Saturday, July 20, 2013

Psalm 119: Resh

For my blog post today about Psalm 119: Resh, I will focus on Psalm 119:160.  In the King James Version, this verse says:

"Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever."
What does the verse mean when it says that God's word is true from the beginning?  The Hebrew word that the KJV is translating as "beginning" is rosh, which literally means "head."  Translated literally, the verse reads: "The head of your word [is] truth; forever [is] every statute of your righteousness."

Here are four ideas that I encountered in my study:

1.  The first idea is that the "beginning" in Psalm 119:160 is a synecdoche: the part stands for the whole.  When Psalm 119:160 says that the beginning of God's word is the truth, it means that the entirety of God's word is true----the beginning, the end, and everything in the middle.  I read this idea in E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible, but there are actually more people who hold to it.  The New International Version translates rosh as "All", and the NRSV translates it as "sum".  Keil-Delitzsch and W.O.E. Oesterley also interpret the verse in this manner.

Psalm 139:17 has been cited by some who argue that rosh can mean "sum".  Psalm 139:17 states in the KJV (and I have emboldened where the word rosh is translated): "How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!"  But there are other interpretations of what rosh means in Psalm 139:17.  Brenton's translation of the Septuagint has: "But thy friends, O God, have been greatly honoured by me; their rule has been greatly strengthened" (emphasis mine).  Edward Cook's translation of the Targum for Psalm 139:17 states: "And how precious to me are those who love you, the righteous, O God; and how mighty have their scholars become!" (emphasis mine).  I can understand where the LXX and the Targum are coming from: rosh literally means "head", and the LXX is interpreting "head" as rulership in Psalm 139:17, whereas the Targum sees the "head" as scholars, who have a headship and prominence within Jewish communities.

2.  The second idea is that rosh in Psalm 119:160 means beginning, which is different from saying that it represents the sum or the entirety of God's word.  The Jewish commentator Rashi brings all of God's word into his discussion of Psalm 119:160, yet he still treats the beginning of the word as the beginning of the word, and that's it.  Rashi draws from Psalm 119:160 the lesson that the end of God's word proves to the Gentiles that the beginning of God's word is true, as well.  When the nations heard the first three commandments of the decalogue, Rashi narrates----the commandments about Israel worshiping the LORD only, not making or bowing down to graven images, and respecting God's name----the nations concluded that the God of Israel was only interested in his own glory.  But when the nations heard the second table of the decalogue, the parts about not hurting one's neighbor, they concluded that the God of Israel was not just concerned about his own glory, but cared about people as well.  When they concluded that the end of God's word (the second table) in the decalogue was true, they came to believe that the beginning of God's word (the first table) in the decalogue was true as well: that the God of Israel deserved the worship and respect that the first table commanded of Israel.

3.  Augustine treats "beginning" in Psalm 119:160 as the origin of God's word.  According to Augustine, the point of Psalm 119:160 is that God's words proceed from truth.

4.  While Oesterley agrees that rosh in Psalm 119:160 means sum, he offers another alternative: "that the chief, or most important, part of the word of God is its truth."  Oesterley cites Psalm 137:6 in arguing that rosh can mean "chief" or "most important."

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