I want to explore Psalm 119. Not all in one go! But I have been appreciating it for some time now, and recently I bumped into someone who had gone one better than me and memorized the Psalm in Hebrew. She was able to kindly give me some off-the-cuff definitions for some of the key terms used all through the Psalm.
Let’s start with what she told me about the word ‘testimony’.
Edah(Edot) is a testimony to the keeping of a covenant clause. It is a form of instruction which outlines the requirements on each party to the contract. When the contract is complete (or challenged) the parties can indicate how well they have achieved the contract. God’s testimonies are worshipped for both the wonder of promises he has made and the lenience of the terms placed on us. Also He deserves praise because he can be seen to be keeping His testament requirements.
Now this came as a surprise to me. To associate ‘testimony’ with covenant seems a little strange. I suppose that I see a ‘testimony’ as an example of something that God has done for me. But this Hebrew meaning is more reciprocal; and this makes sense too. We can only have a testimony of God’s grace in us, when we have responded to him.
Look at some of the places that ‘testimony’ pops up in Psalm 119, first in v.2: ‘Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with the whole heart.’ Then in the second section, v. 14 ‘I have rejoiced in the way of your testimonies as much as in all riches’. In both of these places, the testimonies are ascribed to God, not to us.
In v. 22 the speaker has ‘kept’ God’s testimonies, and in v. 31 he ‘clings’ to God’s testimonies. Beautifully, in v. 36 the prayer is made: ‘Incline my heart to your testimonies and not to covetousness’. Then in v.46 ‘I will speak of your testimonies also before kings and will not be ashamed’. In v.59, again perhaps after a time away from God, ‘I thought about my ways, and turned my feet to your testimonies.’ It’s the human’s fragility, and how desirous God’s testimonies are, which is attractive here. As in my friend’s definition, the terms are indeed ‘lenient’. There is enough time and space to fail, and still amazingly to keep to God’s ways.
By v.79 (quite a few verses with no reference to testimony are jumped here) we appear to be in a different place, and the statement is made: ‘Let those who fear you turn to me, those who know Your testimonies’. Here, being part of God’s covenant marks out the speaker, and in fact is a marker that sits on all those who follow the Lord. It is almost a call to arms, certainly a call to brotherhood and sisterhood. This is very precious. v.88 at a low point in the Psalm: ‘Revive me according to your lovingkindness, so that I may keep the testimony of your mouth.’ The next usage again reflects the danger the Psalmist feels: ‘The wicked wait for me to destroy me, but I will consider your testimonies.’
It is possible to ignore the works of Satan, and the lure of the world, because the offer that God gives us is so much better.
I will complete ‘testimony’ and look at ‘precepts’ next time.