Aleph

Informing God what he already knows (Psalm 119:4)

“You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently” (Psalm 119:4).

Only 172 verses to go.   (I’m blogging one verse from Psalm 119 each Sunday.)  And you thought I wouldn’t make it this far.

A dramatic shift occurs in the psalm at verse 4.  In verses 1-3, God is referred to in third person language.  He is YHWH (“the LORD” in most English translations.) or the text speaks of “him” and “his ways”.  But starting in verse, third person language changes to second person.  Instead of God being “he”, he is “you”.  He is no longer spoken about, he is spoken to.

This shift is emphasized by the Hebrew pronoun for you, ‘atah at the beginning of the verse.  In Hebrew, the pronoun is implied by the verb form (like a lot of modern languages other than English), so when the pronoun is used for emphasis.  “YOU have commanded…”  The pronoun begins with the letter Aleph, thus fitting into this Aleph section of the psalm.

Since God is being referred to as “you” it makes the psalm a prayer.  The longest chapter in Scripture is a prayer about Scripture.  Scripture, Prayer.  Nice.  That’s part of why I love this psalm.

So the psalmist informs God that God commanded God’s precepts to be kept diligently.  Why tell God something that he so obviously knows?  It’s hard to say definitively since we don’t know can’t read the mind of the psalmist.  (Bible teachers need to be a little more cautious about declaring to their audiences the mind of the biblical author.)  But one possible reason is that by stating this the psalmist is giving themself a reminder, and a reminder to their audience of this important truth that is easy to forget, ignore or rationalize away.

God wants to be obeyed, diligently obeyed.  Sometimes Christians think that this is just an Old Testament idea, and that God changed his mind in the New Testament and decided that he longer wanted his people to obey his commands.  There are two problems with this.  First, it makes no sense.  Second, Jesus, Paul, James, John and Peter and all the NT authors make it clear that obedience is still important.

Why do you think the psalmist tells God what God already knows? 

Do no wrong? (Psalm 119:3)

…who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways (Psalm 119:3).

I shouldn’t cut this sentence in half, but I’ve committed to only focus on one verse per blog and since I’m only on the third verse of Psalm 119 I didn’t think I should break my rules so soon.  But I guess it’s  OK to briefly explain how verse 3 relates to verse 2.

The previous verse spoke of how happy or blessed the person is who keeps YHWH’s decrees and seeks YHWH whole-heartedly.  So, divine blessing “also” (the Hebrew word ap means “also”, it begins with the letter Aleph and is the first word in this verse, which is still in the Aleph section of the psalm) applies to the does no wrong and walks in God’s ways.

“Do no wrong”– is that possible?  While Psalm 119:3 doesn’t seem to fit other teachings of Scripture since it seems to describe a “perfect” person, this idea is repeated twice in 1 John (3:9; 5:18), which argues that the ones that are “born of God” do not sin because they are “born of God”.  Yes, that does sound circular, but it’s still true.

Similarly in Psalm 119, the person who does no wrong walks in the ways of God.  They are focused on God, God’s words, God’s laws and God’s ways.  If that is what characterizes you, you can’t go wrong.

What do you think it means to “do no wrong”?

An incredibly attractive God (Psalm 119:2)

Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart.

The second verse in this longest psalm reiterates the idea of blessing from verse one.  The Hebrew word for blessing,  ‘ashre, begins with Aleph, fitting nicely at the beginning of the Aleph section of the psalm. So the motivation once again is clear, if you want to be blessed, keep God’s testimonies.

But what’s a testimony?  The word ‘edah is also translated as statutes (NIV) or decrees (NRS), both of which fit better than the ESV’s “testimonies” here as synonyms for law.  Keeping a testimony sounds a little bizarre, but keeping a decree makes sense.

This blessed person also seeks God with their whole heart, which sounds like the Shema (Deut. 6:4-5)–love God with your whole heart, soul and strength, which Jesus calls the greatest commandment (Mark 12:29-31).

Why would a person seek God with their whole heart?  They must find him incredibly attractive, incredibly compelling.  People that see God like this will desire to obey his laws, and according to Psalm 119, will be blessed.

Sounds good to me.

How does one seek God with their whole heart? 

How blameless are you? (Psalm 119:1)

Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD” (Psalm 119:1).

So, I’m blessed as long as I can keep my way blameless.  It doesn’t sound like I’ll be experiencing much blessing.

Thus begins the Aleph section of Psalm 119 (all eight verses in the Hebrew begin with the letter Aleph).

While blamelessness may seem like a high bar, walking in the law of the LORD (or “Torah of YHWH”) sounds a little easier.  Hebrew poetry uses parallelism, where the 2nd line echoes the 1st, so blamelessness and walking in God’s law are roughly synonymous here.

The word translated as “blameless” (tamim) could also be rendered as “with integrity” or “with honesty”.

Walking in God’s laws with integrity still may not seem like as easy task, but as we’ll discover later in Psalm 119, the psalmist frequently asks for divine assistance.  It’s not meant to be done on our own.

What’s the motivation for walking in integrity in the way of Torah?  Blessing.  While we’re not exactly sure what the blessing will involve, the rest of the psalm will flesh that out for us.

I hope you’ll come back each Sunday as we discuss one more verse from this longest chapter in the Bible, and find out more about the blessings in store for those who walk in God’s laws.

How do you walk in God’s laws?