I have two items for my blog post today on Psalm 119: Peh.
1. V 132 states (in the KJV): "Look thou upon me, and be merciful unto me, as thou usest to do unto those that love thy name."
verse stood out to me, even though it is like a lot of other verses
that I have read in the Book of Psalms and the Hebrew Bible in general.
The reason that this verse stood out to me is that it brought
to my mind a question: Who can receive God's mercy? I've heard
different answers to this question throughout my life. Some
say that God forgives those who sincerely repent----who ask God for
forgiveness and make a genuine effort to turn away from their sins.
Others say that God forgives those who simply put their faith in Jesus
Christ. And then there is another view that I have heard even within
evangelicalism: that God may have mercy on those who don't repent or put
their faith in Jesus. Have I really heard this view within
evangelicalism? Well, maybe not explicitly (at least not in very
conservative circles of Christianity), but I have heard a couple of
times from conservative Christians that God shows mercy to the human
race by allowing it to exist. And the human race whom God allows to
exist includes people who have not repented or put their faith in
The Psalmist in Psalm 119:132 says that God is merciful to
those who love God's name. Exodus 20:6 affirms that God shows mercy to
the thousands who love God and keep God's commandments. Psalm 103:11
says that God's mercy is on those who fear God. Psalm 33:18 states that
God's eye is on those who hope for his mercy. And yet, God mercifully
puts up with Israel throughout the Hebrew Bible, even when she is not in
a proper relationship with God.
I can understand God's mercy
being for those who are on a righteous path----people who may not walk
righteously with perfect consistency (since nobody does), but who want
to be righteous, and try to be so. But how can one be assured
that he or she is sufficiently fulfilling the requirements to receive
God's mercy----that he or she is sufficiently keeping God's
commandments, is sufficiently fearing God, is sufficiently loving God's
name? I don't know. And I've gotten to the point where it's not
something that I worry about. I just assume that God loves me
and that God gives me (and many others, wherever they may be on their
journey) time and opportunities to learn, to grow, and to get things
2. V 136 states: "Rivers of waters run down mine eyes,
because they keep not thy law." St. Augustine says that there are some
versions that say in the second half "because I have not kept your law"
found some interesting interpretations of this verse. In the Midrash
on the Psalms, there is a discussion of this verse that refers to
Jeremiah 31:15, which says that Rachel is weeping for her children. The
Midrash asks how Rachel could weep for her children, since she did not
live to see Joseph's children, and she died at Benjamin's birth. The
Midrash then says that the point of Jeremiah 31:15 is that the prophets
are weeping because Israel does not keep God's law. According to
William Braude, the Midrash is probably seeing Rachel in Jeremiah 31:15
as ruach-El----the spirit of God, and thus the prophets who are inspired
by that spirit. But the Midrash goes on to affirm that God comforts
the prophets in Jeremiah 31:16-17 by promising that their labor will not
be in vain and that their children will come back to their border.
the Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary, I read that the "they" who do
not keep the Torah in v 136 are the eyes themselves: the eyes are
weeping because they (the eyes) are not keeping God's Torah. How are
the eyes not keeping God's Torah? According to the Artscroll, the
Psalmist's eyes were leading him into sin, as those eyes looked on what
was forbidden and thereby incited sinful desire. This reminds me of
some New Testament passages. Matthew 5:28-29: "But I say unto you, That
whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery
with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck
it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of
thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast
into hell." James 1:14-15: "But every man is tempted, when he is drawn
away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it
bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth
death." I John 2:16: "For all that is in the world, the lust of the
flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the
Father, but is of the world."
I've not been a big fan of
weeping for my own sin, or weeping for the sins of others. It just
doesn't strike me as overly authentic, but as a way that certain
Christians try to show off how spiritual they are. But I'm all for me
taking a good hard look at myself, the good and the bad. (Or I want
to be for doing that----it can actually be quite scary! I'm coming to
understand more and more with age why that elf said in the Neverending Story that coming face to face with one's true self can lead some people to run away screaming!)
I'm for being concerned about things in the world that hurt other
people. If that leads me to weep, so be it, but what's important is for
me to have concern. Moreover, in the spirit of the Artscroll and those
New Testament passages about lust, I try to be sensitive to the
slippery slope that lust can put me on, even if I don't impose on myself
a blanket prohibition on sexual desire.
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