Dalet

Pulling on the leash (Psalm 119:32)

I run the way of your commandments,
for you enlarge my understanding
(Psalm 119:32 NRSV).

Yesterday, I took our dog Tiglath-pileser IV (named after the Neo-Assyrian ruler, TP III: see 2 Kings 15:29) along with me for a run.  We were going to leave Tig behind for the day to go white-water rafting down the Lehigh River gorge.  (It was thrilling to almost be ejected from the raft numerous times into the churning waters of level III rapids in the midst of lightning, thunder and torrential rain).

I was feeling guilty because we were going to ditch Tig, so the run together was sort of a consolation prize.  Tig loves to run.

I love to run too, just not with Tig.  While I like these activities as much as most other bipeds, I’m not quite as interested in sniffing and chasing as Tig is.  Yesterday, we saw robins, bluejays, squirrels (of course) and for a bonus, a bunny, each of which warranted the required leash tug.  “Tig, No!  Come!  Stay with me.”  Tig loves to run, but it’s hard for him to run the way of my commandments.

I wonder if that’s how God feels with us as we pull on the leash. 

While many of us are often distracted by “chasing” and “sniffing”–things that take us away from the path God has for us–the psalmist runs the way of YHWH’s commandments.  The psalmist does not just tolerate God’s laws, he runs after them like Tig runs after a bunny (no that’s not Tig in the picture, for an image of Tig click here).  Running suggests a joy and reckless abandonment in pursuit of divine direction.

Why?  God enlarges his “understanding” (NRSV above) or “heart” (ESV below).  Either translation works well.  Both communicate there’s a large blessing associated with the reckless pursuit of God and God’s word.

God help us run after your directions as enthusiastically as a dog chases a bunny.

Psalm 119:32 is the eighth and final verse in the Dalet section of Psalm 119.  After a week break, I’ll start the He (pronounced “Hey”) section of Psalm 119 (verses 33-40).  Here are links to the first post on each of the previous 3 sections:

1) Aleph (“How blameless are you?” Psalm 119:1)
2) Bet (“Got purity?” Psalm 119:9)
3) Gimel (“Let’s make a deal” Psalm 119:17)

Image from http://adventure.howstuffworks.com/outdoor-activities/hunting/traditional-methods/best-hunting-dog.htm

The Psalmist is more like Frodo than Gandalf (Psalm 119:31)

I cling to your decrees, O LORD;
let me not be put to shame
(Psalm 119:30 NRSV).

“Fly, you fools!”  Our son Nathan exclaimed as he was clinging onto a rock at the top of a cliff and suddenly let go, disappearing from our sight.

We weren’t really nervous, unlike Gandalf (in Lord of the Rings 1) he wasn’t actually being pulled down by a Balrog.  There was another ledge just a few feet beneath him.

But whenever we watch Gandalf let go, I like to ask, “Why doesn’t Gandalf just keep clinging to the edge of the cliff like Frodo does at the end of LOTR 3?”  Frodo doesn’t initially let go (despite having just lost a finger) because he doesn’t want to get burned up in lava, but right as he’s tempted to give up and stop clinging, Sam commands him to not let go, so he just keeps clinging until Sam helps him up.

(image http://www.fanpop.com/spots/lord-of-the-rings/picks/results/589222/saddest-part-return-king)

The psalmist is more like Frodo than Gandalf.

The psalmist desperately clings to God word and doesn’t let go.  In 119:25, the psalmist clings to the dust in 119:25 (see here).  And now, just a few verses later the psalmist is clinging to God’s decrees (or “testimonies”; see below in the ESV).

Since the Hebrew verb “cling” is dabaq the psalmist uses it at the beginning of two verses (119:25, 31) here in the Dalet section of Psalm 119 (verses 25-32) where every verse begins with the Hebrew letter Dalet. 

For Frodo, clinging meant not getting burned up in hot lava like Gollum (oops, too late, spoiler alert).  For the psalmist clinging to God and God’s laws protect the psalmist from shame (see also 119:6 here).  (Despite my unfortunate familiarity with shame, I’d still probably rather be ashamed than get burned up in hot lava.)

For the psalmist clinging involved, among other things, writing a 176 verse poem singing the praises of God and God’s laws.  For me, it involves blogging about Psalm 119 every Sunday (or in this case, Monday morning).

What other ways can we cling to God’s word? 

I hope I can be more like Frodo, than Gandalf in this regard, desperately clinging onto God and God’s word.  But all of us, a bit like Frodo, need people like Sam, who tell us not to let go, in this case of God’s word.  Be like Frodo and like Sam.

Help us, God, cling to you and your words. 

Think Yoda: “Objects, I begin sentences with” (Psalm 119:30)

I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
I set your ordinances before me. 
(Psalm 119:30 NRSV).

This verse is the 6th of eight in the Dalet section of Psalm 119, where every verse begins with the Hebrew letter Dalet.  In English, you might notice that five verses in this section have the word “way” or “ways” in the first half of the verse (highlighted in green below: 119:26, 27, 29, 30, 32).  The reason for this is that the Hebrew word for “way” is derek, which begins with the letter Dalet.  But you might say, “The word ‘way’ doesn’t begin the sentence.”  Good point, but word order in Hebrew is more flexible than in English.  All of these occurrences of “way” in this section are objects, and in Hebrew it’s not a problem to begin a section with an object (think Yoda, “Objects, I begin sentences with“).  So, in Hebrew the first half could be literally translated as “The way of faithfulness, I have chosen.”

So, the way is chosen.  The way of faithfulness, in contrast to the ways of deception that the psalmist requested help avoiding in the previous verse (see last week’s post here).  The word “faithfulness” = ’emunah comes from the same root that the Aramaic word “amen” comes from.  (No, the word doesn’t actually mean, “I’m done praying now.”)

The ordinances of God are set before the psalmist, like a carrot before a horse, urging the psalmist forward, not just toward YHWH’s laws, but ultimately toward YHWH himself.  Earlier in the Psalms, the psalmist declares, “I have set YHWH before me” (Psalm 16:8).

God, help us set your laws always before us.

Yoda image above from http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Yoda.  My highlighted text below.

Deception Temptation (Psalm 119:29)

Put false ways far from me;
and graciously teach me your law
(Psalm 119:29 NRSV).

False ways are close enough to the psalmist that he* needs divine help to have them removed.  The psalmist is essentially confessing a temptation to deception.  Deception is a difficult habit to break.

My wife Shannon and I attended an excellent seminar entitled “Loving Teenagers” at our church over the weekend.  The speaker (Kevin Huggins) said that teens need space to be creative and use their imagination.  If they have no healthy creative/imaginative outlet, they are more likely to give in to deception as a way to express creativity.  If deceptive patterns are established during adolescence they are difficult to break, as the psalmist here realizes.

For antidotes to deception, in addition to imagination the psalmist here would add prayer and a divine Torah tutorial (see also my earlier post on Psalm 119:26).  The psalmist wants YHWH to teach him the law.  But notice, he requests a gracious tutorial.  We all know what it’s like to have a mean teacher.  Fortunately, God is slow to anger and abounds in steadfast love.  That makes him a great teacher.

The psalmist typically alternates between stating facts about the law and making requests to God.  Both lines of this verse are requests (“put”, “teach”), which is unusual.  The psalmist focuses in the first half of the verse on what to say no to, and in the second half, what to say yes to.  (This is the 5th verse in Dalet section of Psalm 119.)

God, continue to teach me your law. 

So, why the image of Jim Carrey?
*I’ve avoided using masculine pronouns for the author of Psalm 119 for 28 verses, but I’m going to start now, even though it’s not ideal.  All of the other options are awkward, and therefore even less ideal:
1) Referring to the “psalmist” multiple times in the same sentence.  Clunky.
2) Using the passive voice.  Weak.
3) Using the 3rd person plural.  Inconsistent.  Psalm 119 uses too many 1st personal singulars (“I”, “me”).
4) A combination of these three.  Clunky, weak and inconsistent.
So, while I don’t like using the 3rd masculine singular it’s the least awkward.  The psalmist may be a “she,” but it’s far more likely he’s a “he.”
Other suggestions?