For my weekly quiet time today, I will blog about Psalm 119: Yod. I will post it in the King James Version (which is in the public domain), then I will comment on select verses.
73 JOD. Thy hands have made me and fashioned me: give me understanding, that I may learn thy commandments.
The point here could be that the God who created the Psalmist is powerful enough to impart to the Psalmist spiritual understanding. Do I believe that God changes people? I recently got into a discussion with a Christian blogger, and she was saying that a number of Christians who are judgmental or prone to anger are that way because they have not asked the Holy Spirit to change them. I initially took some exception to that claim, but I came to see her point a little better in the course of our conversation. I agree with her that one way that people can overcome a character flaw is, first, to admit that they have a problem and, second, to ask God each day to help them to change, a task that allows them regularly to express their commitment to becoming better. There are other Christians who say that Christians cannot change in solitude—-with just them and God—-but that they need a community to give them advice and encouragement and to keep them accountable. I tend to be resistant to this claim, but I can still see some value in it: that it’s good to get an outsider’s perspective, since I myself do not have all of the answers.
I guess where I am skeptical is that I have a hard time believing that all issues can be prayed away. There are a number of Christians with a homosexual orientation who have tried to pray away the gay, only to fail. For a long time, I prayed that God might make me more of an extrovert, that he might help me to have more social skills and not to be as nervous in social situations. In some respects, I have improved, but I’m still a very shy person. Some people conclude that they should stop trying to change certain things about themselves, but rather should seek to be happy with themselves as they are, the way that God made them. In my opinion, when to do that, and when to try to change, are things that should be decided by people on a case-by-case basis.
74 They that fear thee will be glad when they see me; because I have hoped in thy word.
Do we root for those who hope in God’s word? In my case, it depends. If a person is going through a hard financial or personal situation, and she is clinging for dear life to God’s faithfulness, then, yes, I am glad when things get better in that person’s life, and my faith in God grows. If we’re dealing with a pastor who is in trouble for sexual misconduct, or spiritual abuse, or financial scandal, I would tend not to root for that pastor, even if he claims to be looking to God to vindicate him, and even if he actually is trusting in God. That doesn’t mean that I should give in to hating the pastor, for I believe that I should desire his repentance. If a politician is attacking gay marriage out of religious conviction and is getting criticized as a result, I have a hard time rooting for that politician in that case, for I believe that there is more to the story: that God cares for gay people who were born with an orientation that they did not ask for and who want to express their love through marriage, just like a number of heterosexual couples do. Whether they’re right or wrong, that’s debated, but there should be more to the debate than people standing up for what they believe God wants: there should be empathy, as well.
75 I know, O LORD, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me.
I’ve wondered before on this blog what the definition of “judgments” is in Psalm 119. Are they God’s statutes, a la how the word is used in the Book of Deuteronomy? Or are they God’s ways of acting in the world? In Psalm 119:75, it could go both ways. The Psalmist could be saying that he now knows that God’s statutes are right, and that he appreciates that God in God’s faithfulness has afflicted him for not obeying them. Or he could be saying that God’s affliction of him is an example of God’s judgments, God’s ways of doing things in the world, and that the Psalmist sees value in that.
76 Let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to thy word unto thy servant.
Did God ever tell the Psalmist that God’s mercy would comfort him? Perhaps. If the Psalmist here is David, maybe the word that the Psalmist means is God’s word through Nathan that God has put away David’s sin concerning Bathsheba and Uriah, such that David would not die (II Samuel 12:13). That is God’s forgiveness of David. Or could the servant who received God’s word be someone else, such as Moses? In that case, there are passages in the Torah about God’s mercy and forgiveness, particularly to those who love God and seek to obey God’s commandments (Exodus 20:6//Deuteronomy 5:10; Exodus 34:7), and the Psalmist could be appealing to those.
77 Let thy tender mercies come unto me, that I may live: for thy law is my delight.
I would like to think that God would be merciful to me, even if I do not obey God’s standards. The thing is, though, as a number of Christians have noted, God’s grace only makes sense within the context of God’s law. Why would we need forgiveness if what we are doing is perfectly acceptable? But I struggle with certain commandments, such as the ones about being reconciled with others. I don’t want to have anything to do with some people, let alone reconcile with them, to tell you the truth! But there may be less absolutist ways to interpret that command: perhaps I can apologize to someone for anything I did wrong, without feeling that I have to be lifelong friends with that person. Should I tell people about their sins against me in an attempt to foster some sort of reconciliation, a la Matthew 18, or Leviticus 19:17? I’ve found that I don’t do this all that well. Sometimes, for me, it’s a better policy just to let people be, and to go my separate way.
There are times when I ask God for forgiveness, but it’s when I sincerely feel that I did something wrong. I’m through with fake repentance, in which I have to apologize for not being perfect, or for having sexual desire. I should still be guided by a higher standard, however. For example, I’m never going to be perfect, but is there a way for me to become better? And, even if I have sexual desire, I should still try to avoid total objectification.
78 Let the proud be ashamed; for they dealt perversely with me without a cause: but I will meditate in thy precepts.
The Psalmist may want for God to convict his enemies of sin such that they recognize the error of their ways, or for God to publicly humiliate them out of justice. Either way, it must be horrible for people to be mistreated, when they feel that they have done nothing wrong to those who are mistreating them. Is it escapism for the Psalmist to meditate on God’s precepts while this is going on? Perhaps. And yet, the Psalmist most likely believes that, by showing God that he is serious about obeying God’s precepts, God will intervene and vindicate him. Moreover, perhaps the Psalmist does not want to lose his soul (if you will) amidst the assaults by his enemies. He may not want to become tied down by anger or a desire for revenge, or to give up his pursuit of righteousness out of a belief that obedience to God does not matter because the world is simply amoral or unfair. He seeks to remind himself of righteous principles, even when the world does not appear to be a moral place. That’s something that I should do—-and I shouldn’t just write about doing it on my blog, but I should actually do it.
79 Let those that fear thee turn unto me, and those that have known thy testimonies.
This verse stood out to me. Why would the Psalmist want for God-fearers to turn to him? St. Augustine actually struggled with this verse, thinking that it would be pretty presumptuous on the part of the Psalmist to ask that people turn to him. Augustine concluded that v 79 must be the words of Christ: of course, people who fear God should turn to Christ, Augustine thought!
But there have been other approaches to this verse. The Targum says that those who fear God will turn to the Psalmist’s teaching. That’s better than the Psalmist hoping that people will turn to him, as if he deserves adulation, for people turning to righteous teaching is a good thing. Rashi, however, said that David here is asking that the righteous might embrace him again, since they had forsaken him after his misdeed concerning Bathsheba and Uriah. I myself have another thought: Suppose that Psalm 119 is by or about David. Could David be hoping that the righteous will see that he has the right intentions and fears God and thereby come to support him, in a time when he is endangered by Saul or Absalom?
I don’t think that it’s wrong for a person to desire that others will help him out, that religious people will practice the moral teachings of their creeds and go to bat for someone who has problems. But I’m against people conflating their agendas with God’s agendas and thereby equating turning to God with turning to them. The former could be the sentiment of this verse.
80 Let my heart be sound in thy statutes; that I be not ashamed.
In many respects, I believe that we can avoid shame by doing what is right while avoiding what is wrong. This doesn’t always happen, for there are such things as false accusations. But people should not shoot themselves in the foot.