The Bible is Central 17

The Bible is Central 17 June 23, 2017

photo-1462219157779-8a35f2687626_optPsalm 119:129-136 (letter pe) expresses two things: various words of the Bible (seven different ones) and the wonderful delight the psalmist finds in them. The first word mentioned is “statutes” (‘edot). He finds the edot of God wonderful and therefore he delights to obey them.

Statutes are extolled as wonderful — they generate wonder.

Torah is clarified in this word edot as “witness” as in Deut 31:26: “Take this Book of the Law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God. There it will remain as a witness against you.” To call the Torah a “witness” is to see it as revelation from God, objective standard over against God’s people, the word from God that tells God’s people how to live and by which they are assessed.

This “witness” is also “covenant”: if one compares Exod 32:15 and Deut 9:15 we see that edot and berith (covenant) are nearly synonymous.

Here’s the point: God’s testifying statutes that are inherent to the covenant God has made with his people are the delight and wonder of the psalmist. As God’s acts in history cause wonder and awe, as they are marvels, so the Torah is to the psalmist. The very testifying words of God to his people are a source of wonder.

The Bible is our treasure. In it and through it and with it God speaks to us. We can pause today for this great gift, now made available in more ways than anyone in history could imagine — on DVDs and CDs and iPods and with notes and with pictures, is God’s communication with us.

In Psalm 119:129-136 the psalmist uses seven different words to describe the Torah: today we look at the second word. It is “word/s” (devar). Psalm 119:130:

“The unfolding of your words gives light;
it gives understanding to the simple.”

If the statutes of v. 129 generate wonder, the words provide light.

Words — sometimes I think my life is full of words. Kris and I and the kids talk to one another with words. I teach with words, I write with words and my day is spent reading the words of others. And the Bible is filled with words — Hebrew and Aramaic and Greek. What are words?

Let’s not enter too deeply into philosophy but words are a linguistic set of symbols that create a meaning-world by a person with the intent of expressing one’s mind and heart so that the Other can understand those words.

The Bible is words: devarim. God speaks to his people in words. Not just with words — for there is aesthetic art in the tabernacle and Temple, and there is vision and there is miracle and there is pillar of cloud by day and fire by night — but often with words.

Ponder this: the Torah, the psalmist says, is a collection of God’s words to humans. It is God filling words with meaning so that humans can comprehend. These words are made alive by the Spirit and by faith and they come home and we hear God and we say “they give me light and they grant understanding to the simple.”

Most importantly, John tells us that the Word became flesh — actual person — and the writer of Hebrews said God used to speak in all kinds of words but in the last days he has spoken to us in Son. All those words in Torah anticipate the Final Word — and that Word is Jesus, a living breathing person. Words, ultimately, are person symbolized in little letters.

As Eugene Peterson calls his book, “eat this book.”

The third word used for Torah in Psalm 119:129-136 is “commandments” (mitzvot; v. 131). Attached to v. 131 is v. 132: because the psalmist longs for God’s mitzvot and because that longing expresses the psalmist’s love (v. 132b), he implores God to turn to him.

If the statutes of v. 129 generate wonder and the words provide light (v. 130), then the commandments create longing. (I don’t believe it is contextually sound to think of 131’s longing leads to discovering that one is a sinner and then begging for mercy in v. 132. The whole section is a positive embrace of the Torah as instruction that is encountered as wonder and joy.)

He sees in the Torah the very stuff of life — he pants for it, he opens his mouth — as do baby birds in the nest when they sense a parent arriving with food — and asks God to fill him up with the ways of the mitzvot.

The psalmist knows God’s ways: the TNIV obscures this slightly. V. 132b says (TNIV): “as you always do.” This expresssion, from kemishpat, expresses God’s ruling, judging ways. “Always do” is fine; I like the JPS a bit better here: “As is Your rule.” God’s order of operating is that those who love his name — YHWH — and who honor that name by obedience, find that God turns to them and has mercy on them because they long to know him and to be in his presence.

Psalm 119:133-134 uses two more words for the Torah: promises (imra) and precepts (piqud). Imra can mean “word” but “promissory word” is a little better. Implications are obvious: Torah is promissory word and preceptual word in order to guide the behavior of God’s people.

If the statutes of v. 129 generate wonder and the words provide light (v. 130) and the commandments create longing (v. 131-132), then the promises create guidance (v. 133) and the precepts guidelines for behavior (v. 134).

Knowing God’s Torah as promissory means the psalmist can have firm feet and clear guidance for those feet; the path is secure because it is God’s way. Knowing God’s Torah as precept means the psalmist knows how to behave when he has the freedom to do so. So, he prays to be “ransomed” from oppressors, perhaps indicating that he is right now in captivity of some sort. No way to know.

Torah is guidance — read it, listen to it, and learn from it. What we learn is how to live — how to love others, how to work for justice, and how to bring peace.

The sixth word for Torah in this section of Psalm 119 is “decrees” (huqqim), words of binding force and permanence — inscribed forever now that they are written in the Torah. Commitment to such permanence brings the psalmist the sense that his own commitment brings the good pleasure of God.

If the statutes of v. 129 generate wonder and the words provide light (v. 130) and the commandments create longing (v. 131-132) and the promises create guidance (v. 133) and the precepts guidelines for behavior (v. 134), then the “decrees” (v. 135) provide God’s pleasure.

I like this line: “Make your face shine on your servant
and teach me your decrees” (v. 135).

God’s face shining on the servant of God is a Hebrew way of expressing God’s pleasure. When the Father says “this is my Son in whom I am well-pleased” at Jesus’ baptism, that is the face of God shining on Jesus. The face of God, so ably explored by LeRon Shults in The Faces of Forgiveness and now being blogged about, when it shines, is all about God’s good pleasure and delight in someone. Here the psalmist knows God’s delight in his obedience.

Furthermore, he simply asks God to shine his face on him by instructing him in “decrees” (huqqim). God, he says, grace me with your good pleasure by teaching me. I am listening.

The final verse of this section of Psalm 119 (v. 136) takes into uncharted water for this section: the psalmist, so committed as he is to God’s Torah, is grieved that others do not follow the Torah (the seventh and final word for Torah in this passage). Clearly a contrast with v. 135: God’s shiny face brings the psalmist intense pleasure while neglecting the delight of God in instruction grieves him. If you know this God, you sympathize with the psalmist.

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