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.
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.
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.
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)?
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.
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.
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.
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
56 This I had, because I kept thy precepts.
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.