James emphasized the importance of drawing near to God through His Word. What better place to go next but to the Psalm that celebrates the Word?
At 176 verses, Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible. It is an alphabetic acrostic poem, which makes my English-teacher-nerdy heart happy.
When we teach acrostic poetry today, we typically focus on how a vertical line in a horizontal poem becomes a word or phrase of its own. That word or phrase represents a theme or a title or a not-so-hidden message. In the ancient East, alphabetic acrostics developed a vertical line of an alphabet within the horizontal structure of the poem. In Hebrew, there are 22 letters, so an alphabetic acrostic would have a minimum of 22 lines.
The poet of Psalm 119 went a step further. His acrostic was 22 stanzas of 8 lines each, with each of the lines of a stanza beginning with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Suddenly sonnets almost feel easy to write.
The picture with this post shows how the poem looks in Hebrew. Reading right to left, the first letter is clear at the beginning of each line. The site also has an audio version.
The poem itself is a study of the Word of God, from Aleph to Taw. It focuses on the joy found by keeping God’s statutes and the pain of turning away from them. The Bible Panorama (biblegateway.com) says Psalm 119 “is like writing the inventory of a huge treasure chest on the back of a postcard.” As poetry, the form is lost in translation, but the beauty of its content remains.
“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you” James 4:8. Let that be our goal.
3 thoughts on “Psalm 119. An acrostic poem celebrating God’s Word.”
Thank you for this info. I was reading Psalm 119:10 and noticed a note indicated that this Psalm was an acrostic poem. I became a curious because that wasn’t a word I had ever heard before. I did a google search and found your explanation. It helped tremendously! I also didn’t know that Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible. I’m enjoying reading Gods word for my spiritual walk, and it’s equally enjoying to understand the historical and contextual info of certain chapters. The curious nerd in me is so delighted. Thank you again!
From one curious nerd to another, thank you! Keep digging into the Word. It never gets old!
[…] 119 has a lot to say about clinging to God’s truth and God’s laws. The Psalmist used alphabetic acrostic poetry as the form for expressing his devotion to God’s word, the blessings for those who follow, […]