Psalm 119: Tav

I finished the ever lengthy Psalm 119!  Psalm 119: Tav is the final section of Psalm 119.  I have two items.

1.  Psalm 119:172 says (in the King James Version): “My tongue shall speak of thy word: for all thy commandments are righteousness.”

The word that the KJV translates as “shall speak of” is from the Hebrew root ayin-nun-heh, which often means “to answer.”  Should Psalm 119:172 be translated as “My tongue shall answer thy word, for all thy commandments [are] righteousness”?  The Septuagint does not think so, for it simply has “Let my tongue utter thine oracles; for all thy commandments are righteous” (Brenton’s translation of the Septuagint).  But the Targum uses the root tav-vav-beyt, which relates to turning or returning (like the Hebrew word shuv).  That is consistent with “answering,” which is a sort of return, in a sense: You speak to me, and I return speech by answering.  The Targum apparently holds that the Psalmist in Psalm 119:172 is answering God’s word.

The root ayin-nun-heh mostly means “to answer” in the Hebrew Bible, as this search shows.  There are times when the KJV translates the root in terms of testifying, but I think that can be relevant to answering, since a witness arguably responds to questions about what he or she saw.  (At least that’s how it works nowadays, and I don’t know how courts worked back then.)  But there are times when the root is translated in terms of singing.  Would that be consistent with answering, since people probably sing in response to something?  But understanding the root in terms of answering doesn’t seem to work in every case, for the root is used in Song of Songs 2:10 in a context that doesn’t appear to relate to answering: “My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.”  The beloved does not appear to be responding to anything that the woman said when he speaks in this verse.

Perhaps the root can have a broader meaning than “to answer.”  But could the root mean “to answer” in Psalm 119:172?  I think so.  The Psalmist wants to receive God’s instruction.  The Psalmist in Psalm 119:172 may be saying that he will respond in obedience to God’s word when he hears it, for he knows that God’s word will be righteous.

2.  Psalm 119 closes by saying: “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments.”

There are many who interpret this verse to mean that the Psalmist is acknowledging that he has spiritually strayed, and he wants God to find him.  There are others, however, who maintain that the Psalmist is in the right place spiritually, since he has not forgotten God’s commandments, but that he is lost in the sense that he is experiencing peril, and he wants for God to lead him to a safer place.  I think that the Psalmist is saying that he did something that led to his lost state, since the verb translated as “I have gone astray” can mean to wander, or to err (see here).  I should also note Psalm 119:67, which uses a different root, but which may still be relevant to understanding the last verse of Psalm 119.  Psalm 119:67 states: “Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word.”  The Psalmist’s point is probably that he is experiencing affliction because of sins that he has committed in the past, but now he is appealing to God to deliver him by saying that he is now committed to hearing and obeying God’s commandments.

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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