Saturday, March 30, 2013

Psalm 119: Daleth

My weekly quiet time this week will be about the Daleth section of Psalm 119.  I'll post it in the King James Version, which is in the public domain, then I'll comment on select verses.

25 DALETH. My soul cleaveth unto the dust: quicken thou me according to thy word.

If my memory of my reading on Psalm 119: Daleth is correct, some of the Christian commentaries that I read related v 25 to spiritual resurrection, of the sort that we encounter in such passages as Romans 6, Ephesians 2:5, Colossians 2:13, and I Peter 3:18: the Psalmist recognizes that he is spiritually dead and morally corrupt and thus needs God's word to revive him if he is to bear spiritual fruit.  Others say that the Psalmist is already regenerate, presumably because he loves God's law, and his carnal mind would be opposed to God's law if he were unregenerate (Romans 8:7).  In this particular view, the Psalmist seems to be asking for a spiritual pick-me-up, not a born again experience.

I think that the point of v 25 is that the Psalmist is in a state of suffering, and he wants for God to revive him through God's word.  The Psalmist says in v 38 that his soul is heavy and he desires to be strengthened according to the word of God.  In the Gimel section of Psalm 119, we read that the Psalmist is experiencing reproach and contempt, and that princes are speaking against him.  In a world of hostility and corruption, the Psalmist wants for God to instruct him in what is good and pure.  It's easy for one to become bitter and corrupt when one suffers or is rejected by others.  In such cases, I need for God to give me the pure water of his word.

26 I have declared my ways, and thou heardest me: teach me thy statutes.

I don't remember the comments that I read about this verse, to be honest with you, and so I'll speculate myself about what it could mean, without appealing to sources.  Maybe this verse means that the Psalmist was telling God what was happening in his life, including the negative stuff that I mentioned in my comments on v 25, and he wants for God to respond by teaching him God's statutes.  Alternatively, perhaps the Psalmist is taking a personal moral inventory: he is honestly sharing with God his understanding of the way that he is and what he has done, the good and the bad, and his desire is for God to guide him and to teach him God's statutes.  The Psalmist can keep on walking in his own ways, or he can try something new: he can learn God's ways and walk in them.  This Psalm may be by David, or it may have nothing to do with David, but I will say this: David himself struggled to stay on the straight-and-narrow, and there were times when he followed his own path rather than a better course.  I can envision David laying out his own ways before God, recognizing that they are flawed as he opens himself up to learn God's ways.

27 Make me to understand the way of thy precepts: so shall I talk of thy wondrous works.

The NRSV has: "Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works."  Is this suggesting that, when we understand God's precepts and appreciate their righteous content, we are drawn to meditate upon the good things that God himself has done: God has given the law, which illuminates to us the righteous path, and yet God himself has performed righteous deeds, deeds of love, compassion, salvation, and deliverance? 

28 My soul melteth for heaviness: strengthen thou me according unto thy word.

Do I find in my own life that the word of God strengthens me?  I'd say that meditating upon Scripture can take my mind off of my own problems and take me from a state of internal heaviness to one of internal equilibrium.  It can calm my internal waters, in short.

29 Remove from me the way of lying: and grant me thy law graciously.

The Psalmist could be saying that he trusts in God and God's law because he has found that other alleged sources of security are unreliable----they are lies.  Or could the Psalmist be saying that he himself does not want to follow a path of lying----he neither wants to tell lies, nor does he desire to follow a course of sin, which deceptively promises security and fulfillment but cannot necessarily deliver on those things?

30 I have chosen the way of truth: thy judgments have I laid before me.

Some of the Christian commentaries that I read noted that the Psalmist deliberately chose the way of truth.  Yes, following the way of righteousness is contingent on grace: the Psalmist recognized this when he desired that God quicken him, and when he highlighted the importance of God enlarging his heart in v 32.  But there was still a commitment and a tenacity on the Psalmist's part when it came to walking in the way of truth (in contrast to the way of lying in v 29).

31 I have stuck unto thy testimonies: O LORD, put me not to shame.

I think that there is value in following the way of righteousness simply because it is right, whether God provides a reward for it or not.  But I can understand and sympathize with the Psalmist's sentiment of wanting for God to honor his commitment: the Psalmist is trying to do the right thing, and he desires for God to honor that by delivering him from (or not putting him to) shame, in a world where people want to put him to shame!


32 I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart.

What is the enlargement of the heart?  Some say that it's being wise and knowing more, since I Kings 4:29 says that God gave Solomon largeness of heart, in the context of discussing Solomon's wisdom.  Some say that it means making the heart larger by giving it joy, for Isaiah 60:5 presents the hearts of the Israelites being enlarged (and simultaneously afraid!) as the abundance of the sea and the Gentiles come to Israel.  Another view is that it is about the heart becoming more affectionate, for Paul in II Corinthians 6:11-13 says that his own heart is enlarged towards the Corinthian church, and that he hopes that its heart will be enlarged towards him; in v 12, he seems to say that his affections are unlimited, whereas the affections of the Corinthian church are restrained.

Perhaps the enlargement of the heart in Psalm 119:32 encompasses all three of these things: the Psalmist wants for his knowledge and understanding of God's will and ways to be enlarged, for joy in the midst of situations that are afflicting him, and for greater affection for God and his neighbor.  Then, obedience would not be an uphill battle for him, for he would be eagerly running to obey God's commands.  (The Septuagint, however, says that God enlarged the Psalmist's heart in the past.)

There are things that weigh me down from doing the right thing: lusts and desires, jealousy, resentment, sadness, selfishness, constricting my love such that fewer and fewer people are the recipients of it, etc.  My heart is small.  But can God enlarge it?  Do I need fuller knowledge of God's will and ways?  I feel that I already understand Christian doctrines, as much as the smug evangelicals who act as if believing the way that they do is the way to comprehend the Bible (which, in my mind, is a tautology on their part).  Yet, could part of my problem be one of limited perspective: I need to learn more about God's love and goodness, as well as the beauty of God's way?  Maybe there is always some new facet of God's goodness and righteousness to learn about.  Regarding joy and a more expansive love for others, my need for those is a no-brainer to me.

Do I feel that I need to be emotionally happy in order to follow God, however?  Not necessarily, and I resent the smug evangelicals and self-styled spiritual people who like to show off how happy they supposedly are, as if they're better than those who are not so bubbly.  In my opinion, a person can be sad, and still be a good person.  There are many cases in which suffering actually influences a person to be more compassionate towards others.

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