A soul-melting sorrow (Psalm 119:28)

My soul melts away for sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word (Psalm 119:28 NRSV).

What do you do when you’re depressed?  The psalmist writes a poem of prayer, describing to God the pain of a soul-melting with sorrow.  (Despite his blue, melted body, the guy in the picture doesn’t look too bad.) I usually just watch TV.  The psalmist’s plan is probably better.

In Hebrew the verb dalaph (“melts” or “weeps”) begins this fourth verse of this fourth section of the psalm (119:25-32) where every verse begins with the fourth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, dalet.  So, it could be translated literally, “Weeps my soul from sorrow…”

So, what’s the cause of the psalmist’s sorrow?  It’s hard to know, and there’s not a clear connection between this verse and the previous one where the psalmist ended by meditating on God’s wonderous works.

In any case, the psalmist knows help is needed, so the request is for strengthening according to the word of YHWH.  How is the word going to lift the depression?  Again, it’s not clear, but two things are clear.  First, when the psalmist is struggling with sorrow, prayer (“strengthen me”) is the remedy chosen.  Second, the prayer itself focuses on God’s word.  Sounds like a good prescription for health.  Prayer, Scripture, God.

God, in our pain, help us remember you and your word. 

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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. 

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:

The Word overcomes Death (Psalm 119:25)

My soul clings to the dust:
revive me according to your word
(Psalm 119:25 NRSV).

Clinging to the dust.  In this verse one hears echoes of the curse on the man for eating the fruit, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19).  Death is imminent for the psalmist who is soon to become worm-food.

What can bring revival to the psalmist’s fading soul?  What can bring life where there once was death?

Only the Word of God.

In the 2nd half of this first verse of the Dalet section of Psalm 119 (verses 25-32), the psalmist prays for Torah CPR.  Or more timely, Torah Resurrection.

The Word overcomes the curse of death.

This verse has not only echoes of Genesis, but also of the Gospel.  I’d like to take credit for planning to discuss this verse in connection with Easter Sunday, but I had nothing to do with it.  Random chance?  Perhaps.  I’d rather see providence.

As one reads Psalm 119:25 it’s hard not to think of Jesus the word (John 1:14) being revived 2000 years ago in order to revive our dusty souls.  God’s word triumphs over the human’s curse.  Impressive.

How does God’s word revive?

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