Gimel

Need a shrink? (Psalm 119:24)

Your decrees are my delight,
they are my counselors (Psalm 119:24 NRSV).

Once again the psalmist “delights” in the commands of God.  The word “delight” appears ten times in English versions of Psalm 119 (verses 14, 16, 24, 35, 47, 70, 77, 92, 143, 174; although several different Hebrew words are used for “delight”).  Previously, it was a greedy delight in God’s laws, like a rich person over their wealth (119:14; see https://davidtlamb.com/2012/01/08/what-do-you-delight-in-psalm-11914/).  Here the delight takes a different form.

Now the psalmist delights in divine decrees because they serve as counselors.  Not just telling us how to live, but giving advice and counseling like a real person (“they are my counselors”).

When I teach the Gimel section of 119 (verses 17-24) to the counseling cohort at Biblical, I ask for observations about the text.  It usually takes awhile to really notice verse 24, but then one of the students says something like, “God’s law acts as a counselor, and that makes the psalmist happy.”  Their choice of a vocation in counseling is given further validation from Scripture.

So, do you need a shrink?  Reading Scripture doesn’t cost $100 / hour.  Some of us can afford to pay a counselor.  All of us can afford a Bible.  That sounds delightful.

Don’t get me wrong.  If someone needs professional help, naively recommending that they just read their Bible instead could be seriously damaging on a variety of levels.  But we underestimate the power of God’s word to help us, to heal us and to guide us.

We’ve now finished the Gimel section of the Psalm.  That’s 24 Psalm 119 posts, only 152 left.  So, we’re off for April Fools, then start with Dalet in 2 weeks.

Lord, counsel me, advice me as I delight in your decrees. 

Prince plot protection (Psalm 119:23)

Even though princes sit plotting against me,
your servant will meditate on your statutes (Psalm 119:23 NRSV).

Enemies have gathered together against their common foe.  You.  They are scheming and plotting to bring about your downfall.  You have become aware of their conspiracy.  What do you do?

If you’re the psalmist, you meditate you God’s law.   How’s that going to help you?

The psalmist figures that the best thing to do in any situation is to focus on God.  It worked for Gideon against the coalition of the Midianites, the Amalekites and the Amorites (Judg. 6-7).

While I’ve never been in a situation where I’m literally surrounded, I still struggle to reflect on Scripture in the midst of crisis.  This verse offers a new perspective.  Even if one’s life is in danger, the safest thing to do is to read, study and reflect on God’s word.  Scripture offers the best prince plot protection.

This verse is the seventh in the Gimel section of the psalm (verses 17-24), beginning with gam (“even” or “also”).

God, keep us focused on your word when danger surrounds and life feels threatened.

How does meditating on God’s word help deal with threats? 

Here’s my highlighted version of the Gimel section.

Precept persection protection (Psalm 119:22)

Take away from me their scorn and contempt
for I have kept your precepts
(Psalm 119:22 NRSV).

The anticedent for “their” here comes from Psalm 119:21, the insolent, accursed ones who wander from God’s commandments.  Not only were they insolent and wandering, they were also insulting and abusing the people like the psalmist who didn’t stray from God’s laws.  (This is the 6th verse in the Gimel section.  The verse begins with the verb galal, literally “roll away” their scorn.)

Their persecution has put the psalmist in a place of dependence.  And once again the prayer is leveraged on obedience.  The psalmist believes that keeping divine precepts should contribute to God’s willingness to offer protection from the attacks of the insolent, accursed ones.  Precept persecution protection.

We need to be careful not to say God only helps the faithful.  There are certainly biblical examples of unfaithful people who pray and God listens (Jonah in Jonah 2; Jehoahaz in 2 Kings 13:4), but there are also many examples of people who pray and God listens because of their faithfulness (Hezekiah: 2 Kings 20:3-6; the prayer of a righteous person who “availeth much”: James 5:16).

The most consistent pattern we see throughout Scripture is that God listens and helps those who pray, whether or not they were faithful or unfaithful previously.  If the unfaithful are praying, they are moving in the right direction, and if the previously faithful aren’t, then there’s a problem.

Do you think keeping God’s precepts makes God more willing to protect us from scorn? 

Insolent, accursed wanderers (Psalm 119:21)

You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones,
who wander from your commandments (Psalm 119:21 NRSV).

The psalmist is informing YHWH about something that he already knows.  Which is something that probably isn’t really necessary.  Which means there must be more to what the psalmist is saying here.  Which will be resolved as we discuss the next verse in 7 days.  But there are still a few things to say about this verse this week.

The psalmist declares that God rebukes the insolent, accursed wanderers. (Gimel verse #5 begins with the Hebrew verb ga’ar, “rebuke”).  Sounds harsh.  Yes, but so does a father that sees her 5 year-old daughter chase the ball into the road.  Wandering into busy streets or away from divine commands is dangerous.  And what makes it worse, we’re prone to wander (Lord, I feel it).

So, a lot of rebuking.

The rest of Psalm 119 makes it clear that following God’s laws results in blessing and a deeper relationship with God.  God should want us not to wander.  The blessings are the carrot.  The rebukes are the stick.  We need both.  We may like the idea of the carrot better, but the reality is that when we wander, God will yell at us.  We might keep wandering, but we can’t blame him.

How does God rebuke us?  Among other things: 1) Scripture, 2) Through friends who speak truth, 3) Negative consequences that result from wandering.

God help me listen to your rebuke.