We’re in Psalm 119: Tzade! There were things that I liked in doing this particular weekly quiet time, and there were also some struggles that I had.
I’ll start with the struggles. My greatest struggle was in finding something interesting to write about in terms of this section. In many Psalms that I have read and blogged through, and even in many sections of Psalm 119 up to this point, I have managed to learn something new, or to see something that I considered interesting. Believe me, I was doubtful that this would be the case, for the Book of Psalms initially struck me as a book that would run out of gas in terms of my weekly quiet times, since it seems to be the sort of book that repeats the same ideas over and over. And it is, in a sense, but it also contains verses that have an ambiguous meaning, and learning about how scholars and religious interpreters have sought to deal with that has made my weekly quiet times in Psalms interesting, at least to me.
In Psalm 119: Tzade, however, I didn’t find anything that particularly interested me. Was there a “problem” (if you will) in that section that interpreters have struggled to solve, as has been the case in many of the Psalms and sections of Psalm 119 that I have studied, which has given my weekly quiet times in Psalms some spice? Well, there were discussions about what the Psalmist meant when he said in v 141 that he is young (or small) and despised. Some interpreted this as a reference to David being the youngest son of Jesse when he was chosen to be king, and therefore his family despised him in the sense that it did not consider him to be a legitimate candidate for the monarchy of Israel (I Samuel 16:11). Another view is that David felt that he was despised by people who were older than he was, such as Saul. Still another view was that the Psalmist was dismayed that those who were older than he were not faithful to God’s precepts, when one would expect for the older to be wiser. And then there were interpreters who maintained that the Psalmist was not saying that he was young, but rather that he was small—-he was considered to be insignificant, by himself and others.
I didn’t find these points to be particularly profound, and I’m not sure why. Maybe one reason is that I find attempts to relate aspects of the Psalms to David’s life to be rather arbitrary—-it’s like some interpreters look for anything in David’s life that would fit the verse, when the Psalm in question may contain things that might not fit certain times in David’s life.
But perhaps there is something profound in the view that the Psalmist was discouraged that his elders were not being faithful to God’s words. It can be discouraging when people you expect to be mature and good actually do not behave in that fashion. This can apply to those who are older than you, but also (say) to Christians, or progressive people, the sorts of people you would expect to care, but may not always. But the Psalmist affirms that, even though people may despise him for his insignificance and may stray from the right path, preferring instead to pursue their own ambitions, he himself will stay committed to what he knows to be right.
In terms of what I enjoyed about this particular weekly quiet time, I did feel cozy when I read discussions about how God is righteous, and thus God’s rule and God’s law are expressions of God’s righteousness. Charles Spurgeon was waxing eloquent about how, whatever we may experience, we can be assured that it is good for us, for God’s rule is righteous. (At least that is how I was interpreting Spurgeon here.) I have heard Calvinists make a similar claim: that nothing happens to the believer apart from God’s permission and so, if something bad is happening to us, it must be for our good.
This may sound cozy to me, and it may even comfort a number of people. But I have a hard time affirming it as an absolute truth, for I cannot say that certain things that happen to people are somehow for their good. There are things that happen to people that damage them quite significantly—-I think of abuse. I don’t believe that we should placidly chalk up everything bad to God’s plan, for there is evil in the world that should sadden us, and even anger us—-not so that we can show ourselves or others how righteous we are because we have righteous indignation, but rather because the evil truly is evil. Even the Psalmist in this section, specifically in Psalm 119:139, says (and I quote the KJV): “My zeal hath consumed me, because mine enemies have forgotten thy words.”