Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Songs (psalms) for a Good Life (Psalm 119)

The good life1 is lived in attentiveness to God’s Word. In Psalm 119, every verse in this longest psalm2 has a reference to God’s Word, using a variety of vocabulary words. This study will only look at the first section of Psalm 119:1-8. There must be some significance that this psalm pronounces a double blessing (verses 1 and 2) for the one who seeks to live the good life according to this prescription, in order that they may enjoy the blessing of God. There is blessing in the disciplines of submitting, and there is blessing in the receiving.

The first half of the first section, verses 1-4, of Psalm 119, the aleph3 section, verses 1-8, is marked by strong commitment and action. Blessing does not come as one sits passively to see what will happen. It is a walking psalm, not a sitting psalm (verses 1 and 3). It involves close observation and energetic pursuit (verse 2). This person exercises remarkable restraint (verse 3). Verse 4 understands that we are assigned to keep a close watch and careful guard related to God’s instruction.

But the tide turns in the second half. This blessedness depends not only, or even primarily, on the level of our own commitment, nor the heat of our own actions. In verse 5, the psalmist’s intention sounds almost like a dream - far from a certainty. He first hints, then begs, for God’s assistance. He wants to avoid the shame (verse 6), but isn’t quite sure that it is possible. The giving of thanks in verse 7 is not an initiating action plan, but rather a response to God’s necessary activity. The psalm closes with another statement of determination, followed immediately by the plea of the helpless: “don’t leave me hanging out to dry!”

Living the good life is not the lazy life. It requires blood, sweat, and tears. We have to be all in, pledging our whole hearts (verse 2), and clean hearts (verse 7). But we are never self-sufficient. Our labor is ever and always a decorative accessory to the strong framework of God’s grace.

It is not that God helps those who help themselves. Nor is it that we would expect God to bless those who haven’t bothered to attend to their ways. Rather, we are blessed that God would bother to bless us, and His promise holds a power and persuasion over us, so that we want to find our feet on His path, our eyes on His instructions, and our hearts in His hand.        

1The six psalms that begin with “blessed” are: Psalm 1, 32, 41, 112, 119, and 128. Articles analyzing each one begin here.
2Psalm 119 is an acrostic psalm. There are 22 stanzas of 8 verses each, totaling 176 verses. The 22 stanzas correspond to the 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet.

3’aleph’ is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. ‘bet’ is the second letter. Get it? alephbet, which spell check, and you, want to change to alphabet.

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