Psalm 119: The Testimony of God
Thursday, March 13. 2008 – Tom Quinlan
As I began working on the music to Psalm 119, I chose the NIV translation as a spring board. There were a couple reasons for that. First of all, that is my preferred version for regular scripture reading. With the King James I get easily bogged down with the Kings English, which in turn shortens my Scripture reading time and thus is counter productive even if the KJV is a superior translation. My main Bible is an NIV/KJV Parallel, so I do have the KJV there to keep the NIV honest.
Secondly, a brother by the name of Charles Ciepiel has already written music to the KJV version of Psalm 119.
As I got into the project I immediately became aware of a key difference between the NIV and the KJV. Namely, the Hebrew word that KJV translators render “testimony”, was replaced by “statutes” in the NIV. “Statues” does nothing for me. One encylopedia give this definition: “Statute law is written law (as opposed to oral or customary law)… set down in response to a perceived need to clarify the functioning of government.” I suppose that there could be a few nuggets in there that one could latch onto for meaning, but my point is that this word pales in comparison to “Testimony”, because Psalm 119 is not talking about just anyone’s testimony here. It is the Testimony of God! I can see Him in court giving His irrefutable eye witness testimony concerning our lives. In fact, I immediately think of a few passages from Deuteronomy concerning the Law:
“Now write down for yourselves this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it, so that it may be a witness for me against them. Deuteronomy 31:19
“After Moses finished writing in a book the words of this law from beginning to end, he gave this command to the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD:
‘Take this Book of the Law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God. There it will remain as a witness against you. For I know how rebellious and stiff-necked you are. If you have been rebellious against the LORD while I am still alive and with you, how much more will you rebel after I die!’” Deuteronomy 31: 24-27
Yowser. There is no flattery going on here. If God were running for President, I don’t think He would even make it out of the Primaries. The curious thing is that in Psalm 119, these same “Testmonies” are referred to in the most glowing terms. For example: “Your testimonies are wonderful, therefore my soul has obeyed them.” (v129)
How is it that the Psalmist can praise something that testifies against him? Without making God out to be a liar, I can find only one solution, and that would be the Gospel (“Almost too good to be true news”) found in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only one who could read this Psalm with a straight face. He is the one and only Law KEEPER. In fact, when Moses put the Law into words, it was in obedience to the heavenly pattern. Moses was actually verbalizing and describing the character and attributes of God. Therefore Jesus (who claimed Divinity) embodies every aspect of it, down to the last jot and tittle. “I did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.”
But the truly amazing part is that He (Jesus) in His obedience TO the Law took the required punishment of Lawbreakers (like me) upon Himself. Now, I no longer approach God based upon my own performance or lack thereof, but based upon what God has done for me through Jesus.
I like the way that Timothy Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City sums it up:
The Gospel in a nutshell is this: YOU are more wicked than you ever imagined, but… in Christ, you are more loved and accepted than you ever dreamed.”
So now… when I sing Psalm 119… and when I am making statement like, “Your testimonies are WONDERFUL…” I am thinking of Jesus. I am casting myself upon Him. I am consciously receiving the gift of HIS righteousness. “He who knew no sin became sin, so that WE [who knew no true righteousness] might become the righteousness of God in Him.”