It's a Psalm which, in their way, everybody is singing. It's almost a One-Psalm-fits-all kind of a Psalm. It expresses the thoughts and feelings of Marxist political ideologues, social liberals, pantheistic environmentalists, radical Islamists, hard-living hedonists, and laid-back, live-in-my-own-little- world individualists, to name but a few. Almost.
It's a Psalm that could be framed to fit all such people, for all people have a philosophy of life, a world view, a set of values or beliefs or commitments that are quasi-religious. In many instances they may not be able to articulate it clearly, but their life is defined by a Word, even if that Word operates at a sub-conscious, presuppositional level.
It is a well known piece of Bible trivia that Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible and that the Psalmist ingeniously manages to fit in a reference to the Word in almost every verse. He does so by coming up with all kinds of other words for Word. Maybe if he had been writing it today he would have found a way to fit in words like 'worldview' or 'presupposition'. As it is, we have references to rules, laws, precepts, testimonies and the like - words that help us define the way we think and how we live.
In its generic sense, the Psalm makes sense of the ways all kinds of people think and act in the context of their defining "word". We can hear the left-wing ideologue, for example, passionately sighing, "My eyes long for your salvation and for the fulfilling of your righteous promise" (v.123) - though the salvation he yearns for is that of the socialist Utopia and his hope is in the promises of Karl Marx. And we can understand the frustration of the social liberals saying "I look at the faithless with disgust because they do not keep your commands" (v.158) when they consider the conservatives behaving in such blatant disregard of what they believe to be the self-evident truths about how life should be lived according to the 'word' that has been a lamp to their feet.
Our environmentalist friends find reassurance here. In their radically green lifestyle and love for Mother Nature they can say in the Psalmist's words, "My soul keeps your testimonies; I love them exceedingly. I keep your precepts and testimonies, for all my ways are before you" (vs 167,168). Life is lived in the orbit and aura of Nature. Even the self-assured hedonist declares with confidence "I hold back my feet from every evil way [though of course in his mind evil has been defined as anything that gets in the way of maximum pleasure] in order to keep your word [a word which, in his case, has persuaded him that the good life is a life of partying rather than a morally upright life]" (v.101).
The Psalm is universal in the way that it recognize that all of life revolves around a word that draws us on, that inspires us, that informs us, that defines reality for us. A word that is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (see v.105). A word that enables the jihadist to be convinced that "All the wicked of the earth you discard like dross" (v.119), and encourages the self-centred, self-made individualist to lie back and think of his philosophy of life as "sweeter than honey to my mouth" (v.103). For, "as a man thinks in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7), so every man and woman thinks in words that are born from a word.
How crucial it is, then, that we have the right Word! Suddenly the Psalmist ceases to be universal and we see him to be radically exclusive. "Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walks in the law of the Lord!" (v.1). There is only one true Word - the Word of God, the Word of the true God who has truly revealed himself in Scripture and in his Son. How easily we are deceived into the lie of some other word defining our reality and framing our lives. How relentlessly we are bombarded with other words clamoring for our attention and consideration, seduced by the apparent appeal and plausibility of other philosophies and worldviews. With the Psalmist we determine, "I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways" (v.15). Understanding our vulnerability to be deceived from within and without, we say with the Psalmist, "Let my cry come before you, O Lord' give me understanding according to YOUR Word" (v.169).