Psalms 119; 111; 112: Alphabetical Psalms
How many Psalms are in the book of Psalms? There is one Psalm much longer than the others, Ps. 119. Can you find it? How many verses has it? Do you notice anything else unusual about this Psalm? It is divided into twenty-two parts or sections. How many verses are in each section? The little word over each section is the name of a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. You would guess that Aleph and Beth, the names over the first two sections, are like our A and B. You would notice another thing if you saw the Psalm in the Hebrew Bible. Each verse in the Aleph section begins with Aleph, and each verse in the Beth section begins with Beth, and so with the other sections through the Psalm. This might be shown by printing the Beth section of the Psalm in this way:
There are other Psalms which might be printed in a way to show that they follow the alphabet.
So this 34th Psalm goes through the alphabet, with one extra verse at the end. Psalms 111 and 112 are also alphabetical.
But come back to our long Psalm. It tells us how precious the Lord's Word and His commandments are. We will read a few verses:
If a hymn-book were being made today, probably several smaller collections, some of them old and much loved collections, would be gathered into it. Much the same was done under the Lord's care in the forming of the Book of Psalms. The titles of the psalms suggest that there was a collection known as Psalms of David, and another of Psalms or Songs of Asaph, and another of Psalms and Songs for the sons of Korah. Asaph, Heman (Ps. 88), and Ethan (Ps. 89) are mentioned as three chief singers of David. The sons of Korah were other leaders of the temple worship. See how many Psalms you can find belonging to each of these groups.
Another group are called Hallelujah Psalms because they begin with Hallelujah or Praise ye the Lord. In this group, you will find Psalms 106, 111-113, 117, 135, 146-150. This includes the joyful songs of praise at the end of the Psalm-book. Another group have been called Royal Psalms, Psalms 93 to 100 (except 94) because they celebrate the Lord as King, several of them beginning with the words, "The Lord reigneth." One group of Psalms, the Pilgrim Psalms or Songs of Degrees, Psalms 120-134, are so interesting that we must take them for our next lesson.
There are the alphabetical Psalms. See what I have told the younger children about them. The alphabetical plan is carried out in various ways and more or less completely in nine Psalms. The most perfect example is the long 119th Psalm, the verses of each group beginning with the same letter, taking in order the twenty-two consonants of the Hebrew alphabet. One subject runs through this long Psalm; can you see what it is? Notice that almost every verse speaks of the Lord's law or word or commandments, testimonies, statutes, judgments or precepts, which all mean teachings of the Lord's Word. The whole Psalm is about the Lord's Word and its laws, telling how precious they are. Find a section of the Psalm which speaks especially of a young man and his use of the Lord's Word. What does the Psalm wear when it says, "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path"? (Verse 105) Read the last verse of the Psalm; does it remind you of a verse in the 23rd Psalm? and may the Lord's commandments be the shepherd's rod and staff to protect us and lead us home?
Shall we think of the alphabetical arrangement of a Psalm as a merely literary feature, or can it have a spiritual value? It suggests that the theme of the Psalm is applied to the whole range of experience. The Lord is the Alpha and Omega (the first and last Greek letters), meaning that He is present in all things of life, from beginning to end, the first and the last. (Rev. 1:8, 11) Letters express human affections and thoughts, vowels especially the affections and consonants the thoughts. Our Psalm goes through the alphabet, pausing upon each letter. Its theme must apply to all human states, and the theme in this Psalm is the Lord's Word. (R. 38) In this number, direct reference is made to the alphabetical Psalms, especially to Psalms 119 and 111. It may be evident that the first section of Ps. 119 relates to childhood and to the use of the Word to children. The next section speaks of the young man and his use of the Word. It may not be possible to recognize the state described in each section of the Psalm, but they must cover the whole range of life and the value of the Lord's Word in each.
We should make some study of the several words by which the Psalm refers to the Word and its teachings. Swedenborg gives us much help, especially in his explanation of Ps. 19:7-9, where several of the same words occur. Law is a fundamental term meaning the Ten Commandments and other laws of spiritual life. Precepts are particulars of such truth. Testimonies are truths which bear witness concerning the Lord, especially the commandments in the ark. Judgments are civil laws and sometimes laws of ceremony, and statutes are laws of religious ceremonies and worship. It is especially important to associate law, precepts, and testimonies with the commandments and vital laws of spiritual life, and statutes with laws of religious ceremonies. (A. 8972, 9417; E. 392, 696, 946)
Should we expect this Psalm of the Lord's Word to close with some expression of the great power and glory of the Word; and is the last verse of the Psalm a surprise? Yet this verse may describe the deepest sense of need of the Word and the fullest dependence upon its power. The shepherd's rod and staff in Ps. 23:4 are Divine truth spiritual and natural. (E. 726)
The relation of the long Psalm to the Lord is indicated in Prophets and Psalms in these words: "That the Lord fulfilled the Law, that is, the Word from its first to its last things, and was therefore hated, and suffered temptation, and that thus He united the Human to His Divine."