Psalm 119: 161-168 ש Sin and Shin – Tooth
161 Rulers persecute me without cause,
but my heart trembles at your word.
162 I rejoice in your promise
like one who finds great spoil.
163 I hate and detest falsehood
but I love your law.
164 Seven times a day I praise you
for your righteous laws.
165 Great peace have those who love your law,
and nothing can make them stumble.
166 I wait for your salvation, Lord,
and I follow your commands.
167 I obey your statutes,
for I love them greatly.
168 I obey your precepts and your statutes,
for all my ways are known to you
Shin – tooth is an interesting title because it brought to mind this image. The Psalmist is like a dog with a bone. He fiercely defends his faith…and the Word of God, his bone. Try to take it away and there will be a struggle that ranges from a slight tug of war to fierce defense.
He’s sunk his teeth into the Word of God. It’s his “great spoil;” his bone to chew on to satisfy appetite but also to keep his “teeth” sharp and healthy to aid digestion.
Psalm 119:153-160 ר Resh – Head
153 Look on my suffering and deliver me,
for I have not forgotten your law.
154 Defend my cause and redeem me;
preserve my life according to your promise.
155 Salvation is far from the wicked,
for they do not seek out your decrees.
156 Your compassion, Lord, is great;
preserve my life according to your laws.
157 Many are the foes who persecute me,
but I have not turned from your statutes.
158 I look on the faithless with loathing,
for they do not obey your word.
159 See how I love your precepts;
preserve my life, Lord, in accordance with your love.
160 All your words are true;
all your righteous laws are eternal.
The Psalmist’s knows where to turn for help. That’s good, but stress and pain have created a disconnect between his heart and what he knows God can do that shows up in the see-saw emotions of these verses. That’s not good.
The same heart that knows God can save him out of his evil circumstances, judges “Salvation is far from the wicked, for they do not seek out your decrees.” The same heart that on one hand says “Your compassion, Lord, is great; preserve my life according to your laws” says …”I look on the faithless with loathing for they do not obey your word.” That’s heart trouble that’s hard to ignore…even for a Psalmist.
Maybe he’s chosen Resh – head, to title this section because in his heart he knows the promises, laws, statutes and decrees of God stored in his head are more trustworthy than his emotions. “All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal.”
Psalm 119:145-152 ק Qoph Axe, Back of Head,
145 I call with all my heart; answer me, Lord,
and I will obey your decrees.
146 I call out to you; save me
and I will keep your statutes.
147 I rise before dawn and cry for help;
I have put my hope in your word.
148 My eyes stay open through the watches of the night,
that I may meditate on your promises.
149 Hear my voice in accordance with your love;
preserve my life, Lord, according to your laws.
150 Those who devise wicked schemes are near,
but they are far from your law.
151 Yet you are near, Lord,
and all your commands are true.
152 Long ago I learned from your statutes
that you established them to last forever.
I write what I “think” I know because I want God to know I think. More importantly I believe God knows what I need to know and “wants” me to know it. I wonder if that’s the process of discernment?
I’m guessing that’s why the Psalmist writes too. Maybe discernment is the secret of why he uses this obscure title Ooph – axe, back of head. The “back of the head” according to a Google search about anatomy is the “occipital lobe that controls sight.”
What the Psalmist sees are his circumstances but he knows there is a tool, that can cut away the debris of life and reveal another reality. The decrees, statutes and promises are the “axe” that can split his own worried thoughts from what he sees to what God wants him to know; “you are near, Lord, and all your commands are true.”
Psalm 119:137-144 צ Tsadhe – fish hook?
137 You are righteous, Lord,
and your laws are right.
138 The statutes you have laid down are righteous;
they are fully trustworthy.
139 My zeal wears me out,
for my enemies ignore your words.
140 Your promises have been thoroughly tested,
and your servant loves them.
141 Though I am lowly and despised,
I do not forget your precepts.
142 Your righteousness is everlasting
and your law is true.
143 Trouble and distress have come upon me,
but your commands give me delight.
144 Your statutes are always righteous;
give me understanding that I may live.
The Psalmist had his own reasons for choosing Tsadhe – fish hook as his title. Today it’s a stepping stone, a mental path, to find truth that makes old words real for contemporary life.
Fish hook is only one step away from the idea of being “caught.” Is the Psalmist caught thinking his zeal for God is what changes his enemies? Is that what’s wearing him out? Is he caught by his own perception of what others think of him? Is he caught by his own trouble and distress? Is he caught being human? The answers to all of the above may well be yes.
That’s why his words seem familiar – they’re still struggles of being human today. Maybe Tsadhe – fish hook – is the Psalmists’ way of remembering being “caught” is also what makes it possible for him to find a positive response to those negatives.
He’s “caught on” that despite thorough testing, he still loves the promises of God. He’s “caught on” that God’s righteousness is everlasting but his circumstances aren’t. He’s hooked by these truths that allow him to live, to believe, to be faithful…even though he’s caught being human too. He’s been caught and firmly hooked by a righteous and trustworthy God.
Psalm 119:129-136 פ Pe- Mouth
129 Your statutes are wonderful;
therefore I obey them.
130 The unfolding of your words gives light;
it gives understanding to the simple.
131 I open my mouth and pant,
longing for your commands.
132 Turn to me and have mercy on me,
as you always do to those who love your name.
133 Direct my footsteps according to your word;
let no sin rule over me.
134 Redeem me from human oppression,
that I may obey your precepts.
135 Make your face shine on your servant
and teach me your decrees.
136 Streams of tears flow from my eyes,
for your law is not obeyed.
This is what came to mind when I read the title of these eight verses; Pe – mouth. Luke 6:45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart…For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of…NIV
The “unfolding” words of God are very personal to the Psalmist. They’ve been stored in his heart as surely as if they were written just for him. They have become the song of his heart to be sung aloud for all to hear.
Years ago I heard a Christian linguist say that Hymns were the perfect and complete way to communicate the truth of God’s word and engage the whole brain; one half responds to the music itself and the other to the lyrics.
We don’t have the music that goes along with this Psalm but I bet you know at least part of a hymn or chorus by “heart,” too. Sing!…all by yourself…right there where you are…out loud [you can belt it out or sing it softly]…from your mouth to God’s ears “for the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”
Psalm 119:121-128 ע Ayin – Eye
121 I have done what is righteous and just;
do not leave me to my oppressors.
122 Ensure your servant’s well-being;
do not let the arrogant oppress me.
123 My eyes fail, looking for your salvation,
looking for your righteous promise.
124 Deal with your servant according to your love
and teach me your decrees.
125 I am your servant; give me discernment
that I may understand your statutes.
126 It is time for you to act, Lord;
your law is being broken.
127 Because I love your commands
more than gold, more than pure gold,
128 and because I consider all your precepts right,
I hate every wrong path.
I see a very human characteristic in this man of faith. He’s frustrated. Doesn’t God see the impact his oppressors have on his life? He’s done so much that’s right and yet in this moment his “eyes fail, looking for” how God is going to save him as promised. No wonder he’s thinking in terms of Ayin – eye. He’s focused on what he isn’t able to see.
Verse 124 is the amazing turn-about of this meditation; “Deal with your servant according to your love and teach me your decrees.” The Psalmist has come to the realization it’s not what he sees or doesn’t see that makes him faithful. He’s a faithful servant because he knows God is willing to “deal” with him even though sometimes he’s short-sighted.
Psalm 119:113-120 ס Samekh – Prop, Support
113 I hate double-minded people,
but I love your law.
114 You are my refuge and my shield;
I have put my hope in your word.
115 Away from me, you evildoers,
that I may keep the commands of my God!
116 Sustain me, my God, according to your promise, and I will live;
do not let my hopes be dashed.
117 Uphold me, and I will be delivered;
I will always have regard for your decrees.
118 You reject all who stray from your decrees,
for their delusions come to nothing.
119 All the wicked of the earth you discard like dross;
therefore I love your statutes.
120 My flesh trembles in fear of you;
I stand in awe of your laws.
The title and words of this section seem so easy to connect in comparison to some earlier sections. The Psalmist is clear it’s the law, the Word and God’s commands and promises that he relies on.
The fact is, while he writes this confession of faith, the awareness of risk is not lost on him. He seems compelled to mention “them” again too. This isn’t the first time he’s pointed out how God deals with “them.” I wonder if he’s reminding himself that part of his confession always has to be acknowledging the only thing that separates “him” from “them” is verse 117 – Samekh, his prop and support. “Uphold me, and I will be delivered.”