How to Read Psalm 119

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It’s the longest Psalm in the Psalter. It’s the longest “chapter” in the Bible. And at first, wading through all 176 verses can seem like a very daunting task!

There are 22 stanzas total, each stanza having been carefully composed by the author to correspond with the 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The first word of each stanza begins with the correlating Hebrew letter. For example, all the verses in the first stanza (verses 1–8) begin with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, Aleph. The psalmist may have chosen this unusual technique to communicate the completeness of what he had to say about this theme of God’s Word. In other words, Psalm 119 was designed to communicate from “A to Z” on the topic of God’s Word.

Without question, this kind of careful and deliberate composition alerts us to the importance and significance of the message contained in the psalm. At the heart of Psalm 119 is the truth that God’s Word is necessary for living a life that pleases God. But, the psalmist acknowledges apart from God’s enablement he is powerless to understand or obey what God has said. And so, as one commentator observed, “This man of God never besought God merely to teach him His word but to form within him the way of that Word.”¹

This psalm writer understood that the ultimate end of God’s Word was to shape his life.

Here’s four ways to let this Psalm shape yours.

Read it regularly.

The Word must be ingested by means of regular reading if it is going to impact our hearts. One way you can do this is to break it down into stanzas that you continually return to throughout the day.

Meditate on it carefully.

You’ll have to go way beyond mere familiarity in order for this psalm to have its intended effect on your daily living. For this to happen, you’ll have to meditate on the truths in each section. Think carefully about what each verse means, asking God to give you understanding!

Apply it personally.

The goal of repeated reading and careful study is genuine life change. As we read, we must come to depend on God to conform our life accordingly.  One of the most tragic things you could do as a Christian is to spend time reading and mediating on God’s Word and come away totally unchanged. One of the ways to facilitate this process of change is to personally pray for the things the psalmist requests from God.

Memorize it diligently.

At first, the idea of memorizing a portion of Scripture of this length is completely daunting to most of us. However, many have successfully memorized this psalm and have found the exercise to be of great spiritual benefit.

For example, John Ruskin was a layman who lived over 100 years ago. His mother taught him to memorize Scripture as a boy, and one of the portions she helped him memorize was Psalm 119. He spoke of this years later and said, “It is strange that of all the pieces of the Bible which my mother taught me, that which cost me most to learn, and which was to my childish mind, chiefly repulsive—the 119th Psalm—has now become of all the most precious to me in its overflowing and glorious passion of love for the Law of God.”²

William Wilberforce, the famous British politician who almost single-handedly brought down the practice of slavery in England spoke of the comfort he gained on occasions when he would quote the 119th psalm.

Perhaps the most unusual story of the benefit to memorizing this psalm is the story of George Wishart, Bishop of Edinburgh in the 18th century. He found himself in a difficult spot as he was being condemned to death. He was confident of a pardon that had not yet arrived, even at the moment he stood on the scaffold to meet his fate. Taking advantage of the time-honored tradition of allowing the condemned man to pray a psalm, Wishart chose to recite in prayer the text of the 119th psalm. Before he was finished praying, the delayed pardon arrived and his life was spared. One can only imagine his ill fortune had he not memorized this psalm!

Let these examples inspire you to take up the same task. Maybe what you memorize will not be Psalm 119, but whatever passage it is, let God press it on your heart, seal it in your mind, and make it evident in your life. One of the biggest takeaways from Psalm 119 is this: God’s Word has the power to absolutely transform your life!

Question: What passages have you memorized and how have those passages benefited you?

¹ The Word of God in the Child of God by George J. Zemek.
² Works by John Ruskin, Cook.


Sam Horn (BA, ’86; MA, ’88; PhD, ’95 from BJU; DMin, ’07 from The Master’s Seminary) joined the executive team at Bob Jones University in January of 2015 before accepting the role as president of The Master’s University and Seminary in June of 2020.

Sam served in both academic and pastoral roles throughout his ministry at BJU. Sam desires to use his experience in pastoral ministry, teaching and academic administration to recruit and train students for all disciplines and to embrace the mission of advancing the Gospel and serving the Church effectively.