Psalm 119:105-112 נ Nun – Fish, Longevity

Psalm 119 Nun – Fish, Longevity
105 Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.
106 I have taken an oath and confirmed it, that I will follow your righteous laws.
107 I have suffered much; preserve my life, Lord, according to your word.
108 Accept, Lord, the willing praise of my mouth, and teach me your laws.
109 Though I constantly take my life in my hands, I will not forget your law.
110 The wicked have set a snare for me, but I have not strayed from your precepts.
111 Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart.
112 My heart is set on keeping your decrees to the very end.

 Right >§§§> Left

The light on my path for my feet is the lamp of your word.  I will follow your righteous laws. I have taken an oath and confirmed that.  Preserve my life, Lord, is according to your word.  I have suffered much.  Teach me your laws and accept the willing praise of my mouth.  I will not forget your law though I constantly take my life in my hands.  I have not strayed from your precepts but the wicked have set a snare for me.  The joy of my heart and my heritage forever are your statutes.  My heart is set on keeping your decrees to the very end.

—∞∞∞—

For some time now I’ve been separating the Scripture from my own writing using a typographical sign of the fish [ >§§§> ] so  the meaning of “Nun” didn’t seem unusual.  It’s a familiar image many Christians use to associate themselves with Jesus.  The surprise was to find it hidden here in Psalm 119. 

 The fish symbol was a common pagan symbol long before it was chosen as an identifying mark for Christians. Early believers in Jesus Christ chose the
“fish” because it was a sign that would attract less attention than, say the sign of the cross might, because people were familiar with seeing it.  It became a way to safely identify themselves to one another.  The story is told that when strangers met, the Christian could draw a simple arc in the sand with his toe and wait for the other to respond.  If the other was a Christian, he would respond by drawing the lower arc to form the outline of a fish.  

The “fish” is the surprise set-up for these devotional thoughts.  Did God reveal
נ Nun to the Psalmist king as a mark of a greater KING, yet to come, or was it just a poetic accident?  Was that secret little Hebrew heading written as a familiar signal for generations in the future to respond to, and reveal their own identity? 

This Psalmist king knew the law of God.  He knew it made the path he wanted to follow visible to him.  He knew seeing that path was one thing, but deciding to walk it demanded a way to identify truth and people he could trust.  He knew the writings of the prophets.  He knew life was his training ground with a divine purpose; intimacy with God.  I think he knew the significance of נ Nun – Fish was longevity, that his identity with God would last into our future too.

The Psalmist king has become known throughout history as a “man after God’s own heart.”  He knew his own identity was as sketchy and unreliable as any other human being except for his awareness that God’s truth [aka, the law] had saved and changed him.  The Psalmist knew he could trust God to be just and fair even when his own behavior and words were not.   Long before Jesus fulfilled the law, the Psalmist identified himself completely with the fullness of God revealed in His law, it’s precepts and statutes.  The value that has been ascribed to his heart was that he gave the fullness of it to God without reservation; the very best parts as well as well as the very worst parts.   That was the identification mark the Psalmist king made face to face with God trusting it would be recognized and God’s response would be to complete His identity with him.  >§§§>

Psalm 119:97-104 מ Mem – Waves, Water

Psalm 119
97 Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.
98 Your commands are always with me and make me wiser than my enemies.
99 I have more insight than all my teachers,  for I meditate on your statutes.
100 I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts.
101 I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey your word.
102 I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me.
103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
104 I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path.

Right >§§§> Left

All day long I meditate on your law.  Oh, how i love it!  I am made wiser than my enemies because your commands are always with me.  I meditate on your statutes for I have more insight than all my teachers.  I obey your precepts for I have more understanding than the elders.  So that I might obey your word, I have kept my feet from every evil path.  You yourself have taught me.  I have not departed from your laws.  Sweeter than honey to my mouth are how sweet your words are to my taste.  I hate every wrong path therefore I gain understanding from your precepts.

–––––––§–––––––

The Psalmist recognizes there is a purpose for God’s laws, commands, statutes and precepts.  He’s used the Hebrew letter “Mem – waves, water” to reveal it to us as eye-catching waves rising repeatedly from the ocean of truth that is God’s knowledge.  Those waves regularly break the surface of the water as they begin their push toward the shore to deposit their power and become one with it before ebbing back into the vastness of depths that are unseen.  

Waves and water are the imagery the Psalmist chooses to show God’s persistence to raise up His laws, commands, statutes and precepts as a recurring opportunity to release His power upon the shore…His people…and in that moment become one with them. 

The Psalmist has seen God at work repeatedly in his own life.  He recognizes those waves have touched him with wisdom, insight and understanding.  They’ve risen from the depths of God’s knowledge to break upon him with new realities that sustain him over and over.  The imagery is God’s laws, commands, statutes and precepts are “waves”that have broken on him and united him in that moment with the unseen depths of the “water” that created them to enable him to “obey” and keep his “feet from every wrong path.”  

Psalm 119:89-96 ל Lamedh – to learn, to teach

Psalm 119
89 Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.
90 Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures.
91 Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve you.
92 If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.
93 I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have preserved my life.
94 Save me, for I am yours; I have sought out your precepts.
95 The wicked are waiting to destroy me, but I will ponder your statutes.
96 To all perfection I see a limit, but your commands are boundless.  [NIV]

>§§§>

Learning how to be taught today from left to right:
“In the heavens Lord, your word stands firm and is eternal.  You established the earth and it endures.  Your faithfulness continues through all generations.  All things serve you for your laws endure to this day.  I would have perished in my affliction if your law had not been my delight.  You have preserved my life by them and I will never forget your precepts.  I have sought out you precepts; save me for I am yours.  I will ponder your statutes but the wicked are waiting to destroy me. Your commands are boundless but to all perfection I see a limit.”

∞∞∞

My challenge is trying to read and write about this section of Psalm 119 with fresh thinking.  The Psalmist has focused his belief on the faithfulness of God enduring despite the risk of his own circumstances.  Several things were clear to him.  Endurance came packaged with correction and learning.  His own endurance was dependent on God’s boundless laws, precepts and statutes even when faced with dramatic events that called into question his own security.  The final clarity of truth the Psalmist’s grappled with, were his words that the Lord’s “commands are boundless, but to all perfection I see a limit.”

The circumstances we have seen with our own eyes this last week in the Capital of the United States have shown us how much we need to read and ponder these words of the Psalmist in a contemporary way.  His clarity must become ours.  As limited as perfection may be it never looks like an angry mob causing chaos, destruction and death.  Lamedh is the powerful reminder the Psalmist has given us this week; every person of faith must deliberately make the choice every day to let God’s boundless laws, precepts and statutes teach them to be willing to learn.

Psalm 119:81-88 כ Kaph – Bend, Open, Allow, Tame

Psalm 119
81 My soul faints with longing for your salvation, but I have put my hope in your word.
82 My eyes fail, looking for your promise; I say, “When will you comfort me?”
83 Though I am like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget your decrees.
84 How long must your servant wait?  When will you punish my persecutors?
85 The arrogant dig pits to trap me, contrary to your law.
86 All your commands are trustworthy; help me, for I am being persecuted without cause.
87 They almost wiped me from the earth, but I have not forsaken your precepts.
88 In your unfailing love preserve my life, that I may obey the statutes of your mouth.  [NIV]

>§§§>

A different plan for reading backwards, writing & praying today:

I have put my hope in your word, my soul faints with longing for your salvation.  When will you comfort me?  My eyes fail looking for your promise.  I do not forget your decrees though I am like a wineskin in the smoke.  When will you punish my persecutors?  How long must your servant wait?  Contrary to your law, the arrogant dig pits to trap me.  I am being persecuted without cause.  Help me.  Your commands are trustworthy.  I have not forsaken your precepts but they almost wiped me from the earth. The statutes of your mouth in your unfailing love, preserve my life that I may obey them. [Amen]

The most intriguing phrase in this part of Psalm 119 was “I am like a wineskin in the smoke.” The wineskin was vital to carrying the wine from place to place in ancient times but eventually it deteriorated as it was exposed to the smoke from fires of life inside a tent. There are many meanings of that phrase, and Kaph, but John Piper gets credit for an idea I thought worth passing on that relates the phrase to Kaph.  Kaph is the open hand of God that can “tame” and “open” the life of one who will “bend” to His will. The wine is the Gospel.  The fragile “wineskin” of life is what God has given us to carry His Gospel from place to place. That opportunity won’t last forever.

Psalm 119:73-80 י Yodh – Hand [Bent]

Psalm 119 [NIV]
73 Give me understanding to learn your commands and how your hands made me and formed me
74 I have put my hope in your word so those who fear you can rejoice when they see me
75 You have afflicted me in faithfulness I know Lord and your laws are righteous
76 According to your promise to your servant, may your unfailing love be my comfort.

77 Your law is my delight that I may live and your compassion come to me
78 I will meditate on your precepts, may the arrogant be put to shame for wronging me without cause
79 May those who fear you turn to me, those who understand your statutes.
80 May I wholeheartedly follow your decrees, that I may not be put to shame.   

>§§§>

The mention of hands  in v73 was distracting in terms of that small Hebrew subtitle, “Bent.”  Reading each individual section of Psalm 119 backwards and rewriting them without changing their intent [I hope] has made them seem more like a personal prayer to me.  The last two verses today couldn’t possibly have been any more personal so I haven’t changed them.  I hope they’ll be your personal prayer too.

My first thoughts about “bent” evoked the imagery of the gently bent hand of God reaching toward us.   I don’t think that’s what the Psalmist had in mind, as true and welcoming as that is.  “Bent” is something more than a description of the physical hand of God.  Instead I believe the Psalmist has discovered “Bent” is God’s purpose for His laws, precepts, statutes, decrees and commands.   God’s promise was to change His servant’s natural “bent,”* so his inclination would be the determination to do or have all that God was offering him: hope, faithfulness, unfailing love, comfort and compassion.

*Bent: determined to do or have or a natural talent or inclination

Psalm 119:65-72 ט Teth – Serpent, Snake

Psalm 119
65 Do good to your servant according to your word, Lord.
66 Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I trust your commands.
67 Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.
68 You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees.
69 Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies, I keep your precepts with all my heart.
70 Their hearts are callous and unfeeling, but I delight in your law.
71 It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees
72 The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.

>§§§>

There is a “before and after” story here in Teth that relates to affliction; where it comes from and how does it relate to a serpent/snake?  Teth is a not-so-subtle reminder of an old “before” story; there really was a serpent hiding in the garden whose purpose was to call into question the absolute truth God had spoken.  Affliction might be the mask of temptation that serpent wears today as he repeats his original question asked long before the Psalmist wrote: “did God really say…?”   

The Psalmist’s words are obviously written to let God know he’s aware there has been a “before and after” in his life.  “Before” I was afflicted I went astray…The “after” is “It was good for me to be afflicted…so that I might learn your decrees…but now I obey your word.”  The Psalmist has shown us the imagery of an “after” we can recognize.  God has built a house [us] and filled it with light [the Word], protected by a strong door [Jesus]and a hedge [the Holy Spirit] around it.  A place where affliction and even the possibility of a serpent hiding in the garden no longer has the power to silence the absolute truth of what God really did say.

Psalm 119: 57-64 Heth – Hedge, Fence, Surround

Psalm 119: 57-64 ח Heth – Hedge, Fence, Surround
57 You are my portion, Lord; I have promised to obey your words.
58 I have sought your face with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise.
59 I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes.
60 I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands.
61 Though the wicked bind me with ropes, I will not forget your law.
62 At midnight I rise to give you thanks for your righteous laws.
63 I am a friend to all who fear you, to all who follow your precepts.
64 The earth is filled with your love, Lord; teach me your decrees. NIV

>§§§>

The “I” statements are so striking in these verses they have preempted my forwards/backwards plan as the last days of 2020 unroll.  Heth is part of the wisdom revealed to us again in Christmas, 2020.  Jesus was God Himself, offered to the world to be the true Hedge, Fence, Surround between the vulnerabilities of life and our confidence in the unknown days of 2021 yet to come.

“We have a shelter, we have our defense and now we have a hedge, fence or a surround. Heth is a boundary; “a point or limit that indicates where two things become different. ” Look at the Psalmist, the hero of the song. His theme [in all his Psalms] regularly shifts from complete confidence in his knowledge of God to the awareness, and sometimes even fear, of how vulnerable he is.

God has set himself as the boundary line between those shifts of confidence and vulnerability. It’s that point of Heth from which the Psalmist speaks; “I have promised…I have sought…I have considered…I will hasten,,,I will not forget…I rise to give you thanks…The earth is filled with your love, Lord; teach me your decrees.”a

a 8/16/2016

Christmas Day, 2020

Psalm 119:49-56 ז Zayin – Weapon

Today the section title of Psalm 119 is ז Zayin – Weapon.
49 Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope.
50 This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.
51 The insolent utterly deride me, but I do not turn away from your law.
52 When I think of your rules from of old, I take comfort, O Lord.
53 Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked, who forsake your law
54 Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my sojourning.
55 I remember your name in the night, O Lord, and keep your law.
56 This blessing has fallen to me, that I have kept your precepts. ESV

>§§§>

It’s two days before Christmas and “ז Zayin – Weapon” definitely is NOT where my heart wants to be.  I want Bethlehem, a Holy baby and love, not weapons.  Mankind has provided plenty of weapons for both defense and offense and plenty of desire to use them.  Despite my reaction to it’s title, this section brims with testimony of God actively arming His people with a different kind of “weapons” to protect and defend their minds as well as their eyes and hearts long before the birth of Christ.  My challenge is to a) read and write the verse backwards as I have been doing and b) to look for evidence in them of God’s determined revelation of Himself that we celebrate this Advent, 2020.  

For my own clarification about laws and weapons:
law is the system of rules enforced by the authority with the intention of regulating human behavior for the common good.
statute is a legal document that declares a specific law, expressed in writing.
A precept is a rule dictating a way you should act or behave.

49 You have made me hope as you remind me of your Word.
God has reminded me through the birth of Christ of His own hope for His own creation through His own determination to place Himself in the midst of our world as a way to protect and defend our lives.

50 Your promise comforts my affliction and gives me life. 
Jesus is God’s promise of comfort revealed in human form as a newborn that Luke 2 reminds us “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” to redeem the sins of my afflictions with His love.

52 O Lord, I take comfort when I think of your rules from of old.
I don’t always feel comforted by rules but I do recognize they are a hedge of restraint around me until I come “to my senses.”   Jesus was the “Door” opened to new freedom to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

53 The wicked who forsake your law cause hot indignation to seize me.
The first Law of God to regulate human behavior is to love Him.  Hot indignation rarely affects the wicked but it’s certainly the fire that can destroy the ability to love. 

54  In this house where I sojourn your statues are my songs.
Our sojourn is the brief span of life we’re given by God for the express purpose learning the words and the music of God’s love song for us, Jesus the Christ.

55 I keep your law O Lord, and remember your name in the night.
I remember that little town of Bethlehem.  I remember the circumstances of life where your answer to regulating human behavior for the common good was revealed in Law of Love, Jesus, born in the likeness of man.

56 I have kept your precepts and this blessing has fallen on me.
I have pledged to let your Law of Love dictate my actions and behavior.  The blessing that has fallen on me this Advent, 2020 is that “God With Us,” is the Law of Love you’ve given to protect and defend my life here and now and forever.

A Wake Up Call to Wonder – Luke 2:8-12

Luke 2:8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.  10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.  12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

🎄>§§§>🎄

As I read this passage from Luke I couldn’t help but compare that first Christmas to today.  “Normal” Christmas is filled with a lot of beautiful imagery that fills my head.  Today as I reread the actual circumstances of that night, I’ve been reminded this is not a “normal” year and Advent this year is not just a preparation, it’s a wake-up call to “Wonder.”  Centuries of hindsight have eclipsed the realities of that night in the middle of nowhere when the Glory of the Lord lit up the sky for a very frightened group of shepherds.  Their story has become a window for us to see that while God chose to send them His promise  in a frightening blaze of holiness, they responded to the wonder of God in an ordinary way despite their fear and the harsh realities of their circumstances.  That is what has given them their special place in our history.  

The story of the birth of “a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” triggers beautiful romantic images for me of a newborn baby with a halo of light about His head.   I hear the romance of my own history in the angel’s words “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”  The circumstances of Advent in the Year of our Lord, 2020 have reminded me God chose to fulfill the dramatic promise from the angel in what appeared to be a far more ordinary way.   “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”  That still matters.

There’s an old story of a European ruler who would sneak away and walk among his people incognito.  It drove his security people nuts but his response was “I cannot rule my people unless I know how they live.”   The reality of the ordinary birth of Jesus Christ is that God found a way to walk among His people “incognito.”  Christmas began with what appeared to be an ordinary baby…wrapped in ordinary swaddling clothes…from ordinary parents…in an ordinary stable…for ordinary people.

God has triumphed through the ordinary record of Luke’s story to remind me He will redeem Christmas again this year.  During these last few days of Advent, despite the harsh realities of darkness, pain and loss, the Wonder of God can still appear in the reality of the ordinary and encourage us to respond.  “And this shall be a sign unto you…”

• Ordinary Christmas lights twinkling everywhere as a visible reminder “the glory of the Lord shone round about them.”
• The ordinary music of Christmas audibly breaking through the noise of life with different angelic words that remind us to respond “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
• The ordinary seasonal 
“Merry Christmas” greeting taking on new meaning this year as a way for us to remind each other to “Fear not,” God is with us.
• Ah, and those bell-ringers with red kettles are surely angels of God that remind us that He will turn what appears to be an ordinary gift into into “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”