Psalm 119

Let’s begin with a riddle: Which part of the Old Testament has seven verses in a row beginning with a Hiphil imperative and then one verse beginning with a Hebrew word often translated “behold”?

Hinneh, that was too easy! The answer is the He section of Psalm 119 (vv. 33-40), which many of our congregations will sing on July 17 (Proper 11).

Psalm 119 celebrates the beauty, power, and importance of the word of the LORD in the life of the believer, and each 8-verse section (strophe) is unique not only in its initial letter but also in its content. Because Hiphil is a causative verb stem, the He section asks the LORD to cause things to happen:

Cause me to learn…

Cause me to understand…

Cause me to take the path of…

Cause my heart to incline towards…

Cause my eyes to turn away from…

Cause your promise to stand…

Cause my disgrace to go away…

This setting from Christian Worship includes five of these seven verses as well as the hinneh verse (v. 40). What does the He section say to pastors serving in the 21st-century?

First, the He section highlights the usefulness of God’s Word and its vitalness. I want learning and understanding. God will give it to me by his Word. I want my loved ones to learn and understand. God will do that for them by his Word.

As ministers of the word, we are always asking: “How can I lead myself, my wife, my children, my congregation, and all the people around me into God’s Word more often? How am I equipping them to be in the Word on their own?”

Second, the He section reminds us that the learning and understanding that we gain from God’s Word changes more than our minds. It affects our feet, our hearts, our eyes, and our priorities.

As ministers of the word, we pray for that to happen among us, and we rejoice to see the effects of God’s Word in the lives of the people we serve. We pray that God would open our eyes to see the effects of his Word.

Third, the He section is notable for what it doesn’t ask. Cause all my troubles to go away? Nope. Cause me to live in a better place? Nope. Cause me to have more possessions? Nope. Rather, “Teach me, tilt me, turn me.”

As ministers of the word, we ask the LORD to enable us to keep his Word, to obey it, to delight in it no matter our circumstances. We delight in the LORD who has revealed his name to us. We simply delight in him and in his Word.

Fourth, the He section speaks of the blessings that come to God’s people in this world and forever. The LORD preserves our life by his Word, and at the end of that life there is a reward of grace. The LORD fulfills his promises to us. The LORD takes away our disgrace, including the disgrace of our sins and their consequences—even the disgrace of death.

As ministers of the word, we keep our eyes focused on Jesus to see that this is true. Jesus is the firstborn from among our human race. He endured the disgrace of dying as the sacrifice for the sins of the world, fully confident that God would preserve his life. Jesus knew that the Father would cause his resurrection promise to stand. Jesus feared, loved, and trusted in his Father above all things. We sing Psalm 119 with him and in his name.

Finally, the Psalmist exclaims, “Hinneh, I long for your precepts!” And he prays, “Preserve my life in your righteousness.” My life does not hang on my righteousness, just as the lives of the people I serve do not hang on theirs. Jesus Christ is our wisdom from God, our righteousness, our holiness, our redemption.

Praise be to the LORD who has given us such understanding!