URC Daily Devotion Sunday 22 January 2023

Sunday 22 January 2023 Psalm 119
1 All your commandments, Father almighty,
Bring to your children healing and blessing;
Christians who keep them find here their comfort.

2 Daily instruct us as your disciples:
Each of your statutes stands firm for ever;
Faithful your promise, free your forgiveness.

3 God of all mercy, grant me your guidance;
How can a young man keep his way holy?
I have found treasure in your instruction.

4 Joy comes to nations knowing your judgments;
Keeping them brings us close to your kingdom
Laws that spell freedom, true liberation.

5 My heart is listening for you each morning;
Never desert me; speak in the night-time;
Open my eyes, Lord, then lead me onwards.

6 Put right my passions by your clear precepts;
Quell my rebellions, rescue me quickly;
Raise and restore me, mighty Redeemer.

7 Saviour whose Spirit gave us the Scriptures,
Train me to trust them when I am tempted;
Unless you helped me, I would go under.

8 Vain are my own ways; yours is the victory;
Wonderful Counsellor, you are my wisdom;
Your Word shall teach me; I will obey you.

Christopher Idle © 1980 The Jubilate Group (admin. Hope Publishing Company)
CCLI licence number 1064776


If we were to ask the folk in our church congregations to name their favourite Psalm, would Psalm 119 be foremost among them? Its sheer length can intimidate: at 176 verses it’s the longest chapter in the Bible, let alone the Psalter. And I wonder whether some Christians (particularly perhaps those in the Reformed Tradition) might even feel its focus upon relentless observance of God’s Law to be – well – somewhat graceless?

So it’s perhaps surprising to find, in today’s setting, those 176 verses distilled to just eight 3-line stanzas, winsome and wonderful. Indeed, Christopher Idle’s paraphrase-precis helps us to see that Psalm 119 is nothing if not graceful.

It’s graceful in its subject-matter: God’s Law, also named here as commandments, statutes, instruction, judgments, precepts and so on. Together these are expressions of God’s Torah – the entirety of God’s guidance for right living. And we’re reminded here that Torah is loving gift, not stern imposition: it comprises “Laws that spell freedom, true liberation”.

Furthermore, it’s graceful in its structure: have you noticed that each line of the Psalm in today’s setting begins with a subsequent letter of the alphabet? (Only X and Z are missing – fair enough really!) This style of writing is known as an acrostic, but it’s not just Christopher Idle’s idea: for in the Hebrew text of Psalm 119, remarkably, the eight lines of each stanza all begin with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet, before moving on to the next letter in the next stanza.

And lest we assume the writers (both Hebrew and English) are simply being clever, their choice of an acrostic form itself offers us an important insight. For just as, in the absence of smartphones or GPS, we might navigate an unfamiliar city by consulting an ‘A to Z’, so likewise God’s Torah – God’s instruction – is comprehensive enough to guide us through all of life.

Elegance. Ingenuity. Above all, Grace. Thanks be to God!

Prayer (in which the words may be read from first-to-last or from last-to-first)

We offer thanksgiving and praise, with obedience,
God of revelation.
A life-shaped Law, bearing witness:
gift divine, in joy and freedom.
Amen and Amen!
Freedom and joy in divine gift:
witness-bearing, Law-shaped life –
a revelation of God. 
Obedience, with praise and thanksgiving, offer we.


Today’s writer

The Rev’d Dominic Grant, Minister, Barnet URC and St Andrew’s Chesterfield Road URC


New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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