By Bill Fiess
The Hebrew root LMD (teach) is found 94 times in the OT. But there is no chapter in the Bible that contains as many occurrences (13) of this verb as Psalm 119 (vv 7, 12, 26, 64, 66, 68, 71, 73, 99, 108, 124, 135, 171). Listed below are a few representative uses:
Blessed are You, O Lord! Teach me Your statutes (Ps 119:12).
The earth, O Lord, is full of Your mercy; Teach me Your statutes (Ps 119:64).
Deal with Your servant according to Your mercy, And teach me Your statutes (Ps 119:124).
Make Your face shine upon Your servant, And teach me Your statutes (Ps 119:135)
Some Synonyms for God’s Word
Of course anyone looking at Psalm 119 (even in a very cursory way) cannot help but notice that basically every verse is about the Word of God.
Nonetheless, the writer uses a number of synonyms for God’s Word (each of which is used in the plural) in this Psalm. Let us survey these briefly. These definitions are from The Lexham Theological Wordbook.
- Statutes is used 8 times.
- Commandments is used twice.
- Judgments is used twice.
- Testimonies is used once.
It is noteworthy that each of these synonyms is used—at least once—with the word teach. The Psalmist wishes to be taught God’s Word.
I think that it could legitimately be said that Psalm 119 is a conversation between the believer and Yahweh regarding the Word. For example, God’s personal name, YHWH, is used 24 times in Psalm 119.
Note in our passage list above:
Blessed are You, O Yahweh! Teach me Your statutes (Ps 119:12).
The earth, O Yahweh, is full of Your mercy; Teach me Your statutes (Ps 119:64).
Accept, I pray, the freewill offerings of my mouth, O Yahweh And teach me Your judgments (Ps 119:108).
The Psalmist, therefore, is basically seeking two things from Yahweh.
He wants to be taught by Yahweh Himself the truths of His Word.
He wants to learn (i.e., understand and master) from Yahweh the truths of His Word.
Note in the three verses mentioned above how the Psalmist pleads and cries out to Yahweh to teach him His Word. He has confidence that Yahweh can do so because of His magnificent and infinite attributes (His blessedness, mercy, goodness etc.)
I think that it is significant that the Psalmist did not seek out his favorite authors or Biblical commentators to teach him the Word—but rather Yahweh Himself. Here is a (probably provocative) quote from the well-known 19th century Christian leader George Muller (who was mightily used of God to found orphanages in England):
I had a great deal of time to study the Bible while I recovered (from an illness). During this time, God showed me that His Word alone is our standard of judgment in spiritual things. The Word can be explained only by the Holy Spirit who is the teacher of His people. I had not understood the work of the Holy Spirit in a practical way before this time.
The Lord enabled me to put this aspect of the Holy Spirit to the test by laying aside my commentaries and almost every other book and simply reading the Word of God. That first evening when I shut myself in my room to pray and meditate over the Scriptures, I learned more in a few hours than during the last several months.
The Psalmist actually prayed (the 8 verses involving the Piel imperative) that Yahweh would “Teach him His Word.” That, I take it, is what we should also do today.
This, of course, is not to say that our Christian friends and favorite commentators cannot help us in our desire to understand the Word of God. But it is to say that God desires me to ask Him to teach me His Word—and He will respond by doing so.
Of course, the goal is to learn from the Lord. (Note the three verses involving the QAL stem). It is, of course, possible to “hear” from God and not “learn” from Him. Note:
It is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught by God.” Therefore everyone who hears and has learned from the Father comes to Me (John 6:45).
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matt 11:29).
May we prayerfully seek to be taught and to learn from our Lord.
Bill Fiess teaches math in Virginia. He also writes hymns.