Psalm 119: Tet

For my write-up today on Psalm 119: Tet, I’ll post the passage in the King James Version, then I’ll comment on select verses.

65 TETH. Thou hast dealt well with thy servant, O LORD, according unto thy word.

In my past posts on Psalm 119, I have wondered what divine word gives the Psalmist the assurance that God will help him personally.  Is it the Torah’s principle that God rewards the obedient but punishes the disobedient?  Is it God’s promise to David that David would be king, or that David would have an everlasting dynasty?  I don’t know.  It interests me that, in this verse, the Psalmist looks back and acknowledges that God has dealt well with him.  At lot of times in Psalm 119, the Psalmist is complaining about his enemies and his afflictions and is hoping that God will step in and deal well with him.  In v 65, by contrast, the Psalmist is saying that God has already been good to him.

That is a good incentive to keep God’s commandments: God’s goodness to us.  The Psalmist is not just aiming to obey mechanically a set of rules, for he is reminding himself that the source of those rules is the one who has been kind to him.

Do I remind myself of God’s past kindnesses to me?  I have difficulty with this, to tell you the truth.  The reason is that I have a problem attributing any good things in my life to God, per se.  Why would a God who loves everyone provide me with food, clothing, and shelter, when there are other people in the world who lack these things?  Are the good things that have happened to me thus far in my life truly from God, and thus I can take refuge in the notion that the God who has blessed me up to this point will continue to bless me in the future?  Or are those good things merely a thing of the past—-I could succeed back when things were easier, but now it’s a lot tougher in the real world!  Does God have a plan for people’s lives?  I know of one person who was a Christian, and he probably thought that God had a plan for his future.  What happened to him?  He died in a car accident.  Another friend thought that God had a grand political destiny mapped out for him, but he died of a disease at a fairly young age.  I am definitely appreciative of whatever good things I have in my life, but I struggle with saying that God is the source of those good things—-or that I can be assured of good things in the future.

66 Teach me good judgment and knowledge: for I have believed thy commandments.

What I see here is an affirmation of the principle that obedience to God breeds further obedience to God.  And, by obedience, I don’t just mean conformity to righteous rules, but also a belief in those rules, an appreciation of their value, and wisdom.  The Psalmist has already believed in God’s commandments.  Still, he apparently thinks that he can use more good judgment and knowledge than what he presently possesses.  Perhaps the lesson here is that there’s always more to learn.  Or, alternatively, maybe the Psalmist already believes that God has taught him good judgment and knowledge, but he wants for God to continue to do so.  He doesn’t want for God to let him go.  He needs fresh wisdom for whatever situation may come up, as well as God’s moral support.

67 Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word.

E.W. Bullinger in his comment on this verse cites Hebrews 12:6-11, which is about God disciplining believers to make them more righteous.  I believe that suffering can draw people closer to God and make them more reflective about life and compassionate towards others.  It seems to me, however, that there is a lot of suffering or tragedy in the world that lacks an apparent purpose, and that some tragedies make people embittered rather than leading them to become righteous.  Moreover, if the reason that suffering exists in the world is to teach us character, why do animals suffer?

68 Thou art good, and doest good; teach me thy statutes.

I try to believe in a God who is good.  And, if there is a God, would he not be good?  There are these laws about how we are to be good and loving, so wouldn’t we expect for the originator of those laws to be benevolent himself?  But there are just times when the problem of evil disturbs me.  If God truly loves everyone, then why are there people in the world who lack, who die prematurely, or who suffer horribly?  One could say that this life is merely a preparation for the next, and so those who suffer and die will experience bliss after their death.  But couldn’t that notion lead to the mindset that this life does not matter, and so we should not stress out about people today who lack?  Perhaps.  At the same time, if God’s aim is to teach us compassion in preparation for the next life—-where we may find ourselves in a setting in which we would need to show compassion—-then keeping the afterlife in mind can encourage us to be loving to the needy now.

69 The proud have forged a lie against me: but I will keep thy precepts with my whole heart.

Peake’s Commentary says on this verse: “Lit. ‘have plastered falsehood over me,’ so that my real character cannot be recognized.”  This stood out to me because I have often felt that people get me wrong, that I’m a better person than they may think, that they read selfishness into my words and actions when that is not what I mean by them.  Of course, the reality is probably that I’m better than people think, and that I’m worse than people think—-paradoxical, I know.  But I can identify with the sentiment that people plaster us with their impressions, maybe even their slander, obscuring from public view whatever good aspects there may be in our character.

The word that the KJV translates as “have forged”, and what Peake’s commentary understands as “plastered”, is from the Hebrew root tet-pe-lamed.  Holladay defines the word in terms of besmearing or plastering, and another lexicon on my BibleWorks offers the definition of “to…glue.”  The Targum uses for this word a word from the root ch-b-r, which has to do with association, and the LXX and the Vulgate employ for it words that mean to multiply.  I can only guess about the diversity of understandings about this verse.  Maybe the Targum uses a word that means association because gluing implies closely associating two objects with one another.  From where do the LXX and the Vulgate get the idea of multiplication, though?  Maybe the idea is that falsehood after falsehood are being glued onto the Psalmist.  I don’t know.

The root appears only in two other places.  I’ll post the references in the KJV, Brenton’s translation of the LXX, and the Vulgate, emboldening where the root t-ph-l is translated:

Job 13:4: “But ye are forgers of lies, ye are all physicians of no value.” (KJV)

“But ye are all bad physicians, and healers of diseases.”  (Brenton’s translation of the LXX.  I don’t know what translates t-ph-l here.)

“prius vos ostendens fabricatores mendacii et cultores perversorum dogmatum”.  (Vulgate.  The idea is fabrication.)

Job 14:17: “My transgression is sealed up in a bag, and thou sewest up mine iniquity.” (KJV)

“And thou hast sealed up my transgressions in a bag, and marked if I have been guilty of any transgression unawares.” (Brenton’s translation of the LXX)

“signasti quasi in sacculo delicta mea sed curasti iniquitatem meam”.  (Vulgate.  The idea is that God cured Job’s iniquity.)

This information makes me more confused.  Next verse!

70 Their heart is as fat as grease; but I delight in thy law.

Commentaries I read said that the fat covers the hearts of the wicked such that God’s instruction cannot penetrate.  The LXX says that the heart of the proud was curdled like milk, and Augustine interprets that to mean that their hearts are hardened.

Some people may have gotten to the point where others cannot morally reason with them.  The Psalmist may envision light-hearted spoiled rich types who get a kick out of hurting people, like those rich teenagers on one episode of Walker: Texas Rangers who liked to beat up on the homeless.  They’re bored, and so they come up with evil designs to get a thrill.  But one can become closed off to moral exhortation (not all, but some) through other means: having a hard time forgiving a horrible deed, for instance.  These people don’t lack a moral sense, but they may have difficulty handling some supercilious moralizing Christian coming at them, without any attempt to empathize with them, and telling them that they need to forgive because that’s what God commanded.

71 It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.
72 The law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver.

The Intervarsity Press Bible Background Commentary notes that a common wage in that time was ten silver shekels annually.  The Psalmist is saying that God’s law is better than an annual wage, multiplied by hundreds.  Imagine that!

I’ve talked before about whether or not I think that God’s law or God’s word is better than riches.  One thing I will say: a righteous standard is necessary.  I talked above about how there are suffering people in the world, including people who lack.  I don’t want to be the sort of person who would have a lot of money and not care about those who lack.  There should be values above having or gaining wealth, and God’s law teaches social justice.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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