Other than verse 115, verses 1-3 are the only verses of Psalm 119 that are not spoken directly to God. (“Blessed are those who keep His testimonies,” says verse 2, not “your testimonies.”) They thus form an introduction for the prayer of the rest of the chapter.
Andrew Bonar gives this section the title “The pilgrim setting out.” It’s a perfect image for the journey of the psalmist, who is about to extol the wonders of God’s word from A to Z (from Aleph to Taw, actually); for the believer, as he follows God’s law through life; and even for us, as we set out to memorize the psalm. Think of the first three verses as the words on a sign placed for motivation and exhortation at the very beginning of the trail. The image of the pilgrimage will be repeated later, most notably in verse 54: “Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.” Memorization, to stick with the image, is the pilgrim’s staff; it offers the pilgrim support, and keeps him in touch always with God’s ways.
There is a tight connection between verses 5 and 6. This may not seem unusual to you now, but it does not happen all that often between consecutive verses in this psalm. There is also a connection between verses 5 and 8. In verse 5, the psalmist recognizes his need to follow God’s statutes, and recognizes also his own tendency to wander from them. In verse 8 he expresses a firm decision: “I will keep your statutes.” With this determination to follow God, he sets out on his journey–still acknowledging, though, his tendency to wander, and pleading with God to remain with him even when he strays. “In his resolve he remembers his weakness,” notes Alexander Maclaren. And Archdeacon Aglen’s comment on verse 10 is equally applicable here: “The self-mistrust of the second clause is a proof of the reality of the first.”
“Keep your precepts” and “righteous judgements” are phrases we’ll be seeing repeatedly as we travel through the psalm.
Notes on memorization
These are just suggestions. If you’d rather skip them and just start memorizing, by all means, feel free to do so. You won’t be breaking any rules.
The pictures, margins, and overall page layout of the Aleph section that I’m sending you should help you remember it better. We’ll be taping this page to our kitchen wall for the next month. I’ve marked the “Oh” in verses 5 and 8 because I’ve found that it’s far too easy to forget where the psalmist interjects “Oh,” “Lord,” or “Oh, Lord.” It might help to exaggerate the “Oh” as you recite the verses.
Thinking of these verses in three small groups (three verses, three verses, two verses) rather than one big group should help us remember the location of each verse more easily. The future tense occurs in the last two verses of the Aleph section. (Interestingly, this will also be true of the next section, Beth). Noting that should also help you with the task of remembering verse location.
I advise memorizing at least one verse per day for the first eight days of the month, and then reviewing all of them several times during the day for the rest of the month. Try to repeat them so often that they’re in your head like a song, that as you speak the end of one verse the beginning of the next one immediately comes to mind. Review them as you walk, or work, or exercise. Or while the commercials are on if you like.
I’ve included the first verse of the next section so we can get used to repeating it immediately after verse 8. This should help us move smoothly from one section to the next. You can also think of the second picture as linking verses 7 and 9.