Originally each division and verse began with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In the Hebrew, each verse begins with the respective Hebrew letter/name for that division. There are 22 divisions
of 8 verses each, for 176 verses. Naming goes as follows:
ALEPH, BETH, GIMEL, DALETH, HE, VAU, and on
for 22, completing the Hebrew alphabet.
This passage deals with the perfect righteousness of Jehovah and his word, and expresses the struggles of a holy soul in reference to that righteousness. The initial letter with which every verse commences has a sound which reminded the Hebrew reader of the word for righteoueness. The keynote of this section is righteousness. Oh, for grace to delight ourselves in righteousness!
"Righteous art thou, O LORD.'" The Psalmist has not often used the name of Jehovah in this vast composition. The whole psalm shows him to have been a deeply religious man, thoroughly familiar with the things of God; and such persons never use the holy name of God carelessly, nor do they even use it at all frequently in comparison with the thoughtless and the ungodly. Familiarity begets reverence in this case. Here he uses the sacred name in worship. He praises God by ascribing to him perfect righteousness. God is always right, and he is always actively right, that is, righteous. This quality is bound up in our very idea of God. We cannot imagine an unrighteous God. Let us praise him by ascribing righteousness to him, even when his ways to us are painful to flesh and blood.
"And upright are thy judgments.'" Here he extols God's word, or recorded judgments, as being right, even as their Author is righteous. That which comes from the righteous God is itself righteous. Jehovah both saith and doth that which is right, and that alone. This is a great stay to the soul in time of trouble. When we are sorely afflicted, and cannot see the reason for the dispensation, we may fall back upon this most certain fact, that God is righteous, and his dealings with us are righteous too. It should be our glory to sing this brave confession when all things around as suggest the contrary. That is the richest adoration which rises from the lips of faith when carnal reason mutters about undue severity, and the like.
All that which God hath testified in his word is right and truthful. His testimonies are righteous, and :may be relied upon for the present; they are faithful, and may be trusted in for the future. About every portion of the inspired testimonies there is a divine authority: they are published by God's command, and they bear the impress of the royal style which carries omnipotence in it. Not only the precepts but the promises also are commanded of' the Lord, and so are all the teachings of Scripture. It is not left to our choice whether we will accept them or not; they are issued by royal command, and are not to be questioned. Their characteristic is that they are like the Lord who has proclaimed them, they are the essence of justice and the soul of truth. God's word is righteous, and cannot be impeached; it is faithful, and cannot be questioned; it is true from the beginning, and it will be true unto the end.
Dwell upon that sweet word "very faithful.'" What a mercy that we have a God to deal with who is scrupulously faithful, true to all the items and details of his promises, punctual to time, steadfast during all time! Well may we risk all upon a word which is "ever faithful, ever sure.'" Since in these verses the Psalmist dwells upon the righteousness of God and of his words, it becomes us to consider the divine character, and to endeavor to imitate it.
"If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him'": 1 John 2:29.
In the last two verses David spoke concerning his God and his law; here he speaks of himself, and says, "My zeal hath consumed me, because mine enemies have forgotten thy words'": this was no doubt occasioned by his having so clear a sense of the admirable character of God's word. Hits zeal was like a fire burning within his soul. The sight of man's forgetfulness of God acted as a fierce blast to excite the fire to a more vehement flame, and it blazed until it was ready to consume him. David could not bear that men should forget God's words. He was ready to forget himself, ay, to consume himself, because these men forgot God. The, ungodly were David's enemies: his enemies, because they hated him for his godliness; his enemies, because, he abhorred them for their ungodliness. These men had gone so far in iniquity, that they not only violated and neglected the commands of God, but they appeared actually to have forgotten them. This put David into a great heat; he burned with indignation. How dare they trample on sacred things! How could they utterly ignore the commands of God himself! He was astonished, and filled with holy anger. Have we not some who profess to be Christians, who know the truth, but live as if they had forgotten it?
"Thy word is very pure.'" It is truth distilled, holiness in its quintessence. In the word of God there is no admixture of error or sin. It is pure in its sense, pure in its language, pure in its spirit, pure in its influence, and all this to the very highest degree "very pure.'"
"Therefore thy servant loveth it,'" which is a proof that he himself was pure in heart; for only those who are pure love God's word because of its purity. His heart was knit to the word because of its glorious holiness and truth. He admired it, delighted in it, sought to practice it, and longed to come under its purifying power.
That fault of forgetfulness which he condemned in others (verse x 39) could not be charged upon himself. His enemies made no account of him, regarded him as a man without power or ability, and, therefore, looked down upon him. He appears to accept the situation and humbly take the lowest room, but he carries God's word with him. How many a man has been driven to do some ill action in order to reply to the contempt of his enemies! to make himself conspicuous he has either spoken or acted in a manner which he could not justify. The beauty of the Psalmist's piety was that it was calm and well-balanced, and as he was not carried away by flattery, so he was not overcome by shame. If small, he the more jealously attended to the smaller duties; and if despised, he was the more in earnest to keep the despised commandments of God.
"Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness.'" Having in a previous verse ascribed righteousness to God, he now goes on to declare that that righteousness is unchanging, and endures from age to age. This is the joy and glory of the saints, that what God is he always will be, and his mode of procedure towards the sons of men is immutable: having kept his promise, and dealt out justice: among his people, he will do so world without end. Both the righteousness and the unrighteousness of men come to an end, but the righteousness of ,God is without end.
"And thy law is the truth.'" As God is love, so his law is the truth, the very essence of truth: truth applied to ethics, truth in action, truth upon the judgment-seat. We hear great disputes about "What is truth?'" The holy Scriptures are the only answer to that question. Note, that they are not only true, but the truth itself We may not say of them that they contain the truth, but that they are the truth: "thy law is the truth.'" There is nothing false about the law or preceptory part of Scripture. Those who are obedient thereto shall find that they are walking in a way consistent with fact; while those who act contrary thereto are walking in a vain show. Because the word is true it has an everlasting righteousness about it. To alter, diminish, or add, is to lie against God.
"Trouble and anguish have taken hold on me.'" This affliction may have arisen from his circumstances, or from the cruelty of his enemies, or from his own internal conflicts; but certain it is that he was the subject of much distress, a distress which apprehended him, and carried him away a captive to its power. His griefs, like fierce dogs, had taken hold upon him; he felt their teeth. He had double trouble: trouble without and anguish within: as the apostle Paul put it, "without were rightings, within were fears.'"
"Yet thy commandments are my delights.'" Thus he became a riddle: troubled, and yet delighted; in anguish, and yet in pleasure. The child of God can understand this enigma, for well he knows that while he is cast down on account of what he sees within himself, he is all the more lifted up by what he sees in the word. He: is delighted with the commandments, although he is troubled with his imperfections. He finds abundant light in the commandments, and by the influence of that light he discovers and mourns over his own darkness. Only the man who is, acquainted with the struggles of the spiritual life will understand the expression before us. Let the reader herein :find a balance in which to weigh himself. Does he find, even when he is begirt with sorrow, that it is a delightful thing to do the will of the Lord? Does he find more joy in being sanctified than sorrow in being chastised? Then the spot of God's children is upon him.
"The righteousness of thy testimonies is everlasting,'" First he had said that God's testimonies were righteous, then that they were everlasting, and now that their righteousness is everlasting. Thus he gives us a larger and more detailed account of the word of God as he proceeds. The longer he.. is engaged in writing upon it, the more he has to write. The more we say in praise of holy writ, the more we may say, and the more we can say. God's testimonies to man cannot be assailed, they axe righteous from beginning to end; and though ungodly men have opposed the divine justice, especially in the plan of salvation, they' have always failed to establish any charge against: the Most Hight. Long as the earth shall stand, long as there shall be a single intelligent creature in the universe, it will be confessed that God's plans of mercy are in all respects marvelous proofs of his love of justice: even that he may be gracious Jehovah will not be unjust.
"Give me understanding, and I shall live.'" This is a prayer which he is constantly praying, that God would give him understanding. Here he evidently considers that such a gift is essential to his living. To live without understanding is not to live the life of a man, but to be dead while we, live. Only as we know and apprehend the things of God can we be said to enter into life. The more the Lord teaches us to admire the eternal rightness; of his word, and the more he quickens us to the love of such rightness, the happier and the better we shall be. As we love life, and seek many days that we may see good, it behooves us to seek immortality in the everlasting word which liveth and abideth for ever, and to seek good in that renewal of our entire nature which begins with the enlightenment of the understanding and passes on to the regeneration of the entire man. Here is our need of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, and the Guide of all the quickened ones, who shall lead us into all truth. Oh, for the visitations of his grace at this good hour!
We live by the Word of God, in the sense that it preserves us from those sinful ways which would be death to us. To understand and copy the righteousness of God is the best preservative from all our deadly foes. If the Lord will give us understanding so that we do this, we shall indeed live in the highest and best sense, despite the powers of death and hell.