Psalm 119:65-80, 127-130


Seek the Will of God


Do you pray to know God’s will? How have you become more sensitive to divine direction?


Many Christians do not seek God’s will. On the face of it, that statement is both surprising and expected. It is surprising that believers do not actively seek to know what God wants for their lives; after all, what is the point in faith, if believers do not take God’s activity seriously? Yet, the daily grind seems to set such lofty prayers as “God’s will” into the background; believers are just too busy to pray for such things.


At least at one point in the day, we should all pray to know God’s will. That prayer should be a goal and a habit. Fortunately, we have Psalm 119 to help us toward that prayer.


Psalm 119 is the longest psalm in the Bible, with a total of 176 verses. The author wrote the hymn in a stylized manner; the first letter in a group of eight verses was a succeeding letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The psalm is unusual in its lack of subject matter; it does not address the history or worship of the Chosen people. Instead of a focus on communal concerns, it is highly individualistic. The psalm is an ode to YHWH and his law, yet the notion of divine law outstrips the Torah and its corollary guidelines. Instead, the “Law” seemed to be equivalent to God’s will. In other words, the author sought to seek God and his will; obedience to the divine will gave the psalmist insight into the God he loved.


Instead of reviewing the entire psalm, let’s explore the sections of the psalm that appear in the liturgy for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B).


TET


65 Do good to your servant,
according to your word, Yahweh.
66 Teach me good judgment and knowledge,
for I believe in your commandments.
67 Before I was afflicted, I went astray;
but now I observe your word.
68 You are good, and do good.
Teach me your statutes.
69 The proud have smeared a lie upon me.
With my whole heart, I will keep your precepts.
70 Their heart is as callous as the fat,
but I delight in your law.
71 It is good for me that I have been afflicted,
that I may learn your statutes.
72 The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of pieces of gold and silver.


YUD


73 Your hands have made me and formed me.
Give me understanding, that I may learn your commandments.
74 Those who fear you will see me and be glad,
because I have put my hope in your word.
75 Yahweh, I know that your judgments are righteous,
that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.
76 Please let your loving kindness be for my comfort,
according to your word to your servant.
77 Let your tender mercies come to me, that I may live;
for your law is my delight.
78 Let the proud be disappointed, for they have overthrown me wrongfully.
I will meditate on your precepts.
79 Let those who fear you turn to me.
They will know your statutes.
80 Let my heart be blameless toward your decrees,
that I may not be disappointed.


World English Bible


Tet and Yud are the ninth and tenth letters in the Hebrew alphabet; so the first letter in the first word of 119:65 was “Tet.” Tet repeats the themes of God’s goodness and the yearning for divine enlightenment (“teach me...”) in 119:65-68. The petition turned to comparison between the singer and the sinner (119:69-70). This section ends with a wisdom that comes from the cruelties of experience; life’s typical injustice teaches humility and a true awe of God’s will (119:70-71).


Yud begins with an acknowledgment of the author’s Creator and a plea for understanding divine will (119:73). That understanding would not only lead to personal insight, but to personal witness; the author expected to become an example for the faithful (119:74, 79). Since personal example wove with awe of the Lord (“fear of the Lord”) twice in this section, these remarks help to outline the petitions of the Yud. The author recognized personal suffering as part of God’s will and part of his divine education (119:75; also see 119:71). But the key to understanding this section lay in 119:76-80. The author defined his happiness vis-a-viz his relationship with God’s will. YHWH established his covenant with Israel because of his loving kindness. To partake in that covenant meant to do his will; indeed, the psalmist saw his relationship with God, with the cosmos, with others, and even with himself in terms of that covenant. Obedience to the covenant (and, so, to God’s will) formed his self-image and interior life.


AYIN


121 I have done what is just and righteous.
Don’t leave me to my oppressors.
122 Ensure your servant’s well-being.
Don’t let the proud oppress me.
123 My eyes fail looking for your salvation,
for your righteous word.
124 Deal with your servant according to your loving kindness.
Teach me your statutes.
125 I am your servant. Give me understanding,
that I may know your testimonies.
126 It is time to act, Yahweh,
for they break your law.
127 Therefore I love your commandments more than gold,
yes, more than pure gold.
128 Therefore I consider all of your precepts to be right.
I hate every false way.


PEY


129 Your testimonies are wonderful,
therefore my soul keeps them.
130 The entrance of your words gives light.
It gives understanding to the simple.
131 I opened my mouth wide and panted,
for I longed for your commandments.
132 Turn to me, and have mercy on me,
as you always do to those who love your name.
133 Establish my footsteps in your word.
Don’t let any iniquity have dominion over me.
134 Redeem me from the oppression of man,
so I will observe your precepts.
135 Make your face shine on your servant.
Teach me your statutes.
136 Streams of tears run down my eyes,
because they don’t observe your law.


Ayin and Pey are the nineteenth and twentieth letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The Ayin section begins and ends with the righteousness of the psalmist; his stated morality was a counter-balance to those who did not seek God’s will (119:121, 128). Notice the tension between the saint and the sinner helped set the tone of the section: health of the righteous vs. the oppression of the sinner (119:122), time for divine judgement (119:126). In the midst of this tension, the author petitioned God for understanding (119:123-125).


Pey echoed the tension between the faithful and the faithless (119:133-134, 136), but in a more subdued manner. Clearly, the attitude found in the hymn was an expectation for God to act; that longing formed a prayer for wisdom (119:129-132, 135).


One of the themes we can gleam from theses sections is faith in action. When we actively believe, we consciously depend on God. We need to know something about his will, so we can place our trust in him. Yes, we might not know everything about God’s intent; in fact, we might know very little about his plans. But, as long as we know that he is in charge, and we bend our will to his, we can grow closer to him. And we can face evil in the world with confidence, for God is with us.


Where is God guiding you today?