The King James Version for Psalm 119:113 reads: "I hate vain thoughts: but thy law do I love." I have two items for today's post on Psalms.
1. What the Psalmist hates in that verse are called say-aphim, in the Hebrew. What are say-aphim? The word could mean "thoughts," for a similar word (only beginning with a sin rather than a samech) appears to mean "thoughts" in Job 4:13 and Job 20:2. But a similar word beginning with samech, se-iphim, is in I Kings 18:21, and I will embolden where the KJV translates se-iphim: "And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions?
if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the
people answered him not a word." Another consideration is that the root
samech-ayin-peh relates to a cleft in Judges 15:8, 11 and
Isaiah 2:21 and 57:5, and to lopping off a branch in Isaiah 10:33. On
account of I Kings 18:21, and the association of the root with words
pertaining to division, there are many scholars who believe that Psalm
119:113 is condemning double-mindedness. Bob MacDonald in his book about Psalms translates the term as "Schismatics."
who were these double-minded people? Some commentaries that I read
interpreted them as people who doubted the Torah, or compromised in
terms of their obedience to it. W.O.E. Oesterley said they were
Hellenistic Jews, "those upon whom the precepts of the Law sat lightly,
and who were broken off from the body of the orthodox."
I like some things that the Midrash on the Psalms says about this verse: "I hate them that are of two minds,
the children of men who come to be mindful of the fear of God not
through love, but through affliction...David said: I have kept Thy
precepts not because of duress nor because of fear but out of love, as
is said Thy Law do I love."
I am a person who has plenty
of intellectual doubts about religion, so I tend to recoil from the
interpretations of Psalm 119:113 that hold that God condemns doubt.
Such an interpretation, in my opinion, promotes a blind fundamentalism,
which (in my opinion) calls upon people to turn off their minds. And
yet, I like what I just quoted from the Midrash on the Psalms: that
being double-minded is when people give heed to God because God can
deliver them, not because they see the beauty and value in God and
God's law. Such a commitment could easily vanish once the peril is
gone. I want for my spirituality to be more than mercenary, and to
reflect a genuine love for what is good.
Two things come to my mind. First, I saw a movie recently, The Genesis Code.
One of the plot-lines in that movie is that a young man's mother is in a
coma, and he and some friends pray to God to heal her. There were
Christian critics of the movie who did not care for the young man's
prayer, since the young man did not repent or explicitly accept
forgiveness that is based on Christ's shed blood. Personally, I liked
the young man's prayer, for he was saying that he didn't just want to
follow God just so God would heal his mother. I'm not against asking
God for deliverance. I do so myself, as does the Psalmist throughout
Psalm 119, and in other Psalms. God's deliverance can convince a person
that God is truly good, thereby inspiring that person to follow God for
the rest of his or her life. But, in my opinion, spirituality should
go beyond being mercenary----it should not just be about receiving
Second, at my church's Bible study, on the DVD that we
were watching, Michael Card criticizes the paralyzed man whom Jesus
healed in John 5.
Michael Card said that the man made excuses and did not truly want to
be healed, and that the man didn't even thank Jesus or bother to learn
Jesus' name after his healing. I'm not sure if the man was as bad as
Michael Card was saying, but Michael Card's point does highlight to me
the importance of being in a relationship with God, which goes beyond
just receiving things from God.
2. The Septuagint understands the say-aphim in
Psalm 119:113 to be transgressors. So the Psalmist hates
transgressors, according to the LXX for Psalm 119:113. I was curious
about how St. Augustine addresses this verse, since, as a Christian, he
does not believe in hating people. Augustine states (see here):
"He says not, I hate the wicked, and love the righteous; or, I hate
iniquity, and love Your law; but, after saying, 'I have hated the
unrighteous,' he explains why, by adding,'and Your law have I loved;' to
show, that he did not hate human nature in unrighteous men, but their
unrighteousness whereby they are foes to the law, which he loves."
essentially contends that the verse is saying that the Psalmist hates
the sin, not the sinner. I agree with Augustine that the Psalmist's
love for righteousness is behind his hatred, but I wouldn't be surprised
if the Psalmist hated the transgressors themselves, not just their
transgressions. Transgression, after all, does not exist in the
abstract, but it is performed through the volition of transgressors, who
wreak havoc through their actions. (They are schismatics, to go back
to Bob MacDonald's translation of say-aphim.) The Psalmist may
believe that there are cases in which transgressors need to be removed
for peace to exist, and that's what he wants God to do with the
transgressors who are afflicting him. The Psalmist's hatred is
understandable, and (on some level) it is necessary not to divorce the
transgressor from the transgression: that's why our legal system
punishes transgressors. At the same time, I also believe that such
things as humility, a recognition of one's own faults, and an
acknowledgement of the humanity of even the unjust are important values
within the Bible.
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