Day 68 | Cameron Garrett
As introduced by Gabi, this week we’re going to be spending a bit of time praying through Psalm 119, both the longest psalm and the longest chapter in the bible.
Psalm 119 is comprised of 22 carefully constructed sections, each corresponding to a different letter in the Hebrew alphabet and each verse beginning with the letter of its section; in other words, it is, as Gabi highlighted in her reflection, an acrostic poem.
Think back to the use of acrostic poems in your own life. They were almost always used as memorization tools for familiarizing students with a particular subject. For example:
A n acrostic poem
C reates a challenge
R andom words on a theme
O r whole sentences that rhyme
S elect your words carefully
T o form a word from top to bottom
I s the aim of this poetry style
C hoose a word then go
We have the basic idea: run through the acrostic poem a few times over the course of a few days and you’ll effectively digest the poem’s theme. I remember being taught a few throughout my schooling career, which was for me, and for most of us, divided into three sections – elementary, middle, and high school. Interestingly, Jewish education is also made up of three primary sections:
Bet Safar (ages five to ten)
Bet Talmud (ages ten to fourteen)
Bet Midrash (the brightest students from age fourteen study onward in pursuit of priesthood)
In age range, Bet Safar is akin to our elementary school. And that’s where the akin-ness of Bet Safar to our elementary school experience ends. Because while I collected reading-points for successfully studying all of Captain Underpants and The Magic Treehouse series, good elementary aged Jewish boys – patriarchy – memorized the Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Verbatim.
Word for Word. By age ten.
The printing press wasn’t invented until 1440 – the printing revolution didn’t begin until the 16th century. In the education system that Jesus inherited and grew up in, there might have been one physical copy of the Torah per Jewish community. People did not have personal copies of the scriptures as we do, so God’s people memorized his Word and passed it along orally. Thus, the structure of Psalm 119 was designed in order to aid in the memorization of not only the Hebrew alphabet, but also God’s Word.
There are eight synonyms used for God’s Word, and most of them appear in every one of those 22 sections. The eight synonyms, each occurring over 20 times in this Psalm, have slightly different meanings but are often used almost interchangeably. They are (depending on your translation) law (torah), testimonies, precepts, statutes, commandments, ordinances, word, and promise (also word). Psalm 119 is a repetitive meditation on the beauty of God’s Word. It is written that God’s Word might not only be tasted, but eaten, taken in, digested. In the education of young Jews, Bet Safar is not a plan for memorization – it is a meal. This is your culture, your inheritance, your people, and your God – take it in.
In Ezekiel 3:1, after calling him to be a prophet, God commands Ezekiel to consume his Word: “And he said to me, ‘Son of Man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the people of Israel” (NIV).
Each of the three sections we are to read today in Psalm 119 are a microcosm of the psalm in its entirety – reflections upon living with God’s Word in our heart, etched into our being. To eat God’s Word. To walk with God’s Word.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… The word became Flesh and made His dwelling among us.” (John 1:1 and 1:14).
The psalmist prays over and over that God might “teach [him] the way of your decrees” (119:33).
Then there is Jesus. The Word made flesh. Take and eat.