I have two items for my blog post today on Psalm 119: Peh.
1. V 132 states (in the KJV): “Look thou upon me, and be merciful unto me, as thou usest to do unto those that love thy name.”
This verse stood out to me, even though it is like a lot of other verses that I have read in the Book of Psalms and the Hebrew Bible in general. The reason that this verse stood out to me is that it brought to my mind a question: Who can receive God’s mercy? I’ve heard different answers to this question throughout my life. Some say that God forgives those who sincerely repent—-who ask God for forgiveness and make a genuine effort to turn away from their sins. Others say that God forgives those who simply put their faith in Jesus Christ. And then there is another view that I have heard even within evangelicalism: that God may have mercy on those who don’t repent or put their faith in Jesus. Have I really heard this view within evangelicalism? Well, maybe not explicitly (at least not in very conservative circles of Christianity), but I have heard a couple of times from conservative Christians that God shows mercy to the human race by allowing it to exist. And the human race whom God allows to exist includes people who have not repented or put their faith in Christ.
The Psalmist in Psalm 119:132 says that God is merciful to those who love God’s name. Exodus 20:6 affirms that God shows mercy to the thousands who love God and keep God’s commandments. Psalm 103:11 says that God’s mercy is on those who fear God. Psalm 33:18 states that God’s eye is on those who hope for his mercy. And yet, God mercifully puts up with Israel throughout the Hebrew Bible, even when she is not in a proper relationship with God.
I can understand God’s mercy being for those who are on a righteous path—-people who may not walk righteously with perfect consistency (since nobody does), but who want to be righteous, and try to be so. But how can one be assured that he or she is sufficiently fulfilling the requirements to receive God’s mercy—-that he or she is sufficiently keeping God’s commandments, is sufficiently fearing God, is sufficiently loving God’s name? I don’t know. And I’ve gotten to the point where it’s not something that I worry about. I just assume that God loves me and that God gives me (and many others, wherever they may be on their journey) time and opportunities to learn, to grow, and to get things right.
2. V 136 states: “Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law.” St. Augustine says that there are some versions that say in the second half “because I have not kept your law” (see here).
I found some interesting interpretations of this verse. In the Midrash on the Psalms, there is a discussion of this verse that refers to Jeremiah 31:15, which says that Rachel is weeping for her children. The Midrash asks how Rachel could weep for her children, since she did not live to see Joseph’s children, and she died at Benjamin’s birth. The Midrash then says that the point of Jeremiah 31:15 is that the prophets are weeping because Israel does not keep God’s law. According to William Braude, the Midrash is probably seeing Rachel in Jeremiah 31:15 as ruach-El—-the spirit of God, and thus the prophets who are inspired by that spirit. But the Midrash goes on to affirm that God comforts the prophets in Jeremiah 31:16-17 by promising that their labor will not be in vain and that their children will come back to their border.
In the Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary, I read that the “they” who do not keep the Torah in v 136 are the eyes themselves: the eyes are weeping because they (the eyes) are not keeping God’s Torah. How are the eyes not keeping God’s Torah? According to the Artscroll, the Psalmist’s eyes were leading him into sin, as those eyes looked on what was forbidden and thereby incited sinful desire. This reminds me of some New Testament passages. Matthew 5:28-29: “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.” James 1:14-15: “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” I John 2:16: “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.”
I’ve not been a big fan of weeping for my own sin, or weeping for the sins of others. It just doesn’t strike me as overly authentic, but as a way that certain Christians try to show off how spiritual they are. But I’m all for me taking a good hard look at myself, the good and the bad. (Or I want to be for doing that—-it can actually be quite scary! I’m coming to understand more and more with age why that elf said in the Neverending Story that coming face to face with one’s true self can lead some people to run away screaming!) I’m for being concerned about things in the world that hurt other people. If that leads me to weep, so be it, but what’s important is for me to have concern. Moreover, in the spirit of the Artscroll and those New Testament passages about lust, I try to be sensitive to the slippery slope that lust can put me on, even if I don’t impose on myself a blanket prohibition on sexual desire.