Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
This celebrated Psalm has several peculiarities. It is divided into
twenty-two parts or stanzas, denoted by the twenty-two letters of the
Hebrew alphabet. Each stanza contains eight verses, and the first letter
of each verse is that which gives name to the stanza. Its contents are
mainly praises of God's Word, exhortations to its perusal, and reverence
for it, prayers for its proper influence, and complaints of the wicked
for despising it. There are but two verses
(Ps 119:122, 132)
which do not contain some term or description of God's Word. These
terms are of various derivations, but here used, for the most part,
synonymously, though the use of a variety of terms seems designed, in
order to express better the several aspects in which our relations to
the revealed word of God are presented. The Psalm does not appear to
have any relation to any special occasion or interest of the Jewish
Church or nation, but was evidently "intended as a manual of pious
thoughts, especially for instructing the young, and its peculiar
artificial structure was probably adopted to aid the memory in
retaining the language."
1. undefiled--literally, "complete," perfect, or sincere (compare
the way--course of life.
in the law--according to it (compare
law--from a word meaning "to teach," is a term of rather general
purport, denoting the instruction of God's Word.
2. testimonies--The word of God is so called, because in it He
testifies for truth and against sin.
seek him--that is, a knowledge of Him, with desire for conformity to
3. his ways--the course He reveals as right.
4-6. precepts--are those directions which relate to special conduct,
from a word meaning "to inspect."
statutes--or ordinances, positive laws of permanent nature. Both words
originally denote rather positive than moral laws, such as derive force
from the divine appointment, whether their nature or the reasons for
them are apprehended by us or not.
commandments--or institutions. The term is comprehensive, but rather
denotes fundamental directions for conduct, both enjoining and
have respect unto--or regard carefully as to their whole purport.
7. judgments--rules of conduct formed by God's judicial decisions;
hence the wide sense of the word in the Psalms, so that it includes
decisions of approval as well as condemnation.
8. Recognizes the need of divine grace.
9. The whole verse may be read as a question; for,
by taking heed--is better, "for" taking heed, that is, so as to do
it. The answer is implied, and inferable from
Ps 119:5, 10, 18,
&c., that is, by God's grace.
10-16. We must carefully treasure up the word of God, declare it to
others, meditate on it, and heartily delight in it; and then by His
grace we shall act according to it.
17-20. Life is desirable in order to serve God; that we may do so
aright, we should seek to have our eyes opened to behold His truth, and
earnestly desire fully to understand it.
21-24. God will rebuke those who despise His word and deliver His
servants from their reproach, giving them boldness in and by His truth,
even before the greatest men.
25-27. Submitting ourselves in depression to God, He will revive us
by His promises, and lead us to declare His mercy to others.
28-32. In order to adhere to His word, we must seek deliverance from
temptations to sin as well as from despondency.
my heart--with gracious affections.
33-38. To encourage us in prayer for divine aid in adhering to His
truth, we are permitted to believe that by His help we shall succeed.
the way of thy statutes--that is, the way or manner of life prescribed
by them. The help we hope to obtain by prayer is to be the basis on
which our resolutions should rest.
37. Turn away mine eyes--literally, "Make my eyes to pass, not noticing
vanity--literally, "falsehood;" all other objects of trust than God;
idols, human power, &c.
(Ps 31:6; 40:4; 60:11; 62:9).
quicken . . . in thy way--make me with living
energy to pursue the way marked out by Thee. Revive me from the
death of spiritual helplessness
(Ps 119:17, 25, 40, 50;
38. who is devoted to thy fear--or better, "which (that is, Thy word)
is for Thy fear," for producing it. "Which is to those who fear Thee."
God's word of promise belongs peculiarly to such (compare
1Ki 2:4; 8:25)
39, 40. Our hope of freedom from the reproach of inconsistency is
in God's power, quickening us to live according to His Word, which He
leads us to love.
for thy judgments are good--The time must therefore be at hand when
Thy justice will turn the "reproach" from Thy Church upon the world
(Isa 25:8; 66:5;
41-44. The sentiment more fully carried out. God's mercies and
salvation, as revealed in His Word, provide hope of forgiveness for the
past and security in a righteous course for the future.
42. The possession of God's gift of "salvation"
will be the Psalmist's answer to the foe's "reproach," that his hope
was a fallacious one.
45-48. To freedom from reproach, when imbued with God's truth, there
is added "great boldness in the faith"
accompanied with increasing delight in the holy law itself, which
becomes an element of happiness.
48. My hands . . . lift up unto . . .
commandments--that is, I will prayerfully
direct my heart to keep Thy commandments.
49-51. Resting on the promises consoles under affliction and the
tauntings of the insolent.
upon which--rather, "Remember Thy word unto Thy servant, because,"
&c. So the Hebrew requires
50. for--rather, "This is my comfort . . . that," &c.
hath quickened--What the Word has already done is to faith a pledge
of what it shall yet do.
52-56. The pious take comfort, when harassed and distressed by
wickedness of men who forsake God's law, in remembering that the great
principles of God's truth will still abide; and also God's
judgments of old--that is, His past interpositions in behalf of His
people are a pledge that He will again interpose to deliver them; and
they become the theme of constant and delightful meditation. The more we
keep the more we love the law of God.
53. Horror--rather, "vehement wrath"
54. songs--As the exile sings songs of his home
so the child of God, "a stranger on earth," sings the songs of heaven,
his true home
In ancient times, laws were put in verse, to imprint them the more on
the memory of the people. So God's laws are the believer's songs.
house of my pilgrimage--present life
(Ge 17:8; 47:9;
56. Rather, "This is peculiarly mine (literally, to me), that I
keep Thy precepts"
57-60. Sincere desires for God's favor, penitence, and activity in a
new obedience, truly evince the sincerity of those who profess to find
God a portion
58. favour--Hebrew, "face"
59. So the prodigal son, when reduced to straits of misery
(Lu 15:17, 18).
61, 62. This the more, if opposition of enemies, or love of ease is
overcome in thus honoring God's law.
have robbed me--better, surrounded me, either as forcible constraints
like fetters, or as the cords of their nets.
HENGSTENBERG translates, "snares."
62. At midnight--HENGSTENBERG
supposes a reference to the time when
the Lord went forth to slay the Egyptian first-born
(Ex 11:4; 12:29;
But it rather refers to the Psalmist's own praises and prayers in the
night time. Compare Paul and Silas
63. The communion of the saints. Delight in their company is an
evidence of belonging to them
64. While opposed by the wicked, and opposing them, the pious delight
in those who fear God, but, after all, rely for favor and guidance not
on merit, but mercy.
65-67. The reliance on promises
is strengthened by experience of past dealings according with promises,
and a prayer for guidance, encouraged by sanctified affliction.
66. Teach me good judgment and knowledge--namely, in Thy word (so as
to fathom its deep spirituality); for the corresponding expression
(Ps 119:12, 64, 68),
is, "Teach me Thy statutes."
67. Referred by
HENGSTENBERG to the chastening effect produced on the
Jews' minds by the captivity
(Jer 31:18, 19).
The truth is a general one
68. Compare as to the Lord Jesus
69, 70. The crafty malice of the wicked, in slandering him, so far from
turning him away, but binds him closer to God's Word, which they are too
stupid in sin to appreciate.
HENGSTENBERG refers the "lie" to such
slanders against the Jews during the captivity, as that in
70. fat as grease--spiritually insensible
(Ps 17:10; 73:7;
71, 72. So also affliction of any kind acts as a wholesome discipline
in leading the pious more highly to value the truth and promises of God.
73. As God made, so He can best control, us. So as to Israel, he owed
to God his whole internal and external existence
74. So when He has led us to rely on His truth, He will "make us to
the praise of His grace" by others. "Those who fear Thee will be glad at
my prosperity, as they consider my cause their cause"
(Ps 34:2; 142:7).
75-78. in faithfulness--that is, without in the least violating Thy
faithfulness; because my sins deserved and needed fatherly chastisement.
Enduring chastisement with a filial temper
God's promises of mercy
will be fulfilled, and He will give comfort in sorrow
2Co 1:3, 4).
77. Let thy tender mercies come unto me--As I am not able to
come unto them. But the wicked will be confounded.
78. but I . . . meditate in thy precepts--and so shall
not be "ashamed," that is, put to shame
79, 80. Those who may have thought his afflictions an evidence
of God's rejection will then be led to return to Him; as the friends of
Job did on his restoration, having been previously led through his
afflictions to doubt the reality of his religion.
80. Let my . . . be sound--that is, perfect, sincere.
ashamed--disappointed in my hope of salvation.
81-83. In sorrow the pious heart yearns for the comforts of God's
(Ps 73:26; 84:2).
82. Mine eyes fail for thy word--that is, with yearning desire
for Thy word. When the eyes fail, yet faith must not.
83. bottle in the smoke--as a skin bottle dried and shriveled up in
smoke, so is he withered by sorrow. Wine bottles of skin used to be hung
up in smoke to dry them, before the wine was put in them
84-87. The shortness of my life requires that the relief afforded to
me from mine enemies should be speedy.
85. pits--plots for my destruction.
which--rather, "who," that is, "the proud"; "pits" is not the
87. consumed me upon earth--HENGSTENBERG
translates, "in the land";
understanding "me" of the nation Israel, of which but a small remnant
was left. But English Version is simpler; either, "They have consumed
me so as to leave almost nothing of me on earth"; or, "They have almost
destroyed and prostrated me on the earth" [MAURER].
I forsook not--Whatever else I am forsaken of, I forsake not Thy
precepts, and so am not mistaken of Thee
(Ps 39:5, 13;
2Co 4:8, 9),
and the injuries and insults of the wicked increase the need for it.
But, however they act regardless of God's law, the pious, adhering to
its teaching, receive quickening grace, and are sustained
89-91. In all changes God's Word remains firm
Like the heavens, it continually attests God's unfailing power and
is settled in--that is, stands as firmly as the heaven in which it
dwells, and whence it emanated.
90. thou hast established the earth, and it
91. They--the heaven
and the earth
HENGSTENBERG translates, "They stand for
thy judgment," that is, ready, as obedient servants, to execute them.
The usage of this Psalm favors this view. But see
92-94. Hence the pious are encouraged and inclined to seek a knowledge
of it, and persevere amidst the efforts of those planning and waiting to destroy them.
my delights--plural, not merely delight, but equal to all other
93. The bounds of created perfection may be defined, but those of God's
law in its nature, application, and influence, are infinite. There is
no human thing so perfect but that something is wanting to it; its
limits are narrow, whereas God's law is of infinite breadth, reaching to
all cases, perfectly meeting what each requires, and to all times
(Ps 19:3, 6, 7-11;
It cannot be cramped within any definitions of man's dogmatical
systems. Man never outgrows the Word. It does not shock the ignorant
man with declared anticipations of discoveries which he had not yet
made; while in it the man of science finds his newest discoveries by
tacit anticipations provided for.
97. This characteristic love for God's law (compare
98-100. of knowledge, both of the matter of all useful, moral truth,
and an experience of its application.
wiser than mine enemies--with all their carnal cunning
(De 4:6, 8).
they are ever with me--The Hebrew is, rather
singular, "it is ever with me"; the commandments forming
ONE complete whole, Thy law.
99. understanding--is practical skill
(Ps 2:10; 32:8).
100. more than the ancients--Antiquity is no help against stupidity,
where it does not accord with God's word
The Bible is the key of all knowledge, the history of the world, past,
present, and to come
He who does the will of God shall know of the doctrine
101-104. Avoidance of sinful courses is both the effect and means of
increasing in divine knowledge (compare
105. Not only does the Word of God inform us of His will, but, as a
light on a path in darkness, it shows us how to follow the right and
avoid the wrong way. The lamp of the Word is not the sun. He would
blind our eyes in our present fallen state; but we may bless God for the
light shining as in a dark place, to guide us until the Sun of
Righteousness shall come, and we shall be made capable of seeing Him
The lamp is fed with the oil of the Spirit. The allusion is to the
lamps and torches carried at night before an Eastern caravan.
106-108. Such was the national covenant at Sinai and in the fields of
108. freewill offerings--the spontaneous expressions of his gratitude,
as contrasted with the appointed "offerings" of the temple
He determines to pursue this way, relying on God's quickening power
in affliction, and a gracious acceptance of his "spiritual sacrifices
of prayer and praise"
(Ps 50:5, 14, 23).
109, 110. In the midst of deadly perils (the phrase is drawn
from the fact that what we carry in our hands may easily slip from
and exposed to crafty enemies, his safety and guidance is in the truth
and promises of God.
111, 112. These he joyfully takes as his perpetual heritage, to perform
the duties and receive the comforts they teach, evermore.
113. vain thoughts--better, "unstable persons," literally, "divided
men," those of a divided, doubting mind
"a double-minded man" [HENGSTENBERG], skeptics,
or, skeptical notions as opposed to the certainty of God's word.
(Ps 3:3; 7:10).
hope in thy word--confidently rest on its teachings and promises.
115-117. Hence he fears not wicked men, nor dreads disappointment,
sustained by God in making His law the rule of life.
Depart from me--Ye can do nothing with me; for, &c.
118-120. But the disobedient and rebellious will be visited by God's
wrath, which impresses the pious with wholesome fear and awe.
their deceit is falsehood--that is, all their cunning deceit, wherewith
they seek to entrap the godly, is in vain.
120. The "judgments" are those on the wicked
Joyful hope goes hand in hand with fear
121-126. On the grounds of his integrity, desire for God's word, and
covenant relation to Him, the servant of God may plead for His
protecting care against the wicked, gracious guidance to the knowledge
of truth, and His effective vindication of the righteous and their
cause, which is also His own.
122. Be surety--Stand for me against my oppressors
127, 128. Therefore--that is, In view of these benefits, or, Because
of the glory of Thy law, so much praised in the previous parts of the
I love . . . [and]
Therefore (repeated)--All its precepts,
on all subjects, are estimable for their purity, and lead one imbued
with their spirit to hate all evil
The Word of God admits of no eclecticism; its least title is perfect
129. wonderful--literally, "wonders," that is, of moral excellence.
130. The entrance--literally, "opening"; God's words, as an open
door, let in light, or knowledge. Rather, as
HENGSTENBERG explains it,
"The opening up," or, "explanation of thy word." To the natural man
the doors of God's Word are shut.
Lu 24:27, 31;
confirm this view, "opening (that is, explaining) and alleging," &c.
unto the simple--those needing or desiring it
131-135. An ardent desire (compare
Ps 56:1, 2)
for spiritual enlightening, establishment in a right course,
deliverance from the wicked, and evidence of God's favor is expressed
I opened my mouth, and panted--as a traveller in a hot desert pants for
the cooling breeze
(Ps 63:1; 84:2).
132. Look . . . upon me--opposed to hiding or averting the face
Ps 25:15; 86:6; 102:17).
as thou usest to do--or, "as it is right in regard to
those who love Thy name." Such have a right to the
manifestations of God's grace, resting on the nature of God as faithful
to His promise to such, not on their own merits.
133. Order my steps--Make firm, so that there be no halting
favors HENGSTENBERG, "any iniquitous man," any
"oppressor." But the parallel first clause in this
favors English Version
His hope of deliverance from external oppression of man
is founded on his deliverance from the internal "dominion of
iniquity," in answer to his prayer
136. Zealous himself to keep God's law, he is deeply afflicted when
others violate it (compare
Literally, "Mine eyes come down (dissolved) like water brooks"
137-139. God's justice and faithfulness in His government aggravate the
neglect of the wicked, and more excite the lively zeal of His people.
140. very pure--literally, "refined," shown pure by trial.
141. The pious, however despised of men, are distinguished in God's
sight by a regard for His law.
142-144. The principles of God's government are permanent and reliable,
and in the deepest distress His people find them a theme of delightful
meditation and a source of reviving power
(Ps 119:17, 116).
law is the truth--It therefore cannot deceive as to its promises.
though to outward appearance seeming dead.
145-149. An intelligent devotion is led by divine promises and is
directed to an increase of gracious affections, arising from a
contemplation of revealed truth.
147. prevented--literally, "came before," anticipated not only the
dawn, but even the usual periods of the night; when the night
watches, which might be expected to find me asleep, come, they find me
(Ps 63:6; 77:4;
Such is the earnestness of the desire and love for God's truth.
149. quicken me--revive my heart according to those principles of
justice, founded on Thine own nature, and revealed in Thy law, which
specially set forth Thy mercy to the humble as well as justice to the
150-152. Though the wicked are near to injure, because far from
God's law, He is near to help, and faithful to His word, which abides
153-155. Though the remembering of God's law is not meritorious, yet
it evinces a filial temper and provides the pious with promises to
plead, while the wicked in neglecting His law, reject God and despise
His promises (compare
Ps 9:13; 43:1; 69:18).
154. Plead, &c.--HENGSTENBERG translates,
"Fight my fight." (See
Ps 35:1; 43:1;
156. (See on
Ps 119:86, 87, 95).
transgressors--or, literally, "traitors," who are faithless to a
righteous sovereign and side with His enemies (compare
Ps 25:3, 8).
Ps 119:121-126, 153-155).
quicken me, O Lord, according to thy lovingkindness--
This prayer occurs here for the ninth time, showing a deep sense of
160. God has been ever faithful, and the principles of His
government will ever continue worthy of confidence.
from the beginning--that is, "every word from Genesis
(called so by the Jews from its first words, 'In the beginning') to the
end of the Scriptures is true." HENGSTENBERG
translates more literally, "The sum of thy words is truth." The
sense is substantially the same. The whole body of revelation is truth.
"Thy Word is nothing but truth" [LUTHER].
Ps 119:46, 86).
awe--reverential, not slavish fear, which could not coexist with love
Instead of fearing his persecutors, he fears God's Word alone
(Lu 12:4, 5).
The Jews inscribe in the first page of the great Bible
"How dreadful is this place! This is none other but the house of God,
and this is the gate of heaven!"
Mt 13:44, 45).
Though persecuted by the mighty, the pious are not turned from revering
God's authority to seek their favor, but rejoice in the possession of
this "pearl of great price," as great victors in spoils. Hating
falsehood and loving truth, often, every day, praising God for it, they
find peace and freedom from temptation.
163. lying--that is, as in
unfaithfulness to the covenant of God with His people; apostasy.
165. nothing shall offend them--or, "cause them to offend" (compare
166-168. As they keep God's law from motives of love for it, and are
free from slavish fear, the are ready to subject their lives to His
168. all my ways are before thee--I wish to order my ways as before
Thee, rather than in reference to man
All men's ways are under God's eye
the godly alone realize the fact, and live accordingly.
169, 170. The prayer for understanding of the truth precedes that
for deliverance. The fulfilment of the first is the basis of the
fulfilment of the second
On the terms "cry" and "supplication" (compare
Ps 6:9; 17:1).
171, 172. shall utter--or, "pour out praise" (compare
shall cause Thy praises to stream forth as from a bubbling, overflowing
172. My tongue shall speak of thy word--literally, "answer Thy Word,"
that is, with praise, respond to Thy word. Every expression in which
we praise God and His Word is a response, or acknowledgment,
corresponding to the perfections of Him whom we praise.
173, 174. (Compare
Ps 119:77, 81, 92).
I have chosen--in preference to all other objects of delight.
175. Save me that I may praise Thee.
thy judgments--as in
Ps 119:149, 156.
176. Though a wanderer from God, the truly pious ever desires to be
drawn back to Him; and, though for a time negligent of duty, he never
forgets the commandments by which it is taught.
lost--therefore utterly helpless as to recovering itself
Not only the sinner before conversion, but the believer after
conversion, is unable to recover himself; but the latter, after
temporary wandering, knows to whom to look for restoration.
Ps 119:175, 176
seem to sum up the petitions, confessions, and professions of the
Psalm. The writer desires God's favor, that he may praise Him for His
truth, confesses that he has erred, but, in the midst of all his
wanderings and adversities, professes an abiding attachment to the
revealed Word of God, the theme of such repeated eulogies, and the
recognized source of such great and unnumbered blessings. Thus the
Psalm, though more than usually didactic, is made the medium of both
parts of devotion--prayer and praise.