I have three items for my write-up today on Psalm 119: Shin/Sin.
1. Psalm 119:164 states (in the KJV): "Seven times a day do I praise thee because of thy righteous judgments."
Some believe that the Psalmist praised God seven literal times each day. Rashi actually tries to map those times out: "In
the morning, twice before the reading of 'Shema' and once after it, and
in the evening, twice before it and twice after it" (see here).
Keil-Delitzsch say that Psalm 55:17 appears to suggest three times a
day for prayer, and they contend that the Psalmist in Psalm 119:164 is
saying that he has even gone beyond that!
are others, however, who do not interpret the seven times in a literal
fashion. The Jewish exegetes Radak and Ibn-Ezra interpret the seven
times to mean constantly. And W.O.E. Oesterley says that "seven was
often used as an indefinite number of times..."
don't try to make myself pray seven times a day. I also can't say that
I pray "constantly." But I do believe that it is beneficial for me to
make my relationship with God a part of my day, and to focus on the
positive aspects of God's character (i.e., God's righteousness, God's
love) rather than my discontent. What is interesting in this section is
that the Psalmist is continually praising God for his righteous
judgments in a time when princes are persecuting him. I've heard people
talk about the importance of praising God in the midst of
difficulties. Sometimes, this is advertised as a path to a
breakthrough, things becoming better. Well, maybe things get better, or
maybe they don't necessarily. I can look back at times when I would
sing praise songs, and that didn't exactly make my life go the way that I
wanted! Still, I can identify with clinging to God in the midst of
2. Psalm 119:165 is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. It states: "Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them."
am an easily offended person. But suppose that I loved God's law and
studied it more? Would I be as offended by what people say or do,
specifically when it's directed at me? I am drawn to the concept of
being so at peace that I am not offended by others. That would strike
some people as rather escapist: that I would study the Bible in an
attempt to escape dealing with real life. Well, we all should try to
deal with real life! But focusing one's attention on something positive
can be a good coping mechanism. In my opinion, a little escapism is
not necessarily a bad thing!
Does the Psalmist's love for God's
law lead him never to be offended, though? In Psalm 119:163, he states:
"I hate and abhor lying: but thy law do I love." The Psalmist
obviously is offended by something: lying. When we draw closer to God,
what can (or should) happen is that the things that break God's heart
break our hearts, too. Still, I'd like to think that occupation with
God's law does not lead solely to discouragement about the state of the
world, but allows one to elevate one's thoughts to something or someone
higher. Moreover, I would hope that occupation with God would lessen
one's pettiness, especially when that pettiness does not relate to the
grand battle between good and evil.
Augustine had an interesting
interpretation of Psalm 119:165. He said that its point is that the
Psalmist loves God's law, and nothing in Scripture offends
him. When the law appears to be absurd, Augustine says, the Psalmist
recognizes that his own understanding is limited, and that there is some
"great meaning hidden" (see here).
I have long heard something similar within fundamentalist or
conservative evangelical circles: that I should trust the Bible's
inerrancy, even when a passage appears wrong or revolting to me, because
that passage may be true or make sense in a way that I do not currently
see. Maybe there's something to this. In the same way that I
shouldn't make hasty judgments about people based on limited
information, I shouldn't be quick to dismiss Scripture when it violates
my sensibilities, for there may be something deeper. But I have a
question: How can the Bible benefit me right now, when my current
understanding of it is imperfect? Can an infallible Bible (assuming it
is infallible) help those who read it so fallibly?
may be about being offended, or it may be about something else. I read
interpreters who said that the message of Psalm 119:165 is that those
who love God's law will avoid moral stumblingblocks, or the
stumblingblock of divine punishment for sin. The Hebrew word translated
in Psalm 119:165 as "offend" can mean such things (i.e., Ezekiel 7:19;
14:3-4, 7; Jeremiah 6:21; etc.). I do agree that adhering to a
righteous path can enable one to avoid problems that unrighteousness can
bring. It doesn't mean a problem-free life, but I do have to admit
that behaving in an unrighteous manner can result in steep consequences,
which I would rather avoid.
3. Psalm 119:168 says: "I have kept thy precepts and thy testimonies: for all my ways are before thee."
interpretation of this that I read was that the Psalmist keeps God's
law because God is omniscient. I wonder if this portrays God as a sort
of Santa Clause, who judges people according to their behavior: you
better watch out, you better not cry, etc. I'd like to think that the
Psalmist's relationship with God goes beyond that, that the Psalmist
sincerely loves God and God's laws, as opposed to obeying God because
God is watching his every move and may strike him down if he does
wrong. Psalm 119 talks a lot, after all, about love for God's law.
Consider Psalm 119:162: "I rejoice at thy word, as one that findeth great spoil."
interpretation I read is that the Psalmist is saying to God that he has
kept God's law, and he is appealing to God's omniscience to argue to
God that God should know that he (the Psalmist) is keeping
God's law. I think of John 21:17: Jesus is asking Peter more than once
if Peter loves him, and Peter eventually responds that Jesus knows that he loves him.
like to see Psalm 119:168 more in light of a love-relationship with
God, however: God knows my ways because he cares for me, and I in turn
love God back and try to walk in God's ways.
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