Psalm 119 is the longest poem in the Bible. It is the longest prayer in the Bible. It is the longest acrostic in the Bible. It is the longest chapter in the Bible. It stands at the center of the Bible, and it is about the Bible. The longest Psalm is a psalm about Psalms. The most intimidating chapter in the Word is also a chapter about the Word.
The scope of Psalm 119 is both huge (22 stanzas) and limited (every verse is about scripture). The chapter covers every aspect of life—successes, failures, victories, defeats, prosperity and adversity—and yet is also almost entirely a prayer (nearly every verse is directed to Yahweh).
Because of its length, the unity of it can often be missed. The stanzas are not interchangeable. Instead, this Psalm is masterfully crafted to guide the reader in a progression through the believer’s life. It covers all you need to know about leading a godly life, from A-Z (or aleph-to-tav, as it were). And it does so in order.
A (aleph) is the foundational principle to Christian living: happiness comes from holiness. If you aren’t holy, you aren’t happy, and if you want to be happy, try holiness (this is why this stanza alone, but also bet and het, are powerful antidotes to the Jesus-plus-Nothing/let-go-let-God approach to sanctification).
B (bet) shows that sanctification produces satisfaction. This is a satisfaction that affects every area of our life, and it grows into delight and joy that makes a person feel better than the wealthiest people alive. In fact, these first two stanzas make the believer’s life sound easy, if it were not for:
C (gimel), which teaches that believers are pilgrims. This world is not our home. We are passing through, and we never will really belong here. That would be hard enough, but then we find out that
D (dalet) the life of pilgrim is marked by trials. Our soul will spend time in the dust, filled with sorrow, while we beg God to help us be obedient.
E (he) is a truism: the result of these trials is that you are what you love. The worth of a man is seen in the worth of the object of his affections. Do you want to be a worthy person? Then love the worthy Word!
F (vav) serves as a recap, and shows the progression of a believer’s life. Faith leads to trust, trust to perseverance, perseverance to trials, trials become trails to holiness.
G (zayin) then reminds us that while all of that is true, that doesn’t make it easy. Just because the path is spelled out, does not mean that it will be effortless to walk. Thus our lives will be marked difficulty. Happiness is connected to holiness, but that doesn’t mean that holiness is easy.
H (het) is written in light of that tension: even though the road will be hard, the Psalmist vows that he will walk it, no matter the severity of the trials and persecution. Knowing the dangers and difficulties, the true believer vows to endure.
I (tait) in turn teaches that this vow is not made in a vacuum. Rather, it is only possible knowing the truth of what we might call irresistible grace. God will indeed pursue his own children. The elect will not get away from the path, because God is the hound of heaven.