Is the God of the Old Testament…?
I will keep your law
continually, forever and ever (Psalm 119:44).
“I will keep your law forever”–what? I didn’t think eternal obedience was possible for those of us who aren’t Jesus. It doesn’t seem to be possible for me.
To make it clear, the verse repeats the idea of eternal obedience, “continually, forever and ever“- that sounds like a long time. Isn’t the psalmist here a bit naive? Perhaps too optimist? Or just proud? Does the psalmist think that a pledge of obedience to the law is going to earn God’s favor?
As we think about what the word “keep” means and then interpret it in light of how the psalmist is viewing himself, God and God’s word in the rest of the psalm, this phrase that sounds overly optimistic begins to make sense.
The word translated as “keep” (shamar) can also mean “watch” or “guard“, which fits the context of the rest of the psalm as the psalmist is focused on God’s word. Just looking at the rest of this Vav section of the psalm (119:41-48) the psalmist is trusting in God’s word (119:42), hoping in it (43), seeking it (45), speaking of it (46), delighting in it (47) and meditating on it (48).
For the psalmist, keeping is connected to trusting, hoping and delighting in God and God’s word. This isn’t some sort of legalism, but simply a passion for God and his law. The psalmist is watching, guarding, keeping God’s law, so in verse 44 he is declaring that this will be a life-long obsession.
If that’s what we mean by eternal obedience, I could make that a life-long goal.
At verse 44, we are now halfway through the 6th section of the psalm, the Vav section (see image, that’s Vav in yellow) and already one-quarter of the way through the entire psalm.
God, we will need help to keep your law forever. Help us.
Image from http://www.av1611.org/666/www_666.html