Vav

Horshack’s Zeal (Psalm 119:48)

I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love,
and I will meditate on your statutes
 (Psalm 119:48).

Horshak Hand Raising“Ooh-ooh-ooooh, Mr. Kotter, Mr. Kotter.”  

When I think about lifting up hands, it’s hard for me to not envision Horshack (played by Ron Palillo, who passed away in 2012) desperately trying to get Mr. Kotter’s attention in Welcome Back, Kotter, an ABC sitcom in the late 1970’s.  (As you probably know, a young John Travolta played Vinnie Barbarino.)  Horshack’s hand would shoot straight up and wave back and forth as he hope to be called upon.

While we lift our hands for a variety of reasons in addition to attempting to get the attention of a teacher–to wave, to celebrate, to catch falling projectiles–the psalmist here seems to be thinking of hand-lifting in the context of praise, as he declares his love toward God’s commandments.

And yet, there is something about Horshack’s zeal and his desire to engage with his teacher that fits right into Psalm 119, as the psalmist is eager to connect with God over his word.  The hands lift up enthusiastically as the psalmist finds delight in God’s statutes, which leads him to meditate upon them.

The line, “which I love” is a bit unusual for this verse, as it makes the first half of verse 48 too long, and it’s appearance in this line is suspicious since the previous verse has the same line.  Some scholars will assume it was just a scribal error, accidentally repeated from the previous verse.  Perhaps…or maybe the psalmist just wanted to repeat his love for Scripture and said, “Who cares if this line is too long?

While most of the 176 verses of Psalm 119 mention one synonym for God’s word in each verse (e.g., promise, rules, law, precepts, testimonies, etc.), verse 48 is unusual as it gives two synonyms (your commandments, your statutes).  Only two other verses in the entire psalm include two synonyms (16, 168).  Interestingly, both of these other two verses come at the end of a 8-verse section just like verse 48, which is the final verse of the Vav section, where each verse in the Hebrew begins with the letter Vav.  So, the repetition of the Torah-synonym may be a way to close out a stanza.

How does one lift up one’s hands toward God’s commandments?  

I’ve taken a three-month break from blogging on the Psalms due to my health problems.  As my health has improved, I’m going to start blogging on Psalm 119 again, but I doubt I’ll be able to blog on it weekly.  We’ll see.  

Hurricane Sandy and Loving the book of Numbers (Psalm 119:47)

For I find my delight in your commandments,
which I love
 (Psalm 119:47).

Hurricane Sandy is blustering outside as I write this.  Yesterday, my reflux and other things made me feel miserable (a 7-up worked magic for me, not sure why, so after a bad afternoon, the evening was great).  I’m still feeling good today, so even though my seminary (Biblical) is closed for the hurricane, I’m at my office working on syllabi and a Psalm 119 blog. 

In the previous verse, the psalmist declares that he will speak of God’s laws before kings.  The ESV’s “For” at the beginning of this verse might suggest a strong connection linking verses 46 and 47 (typically a ki in the Hebrew), but since the Hebrew word behind the “For” at the beginning is just a simple conjunction (yes, you guessed it, a Vav since this is the Vav section of Psalm 119), which can be translated as “And” (NAS) or even left untranslated (NRSV), I won’t make a big deal about how the two verses are connected.

Makes you want to read your Bible, huh?

Delight for God’s law is a big theme in Psalm 119, appearing ten times (with links for the four I blogged on already: 119:14, 16, 24, 35, 47, 70, 77, 92, 143, 174).  Torah-Delight (sounds like an exotic dish) is almost as popular in this psalm as Torah-Love, which appears twelve times (47, 48, 97, 113, 119, 127, 132, 140, 159, 163, 165, 167).The Psalmist was passionately in love with God’s law.  He delighted in it, like I delight in ice cream (although, I don’t eat it anymore because of stomach reflux!).

Now, you may well ask, how does one delight and love the law?  Great question.  One book of the Law (the first five books of the Bible) people have difficulty loving is Numbers.  The title doesn’t really capture most of us.  But I’ve been loving Numbers lately.  The book has spoken to me as I’ve been struggling with health issues (damaged vocal cords, stomach reflux, feeling lousy, a colonoscopy, an endoscopy, two mole removals on my shin).

Shortly after they blew it big time worshiping the golden calf (Exo. 32), the Israelites are still at Mount Sinai and YHWH gives them a series of simple commands: count everyone (ch. 1), arrange the camp like this (ch. 2), count more people (ch. 4).   And the great thing, they obey this time (Num. 1:54; 2:34; 4:49).  It’s like God wants to make it easy for them.  “OK, I told you not to worship idols, but you couldn’t obey that.  Why don’t we try counting.  1, 2, 3…603,550.”  Apparently, they could count properly.

When I have been feeling weak lately and unable to do much, it’s helpful to remember that sometimes God’s commands are really simple.  Like the command to count or the command to rest (Exo. 20:8-11).  I love the command to rest.  I delight in it, particularly now that I’m trying to recover my health.

Just found out power went out at home, gotta run!

God, deepen our delight in your law, even the book of Numbers. 

Image from http://bethaderech.com/torah-study/.

If you’re a king, you should read this (Psalm 119:46)

I will also speak of your testimonies before kings
and shall not be put to shame
(Psalm 119:46).

I’m hoping a few of you readers are kings.  Then I could be like the psalmist, speaking before kings about God’s laws.  I know a guy named Andrew King, and while he’s a great guy, he’s no monarch. But I don’t think that’s what the psalmist was talking about (he probably wasn’t thinking about Burger Kings either).

The psalmist was speaking about real kings.  Although back in the Old Testament times a “king” might only rule over a few thousand people.  In Genesis 14, there’s a battle between a coalition of four kings and a coalition of five kings, where it seems like a king is basically a ruler of a city, more like a mayor, but probably not democratically elected.

It would still take courage for anyone to speak before king about God’s testimonies.  What gives the psalmist confidence to do something so bold?  He knows that he won’t be embarrassed.

To succeed in public speaking you need confidence.  There’s nothing more painful than a public speaker who’s lost his confidence.  The psalmist has complete confidence in God and God’s word.

Where does the psalmist’s confidence come from?  It is difficult to say conclusively, but from what we’ve seen in the psalm, it’s from a lifelong relationship with God, and a complete commitment to live God’s word and sing the praises of God’s laws.

Yesterday in our Sunday school class, my wife Shannon led a discussion of a section of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says he came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17-20).  I was struck by how much Jesus loved, supported and taught God’s law.  According to Jesus own words, those that do the law and teach others to do so will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.  I guess that makes both Jesus and the psalmist great.

God, make us great as we follow the examples of Jesus and the psalmist to speak of your law and to follow it. 

Image:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/marcbabej/2011/08/19/burger-king-decapitates-its-king-mascot-about-time/

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).