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Crossway

Loving a love poem, learning about the Bible

Books | Pastor Kevin DeYoung wants us to embrace every bit of God’s Word

23. 51. 73. 90. 107. That’s not a quarterback barking out signals. That’s the list of my five favorite Psalms. My least favorite may have been the long and seemingly repetitious Psalm 119, but Michigan pastor Kevin DeYoung’s Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me (Crossway, 2014) has changed that. DeYoung showed me that 119, the Bible’s longest chapter, is a love poem “not about marriage or children or food or drink or mountains or sunsets or rivers or oceans, but about the Bible itself.”

Below, by publisher permission, is the first chapter of Taking God at His Word.

DeYoung wants us to love in the Bible “not just the obviously theological parts. Not just the memorable stuff. Not just the parts that resonate with us. All of it—history, chronology, philosophy—every truth the Bible affirms ought to be taken as God’s truth. Every word in the Bible is there because God wanted it there.”

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If you want to improve your thinking about not only 119 but also the Bible as a whole, please read on. —Marvin Olasky

Chapter 1: Believing, Feeling, Doing

“My soul keeps your testimonies; I love them exceedingly” (Psalm 119:167).

This book begins in a surprising place: with a love poem.

Don’t worry, it’s not from me. It’s not from my wife. It’s not from a card, a movie, or the latest power ballad. It’s not a new poem or a short poem. But it is most definitely a love poem. You may have read it before. You may have sung it, too. It’s the longest chapter in the longest book in the longest half of a very long collection of books. Out of 1,189 chapters scattered across 66 books written over the course of two millennia, Psalm 119 is the longest.[1]

And for good reason.

This particular psalm is an acrostic. There are 8 verses in each stanza, and within each stanza the 8 verses begin with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet. So verses 1–8 all begin with aleph, verses 9–16 with beth, verses 17–24 with gimel, and on and on for 22 stanzas and 176 verses—all of them exultant in their love for God’s word. In 169 of these verses, the psalmist makes some reference to the word of God. Law, testimonies, precepts, statutes, commandments, rules, promises, word—this language appears in almost every verse, and often more than once in the same verse. The terms have different shades of meaning (e.g., what God wants, or what God appoints, or what God demands, or what God has spoken), but they all center on the same big idea: God’s revelation in words.

Surely it is significant that this intricate, finely crafted, single-minded love poem—the longest in the Bible—is not about marriage or children or food or drink or mountains or sunsets or rivers or oceans, but about the Bible itself.

The Poet’s Passion

I imagine many of us dabbled in poetry way back when. You know, years before you had kids, before you got engaged, or, if you’re young enough, before last semester. I’ve written a few poems in my day, and even if we were best friends I still wouldn’t show them to you. I’m not embarrassed by the subject matter—writing for and about my lovely bride—but I doubt the form is anything to be proud of. For most of us, writing a love poem is like making cookies with wheat germ—it’s supposed to be the real thing but doesn’t taste quite right.

Some love poems are amazing, like Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116: “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments. Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds,” and all that jazz. Beautiful. Brilliant. Breathtaking.

Other poems, not so much. Like this poem I found online by a man reliving his teenage romantic genius:

Look! There’s a lonely cow
Hay! Cow!
If I were a cow, that would be me
If love is the ocean, I’m the Titanic.
Baby I burned my hand on
The frying pan of our love
But still it feels better
Than the bubble gum that hold us together
Which you stepped on

Words fail, don’t they? Both in commenting on the poem and in the poem itself. Still, this bovine- and bubble gum–themed piece of verbal art does more with subtlety and im­agery than the entry entitled “Purse of Love”:

Girl you make me
Brush my teeth
Comb my hair
Use deodorant
Call you
You’re so swell

Notes

1. Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible by any definition (if we care to look at chapters, which, we should remember, aren’t inspired divisions). Determining the longest book of the Bible is a little trickier. Psalms is the longest book of the Bible if you count chapters or verses. It also takes up the most pages in our English Bibles. But since chapters, verses, and page numbers are not a part of the original manuscripts, scholars have come up with other ways to determine the length of an individual book. Depending on the means of calculation, Jeremiah, Genesis, and Ezekiel may be longer than Psalms.

2. J.I. Packer, “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1958), 76.

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