Month: April 2012

Understanding the key to understanding is not understanding (Psalm 119:27)

Make me understand the ways of your precepts,
and I will meditate on your wonderous works
(Psalm 119:27 NRSV).

After 27 weeks of blogging, I wonder if I’ll be able to make it through all 176 verses of Psalm 119.  Did the psalmist wonder the same thing, trying to come up with an appropriate initial word starting with the right Hebrew letter  (Dalet for verses 25-32)?  Perhaps, but a hunger for the Word of God kept motivating the psalmist.  That works for me.

The psalmist in this verse requests understanding regarding God’s precepts.  To ask for understanding, one has to acknowledge incomplete understanding.  Sometimes when people are ignorant, they are so ignorant that they don’t even know they’re ignorant.  That’s bad.

Or, they are ignorant, but are unwilling to acknowledge that publicly because of pride.  Still bad.

The psalmist here acknowledges personal ignorance, and then is willing to record that ignorance in a psalm that would have been read publicly.  In fact, it’s still read publicly now.  A sign of wisdom is knowing that you don’t know.  The psalmist understands the key to understanding is not understanding.   And God is the source of understanding.

Confident that God will grant the request, the psalmist promises to meditate on God’s wonderous works, which in the context of Psalm 119 would be God’s laws (see post on Psalm 119:18), which God has just shed light upon.   Meditating on God’s laws are a major theme here, appearing 7 times in Psalm 119 (23, 27, 48, 78. 97, 98, 148).

God help us understand the ways of your laws. 

Clash of the Titans (1 Samuel 5)

The Israelites had just lost a battle to the Philistines, so they came up with the brilliant idea to get the Ark of the Covenant for the next battle (1 Samuel 4).  Surely, if they had the ark with them, they couldn’t lose.  (That’s what Hitler thought, according to the definitive source on these matters, Raiders of the Lost Ark.)

When the ark is brought into camp, the Israelites celebrate so vociferously, the Philistines hear the noise and panic when they realize Israel has the Ark of YHWH, the God who defeated Egypt.  (Apparently, they share Hitler’s perspective on the ark.)  The Philistines overcome their fear, defeat Israel and capture the Ark as a prize of victory.  It appears that the Philistine god, Dagon, is stronger than YHWH.  Clash of the Titans round 1 winner: Dagon. 

The Philistines decide to set up the ark next to Dagon in Dagon’s house (1 Samuel 5).  But YHWH doesn’t prove to be a nice guest.  The next morning Dagon has fallen over, face down, on the ground, before YHWH.  Dagon apparently lost and had to do homage.  Clash of the Titans round 2 winner: YHWH. 

Dagon’s servants set him back up next to YHWH, thinking surely YHWH will be a better guest this time.  Unfortunately for Dagon, that’s not the case.  The next morning, Dagon has taken a beating.  Like last time: facedown, on the ground, before YHWH.  This time, however, he’s lost his head and hands.  YHWH decided to send a message.  Don’t mess with me.  Clash of the Titans round 3 winner: YHWH.

Three points to make.  First, the text doesn’t tell us explicitly that YHWH knocked Dagon down, but merely suggests it.  Subtlety can be more powerful than clarity.  Show, don’t tell.

Second, this story is funny.  And people think the Bible doesn’t contain humor…

Third, the God of the Bible will tolerate no rivals.  (I don’t actually think YHWH actually lost in the first round–he was punishing his people.)

How does God humiliate his rivals elsewhere in the Bible?  How does he do it today?

Image of Dagon from Wikipedia (Dagon, the fish-god looks like a Weeble, he’ll wobble, but he won’t fall down?)

Deadly for felines but essential for Scripture (Psalm 119:26)

When I told of my ways you answered me;
teach me your statutes
(Psalm 119:26 NRSV).

If questions don’t come to mind when we read the Bible, we’re not reading carefully enough.  Curiosity has a bad reputation.  It deadly for felines.  It gets monkeys named George into trouble.  This negative reputation is unfortunate.  Curiosity is key, particularly for understanding the Bible.  Questions unlock the mysteries of the Bible.  What is deadly for felines is essential for Scripture.  Curiosity.

Questions come easily for this verse.  It’s confusing.

What are the psalmist’s ways?
Why would God answer after being told of the psalmist’s ways?
What was God’s answer?
How does God’s answer to the telling of ways relate to the request to receive a statute tutorial?

Presumably, there was an implicit question or request suggested when the psalmist’s ways were told to God.  But we don’t know what that is unless it is related to the request that immediately follows: Teach me your statutes. 

This request is one of the most repeated petitions of the psalm, appearing is some form 16 times (119:12, 27, 29, 33, 34, 64, 66, 68, 71, 73, 108, 124, 125, 135, 144, 171).  The psalmist really wants a statute tutorial and who’s a better teacher than YHWH himself.  Afterall, it’s his laws.  The psalmist desperately wants to know more about God’s law.  The psalmist is curious.

Since the Hebrew word “way” (derech) begins with the letter Dalet it appears frequently in this the Dalet section (verses 25-32) of the Psalm (5 times: 119:26, 27, 29, 30, 32; highlighted green below).  Hebrew word order is more flexible than English, particularly in poetry, so each of these repetitions of derech can occur at the beginning of the line in the Dalet section.

What kind of statute tutorial would you like to receive?  What laws would you want to understand better? 

Here’s my highlighted version of this section:

Is God Loving or Angry? on Vimeo (Swarthmore)

On Good Friday (4/6/2012) I spoke at the InterVarsity chapter at Swarthmore College on the second chapter of God Behaving Badly .  It was filmed.

The sound is pretty good, considered I wasn’t miked.

Here it is on Vimeo (37 minutes):
David Lamb – Is God Loving or Angry? on Vimeo.


David Lamb – Is God Loving or Angry? from Swarthmore Christian Fellowship on Vimeo.