My children introduced me to “The Song that Never Ends” when they were five and six. It was just a few lines that were repeated ad infinitum. It ranked right up there with “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” for its annoyance quotient. At least with “99 Bottles” one word changes each time and there is the expectation of it coming to the end when you reach that last bottle. Not so with this song.
Much like other things in life that just go on and on, like car repairs and bills that never end. You just finish one repair and pay one bill and another shows up. Only death frees us from the endless cycle of bills. Or like the number Pi.
Or the month of February. Even though it’s the shortest month of the year, it seems to drag on forever with dark, dreary winter days.
Psalm 119 can seem like that song, it goes on and on and on with seemingly no end in sight. The longest psalm in the psaltery, it is considered a poetic masterpiece by some, a hodge-podge by others. Both are true. The psalm is 22 stanzas long with each stanza containing 8 lines. Each line in each section begins with the same letter of the alphabet. As such it is a masterpiece of acrostic poetry, a Hebrew form of poetry.
The equivalent in English would be if you were to write a poem 26 stanzas long with 8 lines in each stanzas and each line of each stanza beginning with subsequent letters of the alphabet starting with A and ending with Z. The thought of attempting such a feat, boggles the mind, though I do find it intriguing. How to come up with 8 lines that start with X, Y or Z?
In order to maintain this poetic structure, cohesiveness of message is sacrificed at times, understandably so. And so the poem ends up a hodge-podge under a general unifying theme of law. God’s law is a gift of love to God’s people. It claims them as belonging to God.
It’s understandable that readers that are not aware of the literary structure may not appreciate this psalm as the tour-de-force that it is. Much is lost in translation. I don’t know Hebrew, but would love to be able to read this work in its original. Given the flaws in content, there are some beautiful, memorable passages.
- “Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end.” (33)
- “Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise.” (41)
- “The Lord is my portion; I promise to keep your words.” (57)
- “Let your steadfast love be ready to comfort me according to your promise to your servant. Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight.” (76-77)
- Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. (97-98)
- How sweet are you wrods to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth.” (103)
- “Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light to my path.” (105)
- “The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple. With open mouth I pant, because I long for your commandments.” (130-131)
- “Consider how I love your precepts! Preserve my life according to your steadfast love.” (159)
- “My tongue will sing of your word for all your commandments are right.” (172)
It is a tribute to God’s law and God’s love.
And so we begin the never ending month of February with a never ending psalm. February will come to an end, this psalm will come to an end, our life will one day come to an end. What doesn’t end is God’s steadfast love.
What else in your life seems to go on forever?