Saturday, April 20, 2013

Psalm 119: Zayin

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will post Psalm 119: Zayin in the King James Version (which is in the public domain), then I will comment on select verses.

49 ZAIN. Remember the word unto thy servant, upon which thou hast caused me to hope.

Rashi interprets this word as God's word to David through the prophet Nathan.  I presume that Rashi means God's promise in II Samuel 7 that David would have an everlasting dynasty.  Did that promise give David comfort when Absalom was revolting against him and David was on the run?  The problem here is that Absalom was David's son, and so, technically-speaking, God's promise of an everlasting Davidic dynasty could be fulfilled, even if Absalom had overthrown David.  And yet, not so fast!  God's promise in II Samuel 7:12-13 was that David's son would build God a house.  That turned out to be Solomon.  Therefore, the promise in II Samuel 7 may entail that Solomon, not Absalom or any other son of David, would be David's successor.

Alternatively (and this is me, not Rashi), could God's word to David be God's promise that David would become king?  I'm not aware of God promising David the monarchy via a divine word, but God's prophet Samuel did anoint David, and the spirit of the LORD came upon David from the time of the anointing afterwards (I Samuel 16).  That could have given David comfort and hope as he was fleeing from Saul.  (UPDATE: In II Samuel 5:2, we read that God told David that David would be king.)

The Midrash on the Psalms provides a different interpretation.  It interprets "thy servant" as Abraham, not David.  The Psalmist, therefore, takes comfort in God's covenant with Abraham and God's promise that Abraham would have numerous offspring, who would possess the land of Israel.  The idea here may be that David wanted for God to apply to him (David) God's promises to Abraham, thereby preserving David's life so that David could have offspring and live in Israel.  Or perhaps the idea is that the Psalmist in Psalm 119 is a typical Israelite in exile: this Israelite wants for God to remember God's promises to Abraham and thus increase Israel and restore her to her land.  The orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary appears to believe that Psalm 119 has an exilic relevance.

50 This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me.

Is God's word the Torah?  Is it God's personal word to David, or to someone else?  Does the Psalmist receive this quickening by hearing or studying the word of God that has been recorded in a book, namely, the Torah?  Or is the Psalmist quickened because God is personally speaking to him, apart from the Torah?  Or does the Psalmist believe that God can use the ancient words of the Torah to speak to his own situation, as evangelicals and maybe Barthians think about Scripture?  If I'm not mistaken, that concept is called the divine illumination of Scripture.

In Psalm 119, the Psalmist praises the Torah.  And this Torah is supposedly known by all of Israel, which means that it is not merely God's word to the Psalmist alone.  After all, in v 53, the Psalmist refers to wicked people who forsake God's law, implying that they know about it.  And yet, there are also times when God's word in Psalm 119 appears to be something fresh and new----something that comes and quickens the Psalmist personally.  Can that coincide with being something that was written down in a book long before the time of the Psalmist (not that I want to get into the question of when the Pentateuch was written in relation to the time of David)?

The Psalmist may be receiving a fresh revelation.  After all, a word from God is a word from God, right?  God's promise to David through Nathan or Samuel is as authoritative as a word in the Torah, since all of those are words from God, correct?  Well, I don't know.  Judaism and Christianity would appear to answer no.  Judaism (if I'm not mistaken) regards the Torah as higher than the Prophets and the Writings portions of Scripture.  And many evangelicals today say that we should test any word that we supposedly receive from God by Scripture.  There are some Christians, such as Mormons, who have additional Scripture, but my impression is that many Christians----even those who believe that God still speaks to people----maintain that God is not currently adding to the Bible.  It's almost as if the Bible has a revelatory value, that personal experiences of revelation do not.

The Psalmist appears to value God's revelation to him personally, whether or not that is mediated through the Torah.  Yet, the Psalmist also holds onto God's judgments of old, as v 52 indicates.

51 The proud have had me greatly in derision: yet have I not declined from thy law.

I have to respect the Psalmist for holding fast to his faith and love for God, even when he is derided.  The Psalmist does not need to impress the proud.  He knows that there is a God and that God loves him.  He is aware of the value of righteousness, for himself and for the well-being of others, even society as a whole.  These are truths that are larger than what other people may think about the Psalmist.

52 I remembered thy judgments of old, O LORD; and have comforted myself.

Are these judgments God's statutes, or God's ways of acting throughout history (see here)?  I can see the Psalmist comforting himself in either one of those.  The Psalmist can comfort himself in God's statutes because they depict to him the stability of righteousness when he is in turmoil----the solid ground of what is right when so much ground is shaky----and the Psalmist can also assure himself that God honors faithfulness to those statutes.  Or the Psalmist can look at God's acts through history----God's judgment of the deliberately wicked and deliverance of those who seek him----and conclude that this applies to his own situation, as well.

53 Horror hath taken hold upon me because of the wicked that forsake thy law.

The horror taking hold on the Psalmist could be due to the oppression that he is experiencing at the hands of the lawless, those who choose not to be regulated by God's law (or perhaps any moral code).  Or here's a thought: Could the Psalmist be thinking about the well-being of the lawless ones?  Does the Psalmist shudder when he considers what God's wrath will be like when it falls upon them?

54 Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.

The Psalmist either sings God's statutes, or he sings about them.  And this is understandable.  While prominent strands of Christianity may have been down on God's law through the ages, God's law is as much a manifestation of God's goodness as God's grace and promises.  It is inherently righteous, and it teaches us how to live a fulfilling life of love to God and to our neighbor.  Paul (the one of the Old Perspective), or Martin Luther, may say that the law weighs us down-----that we become burdened when we try to keep the law to become righteous before God, for none of us is perfect.  This could very well happen.  But maybe, for a number of Christians, believing in God's grace through Jesus Christ is what allows them to make peace with God's law, for they are no longer trying to keep it to appease God, and so they can appreciate the law without all of the pressure.  Maybe believing in the law within the context of faith in a loving God is itself necessary for one to have peace with the law.

On the house of pilgrimage (or sojourning-place), see my comments on v 19 in my post here.  The Psalmist is probably talking about his sojourn in life, which is transitory.

55 I have remembered thy name, O LORD, in the night, and have kept thy law.

I agree with Keil-Delitzsch that the Psalmist's point about the night is that he is so faithful to God that he not only remembers God during the day, but in the night as well.  It is interesting, though, how night appears so often in the Book of Psalms.  Sometimes, it represents the Psalmist's affliction, or it's a time when the Psalmist cries out to God.  It can be a time when the Psalmist finds his rest in God as he is trying to sleep, or when God evaluates him, and maybe even speaks to him.  A Christian friend of mine once told me about a disturbing dream that he had, which he thought was from God.  He said that, sometimes, we get so busy, that God needs to speak to us in our sleep to get our attention!  That may be why God speaks to certain biblical characters at night: that's when they're available!  That's when they're more receptive!

56 This I had, because I kept thy precepts.

Translators and interpreters have ideas about what the "This" is that the Psalmist has: merit, blessing, etc.  Here's a thought: Can we somehow relate v 56 back to v 55?  The Psalmist is able to remember God's name on a continual basis and to keep God's law because of his discipline in keeping God's precepts, which remind him of God?  Obedience leads to more faith and obedience.

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