Posts Tagged 'Psalm 119'

Psalm 119: The Music (part 1)

Having briefly examined the overarching themes and ideas of Psalm 119 on Monday and taken a cursory glance at the Psalter Hymnal‘s treatment of the psalm yesterday, we now embark on our customary look at the selections found in the Psalter Hymnal.

235, “How Blessed are the Perfect in the Way”

Selection #235 is the Psalter Hymnal‘s attempt to capture all of Psalm 119 in one song.  It is definitely what we would call a “Psalm-Hymn,” that is, a very loose thematic paraphrase of a psalm.   Every now and then you’ll know where the lyrics are coming from (stanza 1 echoes verses 1-8, stanzas 3-4 approximates verses 9-16), but the hymn sporadically jumps around in the text of Psalm 119, sometimes taking poetic liberties with the text (for instance, the word and concept of God’s “Spirit” appears nowhere explicitly in the Psalm, yet features prominently in stanza 2).

This is not to condemn the song or the concept of a psalm-hymn, but merely to point out that if you want textual accuracy, #235 is not your best bet.  It is however, a fair summary of the concepts found in Psalm 119, and references most of the familiar “highlights” along the way.

The text of #235 seems wordy and slightly archaic, but as Genevan tunes go, ROYAL LAW is fairly accessible and learnable.

236, “How Blest the Perfect in the Way”

The first stanza (verses 1-8) of Psalm 119 opens this grand psalm with a jubilant declaration of the blessedness and joy of responding to God’s revelation with a “whole heart” (verse 2).  Read more about the text HERE, courtesy of our friend Glenda Mathes.

Selection #236 especially picks up on the biblical metaphor of walking in God’s paths from verse 3 and extends it throughout the whole song (notice stanza 2 and the addition of the word “Guide” in stanza 4). Although this requires the author to massage the text a bit, it makes for a cohesive, unified song that remains fairly faithful to the text of Psalm 119:1-8.

The tune, APPLETON, is written in a bright key and has somewhat of a declarative fanfare-ish sound to it, making it well suited to introducing Psalm 119 and proclaiming the blessedness of those who walk with God.  I’d suggest reflecting that happiness with brighter stops, perhaps with some brassy stops to highlight the fanfare nature of the tune and its words.

237, “How Shall the Young Direct their Way?”

Read about the text of Psalm 119:9-16 HERE.

I’ll be honest, this has always been one of my favorite selections in the Psalter Hymnal.  As a child, I enjoyed the fact that it was about “the young,” and as a developing singer, I loved the running bass line in measures 5 and 13.  This tune, DUANE STREET, has real movement to it, as long as it is played at a decent tempo.  The evenness of this tune (all the notes have the same value) suggests a touch of solemnity and promise, making it quite fit to match the vow-like nature of Psalm 119:9-16.

The text is linguistically accessible and reflects the psalm fairly faithfully, making #237 a really excellent selection, especially for Sunday School or Profession of Faith Sundays.  It is a beautiful prayer for the Christian to use for rededication and a prayer for true heart sanctification, echoing the prayer of Mark 9, “I believe; help my unbelief.”

Sincerely I have sought Thee Lord,
O let me not from Thee depart;
To know Thy will and keep from sin
Thy Word I cherish in my heart.


The Psalm 119 Psalter Hymnal Cheat Sheet

Psalm 119 week continues (all the action and twice the fun of “Shark Week!”).  Today it’s just a brief post, but hopefully a helpful one.  We’ve mentioned before how difficult the numbering system of the blue Psalter Hymnal is when it comes to the psalms.  (It’s important to note that in this article we refer to the blue 1959/1976 edition used in most URCNA churches).  And nowhere is this more annoying than Psalm 119.  The Psalter Hymnal has 23 selections for Psalm 119, and there’s really no way of knowing which selection comes from which part of the psalm until you pull out your Bible and cross-reference the content.

I’ve known a number of pastors who have written in the references in the margins of their Psalter Hymnals, but if you haven’t done that yet, help is on the way, for we gladly present to you today “The Psalm 119 Psalter Hymnal Cheat Sheet.”

The Psalter Hymnal‘s treatment of Psalm 119 is very systematic, with one overarching paraphrase of Psalm 119 followed by one selection for each of Psalm 119’s stanzas.  As per tradition, we’ll be looking at each individual selection in detail later this week, but for now we provide you with this simple chart (formatted as best as I can):

Psalm 119………………………………235 – “How Blessed are the Perfect in the Way”

“Aleph” (verses 1-8)………………236 – “How Blest the Perfect in the Way”

“Beth” (verses 9-16)………………237 – “How Shall the Young Direct Their Way?”

“Gimel” (verses 17-24)……………238 – “Thy Servant, Blest by Thee, Shall Live”

“Daleth” (verses 25-32)…………239 – “My Grieving Soul Revive, O Lord”

“He” (verses 33-40)………………240 – “Teach Me, O Lord, Thy Way of Truth”

“Waw” (verses 41-48)……………241 – “Thy Promised Mercies Send to Me”

“Zayin” (verses 49-56)……………242 – “Lord, Thy Word to Me Remember”

“Heth” (verses 57-64)………………243 – “Thou Art My Portion, Lord”

“Teth” (verses 65-72)………………244 – “Thou Lord, Hast Dealt Well”

“Yodh” (verses 73-80)………………245 – “Thou, Who didst Make and Fashion Me”

“Kaph” (verses 81-88)………………246 – “My Soul for Thy Salvation Faints”

“Lamedh” (verses 89-96)…………247 – “Forever Settled in the Heavens”

“Mem” (verses 97-104)……………248 – “How I Love Thy Law, O Lord”

“Nun” (verses 105-112)……………249 – “Thy Word Sheds Light upon My Path”

“Samekh” (verses 113-120)………250 – “Deceit and Falsehood I Abhor”

“Ayin” (verses 121-128)……………251 – “I Have Followed Truth and Justice”

“Pe” (verses 129-136)………………252 – “Thy Wondrous Testimonies, Lord”

“Tsadhe” (verses 137-144)………253 – “O Lord, Thy Perfect Righteousness”

“Qoph” (verses 145-152)…………254 – “O Lord, My Earnest Cry”

“Resh” (verses 153-160)……………255 – “Regard My Grief and Rescue Me”

“Sin and Shin” (verses 161-168)…256 – “Though Mighty Foes Assail Me, Lord”

“Taw” (verses 169-176)………………257 – “O Let My Supplicating Cry”


Psalm 119: Relating to God through His Word

Oh how I love your law!
It is my meditation all the day.

– Psalm 119:97 (ESV)

This is going to be a different week at URC Psalmody.  Michael is gone at the RYS Convention in Georgia; meanwhile, we’ve come in our weekly rotation of examining the psalms to Psalm 119.  We discussed how to handle Psalm 119 in depth and decided to treat it all in one fell swoop, like we do all the psalms, but to extend that “swoop” over an entire week.

So this week, we will be examining Psalm 119 and its representation in the blue Psalter Hymnal.  As usual, we will start out with a brief meditation on the content of the psalm.  There is benefit in treating the psalm in a cursory overview, as it allows us to get a glimpse of overarching themes and ideas, but of course such a treatment will miss out on a lot of the details of this glorious psalm.

For a more in-depth examination of Psalm 119, we recommend Ascribelog, the blog of our friend Glenda Mathes, who last year embarked on a excellent series of thoughtful meditations through Psalm 119.  HERE is a link to her first meditation in the series (we’ll be linking the entire series as the week progresses).

Literary Form

It is well known that Psalm 119 is an acrostic poem.  There are 22 stanzas, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  Each stanza has eight verses, and the first word of each of those verses begins with the stanza’s letter.

On the one hand, it could be said that such a format limits the author – he can’t necessarily write what he wants to unless it starts with the right letter.  This might keep the author from developing a consistent thought and ending up with disjointed stanzas.  When we read Psalm 119, however, this is not what we find, for on the other hand, the very form of Hebrew acrostic poetry speaks volumes.

A well-crafted acrostic, such as Psalm 119 or portions of Lamentations, communicates completeness of thought.  An acrostic is a poetic catalog of thought, specifically ordered from “A to Z.”  Such a structure encompasses everything.  Lamentations, for example, is a complete catalog of Jerusalem’s suffering.  It’s complete, it’s full.

Psalm 119, then, is a complete celebration of God’s revelation in the Torah (the Law, Hebrew for “instruction”).  It is a full, well-ordered, and structured catalog of God’s condescension to His people in Special Revelation.  Psalm 119 is a tool for God’s people to use to make God’s Torah their “meditation all the day” (verse 97) and to praise God “seven times a day” (verse 164).

Perhaps Christians complain that “my prayers all end up sounding the same,” or that our praise can “become too repetitive.”  Psalm 119, in its very form, is an antidote for boring prayers and praise.  It teaches us to fully catalog and vary our worship, specifically on the topic of God’s Law.


Much has been made in Sunday Schools and Bible Studies that almost every single verse of Psalm 119 contains a synonym for God’s “Law.”  “Testimonies,” “precepts,” “commands,” “statutes,” “words,” “rules,” etc.  The ESV Study Bible points out that “except for ‘precepts’ (which appears only in the Psalms), all of these words can be found in Deuteronomy and denote God’s Word, focusing on its role in moral instruction for His people.”  God’s revealed Word in the Torah is blatantly the theme of this psalm.  Psalm 119 celebrates God’s gift of the Torah and teaches us how to use it to relate to God.

Relating to God is the other major theme of Psalm 119.  Eastern Orthodox commentator Patrick Henry Reardon has pointed out that “almost every line also, if one looks closely, is structured on an I-You polarity.”  That is, if you look, almost every verse of Psalm 119 contains a first-person singular pronoun referring to the author (“I,” “me,” “my”) and a second-person singular pronoun referring to God (“You,” “Your”).  Noticing this as you read, pray, and sing through Psalm 119 adds a remarkable personal aspect, revitalizing the longest chapter of the Bible with an intensely intimate I-Thou relationship focus.

So use Psalm 119 to celebrate God’s Word (both the Torah and also the entire Scriptures), use it to teach us how to better relate to God through His Word, and above all use it to celebrate Jesus Christ who is the Word become flesh (John 1:14), who fulfills God’s Law and makes the I-Thou relationship possible.

I long for your salvation, O LORD,
and your law is my delight.
Let my soul live and praise you,
and let your rules help me.

– Psalm 119:174-175 (ESV)


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