Sunday School Lessons

The Longest Psalm

Even in our “microwave world”, where we can (and want to) get so many things right away, there are some things that are worth spending some time on.  There are directors whose movies run over two hours, but the story and scenery that they film is worth the time.  (I’m not sure if I could endure a full 6-movie marathon of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit / Lord of the Rings series, though!)  Good books take longer to read than a tweet (or even this article), but they are worth the time that it takes to enjoy or learn from them.  A symphony takes longer to appreciate than a 15-second commercial jingle, but can be much more memorable (at least I hope so, rather than commercial jingles getting stuck in our brains).  There are even songs like “For the Longest Time”, or “Long and Winding Road” (neither of which, somewhat ironically, is even close to being the longest song ever composed).

Some good news: this is not going to be the longest article or devotion that I’ve ever written.  However, the next few articles are from Psalm 119, which – at 176 verses – is the longest chapter in the Bible (although many of the Bible’s chapters and verses were added later for convenience, so this is not necessarily an “inspired statistic”).  If you’re curious, according to GotQuestions.org (What is the longest chapter in the Bible? | GotQuestions.org), the content (when translated to English) still outpaces the next-longest chapter by about 25%, the next-longest chapters being 1 Kings 8, Numbers 7, Deuteronomy 28, and Leviticus 13.

In any case, if you’re not currently reading the Bible on some other schedule, I encourage you to look up that psalm / chapter (or click here: Psalm 119), and try to read it over the next couple of weeks.

Psalm 119 is an acrostic poem [per NIV footnote, and elsewhere].  Your Bible translation probably shows a letter of the Hebrew alphabet above the various sections.  That is the first letter (in Hebrew, not English, of course) of each of the verses in the corresponding section, or “stanza” (or “strophe”, according to the Lookout, cited below).  At 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, and 8 verses per stanza, that’s how we get 176 verses.  (Note that this isn’t the only acrostic psalm, but it’s the longest and most complex.)

While this acrostic detail doesn’t show up to those of us who don’t know Hebrew (that is, if the translators didn’t help us by pointing it out), it shows me that the author of this psalm worked out a lot of details not only to create this structure, but also to create coherent prayers to God throughout the psalm itself.  I think that’s pretty impressive.  Psalm 119 is – by its very nature – a single psalm with a special structure.

You are probably familiar with acrostics, whether it’s Frank Sinatra’s “L is for the Way You Look at Me”, or little sayings like, “Grace is ‘God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense’ ”.  There are also those children’s books that try to illustrate each letter of the alphabet (but you can expect them to struggle when they get to letters like Q and X!).  In fact, this is purely a hypothesis of my own, but I wonder if this psalm might have been used to teach schoolchildren the Hebrew alphabet?  Even if that wasn’t its original purpose, though, what better way to learn to read Hebrew than from a prayer to God?

Based on the suggested texts from the Lookout (referenced below), let’s look at three of the stanzas over the next few articles.  Until then, let’s appreciate the effort and inspiration that went into this psalm, starting with the first verse.  I think that it will be worth the time we spend on it!

Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the LORD.
Psalms 119:1 NIV

https://psalm.bible/psalm-119-1


From Sunday School lesson prepared for October 23, 2022

References:

  • The Lookout, October 23, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
  • Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
  • The College Press NIV Commentary, Psalms, Volume 2, Walter D. Zorn, © 2004, College Press Publishing Co., Joplin, MO.

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