Each time you pick up your Bible, you hold within your hands something far more powerful than a nuclear weapon (Heb. 4:12), something far more valuable than the rarest diamond (Ps. 119:72), and something far more enduring than the best constructed building (1 Pet. 1:25). God’s Word is a blessing which we should value greatly. It commands our utmost adoration and respect. Such an attitude is vividly on display in the 119th Psalm.
Psalm 119 is a treasure chest of passages exalting the Word of God. It is an acrostic Psalm composed of 176 verses divided into 22 sections for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The Psalm teaches us about the value and power of Scripture. It gives insight into the magnificent respect the Psalmist had for God’s Word and his great desire to know and to understand its content. Among the many noteworthy items in the Psalm is the number of ways in which the writer refers to the Bible. Several synonyms for scripture are found in the Psalm and, though each one is slightly different in definition, they all combine to give us a better understanding of the nature of Scripture.
- Law – The term generally refers to direction, instruction, or a written code. Most often in the Old Testament it refers to the Mosaic Law as a whole but can also be used in reference to a single command in the law. The word is used 25 times in Psalm 119. Those who “walk in the law of the Lord” are blessed (Ps. 119:1). The Psalmist desired to see God’s law (Ps. 119:18). He delighted in the law (Ps. 119:70, 77, 92, 174), and promised not to turn aside from it (Ps. 119:51) or forget it (Ps. 119:61, 109, 153). The fact that “law” is a descriptive term of God’s Word reminds us that revelation is about more than knowledge–it requires obedience (cf. Jas. 1:25).
- Testimony – The root of this word means “to bear witness.” It is found 23 times in the Psalm. One writer remarked, “The outspokenness of Scripture, with its high standards and frank warnings (e.g. Deut. 8:19, using this root), is implied in this expression, but so too is its dependability, as the word of the “faithful and true witness.”1 Those who keep His testimonies are blessed (Ps. 119:2, 24, 88, 129, 146, 157, 167-168). God’s testimonies are a delight and counselor (Ps. 119:24). The Psalmist wanted to know them better (Ps. 119:36, 79, 95, 125). He spoke of them before kings (Ps. 119:46) and rejoiced in them greatly (Ps. 119:14).
- Precept – This word refers to the responsibilities which God places upon people (TWOT). It is used 21 times in the Psalm. It involves regulations and instructions concerning certain actions. It also indicates that God is concerned about details. The Psalmist was determined to keep God’s precepts diligently (Ps. 119:4, 69, 134, 168). He longed for them (Ps. 119:40), loved them (Ps. 119:159), and sought to understand them (Ps. 119:17, 100, 104).
- Statute – Scripture is described as a statute 21 times in Psalm 119. The root of this word refers to scratching or engraving something in stone. To speak of God’s Word as a statute is to speak of its permanence and binding nature as law. It is noteworthy that the Psalmist expresses his desire for Jehovah to “teach” him His statutes some 9 times in the Psalm. He purposed to keep them (Ps. 119:5, 8, 145), to meditate on them (Ps. 119:23, 48), and to observe them continually (Ps. 119:117). He loved them so much that he even sang about them (Ps. 119:54).
- Commandment – This term is found 22 times. It describes the conditions, or individual requirements of the law (TWOT). “This word emphasizes the straight authority of what is said; not merely the power to convince or persuade, but the right to give orders.”2 The commandments of Jehovah are faithful and right (Ps. 119:86, 138). They make one wiser than his enemies (Ps. 119:98) and those who stray from them are rebuked (Ps. 119:21). No wonder the Psalmist loved them (Ps. 119:47-48, 127), made haste to follow them (Ps. 119:60), and was determined to keep them (Ps. 119:115).
- Judgment – Also translated “ordinance,” this word is found 23 times in the Psalm. It is a legal term often used in reference to government and justice. It has to do with God’s decisions about right and wrong and implies that scripture is the standard for determining right and wrong, and what is just. The Psalmist praised God when he learned of His judgments (Ps. 119:7). God’s judgments are good (Ps. 119:39), right (Ps. 119:75), upright (Ps. 119:137), and enduring (Ps. 119:160).
- Word – This is the most general term used to describe scripture. It is found 24 times in Psalm 119 and it refers to a spoken message. It includes all of God’s truth in every form. God’s Word is pure (Ps. 119:140), true (Ps. 119:160), and it gives light (Ps. 119:105, 130). It gives strength (Ps. 119:28) and life (Ps. 119:50). It is forever settled in Heaven (Ps. 119:89). The Psalmist hoped in God’s Word (Ps. 119:74, 81, 114, 147) and stood in awe of it (Ps. 119:161).
Though this is not an exhaustive list of synonyms found in Psalm 119, each of these offers insight into how the Psalmist viewed God’s Word. As you study each term in the Psalm, note how often the verb “keep” is used in conjunction. The inspired writer understood not only the beauty and wonder of God’s Word, but also that true blessing is found not in just knowing what God’s Word says, but in obeying it.