord’s Torah (v. 1).
His Law is their delight (v. 70). Even
if the wicked surround the righteous, they do not forget God’s Law (v. 61),
but they burn with indignation at the wicked who abandon His Law (v. 53).
second most common term is “word” (Hebrew, dabar).
Its essential meaning is what God
said or says. But it has power to
bring about its intended action because it is the word of the Lord—“an
expression and extension of Yahweh’s knowledge, character, and ability.”6
The one who waits for God’s “word” knows that this word brings the
soul’s salvation (v. 81), understanding (v. 169), and answers to our deepest
cries for help in the night (v. 147).
Rulings—Translated from the Hebrew word mishpatim, the term rendered “rulings” or “judgments”
carries the idea of justice or rightness that has its root in God’s character.
This justice, therefore, “ought to be an attribute of man in general
and of judicial processes among them.”7
The true servant of the Lord does justice and righteousness.
Desiring to be delivered from all oppressors, he relies on God’s
character (v. 121) because His “judgments” are righteous (v. 75).
Testimonies—translated “testimonies’ or
“covenants” (Hebrew eduth), this
term refers to unspecified laws, instructions, or commands from God to His
people. It is the testimony or
witness of God particularly related to His instructions to Moses in the context
of the Mount Sinai narratives and covenant.8
God’s “testimonies” are wonderful (v. 129).
He revives us according to His faithful love so that we can keep His
“testimonies” (v. 88).
Commands—Wisdom literature uses the term
“commands” or “commandments” (Hebrew mitzvoth)
for a teacher’s instruction to the pupil (Prov. 2:1; 3:1).
Throughout the Old Testament, these are the requirements of God’s
covenant for His people and, in particular, refer to the Ten Commandments in
Exodus 24:12.9 In Psalm
119, the Lord’s commandments are true (v. 151), reliable (v. 86), and
righteous (v. 172).
Statutes—The term “statutes” (Hebrew choqim) refers to rules, or prescriptions or duties God imposed,
specifically demands He made upon His covenant people.
Biblical texts often use this term alongside torah,
debar, eduth, mishpatim, and mitzvoth,10
suggesting that the psalmist did use them interchangeably.
Precepts—Unique to Psalms, the Hebrew term
translated “precepts” or “charges” (piqqudim)
refers to the responsibilities that God requires of His people.11
Interestingly, 21 of the 24 uses of piqqudim
in Scripture are in Psalm 119. The
righteous meditate on the “precepts” of the Lord, but the wicked try to lead
them astray with lies or false ways (vv. 78,128).
final synonym is “saying” or “promise” (Hebrew imrah). In Psalm 119, it
appears 19 times, always with reference to God and personalized with the second
person pronoun (“Your sayings” or “Your words”).
I hide “Your word” (imrah) in my heart so that I might not sin against You (v. 11); and
by “Your word” I receive spiritual direction (v. 133).
The believer keeps and obeys “Your word” (v. 67), but the faithless
do not (v. 158). When God gives His
“word,” it is His “promise” to the faithful servant (vv.
Hebrew poet brings this magnificent poem to its conclusion as he began, focusing
on the blessing of God’s Law: “I long for Your salvation, Lord, and Your
Torah is my delight. May my soul
live that it may praise You, and may Your judgments help me” (vv. 174-175,
author’s translation). Psalm 119
is one of the great treasures of the Bible; its riches are there to be mined by
the servant of God with a willing and open heart.
1. Allen. Psalms
101-150, vol. 21 in Word Biblical
Commentary (Waco; Word Books, 1983), 139.
Jacobson, Tanner, The Book of Psalms (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), 870.
“The Book of Psalms” in Cornerstone
Biblical Commentary, vol. 7 (Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2009), 372.
Book of Psalms, 870-71.
5. Bullock, Encountering
the Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 216-17.
6. Ames, (drb,
speak) in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis [NIDOTTE],
gen ed. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 1:914.
§2443c (mishpat, justice, ordinance)
in Theological Wordbook of the Old
Testament [HARRIS], ed. Harris (Chicago: Moody 1980), 2:948-49.
8. Enns, in
§1887b (mitzvah, commandment)
in HARRIS, 2:757-58.
Lewis, §728a (hoq, statute) in ibid., 1:317.
Hamilton, §1802e (piqqudim, precepts) in ibid., 2:732.
is professor of religion and occupies the Ida Elizabeth & J. W. Hollums
Chair of Bible at Oklahoma Baptist University, Shawnee, Oklahoma.
BELIEVER has been inspired by the psalmist’s
statement—“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Ps.
119:105; KJV). This significant
description of God’s Word is part of a meditation that provides a rich
tapestry of images that give insight into the practical relevance of the Word.
Thus, an exploration of Psalm 119 yields multiple descriptions of God’s
Word that taken together broaden and deepen our understanding of God’s
communication with His servants.
Significance of the
The main term Hebrew employed by Psalm 119,
and by all parts of the Old Testament for that matter, for the Word of God is torah,
customarily translated as “law.” But
whereas the English word “law” implies a legal standard organized and
recorded in legal texts and precedents, the Hebrew word torah
connotes the broader idea of teaching or instruction.
Also adopted as the name of the first five books of the Bible, the Torah
is comprised of a careful blend of legal material, history, and narrative.
This blend implies that God’s torah or instruction for His people is
inseparable from life lived with and under God.
Thus, the apostle Paul could challenge his opponents who desired to be
under the law to hear the law by calling their attention to the Genesis story of
Abraham’s two sons (Gal. 4:21-31). Likewise,
Psalm 119 can begin its meditation on God’s torah
by comparing it to an undefiled walk or lifestyle (v. 1).1
Significantly then, we see the great lawgiver Moses resisting the
Lord’s call because he was not an eloquent speaker.
In response, the Lord promised to teach Moses what to say (Ex. 4:12).
119 employs no less than seven other terms to clarify and enrich our
understanding of God’s Word. Each
represents a facet of God’s torah; collectively they emphasize the depth and
breadth of the Word.
torah, the second most frequent term
is dabar, normally translated as
“word.” Though it may seem to be
a general term, dabar reminds us of
the creative power of the God who speaks “in the beginning” (Gen. 1).
The term emphasizes that the truth of God’s Word exists from the
beginning and for all time (Ps. 119:160).
an effective ruler, God leads by righteous “judgments” (Hebrew, mishpatim;
see v. 7). Being a term commonly
used to describe the way of a king (see 1 Sam. 8:11), this synonym for the Word
draws us into consideration of the kingdom of God, a kingdom established on the
foundations of righteousness and justice.
character of God’s Word as witness is also on display.
God’s testimonies (Hebrew, edah)
bear witness to God’s covenant with God’s people and are a source of delight
to the psalmist (Ps. 119:24).2
(Hebrew, mitzvah) implies authority.
God’s Word comes as commands for us to obey.
Yet the psalmist seeks God’s commandments with his whole heart (see vv.
we speak of a word “carved in stone,” we evoke the permanence of the record.
The Hebrew term choq
(“statutes,” vv. 33,112) draws from the ancient Near Eastern practice of
stone inscriptions to speak of the permanence and binding character of God’s
with the permanence of God’s Word is the Word’s aptness for the
particularities of life. Thus, God
speaks in precepts, words displaying God’s attentiveness to the details of the
lives of God’s people.3
from the verb “to say,” the final torah imrah
may be a synonym for the more common Hebrew term for “word” dabar.
Even so, the psalmist can hide such a saying in his heart (v. 11),
perhaps implying something akin to a personal promise that “strikes the right
balance between the general and particular” character of the Word.4
In addition to the basic torah terms, Psalm
119 develops a description of God’s Word according to various images and
themes. These images and themes
emphasize the faithfulness of the Author of the Word.
Further the images stress the practical benefits that readers receive
from these faithful expressions of God’s will and purpose.
among the images of the Word is that of a lamp or light upon the path (v. 105).
The notion that keeping the law is akin to walking in the way of the Lord
or staying on the right path runs as a thread not only through Psalm 119 (see.
Vv. 3,9,15,33-35). It also stands at
the beginning of the psalter (Ps. 1) and guides many of the biblical meditations
on wisdom (see Prov. 1:15; 2:20). Thus,
the psalmist aptly compares the revelatory power of God’s Word to that of a
light illuminating one’s steps along a path.
Even understand as statutes inscribed
in stone, the Word provides a way of life and a path to follow (Ps. 119:33-35).
justice of God’s Word is another important theme.
Numerous times the psalmist cries out for relief from unjust
circumstances, seeking the just rulings and dealings Judge (vv.
121-22,134,137,153-54). Even when
the psalmist’s affliction is deserved, he is able to rely on the Lord’s
judgments (v. 75-77).
is often the case in the wisdom writings of the Old Testament, images of
prosperity, wealth, and riches abound in Psalm 119.
The psalmist openly confesses to delighting in the way of God’s
testimonies as he would in all wealth (v. 14).
God’s commandments, treasured above even the finest gold (v. 127),
represent such a purity of pursuit (v. 140) that desire for God’s Word
actually deters the psalmist from covetousness (v. 36).
addition to being the delight of the psalmist, God’s Word serves as his
counselor (v. 24). Often in the
ancient Near East, counselors served kings, giving all manner of advice (see 2
Sam. 15:32-34; 17:1-14). Guided by
God’s counsel that gives understanding even to the simple (Ps. 119:130), the
psalmist can envision himself speaking before kings without shame (v. 46).
the final analysis, however, the liberty the psalmist seeks (v. 45) comes in
recognition of his need of God’s commandments as he lives as God’s servant
(v. 176). As God’s servant keeping
God’s Word, the psalmist finds life (v. 17).
He even shares the fellowship of service with all of heaven and earth and
each generation (vv. 89-91).
the ultimate image applied to God’s Word by Psalm 119 is the image of breadth.
Believers often consider the perfection of the Word; but the psalmist,
having seen an end of all perfection, remains yet captivated by the unsurpassed
breadth of God’s commandment (v. 96; see Ps. 18:19).
Forever settled in heaven and a word for the ages (119-89-90), the Word
of God, God’s Torah, is worthy of continual meditation and yields unparalleled
understanding (vv. 97-99).
psalmist affirms what believers have found through the centuries.
God’s Word is a lamp, and it is far more.
Psalm 1, often called a Torah psalm, is
entirely based on the comparison of Torah meditation and walking in the way of
The book of the law was placed beside
the ark of the covenant as a witness of God’s covenant demands (Deut. 31:26).
See Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150: A Commentary of Books III-V of the Psalms (Downers
Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1975), 418.
HEART in Old Testament Theology
R. Raymond Lloyd
Raymond Lloyd is retired pastor of First Baptist Church, Starkville,
HE BIBLICAL ADMONITION to “love
. . . and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart” (Deut. 10:12; 11:13)1
is the language of mankind of all the ages. The expression of Moses then, or
those who preceded him,2 or the pulpit today; the expression of
spiritual relationships, or romantic ones – all incorporate in some fashion
intellect, emotion, and will as stemming from the heart.
however, know the heart as a muscle, pulsing an average 100,000 times and
pumping about 2,000 gallons of blood daily. In the average lifetime the heart
beats more than 2.5 billion times.3 Not so the ancient Hebrews. They,
like the other peoples of the ancient Near East, while being aware of the
existence and general function of the heart, appear to have known nothing of the
circulation of blood. The Old Testament only rarely used the word “heart” to
describe the physical organ. And each such anatomical reference is, to say the
least, quite vague.4
While the physiological significance of the heart was
generally unknown, they did recognize its central importance to the life of the
individual. In essence, it took the place of the brain as the locus of all
psychical activity. This reflects the normal conception of man, both among the
Hebrews and the other ancients, whose physical functions have close association
with physical organs.5
all the physical organs the heart is by far the most important, and most
frequently mentioned in the Old Testament. It is the “central and unifying
organ of personal life.” R. C. Dentan suns it up thusly:
. . it (the heart) was the inner most spring of individual life, the ultimate
source of all its physical, intellectual, emotional, and volitional energies,
and consequently the part of man through which he normally achieved contact with
word “heart” occurs 853 times in the Old Testament, both as leb and lebab.
The two words appear to be totally synonymous with leb generally being
used in the earlier literature and lebab in the latter. These numerous
texts reflect the main facets of the psychical center of life. Only a limited
number of such texts can be cited here.7
center of intellectual life was located in the heart. Here one is said to
perceive, as Ezekiel was commissioned by the Lord to “receive [my words] in
thine heart? (Ezek. 3:10); to think as “David said in his heart” (1 Sam.
27:1); to understand as the Preacher expressed it: “I applied mine heart to
know wisdom” (Eccl. 8:16); to meditate, as the psalmist encouraged his people
to “commune with your own heart upon your bed” (Ps. 4:4); to remember, as
Wisdom’s exhortation to let “mercy and truth” be written on “the tablet
of thy heart” (Prov. 3:3). In the climax to Jeremiah’s great “Temple
Sermon,” he condemned child sacrifice and used the phrase “neither came it
into my ‘leb’” (Jer. 7:31). It is translated in most every version
as “mind,” for this is precisely its meaning. Typical English idioms as
“what’s on one’s mind” or “to bear in mind” are expressed in the
Hebrew as “all that is in thine heart” (1 Sam. 14:7) and “layeth it to
heart” (Isa. 57:1). Furthermore, wisdom from the Lord was given to the heart (Prov.
2:10), as when “God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding . . . and largeness
of heart” (1 Kings 4:29).
the seat of one’s emotional life virtually every human emotion is attributed
to the heart. Fundamental emotions such as joy and pleasure, grief and despair
have their roots in the leb. The heart is made “glad” (Prov. 27:11);
Hannah’s “heart rejoiceth in the Lord” (1 Sam. 2:1); Israel was “glad of
heart” to the Lord for His goodness at the dedication of the temple (1 Kings
8:66); their “heart shall rejoice” in the return from exile (Zech. 10:7);
the Philistine’s “hearts were merry” as they celebrated the victory over
Samson (Judg. 16:25). On the other hand, God was “grieved . . . at his
heart” (Gen. 6:6): Israel poured out its “heart like water before the face
of the Lord” over the destruction of Jerusalem (Lam. 2:19); in sickness the
psalmist groaned in the “disquiteness of his heart” (Ps. 38:8); Nehemiah is
described as having a “sorrow of heart” because of the destruction of
Jerusalem (Neb. 2:2).
are the examples demonstrating fear as an emotion of the heart. Many of those in
exile are described as being “of a fearful heart” (Isa. 35:4). Moses called
on the tribes of Gad and Reuben not to “discourage . . . the heart of the
children of Israel” as they had been at the report of the spies at
Kadesh-barnea (Num. 32:7-9). The “hearts of the people melted” as they fled
before the men of Ai (Josh. 7:5). The heart trembles when a person is afraid
(Job. 37:1). “Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not
fear,” said the psalmist (Ps. 27:3). On the other hand, the heart is depicted
as being firm and strong. The psalmist called on Israel to “let your heart
take courage” (Ps. 27:14, NASB; 31:24); David “found in his heart to pray”
for the building of the house of David (2 Sam. 7:27), another way of expressing
that he “took courage.” The lack of such was shown by Joseph’s brothers as
“their heart failed them” when they discovered the money had been restored
in the heart also are the “transitive emotions,” as Professor Fabry called
them, of love and hate.8 Its romantic expression is found in the
relationship of Samson and Delilah (Judg. 16:15,17,18). David’s “heart was
toward Absalom,” his son (2 Sam. 14:1). The mode of speech used by lovers,
“speak to the heart,” was used by the Lord expressing His unconditional love
in seeking to restore the bond between Israel and Himself (Hos. 2:14).
References to hatred in the heart are more limited. However, as David danced
before the ark, Saul’s daughter “despised him in her heart” (2 Sam. 6:16),
and the Holiness Code admonished one not to “hate your brother in your
heart” (Lev. 19:17, NIV).
are but a few examples of the fact that virtually every human emotion expressed
in the Old Testament emanated from the heart.
third major psychical activity of the heart is will. The line separating the
intellectual and volitional functions of the heart is sometimes unclear.
However, there are distinctions, because the heart functions as the locus of the
“driving force” behind the will of a human being. As a result it has moral,
ethical, and religious connotations. It becomes the governing factor of one’s
behavior. Here choices are made based on one’s own intuition and conscience or
the influence of other persons or of God Himself.
virtues and vices spring from the heart. Here lay the motivation for evil deeds:
the wicked have “mischief in their hearts” (Ps. 28:3); false prophets have
“deceit of their heart” (Jer. 14:14); the Lord hates a “heart that
deviseth wicked imaginations” (Prov. 6:18). Following the command to “love
the Lord . . . with all thy heart” come the warning to “take heed . . . that
your heart be not deceived” (Deut. 11:13,16). It may be swelled with pride:
Uzziah’s “heart was lifted up to his destruction” (2 Chron. 26:16). It may
also be “hardened” as was Pharaoh’s (Ex. 7:3; 8:15) or “stubborn” as
when Israel walked in “the stubbornness of their evil heart” (Jer. 7:24,
NASB). On occasions it was called “uncircumcised” (Jer. 9:26, NASB). It may
even be duplicitous: the ungodly have a “double heart” (Ps. 12:2). Jeremiah
pictured sin as being “graven upon the tablet of their heart” (Jer. 17:1).
likewise, originate in the heart. “Upright in heart” is a favorite
expression of the psalmist (7:10; 32:11). Solomon instructed Israel on the
occasion of the dedication of the temple to “let your heart therefore be
perfect with the Lord our God” (1 Kings 8:61). One who walks uprightly
“speaks truth in his heart” (Ps. 15:2, NASB). When one conforms to God’s
standard of behavior as expressed in the law and thus keeps the covenant, he is
said to have “integrity of heart” (1 Kings 9:4).
heart is the locus of divine contact. The Lord “knowest the hearts of all the
children of men” (1 Kings 8:39). He knows the “secrets of the heart” (Ps.
44:21). The Creator “who fashions the hearts of them” all knows their deeds
(Ps. 33:15, NASB). His primary concern, as described in His instructions to
Samuel when seeking one to anoint as king from among the sons of Jesse, was not
the “outward appearance,” because “the Lord looketh on the heart” (1
Sam. 16:7). Human beings are continuously under God’s scrutiny (1 Chron.
29:17; Ps. 17:3; Prov. 17:3). Because the heart tends toward evil and is crooked
and perverted, prone to deceit and filled with pride, it is imperative for it to
undergo a radical change.
comes the ringing call throughout the Old Testament for the heart to be
shattered of self and controlled by God, for the desired “sacrifices of God
are . . . a broken and a contrite heart” (Ps. 51:17). The urgent need is for
one to become clean and petition God as did the penitent psalmist: “create in
me a clean heart, O God” (Ps. 51:10). Moses directed Israel to “circumcise .
. . your heart and be no more stiffnecked” (Deut. 10:16). Jeremiah called on
Jerusalem to “wash thine heart from wickedness” (Jer. 4:14). He called for a
return to the Lord with their whole heart” (Jer. 24:7) and strongly censured
those who “hath not returned unto me with [their] whole heart” (Jer. 3:10).
God’s ideal standard of behavior may be best expressed by the psalmist when he
asked, “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in this
holy place?” and then proceeded to provide the answer: “He that hath clean
hands, and a pure heart” (Ps. 24:3-4). These two phrases describe God’s
requirement of both inward and outward purity, a purity of thought and deed.
When one responded with unwavering allegiance to God, he was said to have a
faithful heart (Neh. 9:8) or a steadfast heart (Ps. 112:7).
a response to God was expected and the most all-inclusive desired expression of
that was communicated through the directive: “love and serve the Lord thy God
with all thy heart and with all thy soul.”9 This is the heart of
Old Testament covenant theology. This was to be Israel’s response to the God
who had delivered them from Egyptian bondage. The eloquent words of the Shema
are found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5: “Hear, O Israel” The Lord our God is one
Lord; And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all
thy soul, and with all thy might.”
faithful were to recite them twice daily. This command to love God is linked
directly with keeping the law. The concluding exhortation of the Deuteronomic
Law Code commanded that Israel shall perform all the statues and ordinances
“with all thy heart . . .” (Deut. 26:16).
requirement “to love . . . the Lord thy God with all thy heart . . .”
appears several times in the Old Testament and in each instance relates to a
covenantal commitment. It was to be Israel’s response to the God who
established and set the terms of the covenant at Sinai. It demands a loyalty
that is unqualified and unconditional. In keeping with the Hebrew concept of
totality, the heart is virtually synonymous with the whole person (Prov. 3:1).
for Israel, keeping the law with all of one’s heart was an impossibility.
Human effort alone was insufficient. Hope for improvement of the heart could be
found only in God’s grace. Because Israel had persistently broken the old
covenant, Jeremiah introduced the idea of a new covenant whose law was not to be
written on tablets of stone, but in the human heart (Jer. 31:31-34). While the
new covenant had similarities to the old, it was different in that the new
covenant promised the creation of a new man. God was going to the focal point of
His contact with man and making known His will and purpose directly to the
intellectual, emotional, and volitional center of a person’s life. Jeremiah
did not say how this would become reality, but he may well have been speaking
not only at Christ’s work, but also the Holy Spirit’s work in enlightening,
convicting, and enabling a person in his response to God.
God gives a new heart to those who put their faith in Him, His expectations
remain the same. We are still to “love the Lord [our] God with all [our]
heart,” with our total being, with our full capacity.
otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations in this article are taken from the
King James Version of the Bible.
Egypt and Mesopotamia various texts reflect very similar meanings to those of
the Hebrews, including the psychical functions of the heart. Compare Heinz-Josef
Fabry. “Leb”;” lebab” Theological Dictionary of the Old
Testament, vol. Vii (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.;
and Stroke Facts, American Heart Association, 1992-99, p. 2.
a most thorough discussion relating the psychical functions to the total human
being: soul, body, and spirit, as well as the various parts of the body, in
other words, face, mouth, palate, tongue, lips, nose, ear, arm, hand, foot,
knees, bones, blood, loins, bosom, bowels, kidneys, and heart, compare A. R.
Johnson, The Vitality of the Individual in the Thought of Ancient Israel
(Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1949). It should be clearly noted that
there is “absolutely no unity in the ideas of the Old Testament about the
nature of man,” because those ideas came from very diverse periods of time and
centers of people. Hebrew psychology is not a precise and exacting science and
the equation of certain functions to the particular physical organs was somewhat
“loose and inconsistent.” Compare Gerhard Von Rad, Old Testament Theology
(London: Oliver and Boyd, 1962), 152-153.
C. Dentan, “Heart,” The Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 2
(Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962), 549.
an exhaustive study of the use of leb and lebab in all the
dimensions of human life, compare Fabry, 412.
Many of the characteristics of the leb are also
attributes of the nephesh. Obviously Deuteronomy does not reflect the
Greek concept of dichotomy expressing “complimentary attributes of human
personality.” However, leb may express the intentional nature of man
and the nephesh may well “denote that vital principal in man which
animates the human body and reveals itself in the form of conscious life.”
Iniquity, Transgression: What Is The Difference?
By John T.
Dr. Bunn is
pastor of First Baptist Church, Sylva, North Carolina.
VOCABULARY for the manifestation of evil in the Old
Testament, commonly referred to as sin, is extensive and, at times, quite
confusing. Each of the Hebrew words
used to denote an offense against God, estrangement from God, or a breach of
God’s law is symbolic of an idea or an action.
are some eighteen terms used to refer to people’s disobedience before God.
Yet, three of the terms are used more frequently in the Old Testament
than the other fifteen; kata, awon and pesha.
words are translated “sin,” “iniquity,” and “transgression,” in that
order. As such, the three terms may
be used together to encompass the sum total of man’s offenses against God; or
each may express, according to the context of Scripture, a different aspect or
symptom of the presence of evil in life. Yet,
at times, one of the terms (kata =
“sin”) apparently is used as an inclusive expression covering all
aspects of humanity’s wickedness (see Jer. 33:8; Lev. 16:21; Ps. 32:5).
Each of these three major words share a common implied meaning of
something broken.1 As
each word is discussed, its symbolic meaning will be explained.
also is interesting to note at the onset how frequently these primary words for
evil’s presence were used together. The
following is but a partial listing of such usage: Exodus 34:7-9; Leviticus
16:21; Numbers 14:18; Joshua 24:19; Job 13:23; Isaiah 6;7; Jeremiah 36:3; Micah
1:5. In certain instances when all
three words were utilized by the writer, the emphasis was upon personal
estrangement from God which had brought to the individual a sense of awesome
void (see Ps. 32:1-5; Ps. 51:1-13; Jer. 33:8).
When the psalmist or prophet expressed guilt and shame through the use of
the three terms “sin, iniquity, and transgression” the consciousness of
personal sinfulness was presented completely.
one studies the terminology of humanity’s breach of relationship with God is
is necessary to be reminded that the biblical writer was attempting to convey
the inner feelings of people. The
disobedient responses of a person toward God could be anywhere in the spectrum
from subtle to demonic. Thus the
author attempted to use those terms which more precisely described the offense
committed. To the Hebrew mind-set
one did not sin in general, only in particular!
It was for this reason that many expressions arose in the language to
identify various aspects of human insubordination.
then is meant by each of these terms?
“Sin,” [kata], is first
presented to the Bible reader in Genesis 4:7 where it was depicted as a wild
beast lurking at the doorway of life.2
As a force it became that manifestation of evil in the human life which
caused one to deviate from the goal or the way which God had set for life.
Hebrew words are seldom abstract, but have concrete images behind them.
The basic imagery behind the term kata
is that of an archer, slingsman, or spearman who has missed the target.
In essence, this category of offense implies one has failed to reach the
goal, hit the target, or arrive at a destination set by God.
A most graphic way of expressing the meaning of the term is that it
depicts a traveler who fails to reach the final stage of a journey.
of the older books in Old Testament theology forcefully deal with the nature of
this word by affirming its equivalency to the New Testament Greek word amartia
which implies a missing or abandoning of the straight road or norm for life.3
The offense is not one of willful disobedience, rather it seems to be one
occasioned by simple neglect or lapse of discipline.
This gradual slipping away is a straying from the right way (that is, the
norm of righteousness), a doing of that which is forbidden without an attitude
of stubborn defiance of God, and perhaps, simply omitting to do those things
which one ought to do. In other
words, kata means missing the objective standard of righteousness for
“Iniquity.” [awon], is
the second term to be explored. This
means a deliberate acceptance of the wrong goals, aims, or objectives in life by
a perverse turning aside from the course prescribed by God.
These is an inherent meaning in “iniquity” of distortion or
perversion of right brought about by an inner inclination for evil.4
In the more explicit passages delineating evil within people and its
consequence, the term “iniquity” was seen as the distortion or perversion of
right which brought a tremendous burden to the offender, whether it was an
individual Israelite (see Gen. 4:13; 15:16; 43:9; 44:16; Isa. 1:4; 40:2) or
Israel as a nation (see 2 Sam. 1:16; 4:11; 1 Kings 2:32; 2 Kings 9:7).
A striking thing about the committing of iniquity is that in many
passages the act was accompanied by a sense of pervasive guilt (see Ps. 32:5;
Judg. 11:35; 2 Sam. 24:10).
third of the big three words for offenses against God is “transgression,” [pesha]. “Transgression”
does not capture its meaning completely.5
It is an exceedingly strong term denoting defiance of and secession from
a superior or a source of authority. It
is the casting aside of all restraints, literally a “running wild.”
Both Amos and Micah employed the term with devastating effect in their
prophetic messages (see Amos 1:3,6,9,11,13; Micah 3:8; 6:7; 7:18).
This particular type of conduct was directed at the person of God or
those offices or things ordained by God such as the covenant, king, or priest.
In addition it expressed a contempt for authority and the assertion of
self-determination. In essence it
was that posture or self-assertion that set one above God and beyond the
authority of His ordinances, commands, and precepts.
It is this word which is used in 1 Kings 12:19 in reference to the
continuing rebellion of the Northern Kingdom, Israel, against the Southern
Kingdom, Judah (also see 2 Kings 17:21). The
same word also was employed in a number of passages of similar connotation (see
2 Kings 1:1; 2 Chron. 10:19; Isa. 1:2).
then is the difference between the three major words employed to denote offenses
against God, God’s objective standards for life, or that authority sanctioned
by God? It has been stated
previously that the three words “sin,” “iniquity,” and
“transgression” often are found together in certain passages.
Their use in relationship to each other in Psalm 51:1-4 and Psalm 32:1-2
provides excellent insight into their meaning.
When the words are used together it enhances and heightens the
implications of their meanings.
open insult of a sovereign God has subjective and objective impact.
When one sins, that is, misses the goal or the target, it is without
malicious intent, as is the case with “transgression.”
It is also without evil disposition, as is the case with “Iniquity.”
Yet it does affect God, for it is a straying from His established norms
for people and it does affect each person as the betrayal is sensed (Ps.
32:1-5).6 Intensity of
the nature of the offense is heightened however, with employment of the terms
“iniquity” and “transgression.” It
almost is like using the expression “bad,” “worse” and “worst”
denoting a progression, and saying it is bad to sin (kata),
worse to commit iniquity (awon), but
worst to transgress (pesha).
This moves in orderly steps from laxity of discipline to open rebellion.
each of the words denotes a distinct type of error they have a fundamental
commonality. “Sin” means to miss
the mark. “Iniquity” means a
deliberate going wrong. “Transgression”
means willful disobedience. Each
basically indicates a disassociation or disruption, something that creates
brokenness. Thus, each of the words
is used throughout the Old Testament to denote conduct which breaks relationship
with God or conduct which is a breach of established authority (that is, the
authority of the covenant and the law, Torah).
Yet, each of the three terms deals more with alienation from God than it
does with defection from a keeping of Israelite religious law.
A number of other words are employed to define social wrongdoing.
Essentially, the three categories of misconduct describe defection from
God with each denoting a different attitudinal position toward Him and a
different posturing of self. Whether
it be “sin,” “iniquity,” or “transgression” it is an act done
directly against God (Gen. 39:9; Ps. 51:4).
“Your iniquities,” says Isaiah, “have separated between you and
your God” (Isa. 59:2). Since it
was God who had established the norm of righteousness for Israel, and since it
was God who had given the law and executed a covenant with Israel, all forms of
disobedience had their ultimate end as an irreverent or thoughtless contempt for
Jacob, Theology of the Old Testament (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1958),
Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Westminster
Press, 1967), 2:380.
Davidson, The Theology of the Old Testament (New York: Scribner’s Sons,
1904), p. 207.
Dahood, Psalms, vol 2, The Anchor
Bible (Doubleday and Co., 1968), p. 43.
Davidson, p. 210; Eichrodt, p. 381.
Weiser, The Psalms (London: SCM Press, 1959), pp. 402-3.
Durham, Psalms, Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman, 1971), p.
A Word Study
is professor of religion and occupies the Ida Elizabeth & J.W. Hollums Chair
of Bible, Oklahoma Baptist University, Shawnee, Oklahoma.
AN AUTHOR’S use of a particular word can be difficult,
especially if he is a skilled poet communicating in an ancient language.
In the case of Psalm 119, we are dealing with a writer so devoted to
God’s Torah1 that he wrote one of the most exquisite and intricate
meditations in the Bible on the unparalleled value of the Torah of the Lord.
Employing a literary format known as acrostic, the writer of Psalm 119
presented the glories of God’s Torah from A to Z.2
To say he was delighted with God’s Word would be a vast understatement!
when the writer of Psalm119 stated he would “delight” in the Lord’s
statutes (Ps. 119:16), we should take him at his word and pay particular
attention to the word he used. For
though the concept of taking delight in God’s Word appears in the second verse
of the Book of Psalms (1:2), the writer of Psalm 119 chose a less common word
with a different nuance. Moving
beyond the general notion of having strong desire and taking pleasure in
something, Psalm 119:16 uses a term that expresses delight that is playful and
free, with “a quieter, more relaxed and homely ring”—more so than other
words would have expresses.3
may begin to understand the meaning of the word our psalmist used by studying
the Hebrew root of the word translated “delight.”
The basic root shaa occurs in several related language contexts.
The related root in Aramaic, for example, implies the delight of taking
sport in something, or playful delight. This
aspect of the root’s significance clarifies the use of shaa
in Isaiah 11:8, where we read that “an infant will play [Hebrew root, shaa]
beside the cobra’s pit” (HCSB). In
this context the infant’s play is delightfully carefree.
Hebrew linguists agree that such carefree, playful delight is the basic
sense of the root shaa.
Psalm 94:19 uses the word to paint a picture of someone who has moved from being
dreary filled to delighted. It says,
“When I am filled with cares, Your comfort brings me joy [emphasis added; Hebrew root, shaa]” (HCSB). In this
verse the psalmist set up a striking contrast.
When surrounded by something stressful and oppressive, he did not focus
on those concerns but on God’s comfort, which brings not just relief, but
context provided by Psalm 119 yields additional clues to the meaning of shaa.
This magisterial psalm is a literary wonder of 22 carefully crafted
paragraphs, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
In a stunning display of skill, discipline, and dedication, each line of
each paragraph begins with the Hebrew alphabet letter that the paragraph
represents. So, for instance, Psalm
119:16 is the last verse of the second paragraph of the psalm, and it begins
with the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, as do all verses in Psalm
119:9-16. Sticking with this format,
the writer was still able to communicate with clarity and precision.
Within the focused context of verses 9-16, he assembled a rich range of
terms that indicate the depth of his delight in God’s law.
The psalmist proclaimed, “I have treasured [or “hidden;” Hebrew, zpn]
Your word in my heart” (v. 11), “I rejoice in the way revealed by Your
decrees” (v. 14), “I will meditate on Your precepts and think about Your
ways” (v. 15), and “I will not forget Your word” (v. 16).
If we remember that this careful literary construction and disciplined
articulation is nevertheless profoundly poetic, we will realize that our
psalmist wove this rich tapestry of terms in order to express his irrepressible
delight. This means that all these
expressions—to treasure, to rejoice, to meditate, to think, and not
forget—reflect aspects of carefree delight the writer felt in the presence of
the broader context of the entire psalm, we find even further responses to
God’s Word that the psalmist related with his delight.
In Psalm 119:47, “love” and “delight” are parallel responses.
The psalmist’s delight also yielded a profound hope in the life-giving
reality of God’s compassion (v. 77). In
fact, he was certain that if the Lord’s “Instruction has not been my
delight, I would have died in my affliction” (v. 92).
So abiding was the psalmist’s hope, that even with trouble and distress
overtook him, he remained steadfast in his delight in God’s commands (v. 143).
mentioned above, if we look up the word shaa
in a standard Hebrew dictionary, we find words like “play” and “sport.”
Following the trail of this root through Psalm 119, however, we encounter
an experience grounded in joy that is anything but trifling or trivial.
The idea of a delight expressing carefree and complete abandon remains
though, and rightly so. For the
“Lord’s Instruction” is a delight, and happy are all who follow it
Torah is the basic Hebrew word comprising
God’s Law, expressed variously as statutes, commandments, words, precepts, and
decrees. The compilation of these
terms to clarify and expound the nature of torah
is typical of Psalm 119 and the Old Testament generally.
See Psalm 119:16 for example. Torah
itself can connote law, but most usually implies instruction or teaching.
The Holman Christian Standard Bible translates torah
as “instruction” (see Ps. 1:2). All
Scripture quotations are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB).
See “Acrostic” in Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, gen. ed. Brand, Draper, and
England (Nashville” Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 20.
Kidner, Psalms 73-150, vol. 14b in Tyndale
Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1975), 420.
SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay
Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234;
383. (17.135) What is the Answer To &
Where in The Bible is This Week’s Trivia Question Found: What priest had
the boy Jehoash proclaimed king, causing the death of the wicked Queen Athaliah?
Answer Next Week:
Last Week’s Question What priest made the first
“piggy bank” by placing a chest with a hole in it near the altar of the
Jehoiada; 2 Kings 12:9.