Psalm 119

Wide places and baby food (Psalm 119:45)

And I shall walk in a wide place,
for I have sought your precepts
 (Psalm 119:45).

Walking in a wide place–what does that mean?  And why is it a good thing?

Other translations have “liberty” (NAS, NRSV) or “freedom” (NIV), but the ESV’s “wide place” is literally what the word rahab means.  (Yes, rahab is also the name of perhaps the most famous biblical prostitute.  If you’re not familiar with her story, read Joshua chapters 2 and 6.)

I like that the ESV went with the literal translation, which may be a little harder to understand.  But instead of the translators telling us their interpretation, we get to figure it out for ourselves.

It’s like the difference between baby food and adult food.  Baby food is already mashed up to make it easier for young humans without teeth to consume.  Most of us with teeth like to chew our food.  The food ends up in the same place either way.

Translations that try to fix all the potentially confusing problems in the text are a little bit like baby food.  The more literal ones, like adult food.  It takes more work to understand, but like chewing adult food, the work is worth it.

Now, I’m going to chew your food for you (perhaps, it’s time to say goodbye to this image?).  Walking in a wide place should remind Israel’s readers of God’s promise to Moses before he had even delivered them from Egyptian oppression.

To describe the Promised Land, God uses the same word, rahab, here in Psalm 119:45 and in Exodus: “I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad (rahab) land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exo. 3:8).  So, “wide places” in Psalm 119:45 is code for God’s promise of a land flowing with milk and honey.

The psalmist sees a connection between seeking God’s commands and the promises that God gives to his people for faithfulness.

God, let us live in “wide places” as we follow your commands. 

Psalm 119:45 is the 5th verse in the 6th section (Vav).

This image is the first up on Google Images under “wide places” (http://www.osholeela.co.uk/index.php?content=fr_li).

Eternal obedience? (Psalm 119:44)

I will keep your law
continually, forever and ever
(Psalm 119:44).

“I will keep your law forever”–what?  I didn’t think eternal obedience was possible for those of us who aren’t Jesus.  It doesn’t seem to be possible for me.

To make it clear, the verse repeats the idea of eternal obedience, “continually, forever and ever“- that sounds like a long time.  Isn’t the psalmist here a bit naive?  Perhaps too optimist?  Or just proud?  Does the psalmist think that a pledge of obedience to the law is going to earn God’s favor?

As we think about what the word “keep” means and then interpret it in light of how the psalmist is viewing himself, God and God’s word in the rest of the psalm, this phrase that sounds overly optimistic begins to make sense.

The word translated as “keep” (shamar) can also mean “watch” or “guard“, which fits the context of the rest of the psalm as  the psalmist is focused on God’s word.  Just looking at the rest of this Vav section of the psalm (119:41-48) the psalmist is trusting in God’s word (119:42), hoping in it (43), seeking it (45), speaking of it (46), delighting in it (47) and meditating on it (48).

For the psalmist, keeping is connected to trusting, hoping and delighting in God and God’s word.  This isn’t some sort of legalism, but simply a passion for God and his law.  The psalmist is watching, guarding, keeping God’s law, so in verse 44 he is declaring that this will be a life-long obsession.

If that’s what we mean by eternal obedience, I could make that a life-long goal.

At verse 44, we are now halfway through the 6th section of the psalm, the Vav section (see image, that’s Vav in yellow) and already one-quarter of the way through the entire psalm.

God, we will need help to keep your law forever.  Help us. 

Image from http://www.av1611.org/666/www_666.html

Fear, Hope and a Colonoscopy (Psalm 119:43)

And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth,
for my hope is in your rules
(Psalm 119:43).

Fear and hope (the colonoscopy comes up at the “end”).  Both emotions are future focused, but are polar opposites.  In its forecast, fear expects bad, while hope anticipate good.  We like to be hopeful, but struggle not to be fearful.

The psalmist is afraid that God is going to leave him totally wordless. (I feel wordless right now, with damaged vocal cords and a mandate to not talk.)  The word the psalmist doesn’t want to be deprived of is true, and from the context of the rest of this psalm it’s clearly God’s word, the source of truth.

But why would God remove his word from the psalmist?  Yes, that’s a good question.  I don’t have a good answer, except perhaps that the psalmist’s fear is irrational, which is often the case for fears.  My fear of permanent vocal cord damage may be irrational, but when one is struggling, it’s hard to think rationally.

How to combat fear?  Hope.  The antidote for fear.  The psalmist hopes in God’s rules.  I’m not sure what this means exactly, but the psalmist clearly sees a connection between these rules and God himself.  Otherwise, why would he keep praying to God?  The entire psalm is one long, 176 verse prayer about God’s word.

While I can’t speak, I am deprived of “the word of Dave”, but I still have easy access to the word of truth.  During my period of forced silence, God’s word has begun to give me hope.

This is the third verse of the sixth section of the psalm, the Vav section, where each verse begins with the Hebrew letter Vav.  The Hebrew conjunction is basically just the letter Vav attached to the beginning of a word, and it is usually translated “and“, but also sometimes “but“, or even “or“; it may be simply untranslated.  Every verse in the Vav section begins with the conjunction Vav, making it the easiest section of the entire psalm to write.

(Due to a colonoscopy on Monday, I fell “behind” on my Psalm 119 blogging this week.  I’ll post images on Facebook soon.)

What are you afraid of (a colonoscopy, perhaps)?  How does God’s word give us hope? 

Image from: http://www.tabletprep.com/colonoscopy/index.aspx

Taunting and the Love of God (Psalm 119:42)

Then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me,
for I trust in your word
(Psalm 119:42).

Someone has been taunting the psalmist.  Sounds like more biblical trash-talking (under Categories, see posts on Trash Talking, my favorite: Canine Blood Lickers, Avian Flesh Pickers).

The “Then” at the beginning of this verse ties it back to the last one, so when YHWH’s steadfast love and salvation come to the psalmist (119:41), “then” he’ll have an answer to the taunt.

How does one answer a taunt?  With a taunt (this is the Old Testament, none of that “turning-the-other cheek” stuff here).  How does this sound as a counter-taunt: “God loves me and saves me, so there“?  It sounds a bit strange, but it’s good to be able to state boldly what we know about God and the status of our relationship with God.

Taunts are meant to belittle and discourage.  The fact that God loves me and saves me should give me confidence.

The end of verse 42 is the key for these first two verses of the Vav section (119:41-48, where all verses begin with the 6th letter of the Hebrew alphabet…yes, you guessed it…Vav) The psalmist trusts in God’s word.  And because of this trust, the psalmist is confident that he will have appropriate counter-taunts involving God’s love and God’s salvation to verbally defeat his opponent.

The psalmist knows that God’s word is reliable and trustworthy.  And not just for taunting.

God, give us confidence in your word, your love and your salvation to overcome discouragement. 

How can we use God’s word, God’s love and God’s salvation to overcome taunts or discouragements? 

Image from http://blogs.desmoinesregister.com/dmr/index.php/2011/08/29/peterson-agree-or-disagree-with-ncaas-taunting-rule/