For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about the “Beth” section of Psalm 119, which is verses 9-16. I have two items.
1. Psalm 119:9 states in the King James Version: “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.” The idea in this translation is that a young man cleanses his way by taking heed to God’s word.
But a scholar named William Michael Soll, in the December 1987 Journal of Biblical Literature, translated v 9 differently: “How can a youth purify his way to keep it according to your word?” In this translation, keeping God’s word is not the answer to the Psalmist’s question of how a young man can purify his way. Rather, the Psalmist is wondering how a young man can cleanse his way and observe God’s word. Perhaps Soll means that the Psalmist doubts his own ability to do so, due to the challenges from within himself and also from outside of himself, or at least that the Psalmist recognizes his need for God’s help.
Which translation do I prefer? I agree with what Leslie Allen says in the Word Biblical Commentary: “[The Psalmist] affirms the joy afforded by preoccupation with his moral teachings, and declares his desire to set his mind on, and govern his life by, Yahweh’s revealed standards. But he confesses that he cannot cope unaided and prays for God’s personal help in his moral endeavor.” I think that, on the one hand, the Psalmist recognizes his need for God’s help, for he asks God not to let him to wander from God’s commandments, and he requests that God teach him God’s statutes. On the other hand, my impression is that the Psalmist in Psalm 119: Beth is confident that he is able to obey God, and on some level is already doing so. The Psalmist says that he has sought God with his whole heart, that he has hidden God’s word in his heart so that he might not sin against God, that he has declared the judgments of God’s mouth, and that that he will meditate on God’s statutes and delight in them. The Psalmist needs God’s help, but he’s not being passive; rather, he is disciplining himself in his commitment to God’s word.
2. V 14 says (in the KJV): “I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches.” Do I value God’s word as much as riches? To be honest, I don’t know. I’d love to have riches, for they’d provide me with financial security. But I do believe that there’s more to life than mere survival. Rather, there are such things as beauty, happiness, making the world a better place, getting along with others, and having a relationship with a loving God that is deep, personal, and meaningful. Wisdom is valuable. I can see, therefore, why the Psalmist would consider God’s word to be as valuable as riches.
I liked something that St. Augustine said about v 14: “Those are the testimonies, by which [God] deigns to prove unto us how much He loves us.” Imagine that: God’s precepts are an indication of God’s care for us. In my opinion, that’s not just because God realizes that obedience to the law is good for us and can help us to avoid certain problems. It’s also that God shows his love to us by imparting to us God’s wisdom, by sharing part of himself with us, the same way that many parents and grandparents demonstrate their love by sharing their own wisdom with their children and grandchildren.