For my weekly quiet time today, I will post Psalm 119: Kaph in the King James Version (which is in the public domain) and comment on select verses.
81 CAPH. My soul fainteth for thy salvation: but I hope in thy word.
The Jewish Study Bible
(specifically, Adele Berlin and Marc Brettler) says about this verse:
"Hoping or longing...for God's word (see also vv. 43, 81, 114, 147)
rather than God (e.g., 31.25; 38.16) typifies the psalmist's attitude."
Berlin and Brettler actually make this point a lot in their comments on
Psalm 119: that the Psalmist in Psalm 119 is, in a sense, substituting
God with God's word. There may be something to that. I don't want to
suggest that this never happens in Psalm 119. But I don't think that
it's the whole story. God still plays an important role in Psalm 119,
as the one whom the Psalmist is asking to deliver him. On God's word in
Psalm 119, my impression is that it includes yet extends beyond the
laws of the Torah (or some body of laws within the Pentateuch, such as
the code in Deuteronomy): the Psalmist in Psalm 119 indeed values God's
statutes, but also God's promises to him personally. In addition, the
Psalmist seems to desire a fresh word of comfort from God to help him
through his difficulties. Whether Berlin and Brettler have this broad,
expansive understanding of God's word in Psalm 119, I do not know.
I have issues with divorcing God's word from God himself in Psalm 119. I'm not saying that God's word is God, but rather that God communicates who God is to people through God's word. When
God speaks to people, there is more intimacy than if God were merely to
perform acts of deliverance without providing any communication. The
Psalmist does not just want to be saved from his perils; he also desires
for God to speak to him, to offer personal words of care. His
love for God's word is part of his relationship with God. That said, I
still acknowledge Berlin and Brettler's point: that there is an
emphasis on God's word in Psalm 119.
There are many Christians
nowadays who say that Jesus, not the Bible, is the Word of God. They
accuse fundamentalists of idolatry when it comes to the Bible, as if the
Bible is an idol for fundamentalists. I can somewhat understand and
sympathize with their sentiments. These Christians regard Jesus as a
nice person, whereas they look in the Old Testament and see God
sanctioning or commanding acts that strike them as morally reprehensible
(i.e., genocide); consequently, they prefer Jesus to the Bible! And
maybe (and I'm just speculating here) they would also prefer to interact
with a person rather than a book that is purported to contain
inflexible rules and principles for all times and situations. A person
is more flexible than a book. The Psalmist in Psalm 119, however, has a
personal relationship with God, while also maintaining faithfulness to
God's statutes, which are probably recorded somewhere, since the
Psalmist assumes that even his enemies are aware of them.
82 Mine eyes fail for thy word, saying, When wilt thou comfort me?
83 For I am become like a bottle in the smoke; yet do I not forget thy statutes.
tend to agree with the commentaries that say that people back then used
to hang their wineskins when they were not using them, and the
wineskins were susceptible to smoke and thus became "dried and
blackened" due to the smoke (to quote Peake's commentary).
Septuagint understands this verse differently, saying that the Psalmist
has become like a bottle in the frost. Augustine says that this means
that God's blessings cool the heat of a person's fleshly desires when
that person meditates on God's "righteousnesses" to avoid forgetting
them; Augustine says that "the fervor of lust has cooled, that the
memory of love might grow" (J.E. Tweed's translation).
Jerome's Latin Vulgate, which often goes with the Hebrew, follows the
LXX in this case, seeing frost in v 83 rather than smoke. I am not
entirely sure why, but my guess is that there is some ambiguity in the
Hebrew word qitor. It occurs only three times in the Hebrew Bible (see here). In Psalm 148:8, it is juxtaposed with snow, and the KJV translates it there as "vapour". Qitor
can mean smoke, as it does in Genesis 19:28 (where the context is the
destruction of Sodom), but perhaps it could have meant other things as
I'd like to comment on Augustine's claim that meditating on
God's word can cool our passions. I vaguely recall reading a similar
sentiment in a writing by Ellen White, the founder of Seventh-Day
Adventism. She said that looking at the cross and seeing God's love for
us there can undermine our lustful passions. Do I buy this? It may
work for some people, on a certain level, as a way for them to
discipline their thoughts, and some may be so enthralled with God that
this overshadows their bodily passions. But I don't think that it works
for everyone. And I'll add that I don't believe that those for whom it
does work are superior to those for whom it doesn't work.
84 How many are the days of thy servant? when wilt thou execute judgment on them that persecute me?
85 The proud have digged pits for me, which are not after thy law.
reaction when I read this verse is, "You think?" Of course pits that
are dug to trap others are not in accordance with God's law! I doubt
that people who dig such pits are seeking the Torah's permission!
the Psalmist may be saying this to encourage God to punish his
persecutors: God should punish them because they have no regard for
God's law. God should intervene to uphold his own standard.
far as I can see (and I am open to correction on this), there is no
explicit command in the Pentateuch against digging a pit for somebody to
fall in. But I tend to agree with Keil-Delitzsch that such an action
would violate the Torah's general standard of compassion and love for
others. Plus, perhaps one can perform a qal va-chomer: if a
person is culpable in Exodus 21:33-34 for digging a pit that someone
else's animal falls into, how much more would he be guilty for
deliberately digging a pit for a person to fall into?
The Septuagint has another understanding of v 85. Brenton's translation of the LXX says: "Transgressors told me idle tales;
but not according to thy law, O Lord." Augustine appears to apply
these "idle tales" to Jewish legends and secular literature, which give
pleasure, and also to "the vain and wandering loquacity of heretics."
Augustine affirms that the point of v 85 is that "truth, not words,
pleases me therein" (Tweed). There is much for me to learn about
Augustine, but his sentiments here remind me of a perspective that I
heard in a class that I took in pagan exegesis: that there was a
Christian view that the Bible was for instruction, not for
As in v 83, Jerome's Latin Vulgate follows the Septuagint. The Hebrew word translated as "pits" in v 85 is shichot, and I think that Jerome (and probably the LXX, for that matter) may be working with a manuscript that has the similar word siach, which Holladay says can mean "babble" (II Kings 9:11, and I also refer you to Proverbs 23:29). Siach, according to Holladay, can also mean an object of concern or interest, and he offers a similar definition for the Hebrew word sichah. Augustine relates that some Latin translators were understanding the Greek word adoleschias
in the Greek for Psalm 119:85 as delights (which is ironic, for the
Greek term in the LXX of I Samuel 1:16 appears to mean a complaint,
which siach, the term that the LXX is translating as adoleschias in I Samuel 1:16, often means), whereas other Latin translators regard it as babblings.
Could adoleschias in
the LXX for Psalm 119:83 relate to complaining, as it does in I Samuel
1:16 (LXX), the point being that the Psalmist's enemies are telling him
their complaints, which are not according to God's law? I
don't know. Such an interpretation would rub me the wrong way, for it
reminds me of pastors or Bible study leaders who dismiss complaints by
saying that the complainers have a problem with what's in the Bible, as
opposed to actually listening to what the complainers are saying to see
if they are making some legitimate observation. If such an
interpretation would mean that the Psalmist is dismissing the complaints
of those who are unhappy because they cannot perpetuate injustice or
game the system at the expense of the vulnerable, however, then I would
be more open to it.
What do I think of Augustine's application of
the "idle tales" to Jewish and secular legends? I don't care for it, to
tell you the truth. I think that legends are good because they
entertain, but also because they can instruct and provide people with
insight into what makes people tick. See Krista Dalton's post here. Interestingly, I read in one book, The New Testament and Rabbinic Literature, that the ancient Christian Eusebius
saw value in Jewish interpretations of the Hebrew Bible! Yet, I can
identify with Augustine's point that people should value statements for
their truth value, not according to how well they are phrased.
Christians studying Judaism, does not Titus 1:14 say that Christians
should not give heed to "Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that
turn from the truth"? That question deserves a post of its own, which I
may someday write (but see my post here,
where I addressed it, on some level). There were early Christians who
were concerned that some of the Christians were paying too much
attention to Judaism and were perhaps feeling obligated to observe
certain Jewish regulations, and they felt that such activity was
hindering them in or distracting them from their walk with Christ. I
can appreciate these early Christians' desire to keep Christians'
attention on what they believed was important: Christ. At the same
time, for me, learning about Judaism enhances my spiritual and religious
life, rather than detracting from it.
86 All thy commandments are faithful: they persecute me wrongfully; help thou me.
The word translated as "faithful" is emunah,
which Holladay associates with such terms as "reliability" and
"honesty", among others. The Psalmist here is probably affirming the
truth of God's commandments, and yet he asks for God to vindicate and
uphold that truth by punishing those who are disobeying God's law by
persecuting the Psalmist.
87 They had almost consumed me upon earth; but I forsook not thy precepts.
88 Quicken me after thy lovingkindness; so shall I keep the testimony of thy mouth.
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