Psalm 119: Let’s Linger

Editor’s Note:This is a post in a weeklong series on Psalm 119. Click here for more.

By Jaime Sherman

When my husband and I shopped at IKEA in Portland last weekend, I noticed a COVID-19 sign upon entering that read: “Let’s not linger.” The sign communicated the antithesis of what we want for you, the women of UFC, as you approach God’s Word. We want you to linger.

This summer we’ve encouraged you to spend a little time in the Psalms each weekday. We prayed for you that as you set aside time to linger over the poetic and often raw words and sentences of the psalms you would learn more about who God is and who you are in Him. We purposefully planned to feature Psalm 119 in the final week of our Summer in the Psalms study because we hoped you would linger in this long and incredibly rich text. 

This is the week, and we have a special gift for you from our very own Sara Nelson, lending her voice, and Matt Gley, putting it all together, with an audio recording of Psalm 119 in the English Standard Version (ESV). We hope you will listen to it — and read the text — at least once each day. This may seem daunting as this is the longest chapter in the Bible with 176 verses, but you can do this! Here are a few suggestions and a little background on Psalm 119 to make your time with the Lord fruitful:

Now, before Monday arrives, print out a copy of Psalm 119 from one of the many online Bible sites. I typically study from the ESV, but for this week, I suggest you print the NIV because it includes the Hebrew characters and English renderings at the beginning of each section. More on that later! Having a printed copy will allow you to reference it throughout the week, make notes, underline verses, and circle recurring words. For some learning styles, interacting with the text through pen — or even paint brush — helps bring the words alive to sink them deep into your heart and habits. For those who learn best through listening, the recording will be an important tool for you in the coming week but will also help every learning style because it can be set to repeat throughout the day as you drive, work out, or complete tasks around the house.

Start  your “lingering” time with prayer. Ask God to meet you in the text and show you who He is, who you are in Him, and how you can apply the words you read to your daily life.

Read and/or listen to the entire chapter at least once each day. You may consider reading it in a different translation each day. Here are a few other options, though there are many more you could choose from:

  • NASB 
  • NKJV
  • The Message (While this is a paraphrase, not a word-for-word translation, reading the text in a paraphrase in our modern language once during the week may help you understand the words even better.)
  • ICB (The International Children’s Bible is the one I had close by as a child, and it’s a great choice if you want to include a young person in your study this week. It’s never too early to hear God’s Word spoken over you!)

I’ve provided links from both (an excellent choice if you choose the print button for the full text without ads) and (my favorite, easy-to-use site for Hebrew word study).

As you read, watch for words or verses that pop out to you and note them in your Bible or on the printed version. Here’s an example from the first eight verses of Psalm 119:

Blessed are those whose way is blameless,

    who walk in the law of the Lord!

Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,

    who seek him with their whole heart❤️,

who also do no wrong,

    but walk in his ways!

You have commanded your precepts

    to be kept diligently.

Oh that my ways may be steadfast

    in keeping your statutes!

Then I shall not be put to shame,

    having my eyes 👁 fixed on all your commandments.

I will praise you with an upright heart ❤️,

    when I learn your righteous rules.

I will keep your statutes;

    do not utterly forsake me!

I note how immediately this psalm is active, not passive. I have a choice to walk in God’s ways, to fix my eyes on His best, to seek Him with my whole heart, to keep His law, and to praise Him. Here I see that my choices aren’t casual but committed:

  • I praise with a whole and upright heart.
  • I keep His precepts diligently.
  • My way is steadfast.

I also mark in red how seven different words are used in just the first eight verses of Psalm 119 for God’s Word. In the ESV these words are law, testimonies, ways, precepts (twice), statutes, commandments, rules.

Highlighting, underlining, and circling can happen quickly as I read or slowly as I parse the text a bit each day. Psalm 119 is divided into 22, 8-verse sections, each beginning with a different Hebrew letter from aleph to taw. In the English language, these divisions between verses seem to provide us with a place to pause and consider. In the heart language of the original hearers of Psalm 119, the divisions were of great significance as a different Hebrew letter introduced each stanza and then each line of that stanza in this love poem about God’s Word.

So much more can be said about these 22 Hebrew letters and their significance paired with each of these stanzas if you want to do a little extra online study! For now, it’s enough to say this is a beautiful, poetic song of worship and prayer to God that I believe grows in richness the more times it is read. Even in the English language, these words of truth endure and can change our lives as we linger.

I’m excited to study Psalm 119 with you in the coming week. May you set aside time to linger and to learn. I believe your time will be well spent!