Serendipity in Psalm 119

serendipityPsalm 119 is an acrostic poem, with an 8 verse section for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  Of course the ABC of this is lost in translation.  The very nature of an acrostic poem makes it complete – it goes from A to Z  (aleph to taw). It is also somewhat randomly organized, each section speaks to the overall theme, but not in a progressive way.  So it is like the randomness of the later parts of the book of Proverbs.

However, in preparing for a prayer group which is studying a book on praying with the scriptures, I fell across the following observation.

The first unit – Psalm 119:1-8 is a celebration of the Goal of walking blamelessly with God.  It begins with a double beatitude.

Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
    who walk in the law of the Lord!
Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,

 who seek him with their whole heart,

who also do no wrong,
    but walk in his ways!
You have commanded your precepts
    to be kept diligently.
Oh that my ways may be steadfast
    in keeping your statutes!
Then I shall not be put to shame,
    having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.
I will praise you with an upright heart,
    when I learn your righteous rules.
I will keep your statutes;
    do not utterly forsake me!

The next section is about method – we walk blamelessly by keeping the Torah.

How can a young man keep his way pure?
    By guarding it according to your word.
10 With my whole heart I seek you;
    let me not wander from your commandments!
11 I have stored up your word in my heart,
    that I might not sin against you.
12 Blessed are you, O Lord;
    teach me your statutes!
13 With my lips I declare
    all the rules of your mouth.
14 In the way of your testimonies I delight
    as much as in all riches.
15 I will meditate on your precepts
    and fix my eyes on your ways.
16 I will delight in your statutes;
    I will not forget your word.

One does get the impression from Psalm 119 that this is all rather easy.  Simply guard, keep, meditate and delight in the law of God.  So where is the acknowledgement that we are flawed people who do not find keeping the rules all that easy?  In the book on prayer, that I mentioned before, the last section of Psalm 119 is quoted.  It is an aid to prayers of confession.

Notice how this sections acknowledges need .

Let my cry come before you, O Lord;
    give me understanding according to your word!
170 Let my plea come before you;
    deliver me according to your word.
171 My lips will pour forth praise,
    for you teach me your statutes.
172 My tongue will sing of your word,
    for all your commandments are right.
173 Let your hand be ready to help me,
    for I have chosen your precepts.
174 I long for your salvation, O Lord,
    and your law is my delight.
175 Let my soul live and praise you,
    and let your rules help me.
176 I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant,
    for I do not forget your commandments.

How interesting, the psalm starts with a double Beatitude about keeping the Law and ends with a confession of need.  Often the beginning and the end of a thing are where the crucial messages lie.  the beginning of Psalm 119 rightly directs us to the wisdom and purity of the Law.  The end of Psalm 119 rightly shows us the need for the grace of God – for forgiveness, for rescue and for the ability to follow again.

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Law or Legalism?

scribe.2There is some question of how the Biblical texts on redemption of property and levirate marriage fits the situation with Ruth – it is Naomi’s property to be restored and her family line to be perpetuated, but that goes through Ruth.

Here is a background quote that gives perspective.

“…one must recall the nature of biblical legal materials. Against popular impression, they do not offer a comprehensive instruction which covers every imaginable case. Rather, they constitute instructions about sample or crucial topics from which inferences about all other cases are to be drawn.  Their goal s is more to inculcate Israel’s fundamental value system in its people than to provide handy legal references for judicial bodies.  Thus, attempts to align the customs in Ruth precisely with the details of three frequently cited texts (Gen 38; Lev 25:25-34; Dt. 25:5-10) are unnecessary and ill-advised.  On the contrary the value of such texts exceeds their simple, procedural details; rather, they are mirrors of Israel’s treasured values.  With reference to Ruth, they reflect how strongly Israel valued the survival of families through descendants and family ownership of ancestral property.”

Robert L Hubbard, Jr, The Book of Ruth (NICOT), Eerdmans, 1988

I was recently part of a discussion on divorce and remarriage.  A very strict legal reading of the NT texts might suggest prohibiting any remarriage and limiting divorce to only infidelity and abandonment.  but are the NT “laws” to be read in that way, or are they case-law and expressions of values by which we should decide in particular cases what is to be done.  In ministry one encounters many situations what require wisdom beyond a close reading of the rules.

A theme in Ruth is “hesed” a Hebrew word that means faith, often in the sense of faithfulness. God’s faithfulness to his people whom he has chosen.  Boaz’s and Ruth’s faithfulness expressed in their actions and commitments.

Sexuality in the Bible

I have been part of discussion over same gender relationships and marriage equality for a number of years.  Below are two articles.

Sexuality in the Light of Christ is a publication that we make available at the church.

Asking the Right Questions was a longer piece I wrote as part of an inter-church dialogue on the issue.

I have observed over the years, since I was at University that the arguments have migrated regularly.  Some of what I wrote is thus dated, but the Biblical portions remain my view of the texts in question.

Finally, Biblical passages that pertain to Sexuality.

On Rocks, Windows and the Law

This sermonic riff is based on a comment by J. A. Motyer

“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” James 2:10

The Word of God is more like a glass window than it is like a pile of rocks. Suppose I find a large pile of rocks.  It is a big pile with many hundreds of rocks in it.  There I find one rock I do not like.  I don’t like its color or its shape.  So I go, take the rock out of the pile and throw it away as far as I can.  I think, “Now it looks better. No one will miss that one stone.”

Now imagine a window.  I take a stone and strike the glass.  A crack develops and spreads through the whole window and destroys it completely.  I cannot treat the window like a pile of rocks.  The Word of God is like a window.  We must take all of it, not just some part.  If we break one part, we have broken the whole.  So then if I practice favoritism, I have broken the entirety of the Law.

Leviticus 19 – the two loves illustrated

So Leviticus 19 – no don’t change that channel.  This is actually quite interesting.

The chapter divides into 16 sub sections marked by the phrase “I am the LORD your God”, or “I am the Lord”.  The call is to be Holy because God is Holy – a theme picked up in the New Testament as well.  There is a randomness to the logical mind to these various teachings.  But life tends to come to us “randomly” if in fact we mean that some of these teachings have to do with the love of God and others with the love of neighbor.  What we see is the interconnectedness of concrete life – not the logical categorization of theoretical life.

think of your day – is it divided discretely between love of God and neighbor, or are they mixed.  Perhaps you thank God for life when you awaken, then brew coffee for your beloved, then drive safely to work, then answer your email, then encourage a friend at the water cooler, then leave a nice tip at lunch, and stop by the gym on the way home.   You see, mixed, not antiseptically divided.

The immediate context of the command to love your neighbor is verses 11-18, or v. 9 to 18.  (in the first we divide bc v. 1-9 uses “I am the Lord your God” as the section marker, but v, 9 and 10 by content seems to fit with love of neighbor).

To love your neighbor then includes:

  • Be generous with your harvest – v. 9,10
  • Be honest in business v. 11,12
  • Pay a fair and timely wage – v. 13-14
  • Keep justice without favoritism – v. 15-16
  • Don’t hate, but love your neighbor – v. 17-18

Also note that “neighbor” includes the resident Alien (v. 34) – which sheds light on Jesus parable of the Good Samaritan, which was told to answer the question “who is my neighbor” which really means “who can I get away with not loving” in the heart of the Lawyer who spoke to Jesus.

So, as we say, it preaches.