Saturday, April 13, 2013

Psalm 119: Vav

For my weekly quiet time today, I will blog about Psalm 119: Vav, by pasting it in the King James Version (which is in the public domain) and then commenting on select verses.

41 VAU. Let thy mercies come also unto me, O LORD, even thy salvation, according to thy word.

Is salvation promised in God's word?  What exactly is God's word in Psalm 119:41?  Is it the Torah (or at least part of it), since the Psalmist in Psalm 119 often talks about God's commandments and statutes, which characterize the Torah?  In this case, perhaps the Psalmist had in mind Torah passages about God blessing those who keep God's commandments, or God heeding the vulnerable when they are oppressed.

Remember that the Psalmist identified himself as a ger (a stranger, or resident alien) in Psalm 119:19, and the ger within the Torah was one of the vulnerable groups that was of concern to God.  The Psalmist most likely was not a real ger----a non-Israelite who was sojourning within Israel----and yet perhaps he thought that he was enough like a ger (in the sense of being vulnerable) that he hoped that God would demonstrate towards him the compassion that God showed to the gerim.

Or could the "word" that the Psalmist had in mind in Psalm 119:41 have been a word from God towards him personally?  Psalm 119:49 states: "Remember the word unto thy servant, upon which thou hast caused me to hope."  This word came to God's servant, whom I presume is the Psalmist (though perhaps it could mean another servant, such as Moses, in which case the word would be the Torah).  If this Psalm is by or about David, perhaps the word in question is God's promise that David would have a permanent royal dynasty (II Samuel 7).

42 So shall I have wherewith to answer him that reproacheth me: for I trust in thy word.

The Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary says that Jews can proclaim God's word even when princes debate it, for the Jews have the confidence that God will fulfill what God says.  So is this verse about people answering those who reproach them by quoting Bible verses (whatever the "Bible" was at that time)?  How would that be a good comeback, if those who are reproaching don't even believe in the Bible?  Perhaps the reproaching ones would be impacted by the serenity and the wisdom that the Bible-thumpers demonstrate.
I have another idea, though.  Maybe the Psalmist will be able to answer those who reproach him once God shows him the salvation that the Psalmist requests in v 41: when God not only talks the talk, but walks the walk, performing an act of salvation that would put the Psalmist's reproachers to shame.

43 And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth; for I have hoped in thy judgments.

The Psalmist here may mean that he wants to continue to remember God's word, which is a means of strength and guidance to him.  The Psalmist does not want to forget God's word or to cease proclaiming it, either to himself or to others.  Or perhaps the Psalmist is saying that he doesn't want to lose his faith in God amidst the hardships of life, and so he is hoping that God will not take God's word of truth out of his mouth by allowing him to suffer, or maybe even to die.

44 So shall I keep thy law continually for ever and ever.

The Psalmist does not want to be the sort of person who is delivered by God and then forgets God and God's ways.  Rather, he desires to be one who will keep God's law forever.

45 And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts.

Some commentators say that this verse means that obeying God's law is a path to liberty, or at least is consistent with liberty.  In my opinion, it is a good thing when we are not yielding to our passions and lusts in an undisciplined manner.  Then we don't do anything foolish or damaging, and our lives are freer.  But E.W. Bullinger interprets this verse in light of Psalm 118:5, which appears to present liberty as a broad place where the Psalmist is free from his oppressors.  The Psalmist desires freedom from oppression, yet I wouldn't be surprised if he also deems obedience to God's law to coincide with true freedom.

46 I will speak of thy testimonies also before kings, and will not be ashamed.

Some apply this verse to David's relationship with King Saul and the Philistine king, Achish.  I don't know of any story about David testifying about God to King Achish, but it is interesting that Achish acknowledges the LORD and God in I Samuel 29:6, 9.  Perhaps Achish saw something in David, or in events surrounding David, that convinced him that David's God was a powerful being, and maybe even had an admirable character.  (UPDATE: What's problematic here is that David in I Samuel was probably deceiving Achish----pretending to be on the side of Achish and the Philistines, when actually he was on the side of Israel.)

47 And I will delight myself in thy commandments, which I have loved.

I think that it's possible for one to love to testify to God's statutes before others, because that can bring a person acclaim or feed his or her self-righteousness.  And, if a person is testifying before persecuting authorities, maybe such testimony can end up being a matter of self-glorification: look at me, proclaiming the truth to the powers-that-be!  The Psalmist does not just testify about God in public, however, for he sincerely loves and delights himself in God's commandments.  That's what makes his public testimony real.  Some people may find themselves struggling with something else: they love God in private, but they are hesitant to express their faith in public.

48 My hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved; and I will meditate in thy statutes.

It's been noted that the lifting up of one's hands is something that occurs in prayer (see Psalm 44:21-22).  So is the Psalmist praying to God's commandments?  Leslie Allen has a problem with this interpretation, and so he thinks that the text should be emended to read that the Psalmist lifts up his hands towards God.  But I wouldn't be surprised if the Psalmist, on some level, is closely identifying God with God's commandments, as if the commandments are an expression of God's character.  I tend to agree with Paul that the law is limited in making us righteous, due to our sinfulness, and that is why we need grace.  But the law still has a number of beautiful principles.  And yet, the Torah also has ideas (i.e., slavery, conquest, patriarchy, etc.) that offend the moral sensibilities of many, for legitimate reasons.

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