With my whole heart I seek you;
Do not let me stray from your commandments (Psa. 119:10 NRSV).
The psalmist understands that pursuit of God’s laws are primarily a relational concern. The psalmist seeks not legalistic obedience in order to impress God and earn divine favor, but the psalmist’s desire to pursue God leads naturally to a request for divine assistance to keep God’s laws. A whole-hearted pursuit of God necessarily involves a fear of losing connection with God’s laws.
The Hebrew word here, shagah, could be rendered as “stray” or “wander.” The verb shagah appears in two other verses in the psalm–people who “wander” from God’s laws are “accursed” (119:21) and “rejected” (119:118). Wandering is a bad thing, particularly when it involves moving away from God’s commands. So, it makes sense the psalmist would request help to avoid straying.
The “with” at the beginning of the verse comes from the Hebrew prepositional prefix Bet (fitting appropriately in this Bet section of the psalm, verses 9-16), so while the NIV’s “I seek you with all my heart” works nicely in English, it loses the emphasis of the original Hebrew: “With all my heart…” with a “with” at the beginning.
How often do you pray for help to not “stray” from God’s commands?
Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart.
The second verse in this longest psalm reiterates the idea of blessing from verse one. The Hebrew word for blessing, ‘ashre, begins with Aleph, fitting nicely at the beginning of the Aleph section of the psalm. So the motivation once again is clear, if you want to be blessed, keep God’s testimonies.
But what’s a testimony? The word ‘edah is also translated as statutes (NIV) or decrees (NRS), both of which fit better than the ESV’s “testimonies” here as synonyms for law. Keeping a testimony sounds a little bizarre, but keeping a decree makes sense.
This blessed person also seeks God with their whole heart, which sounds like the Shema (Deut. 6:4-5)–love God with your whole heart, soul and strength, which Jesus calls the greatest commandment (Mark 12:29-31).
Why would a person seek God with their whole heart? They must find him incredibly attractive, incredibly compelling. People that see God like this will desire to obey his laws, and according to Psalm 119, will be blessed.
Sounds good to me.
How does one seek God with their whole heart?