I was to speak on a Sunday morning at a church in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The pastor told me the morning’s service plan, “We worship, we take offering, we read Bible, you speak.” The agenda, spoken in broken English, was perfectly understandable.
We sang, we took offering, and now time to “we read Bible.”
Two ladies stood up and came to the front. My interpreter said, “They have memorized Psalm 118 in the Russian Bible.” Then my interpreter said, “That’s amazing.” I wasn’t too impressed as Psalm 118 is 29 verses. Yes, great job. But I have several “29-versers” in my memory pocket.
I didn’t understand the “amazing” description of my interpreter. Perhaps a translation glitch.
The two ladies went back and forth; one lady quoted a verse and the other quoted another verse. Back and forth, back and forth – then they blew right by 29 verses and kept going. Looking at my interpreter I asked, “What’s going on? Did they make a mistake and start over with Psalm 118?”
She looked at me and said, “In the Russian Bible, Psalm 118 is Psalm 119 in your Bible.”
My comment, “Amazing!”
Psalm 119 at 176 verses is the longest chapter in the Bible. I do not have a “176-verser” in my memory pocket. I have never considered memorizing Psalm 119. I could memorize six “29-verser” Psalms for one Psalm 119 at 176 verses.
From a preacher’s bragging rights perspective, it sounds better saying, “I have Psalm 1, Psalm 4, Psalm 20, Psalm 25, Psalm 27, and Psalm 63 memorized (which I do); than saying, “I have a Psalm memorized.”
When the ladies stopped their back-and-forth memory rendition of all 176 verses of Psalm 118/119, everyone stood and gave a long applause. It was an “America’s Got Talent” golden buzzer applause. I stood too! Their memorization had no pause or glitch, back and forth, all the verses.
If you read Psalm 119 in the next week, it will take you about 10 minutes if you read fast. If you read at a steady normal person’s pace, it will take 15 minutes. While reading this Psalm you quickly become an expert on the longest chapter of the Bible.
If someone asks you years from now what is the longest chapter of the Bible, you answer, “That’s easy, Psalm 119!” If someone tries to trick you with a follow-up question by asking, “Okay, what is Psalm 119 about?” Your response, with a scholar’s eyebrow slant, “That’s easy, one topic – the Bible!”
Those asking the questions will be impressed, perhaps not as much if you would then break into a total memorized quoting of Psalm 119. Still, you are showing off your Bible chops.
Kevin DeYoung in his book Taking God at His Word spends his entire first chapter on Psalm 119. He says that most of us approach Psalm 119 with this attitude:
Psalm 119 is too long. It’s boring. It’s the worst day in my Bible reading plan. The thing goes on forever and ever saying the same thing. I like Psalm 23 much better.
I confess that I had the same attitude until I saw the Russian ladies quote this Psalm back and forth, verse by verse. Afterward, I began to agree with DeYoung’s statement below:
Psalm 119 shows us what to believe about the word of God, what to feel about the word of God, and what to do with the word of God. That’s the application… When we embrace everything the Bible says about itself, then—and only then—will we believe what we should believe about the word of God, feel what we should feel, and do with the word of God what we ought to do.
Psalm 119 is a poem of praise for the entire Bible! From the first to the last verses.
Verse 1: “How blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord.” NASB95
Verses 175 and 176, “Let my soul live and praise you. Let your rules help. I have gone astray like a lost sheep. Seek your servant when I wander because you love me.” OGV
Okay, a challenge: If anyone can send me a YouTube video of you quoting Psalm 119 from memory, I will give you an award! While quoting the chapter in your video, give everyone watching a snarky “scholar’s eyebrow slant.”
We will say, “Amazing!”