Law, judgements and righteousness

Psalm 119

A pair of reading glasses lie on an open Bible illuminated by a single candle.

Psalm 119 is a great acrostic poem, the longest psalm, and the longest chapter in the Bible. The 22 stanzas each consist of 8 lines, each line starting with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet, each stanza having a different start letter. It is an epic love song for God’s law.


49 Remember your word to your servant,
    in which you have made me hope.
50 This is my comfort in my affliction,
    that your promise gives me life.
51 The insolent utterly deride me,
    but I do not turn away from your law.
52 When I think of your rules from of old,
    I take comfort, O Lord.
53 Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked,
    who forsake your law.
54 Your statutes have been my songs
    in the house of my sojourning.
55 I remember your name in the night, O Lord,
    and keep your law.
56 This blessing has fallen to me,
    that I have kept your precepts.


57 The Lord is my portion;
    I promise to keep your words.
58 I entreat your favour with all my heart;
    be gracious to me according to your promise.
59 When I think on my ways,
    I turn my feet to your testimonies;
60 I hasten and do not delay
    to keep your commandments.
61 Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me,
    I do not forget your law.
62 At midnight I rise to praise you,
    because of your righteous rules.
63 I am a companion of all who fear you,
    of those who keep your precepts.
64 The earth, O Lord, is full of your steadfast love;
    teach me your statutes!


65 You have dealt well with your servant,
    O Lord, according to your word.
66 Teach me good judgement and knowledge,
    for I believe in your commandments.
67 Before I was afflicted I went astray,
    but now I keep your word.
68 You are good and do good;
    teach me your statutes.
69 The insolent smear me with lies,
    but with my whole heart I keep your precepts;
70 their heart is unfeeling like fat,
    but I delight in your law.
71 It is good for me that I was afflicted,
    that I might learn your statutes.
72 The law of your mouth is better to me
    than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

Psalm 119:49-72 ESVUK

These are the 7th to 9th stanzas of Psalm 119, with each line of each stanza starting with the 7th to 9th letters of the Hebrew alphabet. I shall be looking at two aspects of God’s word and one of the attributes of God in this post.

Law, torah

The Torah is the name used by the Jews for the first five books of the Bible. The written Torah is also the name they give to their canon of scripture which is the Torah plus the Prophets and Writings, which is the same as the Christian Old Testament, but with the books in a different order.

Psalm 19 says: “The law of the Lord is perfect,[c] reviving the soul;” The word traditionally translated as perfect also means blameless. Make of that what you will, but I’m looking at the second half of the verse. God’s written law is for reviving the soul. There are no ‘clobber verses’ in God’s Law, it is for building people up, not bringing them down. Jesus never hit down on the poor and the powerless in his ministry. Any condemnation was aimed at political and religious leaders whose policies keep the poor poor and the powerless. It would be good for us to do the same.

Judgements, mispatim

Mispat. pronounced mishpawt is the singular of mispatim. It is a legal term meaning deciding a court case, a process of litigation or arbitration. It goes together in Psalm 119 with righteousness, which is used as an attribute of God, this attribute is used of God’s word as being right and proper, according to natural law, when used of God’s word. God’s word judges us and arbitrates between us. I have more to say about this, but it is best described under the meaning of Righteousness.

Righteousness, tsedeq

Tsedeq means what is right, what is natural, especially concerning weights and measures. It is also used to mean equality. The righteousness of God means that we are all equal under him. there are no hierarchies in God’s kingdom. Priests or ministers are not above the people in the pews. It is not a religious word, so translations into English which use terms like righteousness are missing the point. Yes it is the nearest word in English, but righteousness is hardly used these days outside of a religious context, the context of righteousness is simply how things are supposed to be. The story in Genesis said that God’s creation was very good. Righteousness/tsedeq means that things are functioning as they should. When Psalm 119 talks about God’s righteous judgements it means that all god’s judgements are right, there are never any cover-ups of miscarriages of Justice. It really pains and angers me whenever I hear of cover-ups of miscarriages of justice in the church. Any sign of doing things secretly, of not being transparent, is a sign that the people doing it are not following the will of God.

< Psalm 119:25-48 | Psalm 119:49-72 | Psalm 119:73-96 >

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