Saturday, April 6, 2013

Psalm 119: He

For my weekly quiet time this week, I'll blog about Psalm 119: He.  I'll post it in the King James Version, which is in the public domain, then I will comment on select verses.

33 HE. Teach me, O LORD, the way of thy statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end.

Perhaps being taught by God within the context of a relationship is what can motivate us to keep God's commandments until the end, as God gives us strength and teaches us about God's love.

34 Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart.

Understanding God's law can influence us to obey it, especially when we are coming to appreciate why the law is so righteous, beautiful, and wise.  But the Psalmist may also be looking for God's direction as to how he should keep the law.  Reading the Bible (or any wise teaching, for that matter) is one thing; knowing how to apply it is something else.

35 Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight.
36 Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness.

The Hebrew word translated here as "covetousness" can simply mean gain or profit, or it can refer to gain that has been attained dishonestly or through oppression (see here how the word is used throughout the Hebrew Bible).  If the word in Psalm 119:36 just means gain or profit, then the Psalmist is probably praying that he'll value God's testimonies more than wealth.  I like what Jimmy Swaggart says about this verse in his Expositor's Study Bible: "The Bible is more precious than gold.  It can fill the broken heart with hope and strength.  That is something money cannot do."  But if the Psalmist is asking for God not to incline his heart towards gain from dishonesty or oppression, then the verse becomes a profound acknowledgment on the part of the Psalmist of his own vulnerability to sin and its temptations.  That could be why he requests God's help in keeping him on the straight-and-narrow in v 35!

37 Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way.

I heard sermons about how we should spend less time watching TV and more time spending time with God in the Word, as if TV programs are vanity.  Personally, I think that the stories on television and in movies can motivate us on our path towards righteousness.  They can make us laugh, which is better than being serious all of the time.  They can also inspire us.  I liked what Michelle Obama said about movies at the Academy Awards this year: about how the cinema teaches us to love, to dream, and to find courage within ourselves (see here).  There are movies that inspire us on our journey, and that encourage us to have sympathy and empathy towards others.  Yet, I know that I need to make decisions about what is a better use of my time, and what is not.  And I do believe in setting aside some time for personal devotions, so that God can quicken me as I try to see the world the right way (with love and empathy) and to do the right thing.

38 Stablish thy word unto thy servant, who is devoted to thy fear.

Some believe that this verse is about God fulfilling a promise, such as God's promise to bless the righteous, or to establish the Davidic dynasty as perpetual (which, as the Malbim says, according to the Artscroll, is not for the glory of David and his line, but rather to promote the fear of God).  Others think that it concerns God commanding us to do things that enhance our reverence of him.  I vaguely recall one interpretation that applied this verse to God writing God's laws on our hearts and our minds, a la Jeremiah 31:33.

Jimmy Swaggart in commenting on this verse highlighted the importance of fearing God.  Does this mean that we should be afraid of God?  Perhaps there is a place for that, in terms of the fear of God keeping us on the straight and narrow.  I don't want to be afraid of going to hell just because I'm imperfect, but there are actions that some people have done that are so heinous, that one would wish that some fear of God had held them back before they committed their deeds.  I tend to see fear in a more positive sense, though: as a term for piety, or reverence. I don't see utter terror in Psalm 119.  There is a recognition that God punishes wickedness, yes, but there's also a perception that God's law is beautiful and worthy of our submission, and that God is a teacher whom we can consult when we are beset by troubles and our own imperfections.

39 Turn away my reproach which I fear: for thy judgments are good.

Rashi interprets this as David's request that God forgive him for his sin with Bathsheba, so David's enemies would not disgrace him for it.  Perhaps that means that David wants for God to demonstrate publicly his forgiveness of David by exalting him----by giving David prosperity, or by delivering him from enemies who challenge him (i.e., Absalom), etc.  Many of us want a fresh start.  I myself should be willing to extend to others that fresh start.  That doesn't mean that I have to like or trust them, but rather that I should realize that we all err, and we all need a chance to get up, to dust ourselves off, and to try to do what's right.

40 Behold, I have longed after thy precepts: quicken me in thy righteousness.

What is God's righteousness that the Psalmist believes is pertinent to his own quickening?  Some Christians apply it to the imputed righteousness that we receive when we have faith in Christ, which is the basis of our spiritual rebirth.  Another Christian whom I read interpreted it as God's righteousness in us----God through us bears righteous fruit.  Yet a third interpretation affirms that God is righteous when God is faithful to God's covenant of law and grace.  I think that God is righteous when God quickens us to do the right thing as we seek God's help.  That is an example of God's love for us and for righteousness itself, and is not God righteous when God is loving?

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