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Virtually every line in Psalm 119 praises some aspect of God's law. In the past, I assumed it was an ode to the Torah. But lately, I've been wondering if were in praise of something outside of the written law. There are some hints of that:

May Your steadfast love reach me, O Lord,
Your deliverance, as You have promised.—Psalm 119:41 (NJPS)

May Your steadfast love comfort me
in accordance with Your promise to Your servant.—Psalm 119:76 (NJPS)

I can see how these might be indications of God communicating directly to the author rather than just through written commands. But the context makes it seem more likely that these are also referring to aspects of the Torah.

Does the text allow an interpretation of these lines as some form of direct revelation?

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2 Answers 2

Background: Ps 119 is an alphabetical acrostic in stanzas of eight verses per stanza. All of the verses in a stanza start with the same letter. Verses 1-8 start with Aleph, 9-16 start with Bet... Each verse is a couplet, where the second part is a thematic reply to the first. The meter is not completely regular. The psalm is traditionally used in memorial ceremonies where the name of the deceased is spelled out by the congregation reciting the stanzas corresponding to the letters of deceased person's name.

Verses 41-48 read:

Your love will come to me Lord - your salvation is like your Word (c'imratecha)

And I will answer detractors - because I trusted in your Word (b'dvarecha)

And don't prevent my mouth from speaking truth ever - because for your Sayings I have longed (mishpatecha)

I will always keep your Teaching (toratecha) - forever and ever

And I will walk confidently - because I studied [demanded] your Precepts (pekudecha)

I will talk of your Doings (odotecha) in front of kings - without any embarrassment

And I'll find amusement in your Commandments (mitsvotecha) - that I love

And I will raise my palms to your your Commandments (mitsvotecha) that I love - and I will talk about your Laws (hukecha)

So, each of the verses in this group contain a sobriquet for the Torah:

  1. Your saying or word (imratecha)
  2. Your word (dvarecha)
  3. Your expressions/sentences/laws (mispatecha)
  4. Your teaching (toratecha)
  5. Your command (pekudecha)
  6. Your actions/history/tradition (odotecha)
  7. Your commandments (mitsvotecha)
  8. Your laws (hukecha)

It seems that the entire stanza is about the personal relationship between the writer and the Lord's teaching.

At the time of the writing, the teaching was transmitted through oral means rather than by writing, so the synonyms for the teaching were "saying", "word", "sentence", "tradition", etc.

The writer uses the second person possessive in every verse, which gives a feeling of intimacy, but there is no dialogue, only a monologue of praise.

From the texts of the OT we see that at the time of the writing, the word of God is represented as coming to the prophets in dreams or through angels, never directly. Face to face revelation at that time was attributed only to Moses.

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Early in my seminary time, I did a paper on the w strophe of Ps 119. I will include some excerpts as the full text is 16 printed pages. The question you ask isn't directly addressed in the paper, but I would like to include this as background to Psalm 119.

The 119th Psalm

In this, the longest chapter in the Bible, the word of God is extolled in all but a few verses. In fact, only five of the verses have no reference to Scripture (vv. 3, 37, 90, 122, & 132). On the other hand, six verses contain two occurrences of the terms (vv. 16, 43, 48, 160, 168, & 172).

Psalm 119 is very difficult to understand. It is an acrostic poem consisting of 176 verses, and 22 stanzas. Each of the eight verses in every stanza begins with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet in the correct order. This arrangement is called an acrostic. Other acrostic poems are found in the book of Lamentations and Psalms 111 and 112.1 Dahood likens this psalm to the Akkadian “Dialogue about Human Misery” (Dahood 172, 1970).

While some hate this psalm for its single-mindedness (White 1990, 71), there are those who love it for the artistry required to keep one topic together for so many verses (McCann 1996, 166). The acrostic nature of the psalm placed limits on how much the psalmist could develop his prayers. In fact, each verse is but little on its own, but taken together they form a marvelous picture – like a mosaic or kaleidoscope. The goal of this psalm is for the reader to try to bring his whole life into God’s will. All the key words for scripture are in this psalm numerous times, extolling the varied dimensions of God’s word. The psalmist repeatedly affirms the truthfulness, endurance and treasures of God’s word available to any who read and obey.

Psalm 119 shows that the author is a true Israelite according to the test of Deut. 6:5 (“And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”). Likewise, the number of terms referring to the written word of God remind Allen of the New Testament “it is written” (Allen 1983, 145). Taken such a way, Ps. 119 shows the finest flowering of both Judaism and Christianity (Allen 1983, 145).

My Translation (The FLV)

  1. YHWH, let come to me thy steadfast love; [even] thy salvation according to thy promise.
  2. And then I will have a word to answer those who taunt me; for I trust in thy word.
  3. And do not take the word of truth completely out of my mouth; for I hope in thy judgments.
  4. And I shall keep thy instruction; always, forever and ever!
  5. And I shall walk at liberty; for I seek thy precepts.
  6. And before kings I shall speak of thy testimonies and I will not be ashamed.
  7. For I find delight in thy commandments, which I love.
  8. And I lift my hands to thy commandments, which I love, and I shall meditate on thy statutes.

Use of The Second Person

There are 11 places in the passage where the author refers to something of God’s. These include salvation, steadfast-love and all eight synonyms for torah. These things are all things that only God can give, though He often used the judges as deliverers and the torah was given through Moses.

Relations to Strophes Before and After

As Ps. 119 is one literary unit, it behooves the reader to study the surrounding passages for insights into this one. A major link is pointed out by Spurgeon in verse 33. In that verse the psalmist longs to be taught how to keep God’s word, in verse 41 he begs God to keep it. “There he longed to go to God, here he wants God to come to him” (Spurgeon 1966, 227).

The h strophe before this one consists of “prayers relating to divine worship in human life” (Allen 1983, 142) The z strophe which follows w “accentuates comfort of the poet in the midst of suffering” (Allen 1983, 142). The z strophe also breaks from petition into lament (McCann 1996, 70).

According to Soll (1991, 91), the Psalm can be broken down into 6 sections. g-w comprise the second section. Gimel and Daleth emphasize lament, He shows petition and Waw closes with “anticipation of salvation” and the “promise of piety” (Soll 1991, 97).

Verses 41-48

Allen identifies the w strophe as “God enables” the believer (Allen 1983, 142). In Hebrew, there are not many words which begin with w. Therefore, the psalmist is forced to use the conjunction, which is too easy. So the psalmist begins each verse except the first with )w. He does not use this pattern in v. 41 because theology takes precedence over pattern (Soll 1991, 96). As most of the phrases have been addressed in other places in the paper, this section will address only the phrases not earlier addressed.2

The psalmist begins by crying out for God’s mercies (v. 41) in salvation. “According to thy promise” holds the first appearance of the key-torah words. This verse alone shows that the Old Testament scriptures showed the way of salvation. It also shows the psalmist trusted in the word, but wanted an inner peace (Spurgeon 1966, 226). Compare this to the concept in Mark 9:24 where the father says, “Lord I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” Verse 42 is a reference to apologetics. This is the answer that the skeptic cannot question.

Verse 43 contains the interesting phrase “do not take the word of truth completely out of my mouth” With this phrase the psalmist is pleading that God allow him to proclaim the law and liberty it brings. He is not just asking that it stay in his mind and heart, but in his mouth for others to hear. He asks that it not be taken out completely so that even if he has to proclaim only a part of the promise, he will (Spurgeon 1966, 227).

Verse 44 contains the only occurrence of the key term torah. Verse 46 reminds the reader how easy it is to deny God in the presence of adversity (Spurgeon 1966, 229). Especially when the potential adversity can have you killed for appearing before him with a sorrowful countenance (cf. Esther 4:2 and Neh. 2:1). Verse 47 brings the words of Jesus Christ to mind: “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:25). The psalmist not only keeps the commandments of God, but loves to keep in them.

Application

Scripture forces us to ask questions of ourselves. While most of these questions will be individual, some that come to mind from this passage include: “Who taunts me and why?”; “Have I done anything to shame myself?”; “Do I hope in God’s ordinances?”; “Do I seek His precepts?”; “Do I love His commandments?”; and “Do I meditate on His statues?”

Bibliography

Allen, Leslie C. Psalms 101-150. Word Biblical Commentary, ed. David Hubbard, Glen W. Barker John Watts, no. 21. Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1983

Dahood, Mitchell J. Psalms III: 101-150. Anchor Bible. Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc. 1970.

McCann, J. Clinton, Jr. “The Book of Psalms: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in the New Interpreter’s Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996.

Soll, Will. Psalm 119: Matric, Form and Setting. The Catholic Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series 23, 1991.

White, R.E.O. The Student’s Psalm? Expository Times 102, (December 1990): 71-74.

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