To “ruminate” denotes
turning a matter over and over in the mind. It is also etymologically linked to
chewing the cud; animals that chew the cud are known as ruminants. Sometimes,
we use the expression “to chew the cud” as an allegory for meditating deeply on
a certain matter for a period of time.
In the New King James
Version of the Bible, the editors have given Psalm 119 the subtitle:
“Meditations on the excellencies of the word of God.” This psalm is a lengthy
rumination on God’s word.
The Book of Psalms is the
longest book in the Bible, which reflects the primacy of praise and worship in
our Christian lives. Furthermore, Psalm 119 is the longest psalm and the
longest chapter in the Bible. Since it is a meditation on the word of God, this
reveals the importance God places on His word.
Psalm 119 is not only
special in its subject matter, but also its form. It is an abecedarian poem, an ancient poetic structure that is
arranged in alphabetical order to aid memorization, especially when literacy
and access to the written word were limited.
In the original Hebrew, each section of eight lines is assigned a letter of the alphabet. Each
line of that section begins with the corresponding letter—so the first eight
lines begin with Aleph, the first letter of the alphabet, and the next eight,
Beth, and so on. With twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet, and eight
lines per section, there are 176 lines altogether.
Significantly, every line of
Psalm 119 makes reference to the word of God, with about three to five lines
doing so indirectly. This means the psalm explores almost every aspect of its
MEDITATING ON GOD’S WORD
Firstly, the psalmist
devotes himself to meditating on the word of God.
I will meditate on Your precepts,
And contemplate Your ways. (Ps 119:15)
My hands also I will lift up to Your commandments,
Which I love,
And I will meditate on Your statutes. (Ps 119:48)
Throughout the psalm, the
psalmist continually resolves to meditate on God’s word (Ps 119:27, 78). In
this world of instant gratification, we have become impatient. If we wish to
learn something new, we want to do so quickly. Yet, Psalm 119 reveals that the
word of God requires patience. One cannot expect to fully know the word of God
in a matter of days or weeks; studying the Scriptures and meditating upon them
is a lifelong task.
In fact, the psalmist
reveals how much time and effort is required:
Oh, how I love Your law!
It is my meditation all the day. (Ps 119:97)
My eyes are awake through the night watches,
That I may meditate on Your word. (Ps 119:148)
God’s word is in his
thoughts throughout each day, and not just during worship time or when he is
reading the Scriptures. He also meditates at night, when others would be
asleep. For us today, some might stay up
late to finish their work, play computer games or surf the Internet, but how
many would meditate on God’s word? Why does the psalmist devote so much time
and effort to this pastime?
TREASURING GOD’S WORD
The psalmist devotes himself
to meditating on God’s word because he truly values it:
I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies,
As much as in all riches. (Ps 119:14)
On reading this verse, we
may think that the psalmist should have written “much more than all riches.”
But let us not forget that the psalmist was divinely inspired. It is
meaningless to claim that one values the word of God above all else in the
world without first testing the veracity of that statement. People will go to
amazing lengths to seek something that might be worthless, just on the
off-chance it might be gold. Are we not the same in our pursuit of physical
wealth? Are we willing to put in the same effort to learn God’s word? This is
why the psalmist writes that, firstly, he values the word of God as much as
But the psalmist
does not stop there: he progresses from valuing the word of God as much as “all
riches,” to deeming it better “than thousands of coins of gold and silver” (Ps
119:72), to loving it more than “fine gold” (Ps 119:127). The psalmist does not
remain stagnant in his faith—he continually improves himself as his love for
the word grows. Has our relationship with God’s word similarly progressed, or
has it regressed?
kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and
hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that
field.” (Mt 13:44)
When we are first
enlightened by God’s word, it is just as though we have discovered treasure in
a field, like the man in this parable. But today, do we still find treasure
when we search the word of God, or do we just find a barren field?
EXPLORING THE DEPTHS OF GOD’S WORD
The psalmist uses two
methods to ensure his relationship with the word of God does not regress.
Firstly, he prays to the Lord: “Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things
from Your law” (Ps 119:18). There is always treasure in the field of God’s
word. It only depends on whether our spiritual eyes are open. As his eyes are
continually opened by God, the psalmist’s love for His word develops.
psalmist’s meditation on the word of God is complete. We can see the many
different terms he uses to describe the word of God. These illustrate how deep
and broad his meditations are:
In verse 1, he
uses the word “law,” which appears twenty-five times throughout the psalm. The
word can refer to a single commandment, or to the Law of Moses, or to the
entirety of the Scriptures, all of which reveal our duties towards God.
In verse 2, the
psalmist uses “testimonies,” which means “to be witness.” This points to the
Scriptures as a reliable testimony of God, and all His works recorded in it.
In verse 3,
“ways” is used, referring to the characteristic manner in which God acts, which
is contrary to the ways of man. Are we walking in the ways of God?
In verse 4,
“precepts” is used, which refers to God’s mandate, and connotes man’s responsibility
in paying close attention to God’s instructions.
In verse 5,
“statutes” is used, encapsulating the permanence of God’s word, as though set
In verse 6, “commandments” is used, which
signifies the authority of God.
In verse 7,
“judgments” is used, which points to the righteous and just nature of the Lord.
From the synonyms
found in these few verses alone, we can see how comprehensively the psalmist
thinks about the word of God. A common pitfall is that we take an extreme or
limited view of God’s word. Jesus highlighted one example of this:
“But woe to
you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass by
justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without leaving the
others undone.” (Lk 11:42)
The Pharisees stuck
closely to the minor details of the law, and carefully tithed all they had, but
they glossed over the more important matters of justice and love. They
neglected to wholly follow the way of the Lord. Since the word of God is
complete, they should have observed the details, while being faithful to the
Another example is
when David attempted to transport the ark of God on a wooden cart (1 Chr 13).
When the oxen stumbled, Uzza put out his hand to support the ark, and was
struck down by God. David had wanted to bring the ark to Jerusalem out of a
sincere love for God, so why did this joyous occasion end in tragedy? It was
because David had glossed over the details and failed to follow God’s commands
(1 Chr 15:13). According to the law, the Levites were to carry the ark on their
shoulders, using the poles (Num 4:5, 15; Ex 25:14; Josh 3:3).
The writer of Psalm
119, on the other hand, thinks about every aspect of the word of God. When we
are faced with an issue or situation, we usually react immediately. Our initial
thoughts are often impulsive, ill-considered and immature. If another person is
involved, we will perhaps think, Why is he doing this? or, That’s crazy.
Instead, we should slow down and consider the matter holistically.
This also applies
to the way we approach the word of God. What does the law of God say about this
matter? What are His testimonies? How do I direct my way to walk in His way?
What are the details of God’s precepts? Does God command me to do otherwise?
What would God’s judgment be in this particular situation? If we are able to
think about the word of God deeply and holistically, and consider every aspect
of the word of God and its application in our lives, then we will be able to remain
as faithful as the psalmist.
DIRECTED BY GOD’S WORD
The reason the psalmist
meditates so deeply on God’s word is so that he can be put it into action:
Oh, that my ways were directed
To keep Your statutes!
Then I would not be ashamed,
When I look into all Your commandments. (Ps 119:5–6)
The psalmist does
not study the Scriptures for the sake of knowledge, or to admire them as
literature. He is a doer of the word, and fulfils it so that his conscience
will be clear whenever he reads it. Moreover, he is determined to keep the law
of God—emphatically stating that he will keep it “forever and ever” (Ps 119:44).
I made haste, and did not delay
To keep Your commandments. (Ps 119:60)
At times, we do
not immediately do God’s word, thinking that we will have time to act in the
future. The psalmist, however, does not delay. He is fully committed to keeping
the word of God, and has sworn to do so (Ps 119:106). We may think it unwise
for the psalmist to make such a vow—what if he falls short and fails to fulfil
Testament times, when the Israelites made a covenant with God, they said: “All
that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient” (Ex 24:7). This was
confirmed by the sprinkling of blood. Later, they would have sung Psalm 119,
and affirmed the words “I will keep Your righteous judgments” (v. 106). The
psalmist’s vow is merely a reiteration of the one that was made when they
entered into the covenant with God, and therefore, a resolution to follow it
Christians, we have also entered into a covenantal relationship with God, which
was confirmed by the blood of Jesus during baptism. This is our declaration
that we will follow Jesus to the end. It is our duty, therefore, to uphold the
teachings of the Bible. Are we as committed as the psalmist to fulfil the terms
of our covenant with God?
CONCLUSION: THE LIMITS OF LOGIC
I have seen the consummation of all perfection,
But Your commandment is exceedingly broad. (Ps 119:96)
This verse can be
interpreted in two ways. The New International Version translates it as “To all
perfection I see a limit, but your commands are boundless.” In other words, there is a limit to
everything in this life; even the most wonderful things come to an end. But the
word of God is limitless.
interpretation is that the psalmist has seen the ultimate fulfilment of
perfection in the word of God itself, for it has no end. This is why he devotes
himself so diligently to its study. Both interpretations point to the boundless
nature of God’s word, and the joy that can be gained from meditating upon it. This
psalm reveals a taste of this joy, though it is but a drop in the ocean.
What is most
evident is the psalmist’s relationship with the word: from his meditations and
observations of the wondrous things in God’s law, to his resolution to keep and
act on God’s word, we see how fully the word of God occupies the psalmist’s
life. His entire world revolves around it, and is enriched by it. If we are
able to treasure the word of God, meditating on it day and night, examining it
widely, deeply and from different angles, then we can be like the psalmist. We
will be able to follow God’s way with devotion and an ever-increasing
faithfulness as our love for His word grows day by day.