God uses figures of speech in His Word to point out what He wants emphasized. The ones that follow emphasize important points germane to the proper understanding of Psalm 119.
As we mentioned in the Day 3 teaching, the use of 14 different Hebrew synonyms is the figure of speech synonymia. This repetition of words similar in sense, but different in sound and origin, emphasizes the singular focus upon the Word of God and its use in bringing blessedness to God’s people. Although not one of them separately can portray the magnitude of the magnificence of His Word, collectively they convey the fullness of the divine revelation that is the Word of God.
The first three verses of Psalm 119 are an introduction. It is an example of the figure of speech benedictio or blessing. It is an expression of feeling by benediction or blessing. What an exuberant way to open this psalm.
Psalms 119:1-3 [ALEPH]:
Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD.
2 Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart.
3 They also do no iniquity: they walk in his ways.
Each of these first three sentences should properly end with an exclamation point! What a description! Blessed are they . . . Blessed are they . . . That’s what the rest of the psalm declares: the blessedness of the one who keeps God’s Word. God declares the blessedness of those who walk in His ways. That’s what the psalm is about, the blessedness of those who keep the Word of God. This blessing invites the believers to follow the psalmist’s example and use the Word of God to build their relationship with God. God declares in no uncertain way the blessedness that awaits those who keep His testimonies and seek him with their whole heart.
Another thing to note about these first three verses are that they are written in the third person. (These first three verses use “they” and “him” and “his.”) After verse three, the form of the psalm changes. It is no longer written in third person; it is written in first person. Starting with verse four, every verse is spoken to God except one, verse 115 which mentions God, though it is not spoken to Him. Herein the psalmist turns aside to speak to evildoers, but he still mentions God. This is the figure of speech apostrophe. It is “when the speaker turns away from the real auditory whom he is addressing (which is in this case God), and speaks to an imaginary one. It is a sudden breaking off in the course of speech diverting it to some new person or thing.” After speaking to God throughout the entire psalm after the introduction, the psalmist turns aside to speak to evildoers.
This apostrophe emphasizes the importance of the chord of three notes which is composed of the psalmist, God, and God’s Word. These three elements harmonize into a beautiful melody that resounds throughout the psalm. The next figure gives us instruction on how to read God’s Word.
The exclamation or interjection “O” shows the earnestness with which the psalmist addresses God and makes requests and vows to Him. “O” occurs 25 times in Psalm 119. What does “O” mean? “O” doesn’t mean anything, but it has a specific function. “O” is used before a name in direct address, especially in solemn or poetic language which Psalms is, to lend earnestness to an appeal. Of the 24 times that Jehovah occurs 21 of them are preceded by “O” in direct address. When it occurs with requests and vows, it shows an emotional investment in what is said. It communicates intensity, involvement, longing, emotion, passion, etc. What a lesson for us! If we want to develop our relationship with God as the psalmist did, it will require us to put some “umph,” some verve, some commitment into it.
E. W. Bullinger also lists “behold” and “yea” as examples of the figure of speech asterismos. The figure occurs when instead of the use of a star another word is used to direct the eye and the heart to some particular point or subject. “Behold” is used in verse 40 to call attention to how the psalmist longed for God’s precepts. “Yea” is used in verses 34, 103 and 127 to affirm and call attention to other poignant statements.
By Wayne Clapp