Psalm 118 (119 in Greek)


The longest of all the Psalms is Psalm 118, consisting of twenty-two stanzas of eight lines each. Every verse in each stanza begins with the same letter of the alphabet. There is a tradition that King David used this Psalm to teach his young son Solomon the alphabet – but not just the alphabet for writing letters: the alphabet of the spiritual life. The Psalm comprises an entire Kathisma (division of the Psalter) in Orthodox liturgical practice.

In Orthodox monasteries it is read daily at the Midnight Office: “At midnight I arose to give thanks unto You for the judgments of Your righteousness”. A major portion of Matins on Holy Saturday comprises chanting the entire psalm divided into three parts with Praises interspersed between each verse. The Psalm is also chanted with special solemnity at Orthodox funeral services. Psalm 118 is concerned entirely with the Law of God, the Torah. Its structural use of the alphabet serves here the purpose of asserting that the Law of God is the essential substance of human language. Language is a gift of God. Its primary function in the Bible is the formation of thought in accord with reality – and the world’s deepest reality is the Torah, the Law of God.

The final purpose of language is to lead man’s thought to the knowledge of God. In Psalm 118, Law and Word tend to be used interchangeably. Christians will insist that the eternal Law is really derived from God’s eternal thought, and that God’s eternal thought is His Word. The Torah, that is to say, speaks of Christ – the Law of God points to and is fulfilled in Christ. The final purpose of language is that all people may know Christ.

Throughout this whole Psalm the Law of God is described as the path to knowledge of the truth. It is the Law of God that “is a lamp unto my feet” that “gives light to my eyes”, “my meditation all the day”, “sweeter than honey to my mouth”, and “better unto me than thousands of gold and silver”. Almost every line also is constructed on an I-You polarity: “I keep Your precepts” – “You hold me up”, “teach me to do Your statutes” – “You have taught me”, and so on. The entire Psalm becomes a sustained I-You prayer.


Source: Lychnos October / November 2016