Blessed are you, O LORD;
teach me your statutes (Psa. 119:12 NRSV).
Why does the psalmist bless God? Did God sneeze? (If God sneezed would you say, “God bless God”?)
Yeah, we don’t really understand blessing very well today if we think only think blessing follows sneezing. Blessing is huge in the Bible. It’s the first thing God does to the freshly created humans (Gen. 1:28) and what God is going to do through Abraham’s descendents to all the families of the earth (Gen. 12:3).
So, God blesses us, but how do we bless God? Throughout the psalms, the people are called to bless YHWH because of how he has blessed them(Psa. 28:6; 31:21; 41:13; 68:19; 144:1). The primary way the people are called to bless God is through praise (Psa. 106:48; 135:21).
One way the psalmist here blesses God is that he writes an acrostic song 176 verses long singing the praises of God’s word. Specifically in this verse, the psalmist asks God to be his Torah-teacher. (The Hebrew word “blessed” in 119:12 is barak, here as a passive participle, so this fourth verse of the Bet section begins appropriately with Bet.)
How do you bless God?
I treasure your word in my heart,
so that I may not sin against you (Psa. 119:11 NRSV).
The third verse in the Bet section is a familiar one, beginning literally “In my heart I treasure your word.” The Hebrew word for “treasure” here (tsaphan) could also be translated as “hide”, but in either case the thing being hidden is valuable. The word tsaphan is used to describe how baby Moses was hidden (Exo. 2:2-3) to keep him safe in Egypt and when Rahab the prostitute hid the two Israelite spies (Josh. 2:4).
So, the psalmist wants to keep God’s word safe, like a treasure, like a baby. Protect it, value it, treasure it.
Why? Treasuring God’s word will prevent the psalmist from sinning against God. The psalmist perceives a direct relationship between the treasuring of God’s word and the avoidance of sin and since the psalmist is doing everything possible to avoid sin, the word of God is treasured.
One of the things I’m doing to treasure God’s word in my heart is blogging about Psalm 119 on Sundays.
How do you treasure God’s word in your heart?
With my whole heart I seek you;
Do not let me stray from your commandments (Psa. 119:10 NRSV).
The psalmist understands that pursuit of God’s laws are primarily a relational concern. The psalmist seeks not legalistic obedience in order to impress God and earn divine favor, but the psalmist’s desire to pursue God leads naturally to a request for divine assistance to keep God’s laws. A whole-hearted pursuit of God necessarily involves a fear of losing connection with God’s laws.
The Hebrew word here, shagah, could be rendered as “stray” or “wander.” The verb shagah appears in two other verses in the psalm–people who “wander” from God’s laws are “accursed” (119:21) and “rejected” (119:118). Wandering is a bad thing, particularly when it involves moving away from God’s commands. So, it makes sense the psalmist would request help to avoid straying.
The “with” at the beginning of the verse comes from the Hebrew prepositional prefix Bet (fitting appropriately in this Bet section of the psalm, verses 9-16), so while the NIV’s “I seek you with all my heart” works nicely in English, it loses the emphasis of the original Hebrew: “With all my heart…” with a “with” at the beginning.
How often do you pray for help to not “stray” from God’s commands?
How can young people keep their way pure?
By guarding it according to your word (Psa. 119:9 NRSV).
Yeah, but do young people want to keep their way pure? Perhaps not, but if they did, the word of God would help them.
Two, milestones today. First, we’ve moved into the second section of Psalm 119, the eight verses that all begin with the Hebrew letter Bet. Only 168 verses to go. Second, my blog went over 10,000 hits (that’s total since I started last spring, not daily). Thanks for viewing.
While in the Aleph section, a variety of different words (all starting with Aleph) were used at the beginning of a verse, seven of the eight verses of this Bet section all begin with the Hebrew preposition (basically just the consonant Bet) that gets attached to the beginning of a noun (often translated as “with” or “in”; the “How” here is literally “In what”). So, the psalmist isn’t as creative in this section as the last. We’ll see if that pattern continues through the rest of the psalm.
So, how does God’s word help that rare young person who wants to keep their way pure? It shows them how to live–love God, love your neighbor, that’s how Jesus summed it up. And God’s word ultimately pushes us back into relationship with the author of those laws, God himself.
What do you keep your way pure?