Wide places and baby food (Psalm 119:45)

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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4 comments

  1. Thanks I always wondered what that phrase meant (“wide place”). I’ve heard it used by those who advocate the “way of wisdom” model of knowing God’s will. They will quote Ps. 119:45 to say that in our non-moral choice making we have great liberty and freedom like a sheep grazing wherever it wishes. But this always seemed like an over-interpretation to me. So are you saying that the psalmist is basically promising that if we obey God’s word we have assurance that we will enjoy the new heavens and new earth to come?

  2. In Psalm 119:45 does the future “shall” mean the psalmist is predicting a final future Promised Land or a more immediate Promised Land-like experience?

  3. Gary, Trish and Chara, Thanks for engaging. Sorry, I’m slow to respond–health issues continue (with gradual improvement).

    Gary, I’m not saying anything quite so definitive, but if we faithfully pursue God and God’s word, we can expect God to be faithful to us and to bless us. That’s not always how we expect it, but we can be assured of the greatest blessing–being in relationship with God.

    Trish, that’s a great question. It’s difficult even to know when the psalmist is writing (pre-exile? post-exile?), which would certainly affect what he’s expecting. I would think “a more immediate Promised-Land like experience”. I like how you phrased it.

    Chara, thanks. It’s good to hear you and your friends read it. I need a lot of encouragement lately.

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