The Structure of Psalm 119
and the Question:
“Does Every Verse of
Psalm 119 refer to Scripture?”

Copyright © 2016, 2024 by Daniel B. Sedory



Does Every Verse of Psalm 119 refer to Scripture?

Answer: Most of them do (171 of its 176 verses do), but there are 5 verses which do not contain a word or phrase used as a synonym or figure of speech for Scripture.[1] Each verse that does refer to Scripture is listed further below with the word or phrase used to do so in bold letters.


The Structure of Psalm 119:

  Its verses are comprised of 22 sections of 8 verses each (22 x 8 = 176), and the first word of each verse begins with the same Hebrew letter in each section; those letters being in the same ascending order as the Hebrew alphabet. It should also be noted that most English Bibles start each section with a transliteration of that Hebrew letter.[2] However, this practice of naming each 8 verse section goes back in time even before Tyndale's English translation: A Romanized version of the Hebrew Letter names, in a red typeface, can be seen in this circa 1455 Gutenberg edition of the Latin Vulgate; to which someone also added by hand the Hebrew letters Aleph through Zayin in the margin, but for some unknown reason did not continue any further. This practice does in fact predate the printing press by many centuries as can be seen in this manuscript on the Library of Congress website: Codex Amiatinus (circa 700 AD); though not every section was titled in such a way. The "LEPH" next to its Hebrew letter with "118" below it (the chapter number for Psalm 119 in the Vulgate) was obviously added by a much later hand (when Arabic numerals had replaced Roman); "BETH" was also added later. It does then contain in red ink: GIMEL, DALETH, etc., "IAI" (for Zayin), only "ETH" (for Cheth), "IOTH," etc., "SEN" and "THAU". Other chapters have also been marked with Arabic numerals. What about early Hebrew manuscripts? Well, since each section begin with the same Hebrew letter, there was no need to point that out. However, these texts may include a considerable space separating each section such as can be seen in the oldest existing complete manuscript: Codex Leningrad (circa 1000 AD); which can be downloaded as individual pictures beginning here (simply change the URL at the end to: F391B, F392A and F392B to complete the set for Psalm 119).

  Before moving on, it should be noted that some other Psalms have a somewhat similar structure: Psalm 34 has the letters ʾālef  through at the beginning of verses 2 through 6, skipping wāw and then finishing the alphabet at the beginning of verses 7 through 22. Psalm 145 attempted to have each verse begin with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet, but it skips a letter (nûn is missing), so ends at verse 21. Psalms 111 and 112 do have words which use their first letters in alphabetical order, but they must appear more than once in each verse since they are both only ten verses long.[3]

  By way of example, we list here the English transliteration used in the NASB for each of these 22 Hebrew letters, the verse numbers in each section and then the first word (as it appears in the Hebrew Masoretic Text) with a transliteration of my own (this guide shows how) and its meaning:


First Word
Aleph. ( א )
  1-  8
   ʾashey  Blessed
Beth. ( ב )
  9- 16
   bammeh  How?
Gimel. ( ג )
 17- 24
   gemōl  Deal out
Daleth. ( ד )
 25- 32
   dāveqāh  Cling to
He. ( ה )
 33- 40
   hôrēniy  Teach
Vav. ( ו )
 41- 48
   wiyʾuniy  So (also) come to me
Zayin. ( ז )
 49- 56
   zekōr-dāvār  Remember Your Word
Heth. ( ח )
 57- 64
   cheleqiy  He is my portion,
 security, all I need.
Teth. ( ט )
 65- 72
   ṭôv  Good
Yodh. ( י )
 73- 80
   yādheykhā  Your hands
Kaph. ( כ )
 81- 88
   kālethāh  Finished, spent, faint
 in desperate need.
Lamedh. ( ל )
 89- 96
   leʿôlām  Forever
Mem. ( מ )
   māh-ʾāhavetiy  How I love
Nun. ( נ )
   nēr-leragheliy  Lamp for my feet
Samekh. ( ס )
   ʿăfiym  Divided (in heart, mind)
Ayin. ( ע )
   ʿāśiythiy  I have done
Pe. ( פ )
   peʾôth  Wonderful, marvelous
Tsadhe. ( צ )
   tsadiyq  Righteous, just
Qoph. ( ק )
   qārāʾthiy  I called (or cried) out
Resh. ( ר )
   reʾēh-ʿāneyiy  See (or look on) my
 pain, suffering
Shin. ( ש )
   śāriym  Princes (or Rulers)
Tav. ( ת )
   tiqerav Bring near, before

[Note: The Section Names in the NIV differ from those of the NASB as follows: ו is Waw, ש is "Sin and Shin" and ת is Taw; the NIV was also the first English translation I'm aware of to actually include the Hebrew characters. And then the Legacy Standard Bible (LSB) was the first to show the difference between a śiyn (שׂ) and a shiyn (שׁ). You can read all of Psalm 119 in the LSB here. The way that an AV/KJV transliterates these names may vary, but most editions will generally differ from the NASB by using: VAU, ZAIN, CHETH (which I do prefer), JOD, CAPH, SAMECH, AIN, TZADDI, KOPH, SCHIN and TAU.][4]


All the Words that refer to Scripture in Psalm 119

The following are the phrases Psalm 119 uses to refer to God's Word or portions of it (such as the Law). Although the English of the NASB (New American Standard Bible translation) has been used in creating the list of phrases and words below, the actual Hebrew words in use are included under each of these; along with the Strong's number for the word’s noun or verb. Since some of these verses refer to Scripture twice, there are actually more references in total[5] than the number of verses.

For each phrase given in the list below, you will find the verses that contain it. Any verse numbers followed by a number in parentheses, means that verse has two different references to Scripture in it; for example, verse 16 has both "Your word" and "Your statutes" in it. Thus, "16(1)" is the first occurrence of a word for Scripture in this verse, and under "Your Statutes," "16(2)" indicates that is the second occurrence in that verse. All such verses are shown in bold print, and there are only seven of these pairs.


1. Your Word (33 times):
9, 11, 16(1), 17, 25, 28, 38, 41, 42, 50, 58, 65, 67, 74, 76, 81, 82, 89, 101, 105, 107, 114, 116, 133, 140, 148, 154, 158, 160(1), 162, 169, 170, 172(1).

Occurs as: דְבָרֶךָ dhevārekhā or דְּבָרֶךָ devārekhā {1697; דָּבָר dāvār} in verses 16, 17, 89, 101, 105 and 160, and the same word prefixed with the prepositions בִּ (bi) in 42, כִּ (ki) in 9, 25, 28, 65, 107 and 169 and לִ (li) in 74, 81 and 114.

The Hebrew word for "word" also occurs twice in verse 42 (but not in the NASB translation); the first time as only דָבָר dhāvār. And from the context, it appears to be something its author found within the Scriptures to give someone the “answer” he wrote about. This reminds me of Peter's words: “...and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess.” (NET; 1 Peter 3:15, partial quote).

As אִמְרָתֶךָ ʾimerāthekhā {565; אִמְרָה ʾimerāh} in verses 11, 38, 50, 67, 140, 158, 162 and 172, and the same word prefixed with (bi) in 133 and 148, (ki) in 41, 58, 76, 116 and 170 and (li) in 82 and 154.

  You might be wondering why these (and the other Hebrew words used to refer to the Law and the Scriptures below), often end with the suffix ךָ khā added to them. Well just like most languages, including Greek, one of the ways a suffix is used in Hebrew is to indicate a possessive like my, his or her. And all of the phrases here beginning with “Your” in English will highly likely have that second person, masculine, singular suffix (ךָ) attached to the root word.


2. Your Law (23):
18, 29, 34, 44, 51, 53, 55, 61, 70, 77, 85, 92, 97, 109, 113, 126, 136, 142, 150, 153, 163, 165, 174; from the Hebrew word which is also used to describe the first five books of the Scriptures (the Torah): תּוֹרָה  tôrāh {8451}.

3. Your Statutes (22):
5, 8, 12, 16(2), 23, 26, 33, 48(1), 54, 64, 68, 71, 80, 83, 112, 117, 118, 124, 135, 145, 155, 171

In Psalm 119, its author uses the Hebrew word חֹק chōq {2706}; prescribed actions or limits, rules, statutes as another synonym for Scripture. (In my page on the physical earth in Scripture, this word is used by the author of Job to describe a physical limit or boundary rather than a legal or moral one.)


4. Your Precepts (or instructions) (21):
4, 15(1), 27, 40, 45, 56, 63, 69, 78, 87, 93, 94, 100, 104, 110, 128, 134, 141, 159, 168(1), 173 (using the Hebrew word פִּקּוּדִים  piqqûdhiym {6490} ).

5. Your Testimonies (21):
14, 22, 24, 31, 36, 46, 59, 79, 95, 99, 111, 119, 125, 129, 138, 144, 146, 152, 157, 167, 168(2) (using the Hebrew word עֵדָה ʿēdhāh {5713} ).

6. Your Commandments (20):
6, 10, 19, 21, 32, 35, 47, 48(2), 60, 66, 73, 86, 98, 127, 131, 143, 151, 166, 172(2), 176 (using the Hebrew word מִצְוָה  mitsewāh {4687} ).

7. Your Ordinances (11):  20, 30, 39, 43(1), 52, 91, 102, 108, 149, 156, 175 (for the Hebrew word מִשְׁפָּט  mishepāṭ {4941} ).

8. Your Words (6):  57, 103, 130, 139, 147, 161; which similar to number 1 above, is a translation of {1697} דָּבָר dāvār in verses 57, 130, 139, 147, 161 and of {565} אִמְרָה ʾimerāh in verse 103.

9. Your Righteous Ordinances (4):  62, 106, 160(2), 164 (as: מִשְׁפְּטֵי צִדְקֶךָ  mishepeṭēy  tsidheqekhā - {6664} righteous); see number 7 above.

10. Your Judgments (3):  75, 120, 137 (for the same Hebrew word {4941} in number 7 above).

11. Your Ways (2):  15(2), 37 (uses the Hebrew word אֹרַח ʾōrach {734} in verse 15, and  דֶּרֶךְ  derekhe {1870} in verse 37. In both cases, ... way, path or road are used metaphorically to speak of directions for your life found in the Scriptures.)

12. His Testimonies (1):  2  (from {5713} in number 5 above).

13. His Ways (1):  3  (בִּדְרָכָיו  dherākhāyw); from {1870} in number 11 above.

14. The Commandments of my God (1):  115  (מִצְוֹת אֱלֹהָי  mitseôth ʾĕlōhāy); see ʾĕlōhiym {430} and {4687} under number 6 above.

15. The Law of the LORD (1):  in verse 1 (תוֹרַת יהוה  thôrath YHWH or “Law of the LORD”); see number 2 above.

16. The Law of Your Mouth (1):  in verse 72  (תוֹרַת־פִּיךָ  thôrath-piykhā); see number 2 above.

17. The Ordinances of Your Mouth (1):  in verse 13 (מִשְׁפְּטֵי־פִיךָ  mishepeṭēy-fiykhā); see number 7 above {4941}.

18. The Testimony of Your Mouth (1):  88  (as: עֵדוּת פִּיךָ ʿēdhûth  piykhā); see number 5 above {5713}.

19. The Word (1):  49  (as: זְכֹר־דָּבָר  zekōr-dāvār {1697} in number 1); most versions translate this as "Remember Your Word".

20. The Word of Truth (1):  43(2)  (as: דְבַר־אֱמֶת  dhevar {1697} in number 1 and ʾĕmeth {571} truth).

21. Your Commandment (1):  96  (as: מִצְוָתְךָ  mitsewāthekhā); see number 6 above {4687}.

22. Your Righteous Judgments (1):  7  (as: מִשְׁפְּטֵי צִדְקֶךָ  mishepeṭēy  tsidheqekhā); {6664} righteous and {4941} under number 7 above.

23. Your Righteous Word (1):  123  (as: אִמְרַת צִדְקֶךָ ʾimerath  tsidheqekhā); {6664} righteous and {565} ʾimerāh under number 1 above.


From the Perspective of the Hebrew Scriptures

  And from the perspective of the Hebrew Masoretic Text, this amounts to:

דָּבָר dāvār {1697} being used 24 times total. All by itself, in: 42 (1st use), 43 and 49, and other ways in: 9, 16, 17, 25, 28, 42 (2nd use), 57, 65, 74, 81, 89, 101, 105, 107, 114, 130, 139, 147, 160, 161, 169.

  Rather than continuing with this perspective here, see my page All the Verses of Psalm 119 which not only lists every verse in Hebrew, but also color-highlights each occurrence of the words used for Scripture so you can see where these words occur within each verse!



1[Return to Text]   These verses do not have a word or phrase in them that refer to Scripture:
84 ("How many are the days of Your servant? When will You execute judgment [mishepāṭ {4941}] on those who persecute me?"), 90 ("Your faithfulness continues throughout all generations; You established the earth, and it stands."), 121 ("I have done justice [mishepāṭ {4941}] and righteousness; Do not leave me to my oppressors."), 122 ("Be surety for Your servant for good; Do not let the arrogant oppress me.") and 132 ("Turn to me and be gracious to me, After Your manner [mishepāṭ {4941}] with those who love Your name.").

2[Return to Text]   Most of the major English Bible versions (such as the AV/KJV, ASV, NASB, ESV, etc.); with the exception of the RSV, have a transliteration of the Hebrew name for the Hebrew letter (at the beginning of each section) in all capital English characters. Editions of the NASB capitalize only the first English character. All editions of the NIV provide the actual Hebrew character itself followed by an English transliteration; as does the LSB. (For more on this, see the link in footnote 4.)

3[Return to Text]   Both Psalm 111 and 112 pass through 2 ascending letters of the Hebrew alphabet for each of their first 8 verses, and then 3 letters for verses 9 and 10. The following links provide visual displays of the Hebrew words and characters in these Psalms from the Masoretic Text of Biblia Hebraica Part II, Rudolf Kittel, Editor (Lipsiae, J.C. HINRICHS, 1906): Psalm 34, Psalm 145 and Psalm 111 and Psalm 112.

Apart from the Psalms already mentioned, Psalm 37 has 40 verses, but the first word of about every other verse begins with the letters of the alphabet in ascending order (1, 3, 5, 7, but then 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, then both 20 and 21, 23, 25, 27) until the next letter (ע ʿayin) which should be at the beginning of a verse, but does not exist. The closest word that can be found (which the Masoretes did associate the pattern with) is in the middle of verse 28 where the word עוֹלָם ʿôlām occurs, but it is prefixed by the preposition לְ le, so it's not even the first letter! That shows how arbitrary some of their decisions were in order to fill-in missing letters. The sequence does resume at 30, 32, 34 and 35, 37, 39. Psalm 25 is another one for which the Masoretes placed letters in the margins next to certain words where א is associated with the second word in verse 1, ב with the second word in verse 2, and then others appearing as the first word. However, the wāw (ו) is not at the beginning of a verse nor even the beginning of a word, and there is no qôf (ק) associated with it. Lastly, the Masoretes also treated the span of Psalms 9 and 10 as something special, even though the letters dāleth (ד), ym (מ), nûn (מ), sāmekh (ס) and ʿayin (ע) are missing from the beginning of any verses and never mentioned; the remaining letters are found at verses 9:2, 4, 6, the last word in verse 7, the second letter of the word beginning verse 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 19, 10:1, inside verse 7, inside verse 8, 12, 14, 15 and 17.

  The only other part of the Scriptures which I'm aware of that has such an acrostic structure is Chapter 1 of Jeremiah's Book of Lamentations ("Threni" in the BHS; a Latinized form of the Greek thrēnos θρῆνος; a song expressing grief, a dirge, lamentation, wailing); chapters 2 through 4 attempt to do so, but are irregular. In fact, Codex Amiatinus displays all of the Hebrew alphabetical names in Lamentations; as do many other copies of the Vulgate. However, I know of no English translation which continued this practice. Take this link: Codex Amiatinus for more information about this circa 700 AD Latin Vulgate.   [Return to Text]

4[Return to Text]   This page provides a few examples of Hebrew Section Names in some English Translations.

5[Return to Text]   33 + 23 + 22 + 21 + 21 + 20 + 11 + 6 + 4 + 3 + 2 + (12 of one time each) = 178 references to God's Word, or 179 if we include the first occurrence of the Hebrew word dāvār {1697} in verse 42; which actually reads: “And I answer him who is reproaching me a word {1697}, For I have trusted in Thy word {1697}” (Young's Literal Translation).

First published: February 7, 2016. (2016.02.07)
Updated on: 23 DEC 2023 (2023.12.23); Revised, page now makes use of a server webfont, completed transliterations and translations in the table, 24 DEC 2023 (2023.12.24); changed slightly, added more Hebrew words in the list of words for Scripture, 5 JAN 2024 (2024.01.05); added more Hebrew words, and mentioned other Psalms which begin each verse with a Hebrew letter in the order of their alphabet, 8 JAN 2024 (2024.01.08); extended note about word count and verse 42, 10 JAN 2024 (2024.01.10); added reference links to a Gutenberg Bible and a copy of Biblia Hebraica by Kittel, 11 JAN 2024 (2024.01.11); minor corrections and completed the page, 12 JAN 2024 (2024.01.12); added more links and history, such as link to Codex Amiatinus, 14 JAN 2024 (2024.01.14); added notes about suffix and Lamentations.


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