Above and Beyond
You may not start with loving the Word. But if you think about it continually, love will grow. Flip the switch for your own spiritual benefit. Start the engine.
There is a field in Southwest Arkansas called “Crater of the Diamonds State Park.” For a small fee, people wander around in the field or scratch the surface, looking for diamonds. Some six hundred have been found this year, including a 2.8-carat one recently. The diamonds are usually just sitting on the surface or near the surface. They don’t look like our concept of sparkling diamonds. They look like pebbles because they are uncut and unpolished. No heavy equipment is allowed. But if equipment were allowed, you can imagine the increased yield with a more intense approach to the search.
This story is a parable. Sometimes we, by choice, only just scratch the surface in Bible study. Even then, we still find some gems. We can do the readings faithfully but never ask questions. Questions like, “What is the lesson for me?” We can go decades reading a difficult portion of Scripture and never pursue such questions. We can passively sit in classes and never engage in ideas that are brought up to make them our own.
What is the lesson for me?
Today, our Scriptural field to explore is Psalms 119:97-104.
First, there is the Psalm’s organization. Everything we learn about the organization helps us strengthen our understanding of its meaning. The structure helps us remember it, zero in on its key points, and ponder them.
It begins with a topic sentence in verse 97. This is what the section is about.
“O how love I thy law! It is my meditation all the day.”
It then moves to the body of the message in verses 98-102, which supports the idea of the topic sentence.
And finally, to the refrain in verses 103-104. This conclusion summarizes the preceding ideas in a slightly expanded form (connected to the key idea but not identical Wording). It also serves as a divider between this section and the next.
Recognizing this organizational outline helps us understand and remember the lessons of this particular psalm for us.
The Overall Structure
Then, there is the structure borrowed from the other twenty-one sections of Psalm 119. Every verse has one of nine synonyms for God’s Word in it. This lets us know the overall theme of the entire Psalm 119 is the Word of God.
This Psalm introduces us to the Law, testimonies, commandments, precepts (twice), the Word (twice), and judgments. Everything else said in this section weaves its way around supporting this critical backbone.
This psalm section is poetry. It’s unlike rhyming metric English poetry. Hebrew poetry depends on couplets (two connected sentences), which is no exception. A statement is given first, and then the second half of the couplet restates and expands the key idea: sometimes as cause and effect, sometimes as a building thought, and other times as a supporting double negative. Sometimes it’s a triplet.
Here is what is important for us unpoetic Goyim to know. It’s as if there is a tacit “and furthermore” between the two halves of the poetic couplet. Hebrew poetry is somewhat lost on us, but understanding the “and furthermore” nature of the couplets will deepen your understanding of the message. The whole purpose of poetry of any kind is to intensify the message.
So, there is no rhyme, but certainly, there is a meter—a rhythm caused by repetition. We have already noticed the eight repeated synonyms for God’s Word. That creates a rhythm. There’s more. Each verse begins with the Hebrew letter MEM. Why? It’s poetic repetition and a memory aid.
“Above and Beyond”—MEM
Each of the eight verses in the Psa 119:97-104 section begins with the Hebrew letter MEM. This is done using only two Hebrew Words. MA is found twice, the attached preposition ME six times. Both words promote the theme. MA is an exclamation (e.g., “oh, how great!”). It is in the topic sentence verse and the refrain verse only. It acts as a bookend for our MEM section.
ME is a one-letter attached preposition (literally “from”). Hebrew often is very flexible. ME is such an example. It describes things distant “from” (or above) the ordinary. The MEM section is about all things superior or things “above and beyond.”
The psalm is also intended to be set to music. We cannot nowadays duplicate the music or even know which instruments were used for each psalm. But we do know they did not have pianos and organs in that day. Music is powerful. It may be the only way to reach the depths of our emotions. It also helps us remember the words. This section of the Psalms is obviously meant to be remembered. Our Hymn 59 is as close as we can get in this era.
So, let’s dig down and do a little verse-by-verse examination to learn the lessons given.
Verse 97 (The topic sentence)
“O how love I thy law! It is my meditation all the day.”
This phrase is an exhortation to value the Word and to think about it a lot. What is the MEM message? MEM teaches us that the Word is better, superior, and above and beyond. What about this verse is above and beyond normal life? The emotion of love is a higher motivator than guilt, and the frequency is higher than if you were compelled. To the best of your ability, keep spiritual thoughts in your mind. That is the MEM message.
Aspire to higher levels of emotion for God’s Word. Think about it continually. How much should we study the Word? Five hours a day? Three? Making rules is not the way to approach the question. Let your love for the Word decide how much you meditate and on what. Let desire rule, not rules.
When I met my wife, Linda, and we fell in love, I used to be thrilled to get a letter from her. I saved them and read them multiple times. At first, I would wonder what something she wrote actually meant. But the more I got to know her, the more I understood. That includes the time she sent me an envelope full of California beach sand, as well as the time she sent me a baggie with a shark’s eyeball from science class! Oh, what a sense of humor she has. No one had to force me to read those letters.
The same is true about God’s Word. We read it often because we love Him. Conversely, we love Him increasingly because we read often. Our love for God’s Word, and for Him, grows with thinking about His Word. So, it’s circular. Love generates a desire to read continually. As we read, we increase our love for God’s Word.
You may not start with loving the Word. But if you think about it continually, love will grow. Flip the switch for your own spiritual benefit. Start the engine. I hope that in your experience, you have spontaneous “Emmaus moments,” where reacting to the Word makes your heart burn within you. The prodigal son parable moves me like this. The story of how Jesus responded to the woman taken in adultery moves me similarly.
Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), a famous Baptist preacher, said this:
This is a supporting verse to the previous topic sentence. It’s a MEM message of better results through the Scriptures.
Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than my enemies: for they are ever with me.
I have wondered, “Do I have enemies?” Maybe there are people who like me less than others, but surely, not enemies. I can’t think of any who are out to kill me. Maybe the psalmist had these kinds of enemies.
So how valuable is this verse for me? Actually, we all have the same enemy–our propensity to sin! Our fleshly weakness, which we inherited from Adam. With this enemy, we are at war.
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Eph 6:12).
Jesus used the wisdom of the Scriptures to defeat temptation in the wilderness. He said, “It is written” four times during those temptations, as he quoted the Law. Spend a lot of time in Scripture, and you’ll be stronger against sin. Spend a lot of time in the “wisdom” Scriptures (Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes), and when tempted, they will come to mind and strengthen you. It’s our sword of the spirit, and we must arm ourselves.
Defense against sin comes through the Word.
What is the MEM message? Defense against sin comes through the Word. This statement seems like a simple statement, but if so, why are we not better at it? Are the Scriptures a way to distance ourselves FROM sin? Better than gritting our teeth and using raw willpower.
This verse is also a supporting verse to the topic sentence and another “above and beyond” benefit of time spent thinking about the Word of God.
Bible study is personal. No one can meditate on the Scriptures for you. Personal involvement is superior to passive involvement. How many days after Bible School do you remember the final points of a great class? Sometimes, but not always, things will stick with you. Because our speakers are all human beings, they sometimes say things that are not correct. The pressure is on our speakers to find new creative ideas, which can leave them out on the limb. Sometimes our teachers have “disciples,” followers that are strongly disposed to accept their point of view without question.
Even barely removed from Christ’s day, this was a problem.
So the MEM lesson of this verse is that it’s better to rely on your own meditations of the Word of God. I am not suggesting we should never listen to good Bible students, but do your own work. Your own meditations are more valuable to you and more retainable. When you are attending a class and you know the topic, I suggest you read up on the subject beforehand and start collecting questions.
I understand more than the ancients because I keep thy precepts.
Our “ancients” might be the Christadelphian “pioneers,” who absolutely deserve respect. They have done much for the Truth’s formation. But we are not to endorse blind acceptance of every idea.
obedience is above and beyond head knowledge
The emphasis is on the second half of the couplet. Some lessons can only be learned by experience. This verse highlights the difference between academic knowledge and life-lesson experience. The MEM message is obedience is above and beyond head knowledge.
There are certain skills you can only learn by experience. You can’t learn to play the guitar by reading about it. Only hands-on experience will do. Similarly, who can really know what it means to “esteem other better than themself” (Phil 2:3) unless they truly experience this?
Who can really know what it means to “love the Lord with all your heart and soul and mind” unless they try it?
Who can know what it’s like to seek “peace with all men” (Heb 12:14) without sacrificing one’s ego?
There is a cost. Every denial of sin requires the personal sacrifice of your will; you can’t learn unless you try it. Counting the cost of purity is an “above and beyond” wisdom that grows with experience.
I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I may keep thy Word.
This is a supporting verse connected to the previous one. The ability to keep the Word comes from walking away from all evil. It turns the circle from verse 100 backward. We have to try to avoid sin all the time, in all its manifestations. This pursuit gives you “above and beyond” power in your war against evil.
If you need to break a sin habit, go “cold turkey.” Cut it out immediately and completely, even if you are losing something you really enjoy in your life. Don’t allow sin to hang around. Don’t give it life. The battle against sin is an all-out war. There are not some sins that we should tolerate and make excuses for. Paul wrote, “make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” (Rom 13:14).
We shouldn’t pick which sins we will avoid and which we will allow. Sin kills—all of it. If you want an “above and beyond” life, pursue absolute purity in all things. It is not material to say, “Well, it’s impossible, so I give up.” God is merciful and honors our intentions. He is the proverbial “Father” in the prodigal son parable, eagerly waiting for us to return to Him. Your success will be “above and beyond” those who make room for their favorite sins.
I have not departed from thy judgments: for thou hast taught me.
Let your love for his Word move you.
This verse is the last of three verses mentioning obedience, and each adds a unique perspective. This verse emphasizes obedience as a result of the direct teaching of God. This is something we don’t talk about much. Study hard and study often. Let your love for his Word move you. But God can bless your intention with a gift of knowledge. I think He participates in your spiritual growth as a partner, not promoting a lack of zeal for His Word. No laziness is allowed.
Jesus said to Peter:
Does He do this for us when we preach? I suggest yes, but only if we load our minds with His Word first. When we open our Bible and believe God will speak to us through His Word, there is much power “above and beyond” our intellectual ability. That is the MEM idea—Bible understanding “above and beyond” what we could find on our own.
I have experienced this in a simple kind of process. When pondering something, I seemingly trip over just the right verse in the readings. Sometimes a good idea will pop up in my head at odd times, even at night or when I am walking. Encourage this experience. Pray for it to happen. Make room for it in your mind through meditation. Thank God for His teaching. By the way, only some things you think of this way will be correct. You will make mistakes, which you can test by the Scriptures.
The end of the Psalm 119 MEM section is the two-verse refrain. It’s a summarizing restatement of the key ideas–a bookend or divider before the next section.
How sweet are thy words unto my taste! Yea sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through thy precepts, I get understanding: Therefore I hate every false way.
We can receive great enjoyment from Bible meditation and superior understanding to aid in the fight against evil.
There is one last important factor–prayer! The words in the canon of the Scriptures were created by inspiration, so it’s safe to say these are God’s Words we are reading. The psalmist addresses his poem to God. How do we know? Lots of “thys” in almost every verse. This MEM section is one affirmation prayer after another. Each of them states an intention, and the implied “Let this be true” is silently asking God to answer.
We should want what God wants.
So, in an odd turn, the Psalmist is speaking words from God to God. This is the ultimate example of aligning our prayers with God’s will–using His words. We sometimes allow our prayers to consist of attempts to get God to do something we want. These may not always align with what He wants. But by using Scripture promises and God’s actual words, we are better in sync. Some call this “praying through Scripture,” using a Scriptural citation as the content of the prayer. An example might be how Jesus used the words of Psalm 22 in his prayers on the cross.
We should want what God wants. Therefore, it is helpful to use His actual words. This is a powerful prayer technique. Use it to raise your prayer life “above and beyond.”
My wish for you is to make God’s Word your meditation, that you walk more and more in His wisdom and the powerful “above and beyond” blessings that God has for us as we truly meet in his Word.
Verdugo Hills Ecclesia, CA