Kind of, sort of, or utterly forsaken? (Psalm 119:8)

“I will observe your statutes;
do not utterly forsake me
” (Psa. 119:8 NRSV).

With this verse, we finish the first of 22 stanzas of Psalm 119 where each of the eight verses begins with the same Hebrew letter.  For this first stanza, the introductory letter is the first in the alphabet, Aleph.

This verse begins with the direct object particle (‘et), literally “your statutes I will observe”.  But it could have begun with “I will observe” since the Hebrew word that translates into this phrase also begins with Aleph (see 119:7), so the psalmist is here once again emphasizing God’s laws.

The verse has two parts.  First, the psalmist commits to “obey” (NIV), “keep” (ESV, KJV) or “observe” (NRS) God’s statutes, from the Hebrew verb shamar.  Next, the psalmist requests (commands?) God to not utterly forsake them.  The psalmist doesn’t make clear if there is a correlation between the obedience of the psalmist and the lack of divine forsakenness, but it seems implied.

I wonder though, do we normally think about degrees of forsakenness?  How forsaken were you?   A little forsaken, sort of forsaken, or utterly forsaken?  Isn’t forsakenness an all or nothing enterprise?  I remember my supervisor in Oxford (Susan Gillingham) pointing out on one of my papers that the word “unique” doesn’t require the qualifier “totally”.  Something is either unique or it is not.  There’s no gray.

The same is true of forsakenness.  But apparently the psalmist wanted to make it totally, completely and utterly clear.  Don’t forsake me.  The psalmist was afraid of not being in relationship with God.  And the psalmist knew that following God’s word would bring God close.

Have you ever been “kind of forsaken”?

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