What would Psalm 119 sound like as an English acrostic? In Hebrew, an acrostic is precisely what Psalm 119 is. What is an acrostic? An acrostic is a poetic arrangement of letters in which (most commonly) the first letter of each line begins with the next letter in the alphabet. In the Hebrew text of Psalm 119, the first paragraph sports eight lines starting with the Hebrew letter aleph (א, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet), followed by a second paragraph comprised of eight lines that begin with the Hebrew letter beth (ב, the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet), and so on throughout the Hebrew alphabet. Most of your Bibles will mark the change of letters in some way. Open your Bible to Psalm 119 if you want to see what I mean.

This morning, as I was “reading” through Psalm 119 — “reading” is in quotes because I was “reading” using the tried-and-true method of listening — I found myself wondering if anyone has ever attempted to render Psalm 119 into an English acrostic. After a brief online search, I discovered a few examples. But the one I liked most was a rendering by the ministry team at King’s Church in Durham, England. Obviously, “translating” this way results in some loss of meaning, but viewing the psalm this way will give you a better idea of what readers of Hebrew encounter when they read this rich psalm as it was originally written. Here are the first two (out of 22) stanzas.

“A” (verses 1-8)

All those whose way is blameless are blessed,

who walk in the law of Lord!

Approved are those who keep his testimonies,

who seek him with their whole heart:

Anyone who does no wrong,

but walks in his ways.

And you command your precepts

to be kept carefully.

Ah, that my ways may be steadfast

in keeping your statutes!

Among my detractors I will stand,

having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.

Acclaiming you with an upright heart,

I learn your righteous ordinances.

As I keep your statutes,

do not utterly forsake me.

“B” (verses 9-16)

By what means can a young man keep his way pure?

By guarding it according to your word.

Being wholehearted in my seeking,

I still need your help to stick to your commandments!

Building a store of your word in my heart

helps ensure that I do not sin against you.

Blessed are you, O LORD;

teach me your statutes!

Boldly my lips declare

all the ordinances of your mouth.

Before all the world’s riches,

I value the way of your testimonies.

Brooding on your precepts,

I fix my eyes on your ways.

Because I delight in your statutes,

I will not forget your word.

Here is a link to the entire psalm laid out in this manner. Note that the section starting with “V” is rather pedantic — the poet got over-zealous about using the letter “V” (for example, Psalm 119:160 reads: “Vitally, the verity of your voice is invariable, and every one of your virtuous ordinances endures forever”)! Still, I think that most of the verses in this acrostic rendering of Psalm 119 are veritably venerable. Voilà!

This post and other resources are available at Kindle Afresh: The Blog and Website of Kenneth Berding.