For my weekly quiet time today, I'll post Psalm 119: Gimel in the King James Version (which is in the public domain), then I will comment on select verses.
17 GIMEL. Deal bountifully with thy servant, that I may live, and keep thy word.
Psalmist does not want God's blessing merely for the sake of being
prosperous; rather, the Psalmist desires it because he feels that this
will enable him to survive and thus to keep God's word. A question that
I have asked more than once on this blog is whether the Psalmist
sincerely loved serving God, or merely used service of God as a
bargaining-chip to get God to deliver him from whatever scrap he was
in. I do not know the Psalmist's heart, but it does seem to me, at
least in Psalm 119, that the Psalmist truly valued God's law, for the
Psalmist appears to have a clear idea about why he deems God's
law to be valuable: because it provided him with reliable guidance,
because it was a refuge to him in difficult times, because it contained
wonderful things that weren't immediately obvious, etc.
18 Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.
have long loved this verse. Whenever I sit down to read the Bible, I
would love to learn something new and wonderful. Do I myself pray verse
18, though? I'm usually hesitant to do so, for I tend to believe that
the interpretation of the Bible is a human endeavor, as opposed to
something that proceeds from God's guidance of the reader or hearer.
That's the basis of whatever humility I have in reading and interpreting
the biblical text: that my interpretation may be flawed, that there are
other ways to see the biblical passages, that there is information that
I do not currently know about, and that my limited interpretation does
not close the door on any subject. So are my times in Scripture utter
vanity, as I seek solid ground but can never quite find it? I wouldn't
go that far, for I do believe that I learn good, moral, and wholesome
outlooks and ways to live my life as I read Scripture. Could God have
something to do with that?
19 I am a stranger in the earth: hide not thy commandments from me.
does the Psalmist call himself a stranger, or, in the Hebrew, a "ger"?
A ger was a resident alien in the land of Israel. Because the ger did
not own land in Israel, he was dependent on the goodwill of the
Israelites, and God commanded them to leave gleanings for the ger in the
fields. Later, within the Septuagint and also rabbinic Judaism, the
ger was often interpreted to be a convert to Judaism.
various interpreters whom I read, the Psalmist called himself a ger
because he realized that he was a sojourner on earth, not a permanent
resident, for his life was short (as are all lives). As David says in I Chronicles 29:15 (and I quote the KJV): "For we are strangers (Hebrew: gerim) before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers: our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding."
What does life being short have to do with the Psalmist's desire to
learn God's commandments? According to the Orthodox Jewish Artscroll
commentary, the Psalmist does not want to waste his brief life, for he
desires to infuse his life with meaning through observance of God's
commandments. Do I identify with this sentiment? Personally, my
attitude is that life is short, so why should I spend it beating myself
up because I fall short of some perfect standard?
The Midrash on
the Psalms offered an interesting interpretation of Psalm 119:19, as it
understood the "ger" in light of the rabbinic view that the ger was a
convert to Judaism. According to the Midrash on the Psalms, the Gentile
who converts to Judaism does not know much about the Torah, and so he
needs someone to teach the Torah to him. While I am doubtful that Psalm
119:19 means this, since the Psalmist may not have regarded the ger as a
convert, I do think that the Midrash on the Psalms is getting at
something that underlies the verse: that the Psalmist, like a resident alien, is vulnerable and dependent. He needed God's help, deliverance, and guidance.
the Psalmist may have felt like an outsider in the world, the same way
that a ger in Israel did not feel as if he were totally a part of
Israel. Why? The Psalmist is experiencing reproach and contempt (v
22), and princes are speaking against him (v 23). In the midst of this
alienation, the Psalmist desires and finds a home in God's
commandments. The Psalmist longs for God's judgments and
meditates on God's statutes when people are opposing him. The Psalmist
finds delight in God's law within a world that is not a particularly
delightful place for him. Do I identify with this? I do. I myself
have often felt alienated from others in my life, but I experience joy
when I study and meditate upon the Bible.
20 My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto thy judgments at all times.
Psalmist does not just find a home in a book of laws, in my opinion.
The Psalmist also finds a home in God's direct guidance of him, within
the relationship that the Psalmist has with God. God opens the
Psalmist's eyes to the beautiful things in God's law (v 18), and the
Psalmist longs for God's judgments (v 20). Why would the Psalmist's
soul break in longing for God's judgments, when he could simply read
them in a book (assuming he could read, and, if he could not, others
could read them to him) or recall them in his memory? Perhaps
he's not just talking about thinking about laws, but thinking about laws
under the guidance of God, within a relationship with the divine. In
that case, the Psalmist would long for God to intervene. Or maybe the
Psalmist in v 20 is saying that he treasures the times that he spends
with God in the contemplation of the Torah, and he wishes that he had
more time to do so, as well as a greater capacity to understand and to
appreciate what he contemplates.
21 Thou hast rebuked the proud that are cursed, which do err from thy commandments.
my opinion, this verse is important because it shows that the Psalmist
is not just talking about a hobby that he has (namely, contemplation on
God's laws) that might not be for others. Rather, God's commandments
are for everyone, for they contain the right way to live. No one is
exempt from the necessity to love others.
22 Remove from me reproach and contempt; for I have kept thy testimonies.
long had the attitude that I can hide myself in God's word, and God
will ensure that everything will turn out all right in my life.
I've thought that, if I am diligent in studying the Bible, going to
church, attending Bible study groups, etc., then God will honor my
devotion by giving me blessings, which would include favor in the eyes
of other people. Nowadays, to be honest, I'm a little more skeptical about this approach.
Whether I read the Bible or not, there will be people who will not like
me, and I will have ups and downs in life. Moreover, just speaking for
myself, I do not think that me just reading the Bible and going to
church are sufficient in terms of helping me to navigate my way through
life, for I need the counsel of wise people about such things as social
skills, searching for employment, etc. But does reading the
Bible help me to have a better attitude and perspective on life? Yes,
absolutely. There are a lot of good things in the Bible.
23 Princes also did sit and speak against me: but thy servant did meditate in thy statutes.
Hebrew phrase that the KJV translates as "speak against me" is "bi
nidbaru". We have the niphal of d-b-r ("to speak") plus the preposition
"b" (which can mean "in", but does not always). The Septuagint
translates this phrase as "katelaloon", which deals with speaking evil
and slander. Moreover, in Malachi 3:13, the niphal of d-b-r (which
appears with the preposition "al", which can mean "against") seems to
refer to speaking against. It may mean that in Ezekiel 33:30 (where it appears with the preposition "b", like in Psalm 119:23),
or it may not. The Septuagint for Ezekiel 33:30 does not appear to
regard the niphal of d-b-r negatively, for it merely says that the
people speak concerning the prophet, rather than saying that they speak
against them. Some English translations hold that Ezekiel 33:30
presents the people speaking against the prophet, while others maintain
that its saying that the people speak concerning him.
what puzzles me: Malachi 3:16 states (in the KJV): "Then they that
feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and
heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that
feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name." The word translated
as "spake often one to another" is the niphal of d-b-r. That doesn't
sound negative, does it? Those who fear the LORD are simply talking
with one another. It doesn't sound like they're saying negative things,
right? Yet, for some reason, the Septuagint for Malachi 3:16 uses the
word "katelalesan" for the niphal of d-b-r, and "katelalesan" is
speaking evil of someone or slandering. Could it be that the
fearers of God in Malachi 3:16 were speaking negative things to one
another----perhaps they were lamenting God's reluctance to act, or
criticizing the wickedness that was around them?
back to Psalm 119:23, it makes sense to me that the princes are speaking
against the Psalmist rather than merely talking about him, for why
would the Psalmist make a big deal about people just talking about him?
Plus, v 22 indicates that the Psalmist is experiencing his share of
reproach and contempt, so that tells me that people are talking
negatively when it comes to the Psalmist. What historical situation
would this scenario fit? It may fit the Davidic monarchy, as
the king laments that princes are undermining his authority and are
plotting against him. Or it may fit the exilic and post-exilic periods,
when Jews were at the mercy of rulers who did not always care for them.
24 Thy testimonies also are my delight and my counsellors.
Artscroll says that this verse means that the Psalmist can trust the
counsel of God's testimonies, even though he can't necessarily rely on
the counsel of his princes. The Artscroll goes on to say that the
Psalmist is not guided by what's fashionable among the rich and
I can identify with this, at least in part. As I said
in my comments on v 22, I think that I need people to counsel me, not
just the Bible----or perhaps I can say that I need people to help me to
apply concretely the principles within the Bible (at least the
principles that are moral). I also feel that I need people on my side,
though I try to have faith that God is on my side, whether I think that
enough people are on my side or not. At the same time, I can understand
the Artscroll's point that we shouldn't be guided by what is
fashionable among the rich and powerful, for that may not necessarily be
what is moral or right. The rich and powerful do right things,
and they do wrong things. We should admire and follow the right
things, the things that enhance humanity and demonstrate compassion for
Dispensing with merely human meaning
29 minutes ago