The Truth of Psalm 119, Taw

The final letter of the Hebrew alphabet, Taw or Tav, represents the final section of Psalm 119. Looking closely at each section has generated a new appreciation for the longest psalm that has lifted it in my mind from the mundane to the sublime.

Academy BJE states that Taw symbolizes perfection and “alludes to the three essential services of the soul: teshuvah (repentance), tefillah (prayer) and Torah,” which is God’s law. The letter represents truth. It begins the word tikkun (redemption) and refers to the concept of teshuvah (a returning to the Source for forgiveness).

These meanings of the Hebrew letter seem to summarize the truths we’ve seen repeatedly in our Psalm 119 meditation marathon. Although no one can obtain perfection until heaven, we ought to strive continually for a more sanctified life of repentance and prayer, based on the truth of God’s law. Redemption is possible only when we turn to Christ for forgiveness. 

We’ve seen repeated praise for God’s word in this psalm. Editors of The Literary Study Bible, ESV (Leland Ryken and Philip Graham Ryken) note that Psalm 119 uses eight key synonyms for God’s word, which are translated in the English by words such as “law, word, rules, statutes, testimonies, commandments, precepts, and so forth. These eight synonyms appear 178 times in 176 verses and are present in some form in all but five verses” (p. 887). 

As we look at this last section of the psalm, we see that pattern repeated in a prayer of confession and repentance.

The first two verses parallel each other as the psalmist cries out to God:

Let my cry come before you, O LORD;
    give me understanding according to your word!
Let my plea come before you;
    deliver me according to your word (169-170, ESV).

The psalmist pleads with the Lord to hear his cry in order that he may first have understanding, and then be delivered, both according to God’s word.

The next two verses seem to parallel each other as well:

My lips will pour forth praise,
   for you teach me your statutes.
My tongue will sing of your word,
   for all your commandments are right (171-172, ESV).

Because God teaches us his word and because all his commandments are right, we are called to praise him and his word in speech and song.

Although not as obvious as the first two verses, or even the second two verses of this section, the next two verses share parallels:

Let your hand be ready to help me,
   for I have chosen your precepts.
I long for your salvation, O LORD,
   and your law is my delight (173-174, ESV).

As we look to the Lord for our salvation and lean on him more and more during life’s trials, we grow to love and obey his word with joy. The obedient and repentant believer can pray with confidence:

Let my soul live and praise you,
   and let your rules help me.
I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant,
   for I do not forget your commandments (175-176, ESV).

Since we’ve seen a lot of railing against wicked persecutors in this long psalm, it’s interesting that it ends with confession of personal sin. This says volumes about what our attitude should be when others hurt us. Our prayers for God’s justice against the wicked ought always to be accompanied by prayer for God’s mercy to us.

This repentant confession of personal sin occurs in the context of shepherding imagery. We are all sinners who stray from the flock and need the Good Shepherd to find us and return us to the fold. 

We all need to keep God’s commandments firmly fixed before us. And as we’ve seen time and time again in this psalm, it’s not enough simply to know God’s word; we must also obey it.

God’s word is truth. No passage of scripture praises the truth of God’s word more than Psalm 119. May we all love and live God’s law!

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