Psalm 119:1-32   5 comments

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POST XLVIII OF LX

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The Book of Common Prayer (1979) includes a plan for reading the Book of Psalms in morning and evening installments for 30 days.  I am therefore blogging through the Psalms in 60 posts.

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 226

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Background Information

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This is the first of five posts on Psalm 119 in this series.  The second is here.  The third is here.  The fourth is here.  The fifth is here.

Psalm 119 is the longest entry (176 verses, to be precise) in the Book of Psalms.  The author focuses on the word of God and on the torah (literally, “teaching of the wise,” as the decisive factor in every aspect of life.  Autur Weiser, as translated by Herbert Hartwell in 1962, describes the psalm as

a many-coloured mosaic of thoughts which are often repeated in a wearisome fashion….The types of poetry, too, change without any recognizable order and reinforce the impression of restlessness produced by the whole psalm.

The Psalms:  A Commentary, page 740

In the great “Psalm of the Law” we read a postexilic exaltation of the teaching of the wise.  The torah of God is cause for rejoicing, the psalmist insists, and obeying it constitutes responding faithfully to God.  This is quite different from the old Christian stereotype of Judaism as a legalistic religion.  But, as Jesus says in John 14:15,

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The thoughts do recycle and recur in Psalm 119, so perhaps the best way to cover it in five installments per The Book of Common Prayer (1979), is to focus on one passage per post.

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Content Specific to Verses 1-32

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Would that my ways were firm

in keeping Your laws;

then I would not be ashamed

when I regard all Your commandments.

–Psalm 119:5-6, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Knowing what one should do is frequently easier than acting accordingly.  I know this reality well; I identify with St. Paul the Apostle, always a Jew, who wrote:

I discover this principle, then:  that when I want to do right, only wrong is within my reach.  In my inmost self I delight in the law of God, but I perceive in my outmost actions a different law, fighting against the law that my mind approves, and making me a prisoner under the law of sin which controls my conduct.

–Romans 7:21-23, The Revised English Bible (1989)

The remedy for St. Paul’s quandary was to rely on grace.  That was also the answer according to the author of Psalm 103, who wrote that God knows that we are but dust (verse 14).  Ultimately, despite the plethora of statements praising God’s laws, it was also the understanding of the author of Psalm 119.

That grace and guidance continue to be available, fortunately.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 21, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN ATHELSTAN LAURIE RILEY, ANGLICAN ECUMENIST, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

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This is post #1750 of BLOGA THEOLOGICA.

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