For my weekly quiet time this week, I will post Psalm 119: Chet in the King James Version (which is in the public domain), then I will comment on select verses.
57 CHETH. Thou art my portion, O LORD: I have said that I would keep thy words.
Allen says: "An old levitical formula of dependence upon Yahweh for
material support rather than upon levitical land (cf. Num 18:20) is used
in complaints as an expression of trust: cf. [Psalms] 16:5; 142:6(5)."
That could be what's going on here. People trusted in their land for
provision and for wealth. But the Levites did not have an inheritance
of land within Israel, and so they had to trust God, and the Israelites
to obey God by supporting the Levites with tithes and offerings. The
Psalmist could be saying that he trusts in God the same way that many
people trust in their portion of land.
I'd prefer to think,
however, that the Psalmist is saying that, in some sense, God belongs to
him (which is not to say that God belongs only to him), as a
portion of land belongs to its owner, and the owner can reap the
benefits of that land. The Psalmist can partake of God's love,
goodness, strength, and wisdom because he has God himself. God is the
Psalmist's precious treasure, in short. I think of the
praise-and-worship song "You are my all in all", which I loved singing back when I was in Intervarsity in college.
thing is, a number of evangelicals focus on God being our portion in
the sense that God is our friend and is unconditionally loving. Psalm
119:57, however, associates God being our portion with us resolving to
keep God's words. When God is our portion, who God is----including
God's moral character----accompanies that, and that should lead to
transformation on our part. Does that mean that God being our portion
is conditional on us keeping God's commandments? Well, I'd have serious
issues with that, due to my own shortcomings and my need for a God of
unconditional love, whose love remains firm even when I am at my worst.
Perhaps the Psalmist in v 57 is saying that he resolves to keep God's
commandments because he is grateful that God is his portion:
God's love for him and for others motivates him to want to walk in God's
way. Moreover, a common saying is that we get out of things what we
put into them. There are things that we can do to get good out of our
relationship with God, things that entail us becoming more receptive to
God's voice. As a farmer must cultivate his portion of land to get
benefits from it, so should I cultivate my relationship with God.
58 I intreated thy favour with my whole heart: be merciful unto me according to thy word.
does the Psalmist have to entreat God's favor and mercy? Does he not
already have these things? Perhaps. I can assume that God loves me.
Still, there are things that please God, and that displease God. I
should want to do the things that please God. And when I do wrong and
need my conscience to be cleansed so that I can start anew, I can draw
on God's mercy. I can't argue against the notion that the Psalmist is
seeking God's favor and God's mercy because he does not believe that he
has them already----that he is not entirely secure in his relationship
with God. I'm hesitant to read into the Bible the idea that God is
unconditionally loving, for I don't want to project modern ideas or
trends onto the Bible. And yet, perhaps one can say that God is
unconditionally loving, while still asking God for favor and mercy.
Sure, I can say that I'm already forgiven, but it helps me when I can
confess that I have done wrong and can remind myself of God's mercy.
59 I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies.
Christians offer different spiritual advice. Some say that we should
be really introspective: that we should look at ourselves, identify what
we are doing wrong, and then try to stop what we are doing wrong and do
what's right instead. Others criticize introspection, saying that we
should not look at ourselves but at Christ----Christ's love for us, the
imputed righteousness that we have in him, etc.
I do tend to
despair when I am introspective, especially within a Christian context,
for I see how far I fall short of righteousness, and I lack confidence
in ever being able to measure up. Christian introspection, for me, can
easily lead to an unhealthy perfectionism. But I do believe that I
should look at myself at least sometimes----to see where I'm less than
loving, and to identify where I need to change and what exactly I can change.
60 I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments.
could be an insecure Psalmist trying to appease God, like an employee
really gets on-the-ball when his boss is around. But, again, whenever I
can, I'd like to see the Bible through the prism of God's unconditional
love, even though I'm not always sure if that produces accurate
exegesis. Could the Psalmist be saying that he is genuinely excited to
obey God's commandments----that, again, God's love inspires him?
61 The bands of the wicked have robbed me: but I have not forgotten thy law.
robbed must be horrible----for what is yours to be taken away from
you. But maybe the Psalmist is saying here that nobody can take God's
law away from him----that he has an eye on what is truly important.
People may take from us. Or perhaps we may be in situations where we do
not feel that we are getting what we truly deserve. In those
situations, one approach may be to hold fast to what is good: to think
on what is positive, to contemplate God's values.
62 At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee because of thy righteous judgments.
talked some about the significance of the night-time in my post on
Psalm 119: Zayin. Interestingly, John Chrysostom said some of the same
things that I did about night: how it is a time of quiet, when we are
especially receptive to God. It doesn't always work out that way for
me, since my mind tends to keep on going, even when I'm trying to
sleep. But there are times when my mind quiets down. Perhaps I should
take some time when I am in bed to give thanks to God.
63 I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts.
Henry says that David loved those who feared God----not so much because
of any friendship that he had with him----but rather on account of
their devotion to God. Henry also noted that David worshiped with the
poor, for the worship of God brought together people from various
classes. I thought of this when I was reading my notes on II Samuel 6,
where I mentioned Gregory the Great's statement that David in dancing
before the LORD mingled with the common people.
Some of this
resonates with me. For one, I can somewhat identify with basing my
companionship with others, not on whether or not I like them or they
like me, but rather on their moral character----to have a purpose
for associations rather than merely to hang out. I don't like a lot of
people, due to a variety of reasons (i.e., my hyper-sensitivity, maybe
their hyper-sensitivity). But I do admire traits in different people.
Second, I do respect Christianity as a force that brings a diversity of
people together. Sometimes, that doesn't happen, for some churches are
not particularly diverse, due to where they are located. And there are
some Christians who prefer to associate with people who are like them.
But I do respect that Christianity in the past has brought people
together----as tired as I get of people marketing their churches or
small groups by emphasizing how diverse they are.
But am I a
companion of those who fear God? Overall, I find this difficult. There
are people who fear God who aren't particularly tolerant of other ways
of thinking or living, or who are self-righteous. I myself have a hard
time being around those kinds of people. But I also have a hard time
associating with the liberal spiritual types because I don't feel
accepted by them, since my impression is that they don't think I'm deep
or profound enough. Or I find that they, too, are pretty dogmatic and
intolerant, only for different reasons than the conservative God-fearers
are. To be honest, I'm not sure how I can build religious bridges with
other people. I remember Tim Keller giving a sermon in which he said
that we should focus on God, and then we can build bridges with others
who are focused on God. That hasn't worked for me, to tell you the
truth. Perhaps what I should do is recognize that others on a spiritual
path have wisdom that can inspire, guide, and benefit me, and to be
open to that. But I shouldn't just be a taker: when I can, I should
offer others support, showing that I care about them when they are in
(UPDATE: I was thinking primarily about my online experiences in writing
this, but, as I reflect some more, I realize that I do associate with
people at my church. The people there are nice people.)
64 The earth, O LORD, is full of thy mercy: teach me thy statutes.
this post, I've been wrestling with whether or not the Psalmist
regarded God as unconditionally loving. I'll probably wrestle with this
question----as it pertains to the Bible in general----for a very long time.
But this verse does say that the earth is full of God's mercy, as if
God is not sparing of his mercy, and God's benevolence is wide-ranging,
even for people who are outside of a particular group. When God is
unconditionally loving, can that motivate me to want guidance from him
as to how I should live, so that I can be good, like God?