Along the Road to Perfection: Reflections on Psalm 119 #6 (Waw)

As always, we recap the journey the Psalmist has taken us on thus far:

  • Aleph (vv. 1-8): the horizon is perfection
  • Beth (vv. 9-16): the path is God’s gracious speech
  • Gimel (vv. 17-24): the commitment to Yahweh’s “way” makes us by definition strange (something we’ll have to grow increasingly comfortable with)
  • Daleth (vv. 25-32): sooner or later, followers of Yahweh “hit the wall“, and when they do, Yahweh has them right where he wants them
  • He (vv. 33-40): the Psalmist’s “poverty of spirit” pushes him to plead with Yahweh for assistance (for this life is not possible with mere human strength)

And so he continues with this stanza, each line beginning with the Hebrew letter “waw”:

41 May your unfailing love come to me, O LORD,
your salvation according to your promise;
42 then I will answer the one who taunts me,
for I trust in your word.
43 Do not snatch the word of truth from my mouth,
for I have put my hope in your laws.
44 I will always obey your law,
for ever and ever.
45 I will walk about in freedom,
for I have sought out your precepts.
46 I will speak of your statutes before kings
and will not be put to shame,
47 for I delight in your commands
because I love them.
48 I lift up my hands to your commands, which I love,
and I meditate on your decrees.

This stanza is one of the reasons I love this Psalm.  The journey thus far has taken us from idealism to hard reality to humility to desperate pleas for help…and what happens in the Psalmist on the other side of it?  Is he defeated?  Broken?  Chastened?  More “realistic”?

Nope.

In the interiority of his being, he finds that his resolve is crystallized, refined, made strongerI WILL obey…I WILL walk…I WILL speak!

Those statements of resolve, of course, are grounded in Yahweh’s work.  The Psalmist is confident that the “way” he has taken is right, and so he opens by entreating Yahweh to rise up and make a public demonstration on his behalf; to show, in some visible way, that Torah-living is the right way to go.

He says, “May your hesed come to me…your yeshua according to your speech.”  Old Testament scholars have long held that the word our English translations normally render “unfailing love” – hesed – is actually something of a code-word for “covenant faithfulness”, so that when the Psalmist asks for Yahweh’s “hesed” to make an appearance, what he’s asking for is for Yahweh to make good on his end of the deal.  “Live up to your promises!” the Psalmist cries…”for when you do, then I’ll have something to show to those who revile me and you both!”

The sure knowledge that Yahweh WILL IN FACT arise and vindicate in one fell swoop Himself, His Way, and the One (the Psalmist) who follows his way, is what makes possible the Psalmist’s confidence in the face of his adversaries.  It is what allows him to stand against the BOTH spirit of the age AND those who represent the spirit of the age – “kings” here being a nice way to talk about the gatekeepers of cultural power.

The Psalmist says, “Because I know that my God is and will show himself to be faithful to his word, you can be sure that I’ll be getting in the face of kings.”

We must understand that “courage” is a virtue made possible by faith, hope, and love.  It is not that some people are simply “born” courageous and others aren’t (though some are perhaps born with more disposition to take risks than others); rather, we are made courageous because of our conviction about “things not seen” – God, his Rule, and the future victory of Light over Darkness chiefly.

What impels Jesus to stand up to the leaders of his day, what impels the early church to face floggings, imprisonments, and death, what makes possible dangerous Christian mission in every generation… what enables Francis of Assisi to stand up to sultans, Wilberforce to stand up to corrupt social systems, and Luther to stand up to a wayward church… what inspires every act of gutsy, courageous Christian faithfulness down through the ages is the firm belief that God is real, his “way” is ultimate, and one day – perhaps soon, possibly late – that God will arise and vindicate Himself, his Way, and all who walk in it. 

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”, said the writer of Hebrews. “This is what the ancients were commended for.”

May we be so convinced.

Amen.

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