Psalm 119

Comfort food and comfort rules? (Psalm 119:52)

When I think of your rules from of old,
I take comfort, O LORD (Psalm 119:52).

Comfort food, comfort films, comfort friends and comfort rules?

comfort foodsWhat do you do when you need comfort?

Is there a food you eat to calm your soul?  For me lately it’s been Klondike bars.  (What would I do?  I’d open the freezer door.)  But the comfort doesn’t last very long.

Is there a film or TV show you watch to make you relax?  Lately, we’ve been watching Arrested Development.  Funny, but more troubling than comforting.

Is there a friend you talk with to encourage you?  Friends are wonderful, but they’re not always available.

The psalmist finds comfort in rules.  Nice huh?  A few verses earlier the psalmist needed comfort in affliction and found it in God’s promise, which gave life (for more on Psalm 119:50, click here).

Wait, how do rules bring comfort?  Rules bring structure, which is good.  Rules set boundaries which we all need.  But God’s rules are designed to bring us closer to God.  The psalmist might not always have a friend to talk to, but God’s always available.  And that’s highly comforting.

How do God’s rules bring us closer to God?  Good question.  Some rules like love God with all your heart, soul and strength (Deut. 6:5) obviously move us toward God.  Other rules like resting on the Sabbath (Deut. 5:12), force us to slow down, rest and make room for God in our lives.  Other rules make us dependent upon God, so hopefully we pray for divine assistance to obey.

The psalmist isn’t comforted with just any rules, but old ones.  Isn’t that always the case, the old rules are the best ones when you need to be comforted?

The oldest rule, is the first rule that God gave to the freshly made humans, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28).  In order to be fruitful and multiply, what do humans need to do?  I’m pretty sure that will involve sex.  How much sex?  Enough to fill the earth.   (I discuss this in God Behaving Badly pages 116-118.)

God’s first rule is basically, “Have a lot of sex.”  Yes, that’s what it says (in the context of a life-long committed relationship between a man and a woman).

What a great rule!  Comforting and exciting.

Zayin

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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Informing God what he already knows (Psalm 119:4)

“You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently” (Psalm 119:4).

Only 172 verses to go.   (I’m blogging one verse from Psalm 119 each Sunday.)  And you thought I wouldn’t make it this far.

A dramatic shift occurs in the psalm at verse 4.  In verses 1-3, God is referred to in third person language.  He is YHWH (“the LORD” in most English translations.) or the text speaks of “him” and “his ways”.  But starting in verse, third person language changes to second person.  Instead of God being “he”, he is “you”.  He is no longer spoken about, he is spoken to.

This shift is emphasized by the Hebrew pronoun for you, ‘atah at the beginning of the verse.  In Hebrew, the pronoun is implied by the verb form (like a lot of modern languages other than English), so when the pronoun is used for emphasis.  “YOU have commanded…”  The pronoun begins with the letter Aleph, thus fitting into this Aleph section of the psalm.

Since God is being referred to as “you” it makes the psalm a prayer.  The longest chapter in Scripture is a prayer about Scripture.  Scripture, Prayer.  Nice.  That’s part of why I love this psalm.

So the psalmist informs God that God commanded God’s precepts to be kept diligently.  Why tell God something that he so obviously knows?  It’s hard to say definitively since we don’t know can’t read the mind of the psalmist.  (Bible teachers need to be a little more cautious about declaring to their audiences the mind of the biblical author.)  But one possible reason is that by stating this the psalmist is giving themself a reminder, and a reminder to their audience of this important truth that is easy to forget, ignore or rationalize away.

God wants to be obeyed, diligently obeyed.  Sometimes Christians think that this is just an Old Testament idea, and that God changed his mind in the New Testament and decided that he longer wanted his people to obey his commands.  There are two problems with this.  First, it makes no sense.  Second, Jesus, Paul, James, John and Peter and all the NT authors make it clear that obedience is still important.

Why do you think the psalmist tells God what God already knows? 

Do no wrong? (Psalm 119:3)

…who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways (Psalm 119:3).

I shouldn’t cut this sentence in half, but I’ve committed to only focus on one verse per blog and since I’m only on the third verse of Psalm 119 I didn’t think I should break my rules so soon.  But I guess it’s  OK to briefly explain how verse 3 relates to verse 2.

The previous verse spoke of how happy or blessed the person is who keeps YHWH’s decrees and seeks YHWH whole-heartedly.  So, divine blessing “also” (the Hebrew word ap means “also”, it begins with the letter Aleph and is the first word in this verse, which is still in the Aleph section of the psalm) applies to the does no wrong and walks in God’s ways.

“Do no wrong”– is that possible?  While Psalm 119:3 doesn’t seem to fit other teachings of Scripture since it seems to describe a “perfect” person, this idea is repeated twice in 1 John (3:9; 5:18), which argues that the ones that are “born of God” do not sin because they are “born of God”.  Yes, that does sound circular, but it’s still true.

Similarly in Psalm 119, the person who does no wrong walks in the ways of God.  They are focused on God, God’s words, God’s laws and God’s ways.  If that is what characterizes you, you can’t go wrong.

What do you think it means to “do no wrong”?