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Archive for the ‘Psalms’ Category

I will also speak of your testimonies before kings
and shall not be put to shame
(Psalm 119:46).

I’m hoping a few of you readers are kings.  Then I could be like the psalmist, speaking before kings about God’s laws.  I know a guy named Andrew King, and while he’s a great guy, he’s no monarch. But I don’t think that’s what the psalmist was talking about (he probably wasn’t thinking about Burger Kings either).

The psalmist was speaking about real kings.  Although back in the Old Testament times a “king” might only rule over a few thousand people.  In Genesis 14, there’s a battle between a coalition of four kings and a coalition of five kings, where it seems like a king is basically a ruler of a city, more like a mayor, but probably not democratically elected.

It would still take courage for anyone to speak before king about God’s testimonies.  What gives the psalmist confidence to do something so bold?  He knows that he won’t be embarrassed.

To succeed in public speaking you need confidence.  There’s nothing more painful than a public speaker who’s lost his confidence.  The psalmist has complete confidence in God and God’s word.

Where does the psalmist’s confidence come from?  It is difficult to say conclusively, but from what we’ve seen in the psalm, it’s from a lifelong relationship with God, and a complete commitment to live God’s word and sing the praises of God’s laws.

Yesterday in our Sunday school class, my wife Shannon led a discussion of a section of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says he came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17-20).  I was struck by how much Jesus loved, supported and taught God’s law.  According to Jesus own words, those that do the law and teach others to do so will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.  I guess that makes both Jesus and the psalmist great.

God, make us great as we follow the examples of Jesus and the psalmist to speak of your law and to follow it. 

Image:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/marcbabej/2011/08/19/burger-king-decapitates-its-king-mascot-about-time/

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And I shall walk in a wide place,
for I have sought your precepts
 (Psalm 119:45).

Walking in a wide place–what does that mean?  And why is it a good thing?

Other translations have “liberty” (NAS, NRSV) or “freedom” (NIV), but the ESV’s “wide place” is literally what the word rahab means.  (Yes, rahab is also the name of perhaps the most famous biblical prostitute.  If you’re not familiar with her story, read Joshua chapters 2 and 6.)

I like that the ESV went with the literal translation, which may be a little harder to understand.  But instead of the translators telling us their interpretation, we get to figure it out for ourselves.

It’s like the difference between baby food and adult food.  Baby food is already mashed up to make it easier for young humans without teeth to consume.  Most of us with teeth like to chew our food.  The food ends up in the same place either way.

Translations that try to fix all the potentially confusing problems in the text are a little bit like baby food.  The more literal ones, like adult food.  It takes more work to understand, but like chewing adult food, the work is worth it.

Now, I’m going to chew your food for you (perhaps, it’s time to say goodbye to this image?).  Walking in a wide place should remind Israel’s readers of God’s promise to Moses before he had even delivered them from Egyptian oppression.

To describe the Promised Land, God uses the same word, rahab, here in Psalm 119:45 and in Exodus: “I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad (rahab) land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exo. 3:8).  So, “wide places” in Psalm 119:45 is code for God’s promise of a land flowing with milk and honey.

The psalmist sees a connection between seeking God’s commands and the promises that God gives to his people for faithfulness.

God, let us live in “wide places” as we follow your commands. 

Psalm 119:45 is the 5th verse in the 6th section (Vav).

This image is the first up on Google Images under “wide places” (http://www.osholeela.co.uk/index.php?content=fr_li).

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Do you like to complain?  So did the psalmist.  Check out my latest blog for the Biblical Seminary:

God Likes It When We Complain (Psalm 13).

Since I wrote this, I’ve been complaining a lot.  I’ve been struggling with vocal cord damage and reflux and as I do more things, it seems to just get worse.  I’ve been letting God know that I’m in pain and don’t like it, but I still believe he’s sovereign.

I’m slowing moving towards a place of hope.

Image from: http://larrygifford.wordpress.com/2010/12/06/1-complaint/

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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

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And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth,
for my hope is in your rules
(Psalm 119:43).

Fear and hope (the colonoscopy comes up at the “end”).  Both emotions are future focused, but are polar opposites.  In its forecast, fear expects bad, while hope anticipate good.  We like to be hopeful, but struggle not to be fearful.

The psalmist is afraid that God is going to leave him totally wordless. (I feel wordless right now, with damaged vocal cords and a mandate to not talk.)  The word the psalmist doesn’t want to be deprived of is true, and from the context of the rest of this psalm it’s clearly God’s word, the source of truth.

But why would God remove his word from the psalmist?  Yes, that’s a good question.  I don’t have a good answer, except perhaps that the psalmist’s fear is irrational, which is often the case for fears.  My fear of permanent vocal cord damage may be irrational, but when one is struggling, it’s hard to think rationally.

How to combat fear?  Hope.  The antidote for fear.  The psalmist hopes in God’s rules.  I’m not sure what this means exactly, but the psalmist clearly sees a connection between these rules and God himself.  Otherwise, why would he keep praying to God?  The entire psalm is one long, 176 verse prayer about God’s word.

While I can’t speak, I am deprived of “the word of Dave”, but I still have easy access to the word of truth.  During my period of forced silence, God’s word has begun to give me hope.

This is the third verse of the sixth section of the psalm, the Vav section, where each verse begins with the Hebrew letter Vav.  The Hebrew conjunction is basically just the letter Vav attached to the beginning of a word, and it is usually translated “and“, but also sometimes “but“, or even “or“; it may be simply untranslated.  Every verse in the Vav section begins with the conjunction Vav, making it the easiest section of the entire psalm to write.

(Due to a colonoscopy on Monday, I fell “behind” on my Psalm 119 blogging this week.  I’ll post images on Facebook soon.)

What are you afraid of (a colonoscopy, perhaps)?  How does God’s word give us hope? 

Image from: http://www.tabletprep.com/colonoscopy/index.aspx

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Then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me,
for I trust in your word
(Psalm 119:42).

Someone has been taunting the psalmist.  Sounds like more biblical trash-talking (under Categories, see posts on Trash Talking, my favorite: Canine Blood Lickers, Avian Flesh Pickers).

The “Then” at the beginning of this verse ties it back to the last one, so when YHWH’s steadfast love and salvation come to the psalmist (119:41), “then” he’ll have an answer to the taunt.

How does one answer a taunt?  With a taunt (this is the Old Testament, none of that “turning-the-other cheek” stuff here).  How does this sound as a counter-taunt: “God loves me and saves me, so there“?  It sounds a bit strange, but it’s good to be able to state boldly what we know about God and the status of our relationship with God.

Taunts are meant to belittle and discourage.  The fact that God loves me and saves me should give me confidence.

The end of verse 42 is the key for these first two verses of the Vav section (119:41-48, where all verses begin with the 6th letter of the Hebrew alphabet…yes, you guessed it…Vav) The psalmist trusts in God’s word.  And because of this trust, the psalmist is confident that he will have appropriate counter-taunts involving God’s love and God’s salvation to verbally defeat his opponent.

The psalmist knows that God’s word is reliable and trustworthy.  And not just for taunting.

God, give us confidence in your word, your love and your salvation to overcome discouragement. 

How can we use God’s word, God’s love and God’s salvation to overcome taunts or discouragements? 

Image from http://blogs.desmoinesregister.com/dmr/index.php/2011/08/29/peterson-agree-or-disagree-with-ncaas-taunting-rule/

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I’m talking to a friend about the Bible, and we’ll need to check what the Bible actually says on a subject.  My friend says, “Here, I’ve got a Bible in my back pocket” and he pulls out his “Bible.”  But it’s not a full Bible.  I blurt out, “That’s not a real Bible.  That’s a half-Bible, a quarter-Bible.”

Old Testament professors are a bit defensive about pocket New Testaments that are billed as real Bibles.  The Old Testament is over three-quarters of the Bible, you know.

But there’s one Old Testament book, that occasionally makes it into the elite status of the NT, so that it gets included into these quarter-Bibles.

The Book of Psalms (and occasionally Proverbs).

I’ve started a series of blogs on the Psalms for Biblical Seminary’s Faculty blog, beginning, of course, with Psalm 1.  Check it out: The Rewards and Consequences of a Torah-Focused Life [Psalm 1].

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Let your steadfast love come to me, O LORD,
your salvation according to your promise (Psalm 119:41).

The psalmist wants love and has no qualms about asking for it directly.

I recently heard on NPR’s “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” about an interaction between an 8th grade boy and New Jersey governor Chris Christie.  The boy asked for advice in his upcoming student body election.  The governor’s response may seem obvious, “Don’t be afraid to ask people to vote for you,” but gets to the heart of the issue.   The psalmist here apparently lives by a similar philosophy, “Don’t be afraid to ask God to love you.”

The love that psalmist is asking for is hesed-love.  I describe it in God Behaving Badly, “hesed is the best kind of love one could imagine.  It is the love of a devoted parent to a child from infancy to adulthood and beyond.  It is the love of a committed spouse to her or his partner over decades of marriage” (p. 38).  You can understand why the psalmist would ask for this from God.

But the psalmist isn’t satisfied with that, he asks for salvation also.  But why does he need to ask for salvation if God has already promised it?  Yes, that’s a good question, thanks for bring it up.  Apparently the promised salvation hasn’t fully arrived yet, so the psalmist is reminding God and making his desire clear.  The psalmist is also acknowledging that his focus is on God, for love, for salvation, for everything.

I tend to ask God for specific things like healed vocal chords (mine are currently damaged), a good class (I taught at church yesterday), a safe trip (we’ve been driving as a family a lot this summer), but not intangible things like love.  That should probably change.

This is the first verse in the Vav section of the psalm (119:41-48), the 6th of 22, where every verse begins with the Hebrew letter Vav.

God, give us your hesed-love in abundance. 

How comfortable do you feel asking God for intangible things like love?

Image from http://nj1015.com/town-hall-event-is-excused-absence-says-chris-christie/ (this boy is the wrong one, he’s an 11 year-old who asked to be excused from school).

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Behold, I long for your precepts;
in your righteousness give me
life! (Psalm 119:40).

Normal people don’t say “Behold” any more.  “Behold, I went to Famous Footware today and bought these cool Nike running shoes.  Behold them.”

That doesn’t sound right.  The Hebrew word henay, instead of “behold” might be better translated “look.”  We can excuse the King James Version for saying “behold”, because I’m pretty sure people actually said “behold” four hundred years ago.  However, this translation, the ESV, is only eleven years old.  I was alive in 2001, I’m pretty sure no one then said “behold” (unless they were talking about the furniture polish, see image).  Why is the Bible the only place we expect to find someone saying “behold”?

The NRSV has “See” which isn’t bad.  I’d prefer “Check it out!”  The psalmist is trying to get YHWH’s attention here.  “Check it out!  I long for your precepts.”  Do you ever say that to God?  “Check it out God! I’m longing for you and your word!”

In 119:20, the psalmist’s soul was consumed with longing at all times for God’s ordinances.  Here the psalmist simply longs for God’s precepts.  You don’t “long” for things unless you’re really into them.  It’s an all-consuming passion.  I long for the football season to start (and God’s precepts).

Four verses earlier, the psalmist asked God to “give me life” (119:37) and now he asks God for the same thing.  In verse 37, it was life “in your ways, now it is life “in your righteousness.”  For the psalmist, his life is completely wrapped up in God, God’s word and God’s laws.

Psalm 119:40 is the final verse in He section (33-40).

Check it out God!  We’re longing for you and your word!

What word or phrase do you use to get someone’s attention? (It’s got to be better than “behold.”)

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Turn away the reproach that I dread,
for your rules are good
(Psalm 119:39 ESV).

What do you dread?  Getting fired?  Speaking in public?  The psalmist fears reproach.

I’m in Kentucky right now to pick up some furniture from my dad and see my mom one last time.  Her Alzheimer’s is advanced and she probably won’t survive much longer.  My son Noah joined me.  Dad, Noah and I went for a workout at my dad’s tennis club yesterday.  After returning to my dad’s house, I couldn’t find my iPod which had been in my pocket.  I thought, “It must have fallen out of my pocket.”  Noah suggested I double-check my pockets.  No iPod.  We looked in the car.  No iPod.  We called the tennis club and they looked around.  No iPod.  We needed to head out to dinner asap, so I needed to take a quick shower.  As I lifted up my sweaty, stinky t-shirt what did I find clipped to the top of my shorts?  My iPod.  Whoops.

I dread Alzheimer’s.

So far, no one has reproached me for “losing” my iPod, but I’m sure my family will tease me about it.  Just as there are things I can do that might delay the inevitable onslaught of Alzheimer’s (getting exercise, taking fish oil, eating blueberries–I draw the line at doing crosswords), the psalmist focuses on the goodness of God’s laws to avoid reproach.

It’s not clear from this verse how the goodness of God’s rules will prevent the reproach that the psalmist dreads, but he clearly perceives that a connection between the two.  Remembering that God’s rules are good will somehow protect reproach.

I describe the goodness of God’s laws in more depth in chapter six of God Behaving Badly, but I’ll review briefly here.

What’s God’s first rule?  Be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28).  In other words, “Have a lot of sex.”

What’s God’s second rule?  Eat freely of every tree in the garden (Gen. 2:16).  In other words, “Eat a lot of food.”

The Bible begins by describing the amazing goodness of God’s rules.  God wants to bless people with good things and his laws make that clear.

How do you think the goodness of God’s rules protect us from reproach? 

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