Psalm 119 Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Psalm 119
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
CXIX.

An acrostic must wear an artificial form, and one carried out on the elaborate plan set himself by this author could not fail to sacrifice logical sequence to the prescribed form. Why the number eight was selected for each group of verses, or why, when the author succeeded, in all but two of the 176 verses, in introducing some one synonym for the law, he failed in two, Psalm 119:122; Psalm 119:132, we must leave to unguided conjecture. The repetition of the name Jehovah, occurring exactly twenty-two times, could hardly have been without intention, but in the change rung on the terms that denote the Law there is no evidence of design. That the aphorisms in which the praise of the Law is thus untiringly set forth were not collected and arranged as a mere mnemonic book of devotion appears from the under-current of feeling which runs through the psalm, binding the whole together. At the same time, it is quite inconsistent with the ordinary history of literary work to suppose that such a mechanical composition could owe its origin to the excitement of any one prominent occurrence; rather it is the after reflection of one, or more likely of many, minds on a long course of events belonging to the past, but preserved in memory, reflections arranged in such a way as not only to recall experiences of past days, but to supply religious support under similar trials. The same mode of viewing the psalm finds room for the apparent inconsistency which makes one author assign it to a young man (Psalm 119:9; Psalm 119:99-100), another to a man of mature if not advanced age (Psalm 119:33; Psalm 119:52; Psalm 119:96, &c). And if there is a monotony and sameness in the ever-recurring phrases, which under slightly different expressions state the same fact, the importance of that fact, not only to a Jew, but to a Christian also, cannot be exaggerated. “It is strange,” writes Mr. Ruskin, “that of all the pieces of the Bible which my mother taught me, that which cost me most to learn, and which was to my child’s mind chiefly repulsive, the 119th psalm, has now become of all most precious to me in its overflowing and glorious passion of love for the law of God.”

ALEPH. Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD.
ALEPH.

(1) Undefiled.—Better, blameless or perfect.

Way.—See the same use without a qualifying epithet in Psalm 2:12. There was only-one way of safety and peace for an Israelite, here by the parallelism defined as “the law of Jehovah.” But even heathen ethics bore witness to the same truth: “Declinandum de viâ sit modo ne summa turpitudo sequatur” (Cic, De Amicitia, 17).

O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes!
(5) Directed . . .—So LXX. and Vulg. The He brew is perhaps slightly different, established, or settled. (See Proverbs 4:26.)

Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments.
(6) Have respect unto.—Literally, look upon, or into, as in a mirror. (Comp. James 1:23.) The Divine Law is as a mirror, which shows man his defects; the faithful, in looking in it, have no cause to blush.

Judgments.—Not here in common sense of visitations for sin, but only one of the change of synonyms for law. (See this use in Exodus 21:1; Exodus 24:3, &c.)

BETH. Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.
BETH.

(9) Wherewithal.—There can be little question that the right rendering of this verse is By what means can a young man purify his way, so as to keep it according to Thy word? but from Joshua 6:18 we might render keep himself. The English rendering, which follows the LXX. and Vulg. is, of course, possible, but the other is more natural and more in accordance with the general drift of the psalm. The answer is supposed, or rather left to be inferred, from the whole tenor of the psalm, which is that men, and especially-young men, whose passions and temptations are strong in proportion to their inexperience, can do nothing of themselves, but are dependent on the grace of God. The omission of a direct answer rather strengthens than impairs the impression on the reader.

We must not, from the mention of youth, conclude that this psalm was written in that period of life. Perhaps, on the contrary, it is one who, like Browning’s Rabbi ben Ezra, while seeking how best to spend old age, looks back on youth, not with remonstrance at its follies, but with the satisfaction that even then he aimed at the best he knew.

With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments.
(10) With my whole heart . . .—The self-mistrust of the second clause is a proof of the reality of the first. “Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief,” is another form of this.

Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.
(11) Thy word.—A different term to that in Psalm 119:9. The two are interchanged throughout the psalm.

Hid . . .—As the Oriental hid treasures. (Comp Matthew 13:44.)

In mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.—The best comment on this is contained in our Lord’s words (Matthew 15:19).

With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth.
(13) With my lips.—He has not kept his hidden treasure to himself, but, like the good householder of the Gospels, has brought out things new and old.

GIMEL. Deal bountifully with thy servant, that I may live, and keep thy word.
GIMEL.

(17) Deal bountifully . . . that I may live.—Comp. Psalm 13:3; Psalm 13:6; Psalm 116:7-8, where we see, as here, the same connection between this Hebrew word and preservation from death. Life is connected with obedience to the Divine law throughout the Bible (Leviticus 18:5; Deuteronomy 6:24; Psalm 41:1-2; Luke 10:28).

Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.
(18) Open.—Literally, uncover (see margin), as if without Divine grace the eyes were veiled to the wonder and beauty of the moral law. (Comp. 2Corinthians 4:18.)

I am a stranger in the earth: hide not thy commandments from me.
(19) I am a stranger.—A comparison of Psalm 119:54 with Genesis 47:9 (comp. Psalm 39:12) shows that the general transitory condition of life, and not any particular circumstance of the psalmist’s history is in view. Human intelligence does not suffice to fathom the will of God. The mortal is a stranger on the earth; both time and strength are wanting to attain to knowledge which only Divine wisdom can teach.

My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto thy judgments at all times.
(20) Breaketh.—The Hebrew is peculiar to this place and Lamentations 3:16. The LXX., Vulg., and Aquila have “greatly desired;” Symmachus, “was perfect;” Theodotion, “had confidence;” Jerome, “longed,” all which point either to a different reading or to a different sense from that which is given in the lexicons to the word.

Thou hast rebuked the proud that are cursed, which do err from thy commandments.
(21) LXX. and Vulg. divide the verse: “Thou hast rebuked the proud; cursed are they,” &c. This is preferable.

Remove from me reproach and contempt; for I have kept thy testimonies.
(22) Remove.—Some render “roll,” with allusion to Joshua 5:9. But it is more probably the same word as that rendered “openin Psalm 119:18 (see Note) which may have for object the covering taken off (Isaiah 22:8; Nahum 3:5), or of the thing from which the covering is taken, as in Psalm 119:18.

Princes also did sit and speak against me: but thy servant did meditate in thy statutes.
(23) Speak.—Comp. Psalm 50:20 for the same implied sense in this verb. This verse reads as if Israel, and not a mere individual, were the subject of the psalms.

Thy testimonies also are my delight and my counsellers.
(24) Counsellors.—See margin. Instead of taking the princes of Psalm 119:23 into counsel. he takes God’s testimonies.

DALETH. My soul cleaveth unto the dust: quicken thou me according to thy word.
DALETH.

(25) Cleaveth to the dust.—The same figure is used in Psalm 22:29; Psalm 44:25, in the former of death, in the latter of deep degradation and dishonour.

The prayer, “make me live,” suggests that the dust of death is here prominently in view, as in Tennyson’s “Thou wilt not leave us in the dust.” Else we might rather think of the dryness of summer dust as a type of despondency and spiritual depression.

“A wicked whisper came, and made

My heart as dry as dust.”—COLERIDGE.

It was this verse which the Emperor Theodosius recited when doing penance at the door of Milan Cathedral for the massacre of Thessalonica (Theodoret, v., 18).

Quicken thou me according to thy word.—See Psalm 119:88; Psalm 119:107; Psalm 119:145; Psalm 119:154; Psalm 119:156. This reiterated prayer, with its varied appeal to the Divine truth, lovingkindness, constancy, must certainly be regarded as the petition of Israel for revived covenant glory, though, at the same time, it offers a wide and rich field of application to individual needs.

I have declared my ways, and thou heardest me: teach me thy statutes.
(26) I have declared.—Or, recounted.

My ways.—Or, as we should say, my courses, my past life, including, as the context shows, confession of sins and prayer for pardon.

Make me to understand the way of thy precepts: so shall I talk of thy wondrous works.
(27) Make me to understand.—Only the Israelite truly loyal to the covenant was considered worthy to enquire into the marvels of the dealings of God. (See Psalm 106:2, Note.) Perhaps we might extend the thought so far as to say that a true historical insight is possible only to one whose moral sense is rightly trained and directed.

My soul melteth for heaviness: strengthen thou me according unto thy word.
(28) Melteth—The Hebrew word is used in Ecclesiastes 10:18 of a dripping roof of a house; in Job 16:20 of weeping. The LXX. and Vulg. have “slumbered,” which suits far better with the next clause, which is literally, make me rise up. Symmachus has “distils.”

Remove from me the way of lying: and grant me thy law graciously.
(29) Way of lying.—Not of falsehood to men so much as insincerity and unfaithfulness towards God, the opposite of the truth and faithfulness of Psalm 119:30.

Grant me.—Rather, be gracious to me according to thy law. This is the persistent cry of the psalm.

I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart.
(32) Run the way.—Plainly the psalmist means that he will not only be able to walk in the Divine way, but even to run in it when certain restraints are removed which now confine and check him. Hence we may understand, by the enlargement of the heart, not so much the expansion of the faculties as deliverance from oppressing fears, &c, as Psalm 4:1; Psalm 18:36, and render “when thou hast set my heart at large.” So the Prayer Book Version, “set my heart at liberty.”

HE. Teach me, O LORD, the way of thy statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end.
HE.

(33) To the end.—See Psalm 119:112. This word, used adverbially, is peculiar to this psalm.

Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight.
(35) Path.—From root to tread, the trodden way, plain with the track of all the pious pilgrims’ feet of past times.

Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness.
(36) Covetousness.—Literally, rapine, prey. In Psalm 30:9 simply, “gain.”

Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way.
(37) From beholding vanity.—Perhaps from looking on idols.

Stablish thy word unto thy servant, who is devoted to thy fear.
(38) Who is devoted to thy fear.—This is an improbable explanation of this elliptical expression. There are two renderings, each in accordance with the general drift of the psalm: (1) Stablish to Thy servant Thy word, which leads to fear of Thee; or, more likely, (2) Stablish to Thy servant Thy promise which is to those who fear Thee, as apparently the LXX.

Turn away my reproach which I fear: for thy judgments are good.
(39) My reproach which I fear.—The word for fear is an unusual one, used in Deuteronomy 9:19; Deuteronomy 28:60, for very strong dread. The reproach may be either the disgrace in God’s sight of violating His commands, or, as the context (Psalm 119:42) suggests, a reproach from men for keeping God’s law.

Behold, I have longed after thy precepts: quicken me in thy righteousness.
(40) Quicken me in thy righteousnessi.e., Let the sense of thy eternal justice give me vigour and life. Or the thought may be of the invigorating influence of a complete surrender to a righteous law, as in Wordsworth’s Ode to Duty;

“I myself commend

Unto thy guidance from this hour.

Oh let my weakness have an end!

Give unto me, made lowly, wise,

The spirit of self-sacrifice.

The confidence of reason give,

And in the light of truth thy bondsman let me live.”

So shall I have wherewith to answer him that reproacheth me: for I trust in thy word.
VAU.

(42) So shall I have.—Better literally, as the LXX. and Vulg., and I shall answer my reviler a word, for I trust in Thy word, i.e., when reproached it will be enough to pronounce God’s promise. The repetition of davar here and in Psalm 119:43 makes for this explanation in preference to that of the margin.

And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts.
(45) At liberty.—See margin. Literally, in a large place. (See Psalm 119:32; comp. Proverbs 4:12.)

I will speak of thy testimonies also before kings, and will not be ashamed.
(46) The Vulgate (which in the tenses follows the LXX.) of this verse was the motto of the Augsburg Confession, Et loquebar in testimoniis tuis in conspectu regum, et non confundebar.”

My hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved; and I will meditate in thy statutes.
(48) My hands.—See Psalm 28:2. The expression here is elliptical: “I will lift my hands in prayer for power to observe Thy commands.”

This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me.
ZAIN.

(50) Comfort.—As in Job 6:10, where the same noun occurs, its only other use. We might render, “This is my comfort, that thy word quickeneth me.”

Horror hath taken hold upon me because of the wicked that forsake thy law.
(53) Horror.—Rather, violent indignation, a storm of rage, hot and fierce as the simoon. For the word, see Psalm 11:6, Note.

Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.
(54) Songs.—Or, Thy statutes were my music in the house of my sojournings. Possibly with reference to the exile (comp. Psalm 137:4), but with comparison with Psalm 119:9 (see Note), more probably the reference is to the transitoriness of human life. In connection with the next verse comp. Job 35:10.

This I had, because I kept thy precepts.
(56) This I had, because . . .—Literally, This was to me, &c, i.e., this consoling recollection of the mercies of God, of His covenant grace, was to him, happened, or came to him, in consequence of his habitual obedience. Virtue is indeed then most its own reward, in times of quiet reflection, like the night, when to the guilty come remorse and apprehension, but to the good man “calm thoughts regular as infant’s breath.”

CHETH. Thou art my portion, O LORD: I have said that I would keep thy words.
CHETH.

(57) Thou art my portion, O Lord.—This rendering is in accordance with Psalm 16:5; Psalm 73:26. But, even with these passages in view, a better rendering would be—

“This is my portion, O Lord, I said (it),

To keep Thy words.”

I intreated thy favour with my whole heart: be merciful unto me according to thy word.
(58) I intreated.—See Psalm 45:12.

I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies.
(59) I thought on.—The Hebrew implies repeated and frequent meditation.

The bands of the wicked have robbed me: but I have not forgotten thy law.
(61) The bands . . .—Rather, cords of the wicked surrounded me. (See Psalm 18:5-6.) So all ancient versions except the Targum.

At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee because of thy righteous judgments.
(62) Midnight.—See Psalm 119:55.

Teach me good judgment and knowledge: for I have believed thy commandments.
TETH.

(66) Good judgment.—More exactly, good taste. Here, however, in a moral, not æsthetic sense. Perhaps tact or delicate moral perception represents it. We may compare St. Paul’s use of the Greek words, ἐπιγνώσις and αἰσθήσις in Philippians 1:9.

Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word.
(67) That there is allusion here to the Babylonian exile, and its moral and religious effect on the nation, there can be little doubt.

Thou art good, and doest good; teach me thy statutes.
(68) It is characteristic of this psalm that the higher the conception of the Divine nature, the more earnest becomes the prayer for knowledge of His will in relation to conduct.

The proud have forged a lie against me: but I will keep thy precepts with my whole heart.
(69) Have forged.—Rather, patched. The verb occurs twice besides (Job 13:4; Job 14:17). Gesenius compares the Greek, δόλον ἐάπτειν, and the Latin, suere dolos. Comp. also

“You praise yourself by laying defects of judgment to me;

but you patched up your excuses.”

Antony and Cleopatra: Acts 2, Scene 2.

Their heart is as fat as grease; but I delight in thy law.
(70) As fat as grease.—For this emblem of pride and insensibility, see Psalm 17:10; Psalm 73:7; Isaiah 6:10.

It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.
(71) It is good . . .—See Psalm 119:67. Probably the result of discipline on the nation is intended, though the “sweet uses of adversity” were long ago a truism of moralists. See Æsch., Agam., 172:

“Who guideth mortals to wisdom, maketh them grasp lore

Firmly through their pain.”

The law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver.
(72) Better unto mei.e., better for me.

Thousands of.—We must supply shekels or pieces.

JOD. Thy hands have made me and fashioned me: give me understanding, that I may learn thy commandments.
JOD.

(73) Fashioned.—Literally, fixed, established.

They that fear thee will be glad when they see me; because I have hoped in thy word.
(74) They . . . will be glad.—The great truth of spiritual communion, and the mutual help and consolation derived from it, is latent here. In its primary sense, that the preservation and deliverance of the righteous, who are victims of persecution, afford comfort and joy to all truly good, the verse has been amply confirmed by history. Matthew 5:16, “Let your light so shine,” &c

I know, O LORD, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me.
(75) See Psalm 119:67-71.

Let the proud be ashamed; for they dealt perversely with me without a cause: but I will meditate in thy precepts.
(78) Dealt.—Better, wronged me; literally, bent me.

CAPH. My soul fainteth for thy salvation: but I hope in thy word.
CAPH.

(81) Fainteth.—The same Hebrew word as fail in the next verse.

Mine eyes fail for thy word, saying, When wilt thou comfort me?
(82) Mine eyes fail.—The failing of the eyes is here evidently to be understood of the effort of straining to catch or keep sight of a distant object, not, as so frequently in the Psalms (see Psalm 6:7, &c), from sickness or even grief. Comp.

“I would have broke my eye-strings, cracked them, but

To look upon him.”—SHAKESPEARE: Cymbeline.

For I am become like a bottle in the smoke; yet do I not forget thy statutes.
(83) A bottle in the smoke.—The insertion of yet by our translators shows that they understood this as a figure of abject misery. The wine-skin would, of course, shrivel, if hung above a fire, and would afford an apt image of the effect of trouble on an individual or community. “As wine-skin in the smoke my heart is sere and dried.” Some think that as a bottle hung up anywhere in an ancient house would be in the smoke, nothing more is implied than its being set aside; but this is too weak.

We find in the ancient poets allusion to the custom of mellowing wine by heat:

“Prodit fumoso condita vina cado.”—OVID: Fast. v. 517.

(Comp. Hor. Ode iii. 8, 9, 10). And so some understand the image here of the good results of the discipline of suffering. The LXX. and Vulg., instead of smoke, have “hoar-frost.” The Hebrew word has this meaning in Psalm 148:8, but in the only other place where it occurs (Genesis 19:28) it is smoke. The possibility of rendering hoar-frost here suggests another explanation. The word nôd (bottle) may be used of a cloud, and as the psalmist has just spoken of his eyes failing, we may have here only another expression for weeping.

How many are the days of thy servant? when wilt thou execute judgment on them that persecute me?
(84) As in Psalm 89:47-48, the psalmist here utters what was the dread of each generation of Israel, a dread lest it should have passed away before the day of deliverance should arrive.

The proud have digged pits for me, which are not after thy law.
(85) Which.—Better, who. Its antecedent, of course, the proud, not the pits.

They had almost consumed me upon earth; but I forsook not thy precepts.
(87) Upon earth.—Rather, on the land. (Comp. Psalm 58:2.)

LAMED. For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven.
LAMED.

(89, 90) See Psalm 89:2.

They continue this day according to thine ordinances: for all are thy servants.
(91) They (the heavens and the earth) continue to this day according to Thine ordinances: for all (i.e., all creation) are Thy servants.—In Hebrew the all, i.e., the universe. The parallelism is in this way preserved, while in the alternative, “as for Thy judgments, Thy,” &c., it is lost.

I have seen an end of all perfection: but thy commandment is exceeding broad.
(96) I have seen.—The exact thought of the psalmist here is doubtful, and it offers such a wide application, embracing so many truths of experience, that possibly he had more than one meaning in his mind. Keeping as close to the context as possible, the meaning will be: “To all perfection (or apparent perfection) a limit is visible, but the Divine Law is boundless alike in its scope and its requirements.” This, translated into the language of modern ideas, merely says that the actual can never correspond with the ideal:

“Who keeps a spirit wholly true

To that ideal which he bears?”

But in the word end in Hebrew, as in English, there is a limitation in time, as in space (see Job 26:10; Job 28:3; comp. Symmachus, “I have seen the end of all settled things”), and the Prayer Book version may really give the psalmist’s thought as indicating the difference between mere change and progress.

“The old order changeth, yielding place to new,

And God fulfils Himself in many ways,

Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.”

TENNYSON: Morte d’Arthur.

Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me.
MEM.

(98) Better, Thy commandments make me wiser than my enemies. The same correspondence of wisdom with loyal obedience to the Law is found in the Book of Proverbs.

I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation.
(99) More understanding . . .—The Rabbinical writers disliked the idea of a scholar professing wisdom above his teachers, and rendered, “from all my teachers I got wisdom,” which was certainly far more in keeping with the process by which the Talmud grew into existence.

I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts.
(100) Ancients.—Or, more probably, as the LXX. and Vulg., and the old versions generally took it, old men.

NUN. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
NUN.

(105) See Proverbs 6:23.

So Wordsworth calls Duty:

“A light to guide.”

I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments.
(106) Perform.—The same verb as in Psalm 119:28strengthen; often used in Esther for confirm.

Accept, I beseech thee, the freewill offerings of my mouth, O LORD, and teach me thy judgments.
(108) Freewill offerings of my mouthi.e., thanks and praise.

My soul is continually in my hand: yet do I not forget thy law.
(109) My soul.—For this figure of peril see Judges 12:3; 1Samuel 19:5, &c.

SAMECH. I hate vain thoughts: but thy law do I love.
SAMECH.

(113) I hate vain thoughts.—Rather, I hate men who halt between two opinions, following 1Kings 18:21, where the cognate noun from the same root, to divide, appears. Probably we are to think of those among the Jews who were for political reasons favourably inclined towards foreign customs and ideas, and who would not throw in their lot frankly and courageously with the national party.

Thou art my hiding place and my shield: I hope in thy word.
(114) My shield.—For this expression see Psalm 3:3; Psalm 7:10.

Depart from me, ye evildoers: for I will keep the commandments of my God.
(115) For.—Better, and. The presence of the wicked was a hindrance to religion. It is Israel trying to purify itself from the leaven of evil influence that speaks. The first clause is from Psalm 6:8.

Thou hast trodden down all them that err from thy statutes: for their deceit is falsehood.
(118) Trodden down.—Better, thou despisest. So LXX. and Vulg. Aquila, “Thou hast impaled.” Symmachus, “Thou hast convicted.” Literally the word seems to mean to weigh or value, but, from the habit of the buyer beating down the price by depreciating, comes to have a sense of this kind. Mr. Burgess aptly quotes Proverbs 20:14. We may compare the English word cheapen, which originally only meant to buy.

For their deceit is falsehood.—Rather, as the parallelism indicates, for their tricks are in vain; or perhaps, to bring out the full intention of the Hebrew, we must paraphrase: “for their wiles are as fruitless as they are deceitful.” So Symmachus: “all their craft is vain.”

Thou puttest away all the wicked of the earth like dross: therefore I love thy testimonies.
(119) Thou puttest away.—For this common Scriptural figure comp. Jeremiah 6:28-30; Ezekiel 22:18-20. This is indeed a process which is continually going on, and it is one test of the true religious character that it can discern it at work under the seeming contradictions of the world. Where apparently vice succeeds and prospers it is really marked out for expulsion,

“To those who

All treasures and all gain esteem as dross;

And dignities and powers, all but the Highest.”

MILTON.

My flesh trembleth for fear of thee; and I am afraid of thy judgments.
(120) Trembleth.—The original is far stronger. Better, as in Job 4:15, the hair of my flesh stands up. So Symmachus.

Be surety for thy servant for good: let not the proud oppress me.
AIN.

(122) Be surety.—Just as Judah became surety for the safety of Benjamin (Genesis 43:9), so the psalmist asks God to be answerable for the servant who had been faithful to the covenant, and stand between him and the attacks of the proud. So Hezekiah (Isaiah 38:14) asks God to “undertake” for him against the threat of death. There is also, no doubt, the further thought that the Divine protection would vindicate the profession which the loyal servant makes of his obedience, as in Job 17:3, where God is summoned as the only possible guarantee of the sufferer’s innocence. This and Psalm 119:132 are the only verses not actually mentioning, under one of its terms, the Law.

Mine eyes fail for thy salvation, and for the word of thy righteousness.
(123) See Psalm 119:82.

It is time for thee, LORD, to work: for they have made void thy law.
(126) They have made void thy law.—Some treat the verse as parenthetical, but is it not that the irreligion of the wicked makes the Law even more dear to the psalmist? What they reject is to him priceless,

“Faithful found;

Among the faithless, faithful only he.”

Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way.
(128) Therefore I esteem.—As the text stands, this verse literally runs, Therefore all precepts of all I make straight. Every path of falsehood I hate. The LXX. and Vulg. have, “Therefore to all Thy commandments I was being directed. Every unjust path I hated,” which only necessitates a slight change in the reading of one word. It is true that the expression, all precepts of all, may be explained as a strengthened form of all precepts—as we say, “all and every”—though the passages (Ezekiel 44:30; Numbers 8:16) generally adduced are not strictly analogous. But the Lexicons supply no authority for taking the verb yāshar in the sense of “esteem right,” and the figure of the path in the next clause seems here plainly to fix its meaning. Translate, therefore, Therefore after all Thy precepts I direct (my way). Every false way I detest.

The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.
PE.

(130) Entrance.—Literally, opening, which the LXX. and Vulg. better represent by “manifestation,” “declaration.” (Comp. “opening and alleging,” Acts 17:3.)

I opened my mouth, and panted: for I longed for thy commandments.
(131) Comp. Job 29:23.

Look thou upon me, and be merciful unto me, as thou usest to do unto those that love thy name.
(132) As . . . name.—See margin. But the absence of the suffix is against this correction, as it is against the Authorised Version itself. Rather, according to the right of. It was not only theirs by custom, but by right of the covenant.

Order my steps in thy word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me.
(133) Have dominion.—Or, get the mastery. The Arabic root cognate with the Hebrew of the word appears in the title sultan.

TZADDI. Righteous art thou, O LORD, and upright are thy judgments.
TZADDI.

(137) And upright.—For an interesting historical association with this verse see Gibbon’s account of the death of the Emperor Maurice (chap 46).

Thy testimonies that thou hast commanded are righteous and very faithful.
(138) Thy testimonies.—Better, Thou hast commanded Thy testimonies in righteousness and very faithfulness. But unquestionably another arrangement of the text of these two verses is correct. It takes the verb commandest with Psalm 119:137, and gets the simple and obvious “righteous art Thou, O Lord, and upright in the judgments which Thou hast commanded. Thy testimonies are righteous, and faithful to the uttermost” (Burgess). (See Psalm 7:6 and Psalm 119:144.)

Thy word is very pure: therefore thy servant loveth it.
(140) Pure.—More literally, purged by trial. LXX. and Vulg., “fired.” It is not only the excellence, but the proved excellence, of the Divine Word, which is the object of love and adoration here.

I am small and despised: yet do not I forget thy precepts.
(141) These words are hardly applicable to an individual, while to the struggling Israel, in relation to the great Eastern Powers, they are peculiarly suitable.

Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and thy law is the truth.
(142) Thy . . .—Better, Thy righteousness is right for ever, and Thy law is truth.

I prevented the dawning of the morning, and cried: I hoped in thy word.
KOPH.

(147) Prevented.—See Psalm 18:5; Psalm 79:8. The Authorised Version gives the sense, I was up before the morning.

Dawning of the morning.—The Hebrew word means literally “breath,” and is used of the fresh breeze that blows both at sunset (Job 24:15; Proverbs 7:9) and sunrise (Job 7:4). Generally in our version rendered “twilight.”

Hear my voice according unto thy lovingkindness: O LORD, quicken me according to thy judgment.
(149) According to Thy judgment.—See Note, Psalm 119:132. We must certainly here give the Hebrew noun the meaning of a “custom,” which it bears there. (Comp. Prayer Book version, “according as Thou art wont.”)

They draw nigh that follow after mischief: they are far from thy law.
(150, 151) Near.—Notice the antithesis. They, the wicked, are near with their temptation to sin and their hindrances to virtue. Thou art near with the aid and support of Thy law.

Concerning thy testimonies, I have known of old that thou hast founded them for ever.
(152) The more obvious rendering of this verse is, Of old I was instructed out of Thy testimonies, fornot for a brief time, but for everThou didst found them, where for ever expresses indefinite past as well as indefinite future.

I beheld the transgressors, and was grieved; because they kept not thy word.
RESH.

(158) Transgressors.—Better, the faithless (or, traitors).

Was grieved.—The Hebrew is a far stronger word, and the sense is intensified by the rare conjugation: was filled with loathing at; sickened with disgust.

“The recreants I survey,

And loathing turn away.”—KEBLE.

Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever.
(160) Beginning.—Heb., head; but here, as in Psalm 139:17, it might be rendered sum. (Comp. Proverbs 1:7.) The translation “from the beginning,” of the Authorised Version must at all events be abandoned.

SCHIN. Princes have persecuted me without a cause: but my heart standeth in awe of thy word.
SCHIN.

(161) Princes.—Here again we have an indication of the national character of the psalm. It was the whole community which suffered from the intrigues and violence of princes.

I rejoice at thy word, as one that findeth great spoil.
(162) Comp. Isaiah 9:3.

Seven times a day do I praise thee because of thy righteous judgments.
(164) Seven times.—Some commentators think the number is used here only in a general way for “often,” “repeatedly;” but the number seven evidently had some sacred association for the Hebrews. (Comp. Leviticus 26:18; Proverbs 24:16; Matthew 18:21, &c) No doubt the seven canonical hours were partly derived from this verse. Elsewhere we find three times as the stated occasions of prayer (Psalm 55:17).

Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.
(165) Nothing shall offend them.—See margin. Perhaps the verse should take the form of a wish: great peace to the lovers of Thy law; no stumbling-block to them. Or, it may be, great peace have they who love Thy word and who find no hindrance. It was not the fact that the faithful did not stumble.

My lips shall utter praise, when thou hast taught me thy statutes.
TAU.

(171) Shall utter.—Better, preserving the metaphor of the Hebrew, pour forth a stream of praise.

My tongue shall speak of thy word: for all thy commandments are righteousness.
(172) My tongue shall speak of Thy word.—Rather, My tongue shall make response to Thy word, that all Thy commandments are true.

I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments.
(176) I have gone astray like a lost sheep.—It would be in accordance with a true religious character that even at the end of a long protestation of obedience to the Divine law the psalmist should confess his weakness and sin. But while this may be a legitimate application of the close of this remarkable composition, and while the LXX. suggest a comparison with our Lord’s parable by their rendering (comp. Matthew 18:11; Luke 19:10), this could hardly have been the intention of the words of this verse. More likely there is a reference to the condition of the community, for the word rendered “lost” (literally, perishing) is used in Isaiah 27:13 of the exiled Hebrews, and is rendered “outcasts;” the emphatic “I do not forget Thy commandments,” which is the real close of the psalm, seems to make this view imperative.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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