For years, my heart would sort of sink when my annual Bible-reading cycle took me to Psalm 119. I found each of the acrostic sections to have such similar language I couldn’t make head or tail of it.
One year, I looked up all the original Hebrew words that began each verse of the sections— all the ‘aleph’ words, all the ‘bet’ words, etc.— and penciled them in my Bible, circling the English word they translated. For example, in the first verse, I circled the word ‘blessed’ which in Hebrew can be transliterated ‘ashray”, or in verse 27, the first word in Hebrew is ‘derech’ corresponding to the English words ‘the ways’. I looked up translations of Psalm 119 that tried to shoehorn the syntax into starting with the same word in English as it did in Hebrew or that tried to find English words beginning with the same sound to start each verse.
It was an interesting exercise, but I still didn’t feel like the psalm was resonating with my spirit the way other psalms did.
One Saturday morning, I did a Google search on Psalm 119 and came across a video by Rabbi Mendel Kaplan called “The Secret Matrix of Psalm 119”. It was long and technical and culturally somewhat foreign to me, but God used it to help me understand at last what was missing in my reading of this glorious psalm. The gist of Rabbi Kaplan’s teaching can also be found on this Christian website just in case you were wondering whether it was a purely judaic interpretation.
Let me share with you what I learned, in the hope that God also deepens your understanding and appreciation for the genius of the Holy Spirit working through the psalmist.
For a lot of people, the Bible is either art or truth. For me, it's both, and I hope to persuade readers in both camps to see the other perspective.