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).

Like a baby (Psalm 119:11)

I treasure your word in my heart, 
so that I may not sin against you
(Psa. 119:11 NRSV).

The third verse in the Bet section is a familiar one, beginning literally “In my heart I treasure your word.”  The Hebrew word for “treasure” here (tsaphan) could also be translated as “hide”, but in either case the thing being hidden is valuable.  The word tsaphan is used to describe how baby Moses was hidden (Exo. 2:2-3) to keep him safe in Egypt and when Rahab the prostitute hid the two Israelite spies (Josh. 2:4).

So, the psalmist wants to keep God’s word safe, like a treasure, like a baby.  Protect it, value it, treasure it.

Why?  Treasuring God’s word will prevent the psalmist from sinning against God.  The psalmist perceives a direct relationship between the treasuring of God’s word and the avoidance of sin and since the psalmist is doing everything possible to avoid sin, the word of God is treasured.

One of the things I’m doing to treasure God’s word in my heart is blogging about Psalm 119 on Sundays.

How do you treasure God’s word in your heart?   

Bible quiz time

I’m constructing a Bible knowledge exam that students from my seminary will need to take before they graduate.  I’ve constructed over 30 questions so far.

They need to be graded easily, so I’ve chosen to make many multiple choice.  Here are four questions that generally share a certain theme (answers are written in invisible ink at the bottom, highlight them to make them appear):

  • Absalom
    • a) Murderer of father’s son
    • b) Usurper of father’s throne
    • c) Rapist of father’s wives
    • d) Victim of father’s general
    • e) All the above
  • Tamar, the Canaanite
    • a) Had sex with Judah’s son Er
    • b) Had sex with Judah’s son Onan
    • c) Had sex with Judah
    • d) Is an ancestor of Jesus
    • e) All the above
  • David
    • a) Murderer
    • b) Adulterer
    • c) Warrior
    • d) Ruler
    • e) All the above
  • Rahab
    • a) A prostitute
    • b) A traitor
    • c) A worshipper of YHWH
    • d) An ancestor of Jesus
    • e) All the above

While crafting these questions, if struck me how the Bible is full of stories of really messed up people.  (I’d fit right in.)  And God works powerfully through them, even including them in his family tree (see Matt. 1), which should give those of us who are as messed up as this batch hope. 

So how’d you do on the quiz?

Answer here:

 All the above for all the above.