Psalm 119 has twenty-two sections, in accordance with the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Over the next twenty-two weeks, I'll blog about one section of Psalm 119 a week for my weekly quiet time. Why will I be doing my weekly quiet time this way? Because I want to give myself a bit of a break! I've blogged through short Psalms, and I've blogged through long Psalms. For the next twenty-two weeks, I'd like to blog about short sections. A possible problem may be that I won't be able to come up with a different thought each week in my write-ups, since Psalm 119 seems to be repeating the same ideas over and over. But I may be surprised!
119 is a Psalm that praises God's law. One thing that I notice is that
Psalm 119: Aleph (and the rest of Psalm 119, for that matter) uses
certain terms: Torah (v 1), testimonies (v 2, from the Hebrew word edut), precepts (v 4, from the Hebrew piqqud), statutes (v 5, from the Hebrew choq), commandments (v 6, from the Hebrew mitsvah), and judgments (v 7, from the Hebrew mishpat). Are
these simply different words for commandment? Or does each word
communicate a specific nuance? I read the former in scholarly sources,
and the latter in more homiletical sources.
tend to think that, at least within Psalm 119, they're different words
for God's commandments, for Deuteronomy often groups at least some
of these words together when it exhorts Israel to keep God's
commandments (Deuteronomy 4:45; 5:31; 6:1; etc.). But wouldn't it be
cool if a couple of these words conveyed a specific nuance? Suppose
that the mishpatim in Psalm 119:7----the mispatim that
inspire the Psalmist's praise----are not God's commandments (as
important as those are in Psalm 119), but rather God's acts of judging
evildoers and vindicating the poor, for mishpat can mean judging a case
(Deuteronomy 1:17; 16:18-19; etc.) or God vindicating the needy
(Deuteronomy 10:18). Suppose that God's testimonies are not just laws,
but are laws that actually testify to things: God's historical acts on
behalf of Israel, God's lordship over Israel, and Israel's status of
belonging to God. The Hebrew word edut is sometimes
used for memorials that remind people of certain events from the past or
realities (Genesis 21:30; 31:52; Joshua 24:27), and, within the
Pentateuch, a number of laws serve to remind Israel of things that God
has done in Israe's history, of God himself, or of Israel's relationship
But does Psalm 119 even have Israel's history in mind?
On the one hand, one could argue in the affirmative, for Psalm 119 does
use terms for God's commands that Deuteronomy employs in clusters,
indicating a possible reliance on Deuteronomy. And Deuteronomy actually
does tie the observance of the law to Israel's history, so
maybe Psalm 119 assumes that the two are linked. On the other hand,
Psalm 119 does not appear to mention Israel's history, and a note in the
Jewish Study Bible likens Psalm 119 to biblical wisdom
literature. Within biblical wisdom literature, Israel's history is
largely absent, and the Torah is not the Pentateuch or writings within
the Pentateuch but rather wise teachings. Moreover, in my post here,
I summarize elements of Jon Levenson's discussion of the identity of
the Torah in Psalm 119: "According to Levenson, the 'Torah' that Psalm
119 exalts is not the Pentateuch (although the Psalm draws some from
Deuteronomy), but rather '(1) received tradition, passed on most
explicitly by teachers (vv 99-100), (2) cosmic or natural law (vv
89-91), and (3) unmediated divine teaching (e.g., vv 26-29).' Levenson
still acknowledges, however, that Psalm 119 draws from 'books we
consider ‘biblical’', for they 'hold a kind of normative status for him'
and 'provide the language with which to formulate a significant
statement.'” According to Levenson, Torah in Psalm 119 is far more that
the Pentateuch (if it even includes the Pentateuch).
I think that the Torah can be the Pentateuch while also being passed
down by teachers, coinciding with cosmic or natural law, and being
taught to the student directly by God. God can use Scripture
to guide people! Why doesn't Psalm 119 mention Israel's history,
however? I don't make too much of that absence. Perhaps Psalm 119
simply prefers to focus on the Torah, while assuming that its audience
is aware of Israel's history.
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