Psalm 119 – Monitoring the heart
Jonathan Black, Bexleyheath, London, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Heart disease remains one of the leading causes of death in the UK, although strides have been made to detect the disease early so that preventative measures can be introduced to monitor those who are at high risk.
God has much to say about the health of our heart in Psalm 119. David, the man after God’s own heart, may be the writer, but the author is definitely God – the breath of divine inspiration is evident in the structure and beauty of this Psalm, with deity mentioned in almost every verse. Spurgeon said, ‘It is like the celestial city which lieth four square, and the height and the breadth of it are equal’.
The Psalm may be intimidating because of its sheer length but it is unparalleled in its description of God’s word, with 174 out of 176 verses mentioning the word of God. It is easier to study when considered under the acrostic order God has assigned to it. The Psalm consists of twenty-two stanzas each containing eight verses. Each stanza begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet and each of the eight verses also starts with this letter. While this may have been an aid to Jews who wanted to memorize it, it is also a vivid reminder of Christ typified by the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet – Alpha and Omega – for He is, ‘the beginning and the end, the first and the last’, Rev. 22. 13. The number eight is no accident and its Hebrew meaning of ‘fatness’ is an appropriate description of both the Psalm and its generous description of God’s word.
As Samuel learned – this Psalm teaches us that God looks first upon the heart before the outward appearance,1 and we will discover that the mighty power of God’s word is essential if believers are to avoid ‘heart failure’!
The journey for every child of God begins with a change that takes place in the affections of the heart, for it is ‘with the heart man believeth unto righteousness’, Rom. 10. 10. But the heart that has been justified by faith needs to develop and be kept free from harm. This is one of the great themes in Psalm 119.
The whole heart
Aleph2 – Psalm 119. 2
Psalm 119 begins with the same word as Psalm 1, ‘Blessed’. God’s definition of the man who is truly happy and satisfied is he who walks in the law of God. Verse 2 advances this blessing further, for those who live by God’s word are those who seek Him with their whole heart. The heart is mentioned fourteen times in the Psalm and is the seat of our affections, so that to seek God with our whole heart will mean undivided affections. A love of God’s word will increase our love of Him. This delight in the law of the Lord is contrasted to the ‘grease’ of the proud heart, v. 70. There is no room for half-hearted or proud-hearted Christians in the word of God.
The desire of Paul’s heart that, ‘I may know him’3 indicated a man who had undivided affection for Christ, even when he was a prisoner. May we seek God with our whole heart, remembering the sentiment of the Shulamite bride, ‘I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him, and would not let him go’, S. of S. 3. 4. The outcome will be an absence of sin, v. 3, and the presence of praise.
The upright heart
Aleph – Psalm 119. 7
Praise does not begin with the lips or on the strings of an instrument but originates in the heart. In their extremity, Paul and Silas, ‘sang praises unto God’, Acts 16. 25. A heart that is not upright will be short of breath when praising God. The word ‘upright’ means ‘straight or right’. A straight line on a heart monitor is normally a bad sign, but, in Psalm 119, God looks for straight hearts. How can my heart be ‘straight’ and perform the functions that God intended it to? Only through the word of God, which not only produces an upright heart but also a clean heart.
A clean heart
Beth4 – Psalm 119. 11
The first question in the Psalm strongly suggests the introspective words of a young man with a heart sensitive to the defilement of sin. He asks, ‘How can a young man cleanse his way?’5 By paying attention to God’s word! Why is this often so difficult? It is due to neglecting God’s word, so that there is no protection when the attack comes. Therefore, I must hide the word of God in my heart, v. 11. This is not hiding to conceal but hiding to find. Do we hide the word of God ‘on’ our bookshelf rather than ‘in’ our hearts? It is good to have the word of God in our hands, and even in our heads, but it must first affect our hearts.
We could easily fill our hearts and minds with news from around the world yet leave no room for the word of God. This is dangerous, as we dare not live without the cleansing power of the word so that we overcome the world even as Christ overcame.6 I have a ‘verse’ in the front of my Bible, ‘This book will keep you from sin, and sin will keep you from this book’. Maybe, with David, we need to cry out, ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God’, Ps. 51.10.
The enlarged heart
Daleth7 – Psalm 119. 32
The fourth stanza exposes a man who is depressed and downhearted yet still clinging to the word of God. In verse 28 there is heaviness of heart, but the Psalmist is still able to derive strength from the word. Although he has chosen to walk along the pathway of God’s word, he wants his heart to be expanded in its capacity so that he can serve God more effectively. What a contrast! From face down on the ground, v. 25, to running, v. 32! What will increase the spiritual fitness of this man? His heart being enlarged by reading, meditation and obedience to the word. Have we a big heart for the word of God? The appetite of many is waning. Have we a big heart for God’s assembly? Paul wrote to the saints at Corinth, ‘O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged’, 2 Cor. 6. 11.
The inclined heart
He – Psalm 119. 36
The believer who is running according to God’s word, v. 32, is like Abraham who ‘ran’ to meet the Lord from the tent door and ‘ran’ unto the herd, and fetched a calf. His heart was ‘inclined’ in the right direction. In contrast, Martha was distracted with much serving – her heart inclined toward her service, and not her Saviour. Mary’s position sitting at His feet reflects the words of the Psalmist in verse 33, ‘Teach me thy statutes’. Our heart can be so easily inclined toward the world, or even be busy in legitimate service, yet distracted from Christ. We must have a teachable spirit so that our hearts are warmed by the Son like the two on the road to Emmaus, who said, ‘Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures’, Luke 24. 32.
The sound heart
Jod – Psalm 119. 80
3D Heart Ultrasound technology has made imaging of the human heart an excellent diagnostic tool, but Jeremiah tells us that the unseen heart of man is, ‘deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?’ Jeremiah continues, ‘I the Lord search the heart’, Jer. 17. 9-10. Knowing the tendency of our hearts toward deceit, we must endeavour to keep our hearts ‘sound’. This word can be translated ‘sincere’ or ‘without blemish’. We may sound our heart according to psychology or philosophy, but it is only through the searching eye of God’s word upon the heart that we can expect results that will not disappoint. The writer to the Hebrews stresses that the word of God, ‘is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart’, Heb. 4. 12.
The joyful heart
Nun – Psalm 119. 111
Verse 105 is arguably the most quoted verse from Psalm 119, describing the word as, ‘a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path’. The lamp is the source of the light. Aaron enjoyed fellowship with God at the table of showbread under the light from the lampstand. Our fellowship too comes from walking in the light.8 In verse 107, the Psalmist has experienced suffering but is determined, whatever the trouble, not to depart from God’s precepts. He describes them as an inheritance, v. 111 – something of great value. They are what brings ‘joy’ to his heart. It is amazing that believers in testing circumstances are able to rejoice in their hearts because the word of God hidden within is a priceless source of joy untouchable by the pain of this world.
The pitch of the heart
Nun – Psalm 119. 112
While the word of God has been a source of joy in the heart, v. 111, it must be obeyed at all times. Some want the joy without obedience. The word ‘inclined’ can also be translated ‘pitched’, just as the tabernacle was pitched outside the camp.9 What direction have we pitched our heart? Is it pitched toward the sports stadium on a Saturday, or preparing for worship on Lord’s day? Our hearts cannot be pitched toward the world and the word at the same time. If we bow to the word of God, we will be in the will of God, for one never contradicts the other.
The prayer of the heart
Koph – Psalm 119. 145
The Psalms record all the emotions of the soul and this stanza records the cry of the psalmist to God and his desire to be heard. His prayer is whole-hearted. We learned, in verse 2, the danger of being a half-hearted Christian. That will be reflected in a half-hearted prayer life. Whole-hearted prayer is what God wants, not vain repetition and long public prayers. May we cry to God with our ‘whole heart’, as we pray for souls, or as we seek to hear His voice in the study of the scriptures!
The awe of the heart
Schin – Psalm 119. 161
As the Psalm reaches its climax, we have a final look at the state of the heart. The word of God has attracted the Psalmist’s heart continually, even when persecution has come from the highest authority in the land. Royal power had offered no protection, but he stands in awe of the word of God. This is not sentimental admiration but a reverential fear that means ‘to tremble’. May God cause our hearts to beat faster as we read and meditate upon the word of God and, with David, pray, ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting’, Ps. 139. 23-24.
1 1 Sam. 16. 7.
2 Aleph is the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet.
3 Phil. 3. 10.
4 Beth is the second letter in the Hebrew alphabet.
5 See also Ps. 51. 7.
6 John 16. 33.
7 Daleth is the third letter in the Hebrew alphabet. [This is the same throughout]
8 1 John 1. 7.
9 Exod. 33. 7.