His Word endures forever!

Psalm 119 declares the full sufficiency of God’s Word in the life of the believer.

Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible; indeed, there are many biblical books that are much shorter than this single psalm. Charles Spurgeon once told the story of George Wishart, a bishop of Edinburgh in the 17th century, who was condemned to death along with his patron, the Marquis of Montrose. When Wishart was on the scaffold, he made use of a custom of the times that permitted the condemned to choose a psalm to be sung. He chose Psalm 119. Before two-thirds of the psalm was sung, a pardon arrived, and his life was spared.

David Livingstone, pioneer missionary to Africa, won a Bible from his Sunday school teacher for repeating Psalm 119 by heart when he was only nine years old. This actually reminds me of my youth. When I was growing up in the Soviet Union, it was not easy to get a Bible. Bibles were not published; indeed, they were prohibited. But when believers came together for worship, usually in private homes, they had Bibles. So, when I was around five, I was obsessed with the desire to get a Bible of my own.

I learnt that only church leaders could get one. So the next time I saw Pastor Kulakov – who was the unofficial leader of the church for many years1 – I asked him if he could help me get a Bible. He told me, “You had better learn to read first, and as soon as you learn to read well, you will get your Bible.” So I started to study diligently. Occasionally, the leaders of the church would meet in our home, and Pastor Kulakov would be there to chair the meetings. But it was almost impossible to get close to him, because everyone wanted to talk with him. I tried to figure out how I could make known to him that I already had learned to read well and that was time for him to get me a Bible. I noticed that occasionally Pastor Kulakov would come out of the meetings to go to the rest room. I decided: this is my chance. So as soon as I saw some movement, I stood outside the rest room, reading a book – thus sending Pastor Kulakov a signal: it’s time to give me a Bible.

In those days, the Bible was not only spiritual food, but its message was also the actual key that opened doors of house churches and homes of believers. You see, the church had to operate underground. Special agencies of the government were trying to infiltrate the church. If you as a believer visited another town or city, you would naturally try to find believers and worship with them.

Usually, before traveling, you would talk to your pastor, and he would give you the addresses of some believers. Arriving at the door of a believer, you would knock. Then you would hear a voice asking, “Who is there?” Usually you would say, “I am an Adventist; your brother or your sister!” Occasionally you would hear some more questions, such as: “Who gave you my address? What is the memory verse for this week? What was the morning devotional reading for today? Do you know the fourth commandment?” But if the owner of the house still had some doubts, reciting Psalm 119 would do it for sure! It was a master key.

One of the striking characteristics of Psalm 119 is that it is written in an acrostic form. The 176 verses of the Psalm are arranged in 22 groups of eight. All eight verses of the first stanza start with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, “Aleph.” Each line of the eight verses of the second stanza starts with the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, “Beth,” and so on until all 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet have been used.

Why 22 stanzas of eight and not of seven? The word “seven” in Hebrew comes from a word that means “to be full, satisfied, to have enough of.” Thus, it would be very appropriate to use 22 stanzas of seven! However, the word “eight” in Hebrew comes from a word that means “to make fat, to super-abound.” Thus, “seven” is enough, but “eight” is more than enough. There is superabundance beyond completion in the Word of God. Here in the Word of God you will find every bit of advice and wisdom you need in superabundance!

The book of Psalms has both the shortest chapter in the Bible (Psalm 117) and the longest chapter (Psalm 119).

The shortest chapter invites all nations, all people, to praise God, “for His loving kindness is great toward us and the truth of the Lord is everlasting! (It is constant, it is never changing).” The longest chapter praises God’s Word, His revelation, His law, His guidance, putting special emphasis on the fact that His Word endures forever.

The full sufficiency

A remarkable feature of Psalm 119 is that almost every verse of the psalm refers to the Word of God, to the Bible. There are a number of synonyms for Scripture used in this psalm. Some argue for eight, others, including the rabbis, see 10 synonyms for Scripture. For example: Law – Torah, 25 times; Word – Dabar, 24 times; Sayings, Promise or another Hebrew word for Word – Imra’, 19 times; Rulings or Ordinances, 23 times; Testimonies, 23 times; Commandments, 22 times; Decrees or Statutes, 21 times; Precepts or Charges, 21 times and so on….

Franz Delitzsch wrote, “Here we have set forth in inexhaustible fullness what the Word of God is to a man and how a man is to behave himself in relation to it.”

Psalm 119 declares the full sufficiency of God’s Word in the life of the believer who loves and obeys it. Who does not remember the words of Psalm 119, such as, “Your Word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (verse 11), or “This is my comfort in my affliction, that Your Word has revived me” (verse 50).

The psalm speaks of the internal delight of God’s Word. It makes a special emphasis on the fact that God’s Word cleanses the heart, consoles the soul, comforts the spirit, conquers all fears, counsels, enlightens, empowers the mind, gives understanding, encourages the heart, incites zeal, enriches the life, brings hope, increases faith, supports in persecution, infuses peace, shows the way, leads to truth, satisfies fully, sustains firmly, gives life, protects from destruction, protects from evildoers, revives, provides mercy, and fills with joy!

The most fascinating feature of Psalm 119 is the fact that exactly in the middle of the psalm, in the heart of the psalm, we find the following statement in verse 89, which actually is the foundation of all that has been said so far and will be said in the following verses until the end of the psalm: “Forever, O Lord, Your Word is settled in heaven” (NKJV). “Your Word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. Your faithfulness continues throughout all generations” (verses 89, 90 NIV) “You have established the earth, and it stands…” (verse 90 ESV). This is the heart of the whole Psalm! This is the real foundation of all that has been said in the Psalm.

Eternal nature of God’s Word

In this stanza, the focus is on the eternal and infinite nature of God’s Word. God’s Word is eternal and stands firm in the heavens, forever immutable, always new, fresh, and relevant. God’s faithfulness is a synonym for Scripture, meaning God is forever committed to keeping His promises through all generations, including the 21st century. As God established the earth by His spoken Word and it stood fast, so also it is and ever will be with His written Word. It also will stand fast and firm through all generations.

Note here the reference to heaven, to God Himself, and to His Faithfulness. It actually means that the One who inspired the Word, the One who sends us His Word is still alive, and as long as He is alive His Word will also be alive and ever relevant. This is why the psalmist in the same 119 psalm cries out, “Open my eyes, that I may see” (verse 18).

Because the One who stands behind this Word is alive, we should always expect new discoveries as we embark on a journey of Bible study. There never will be a time when we can say we know all that the Bible has to say. As we open the Word, our prayer should always be: “Open our eyes, that we may see.” Since God’s Word is eternal in heaven, it can also be clearly trusted here on earth! Martin Luther once stated: “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me. The Bible is not antique or modern. It is eternal.”

Ellen White wrote: “The Word of God is the only fixed, changeless thing that the world knows. Like its Author in character it is ‘the same yesterday, today, and forever.’”2 “Man’s word fails, and he who takes the assertions of man as his dependence may well tremble, for he will one day be as a shipwrecked vessel. But God’s Word is infallible and endures forever. Christ declares, ‘Verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled’ (Matthew 5:18). God’s Word will endure through the ceaseless ages of eternity.”3

John Charles Ryle, an Anglican bishop, once was asked what will happen since the Bible is under attack by the higher critics. He replied, “Give me the … theory of biblical inspiration with all its difficulties, rather than doubt. I accept the difficulties and I humbly wait for their solution. But while I wait, I am standing on rock.” We have a choice: a solid rock or ever-changing human theories and philosophies.

Everything changes in this life. Nothing is solid. Kingdoms come and go, leaders come and go. I was born in a country that does not exist anymore. Then later I went to another country for my college education. However, this country also does not exist anymore. The Soviet leaders promised the people a nice retirement. The people worked hard, believing their leaders. However, when the time for retirement came, those who promised were gone, and the country that promised was gone. Not so the Bible!

The One who speaks through the Scriptures, the One who makes promises in the Bible, is still alive! He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Only He and His Word are unchangeable, immovable, and totally reliable. Human theories, as popular as they may be, do not last very long: philosophies come and go. There is only one solid rock! The book of Daniel, in Chapter 5, describes an interesting occasion when Belshazzar the king meets with Belteshazzar the prophet. Belshazzar the king needs someone to interpret the handwriting on a wall. He promises Belteshazzar the prophet riches and gold, a very high position in the kingdom. In fact, the third-highest position in the country.

See the intrigue of the story: Daniel knows that the end of the kingdom has come. An army has already surrounded the city. The kingdom is almost taken. But Belshazzar the king keeps promising: “… Now if you are able to read the inscription and make its interpretation known to me, you will be clothed with purple and wear a necklace of gold around your neck, and you will have authority as the third ruler in the kingdom” (Dan. 5:16).

Look at Daniel’s reaction: “Then Daniel answered and said before the king, ‘Keep your gifts for yourself, or give your rewards to someone else; however, I will read the inscription to the king and make the interpretation known to him’”(Dan. 5:17).

The king promises what he actually does not have. How often we face the same choice: this world offers us very attractive things, and it seems we are tempted to follow the idea of the day, forgetting that this world has nothing to offer that will last. I will never forget the day, when as a soldier in the Soviet army, the key military officers – after many hours of brainwashing and interrogations – invited me in to the office of the chief officer of the unit and told me, “Don’t be so stupid; do not destroy your young life. Just forget your God, at least for a while, while you are in the military. We will make your life wonderful: we will give you vacations, a pleasant life, and you will have a nice future … but with your God you will lose all of that.” I ask myself today, where are those who made these promises to me? But my God is still on the throne!

Enduring promises

The blessings Psalm 119 promises are all real today. If you need wisdom, understanding, and knowledge today, Psalm 119 tells you where it is found: “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands are always with me and make me wiser than my enemies. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts” (vs. 97-100, NIV).

If you are lost today and cannot find the way, Psalm 119 tells you where to get a state-of- the-art GPS: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (vs. 105). “Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me” (vs. 133, NIV).

If you need help or protection today, Psalm 119 tells you where to get the best insurance policy: “You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word. Away from me, you evildoers, that I may keep the commands of my God! Sustain me, my God, according to your promise, and I will live; do not let my hopes be dashed. Uphold me, and I will be delivered; I will always have regard for your decrees” (vs. 114-117, NIV).

One of my former students, who is pastoring now in one of the Caucasus countries, told me a recent experience. He had started to give Bible studies to one young man. The father of this young man was in prison for the second time; both times he was sentenced for murder. When he was finally released from prison, he came home and noticed a change in the life of his son. After finding out that his son was attending an Adventist Church, he was devastated. For the father, it was an unknown sect. So he decided to save his son from what he thought was a dangerous sect. Talking to his son did not help. Then he started to beat his son, which did not help either. So he thought, “Well, if I continue this way I might kill my son. Is it not better to kill the pastor who influenced my son so strongly?”

So the father decided to kill the pastor. He already had enough experience. He took a knife, which was more like a small sword and forced the pastor to get into his car. They started talking. While they talked, the pastor tried to talk about the Word of God – which actually is, as the Bible tells us, “a double-edged sword.” The father tried to get hold of his sword, but as soon as he touched it, his hand got numb and he could not move it. While they continued talking, the “double-edged sword” of the Bible got hold of the father. Last year the father got baptized. After the baptism, when the church members congratulated him, he asked for a microphone and said, “I have a gift which I would like to give to the pastor. This is the sword, which I was trying to use to kill him. But the other sword, the double-edged one, the Word of God….”

Dear friends, God’s Word endures forever. His sword is powerful enough.

Artur Stele (Ph.D., Andrews University) is a vice president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and the director of the Biblical Research Institute. Before joining the General Conference he served the church in Russia and was the president of the Euro-Asia Division for many years. His email: stelea@gc.adventist.org.

REFERENCES:

  1. After the demise of Communism, Mikhail Kulakov was the president of the Euro-Asia Division.
  2. Ellen G. White, The Bible Echo, May 28, 1894, paragraph 1.
  3. ------, Review and Herald, February 6, 1900, paragraph 3.