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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament
Psalms 119

 

 

Introduction

A Twenty-Two-Fold String of Aphorisms by One Who Is Persecuted for the Sake of His Faith

To the Hodu Ps 118, written in gnome-like, wreathed style, is appended the throughout gnomico-didactic Psalms 119, consisting of one hundred and seventy-six Masoretic verses, or regarded in relation to the strophe, distichs, which according to the twenty-two letters of the alphabet fall into twenty-two groups (called by the old expositors the ὀγδοάδες or octonarii of this Psalmus literatus s. alphabetites ); for each group contains eight verses (distichs), each of which begins with the same consecutive letter (8 x 22 = 176). The Latin Psalters (as the Psalterium Veronense , and originally perhaps all the old Greek Psalters) have the name of the letter before each group; the Syriac has the signs of the letters; and in the Complutensian Bible, as also elsewhere, a new line begins with each group. The Talmud, B. Berachoth , says of this Psalm: “it consists of eight Alephs ,” etc.; the Masora styles it אלפא ביתא רבא ; the Midrash on it is called מדרשׁ אלפא ביתא , and the Pesikta פסיקתא דתמניא אפי . In our German version it has the appropriate inscription, “The Christian's golden A B C of the praise, love, power, and use of the word of God;” for here we have set forth in inexhaustible fulness what the word of God is to a man, and how a man is to behave himself in relation to it. The Masora observes that the Psalm contains only the one Psalms 119:122, in which some reference or other to the word of revelation is not found as in all the 175 others

(Note: “In every verse,” this is the observation of the Masora on Psalms 119:122, “v. 122 only excepted, we find one of the ten (pointing to the ten fundamental words or decalogue of the Sinaitic Law) expressions: word, saying, testimonies, way, judgment, precept, commandment ( צוּוּי ), law, statute, truth ” (according to another reading, righteousness ).)

- a many-linked chain of synonyms which runs through the whole Psalm. In connection with this ingenious arrangement, so artfully devised and carried out, it may also not be merely accidental that the address Jahve occurs twenty-two times, as Bengel has observed: bis et vicesies pro numero octonariorum .

All kinds of erroneous views have, however, been put forth concerning this Psalm. Köster, von Gerlach, Hengstenberg, and Hupfeld renounce all attempts to show that there is any accordance whatever with a set plan, and find here a series of maxims without any internal progression and connection. Ewald begins at once with the error, that we have before us the long prayer of an old experienced teacher. But from Psalms 119:9. it is clear that the poet himself is a “young man,” a fact that is also corroborated by Psalms 119:99, Psalms 119:100. The poet is a young man, who finds himself in a situation which is clearly described: he is derided, oppressed, persecuted, and that by those who despise the divine word (for apostasy encompasses him round about), and more particularly by a government hostile to the true religion, Psalms 119:23, Psalms 119:46, Psalms 119:161. He is lying in bonds (Psalms 119:61, cf. Psalms 119:83), expecting death (Psalms 119:109), and recognises in his affliction, it is true, God's salutary humbling, and in the midst of it God's word is his comfort and his wisdom, but he also yearns for help, and earnestly prays for it. - The whole Psalm is a prayer for stedfastness in the midst of an ungodly, degenerate race, and in the midst of great trouble, which is heightened by the pain he feels at the prevailing apostasy, and a prayer for ultimate deliverance which rises in group Kaph to an urgent how long! If this sharply-defined physiognomy of the Psalm is recognised, then the internal progression will not fail to be discerned.

After the poet has praised fidelity to the word of God ( Aleph ), and described it as the virtue of all virtues which is of service to the young man and to which he devotes himself ( Beth ), he prays, in the midst of the scoffing and persecuting persons that surround him, for the grace of enlightenment ( Gimel ), of strengthening ( Daleth ), of preservation ( He ), of suitable and joyful confession ( Vav ); God's word is all his thought and pursuit ( Zajin ), he cleaves to those who fear God ( Ḥeth ), and recognises the salutary element of His humbling ( Ṭeth ), but is in need of comfort ( Jod ) and signs: how long! ( Kaph ). Without the eternal, sure, mighty word of God he would despair ( Lamed ); this is his wisdom in difficult circumstances ( Mem ); he has sworn fidelity to it, and maintains his fidelity as being one who is persecuted ( Nun ), and abhors and despises the apostates ( Samech ). He is oppressed, but God will not suffer him to be crushed ( Ajin ); He will not suffer the doings of the ungodly, which wring from him floods of tears, to prevail over him ( Phe ) - over him, the small (still youthful) and despised one whom zeal concerning the prevailing godlessness is consuming away ( Tsade ). Oh that God would hear his crying by day and by night ( Ḳoph ), would revive him speedily with His helpful pity ( Resh ) - him, viz., who being persecuted by princes clings fast to Him ( Shin ), and would seek him the isolated and so sorely imperilled sheep! ( Tav ). This outline does not exhaust the fundamental thoughts of the separate ogdoades, and they might surely be still more aptly reproduced, but this is sufficient to show that the Psalm is not wanting in coherence and progressive movement, and that it is not an ideal situation and mood, but a situation and mood based upon public relationships, from which this manifold celebration of the divine word, as a fruit of its teaching, has sprung.

It is natural to suppose that the composition of the Psalm falls in those times of the Greek domination in which the government was hostile, and a large party from among the Jews themselves, that was friendly towards the government, persecuted all decided confessors of the Tôra. Hitzig says, “It can be safely maintained that the Psalm was written in the Maccabaean age by a renowned Israelite who was in imprisonment under Gentile authorities.” It is at least probable that the plaited work of so long a Psalm, which, in connection with all that is artificial about it, from beginning to end gives a glimpse of the subdued afflicted mien of a confessor, is the work of one in prison, who whiled away his time with this plaiting together of his complaints and his consolatry thoughts.


Verses 1-8

The eightfold Aleph . Blessed are those who act according to the word of God; the poet wishes to be one of these. The alphabetical Psalm on the largest scale begins appropriately, not merely with a simple ( Psalms 112:1), but with a twofold ashrך . It refers principally to those integri viae ( vitae ). In Psalms 119:3 the description of those who are accounted blessed is carried further. Perfects,a s denoting that which is habitual, alternate with futures used as presents. In Psalms 119:4 לשׁמר expresses the purpose of the enjoining, as in Psalms 119:5 the goal of the directing. אחלי (whence אחלי , 2 Kings 5:3) is compounded of אח (vid., supra , p. 273) and לי ( לוי ), and consequently signifies o si . On יכּנוּ cf. Proverbs 4:26 (lxx κατευθυνθείησαν ). The retrospective אז is expanded anew in Psalms 119:6 : then, when I namely. “Judgment of Thy righteousness” are the decisions concerning right and wrong which give expression to and put in execution the righteousness of God.

(Note: The word “judgments” of our English authorized version is retained in the text as being the most convenient word; it must, however, be borne in mind that in this Psalm it belongs to the “chain of synonyms,” and does not mean God's acts of judgment, its more usual meaning in the Old Testament Scriptures, but is used as defined above, and is the equivalent here of the German Rechte , not Gerichte . - Tr.)

בּלמדי refers to Scripture in comparison with history.


Verses 9-16

The eightfold Beth . Acting in accordance with the word of God, a young man walks blamelessly; the poet desires this, and supplicates God's gracious assistance in order to it. To purify or cleanse one's way or walk ( זכּה , cf. Psalms 73:13; Proverbs 20:9) signifies to maintain it pure ( זך , root זך , Arab. zk , to prick, to strike the eye, nitere ;

(Note: The word receives the meaning of νικᾶν (vid., supra , p. 367), like Arab. ḏhr and bhr , from the signification of outshining = overpowering.)

vid., Fleischer in Levy's Chaldäisches Wörterbuch , i. 424) from the spotting of sin, or to free it from it. Psalms 119:9 is the answer to the question in Psalms 119:9 ; לשׁמר signifies custodiendo semetipsum , for שׁמר can also signify “to be on one's guard” without נפשׁו (Joshua 6:18). The old classic (e.g., Psalms 18:31) אמרתך alternates throughout with דּברך ; both are intended collectively. One is said to hide ( צפן ) the word in one's heart when one has it continually present with him, not merely as an outward precept, but as an inward motive power in opposition to selfish action (Job 23:12). In Psalms 119:12 the poet makes his way through adoration to petition. ספּרתּי in Psalms 119:13 does not mean enumeration, but recounting, as in Deuteronomy 6:7. עדות is the plural to עדוּת ; עדות , on the contrary, in Psalms 119:138 is the plural to עדה : both are used of God's attestation of Himself and of His will in the word of revelation. כּעל signifies, according to Psalms 119:162, “as over” (short for כּאשׁר על ), not: as it were more than (Olshausen); the כּ would only be troublesome in connection with this interpretation. With reference to הון , which has occurred already in Psalms 44:13; Psalms 112:3 (from הון , Arab. hawn , to be light, levem ), aisance , ease, opulence, and concrete, goods, property, vid., Fleischer in Levy's Chald. Wórterb . i. 423f. ארחתיך , Psalms 119:15, are the paths traced out in the word of God; these he will studiously keep in his eye.


Verses 17-24

The eightfold Gimel . This is his life's aim: he will do it under fear of the curse of apostasy; he will do it also though he suffer persecution on account of it. In Psalms 119:17 the expression is only אחיה as Psalms 118:19, not ואחיה as in Psalms 119:77, Psalms 119:116, Psalms 119:144 : the apodosis imper. only begins with ואשׁמרה , whereas אחיה is the good itself for the bestowment of which the poet prays. גּל in Psalms 119:18 is imper. apoc. Piel for גּלּה , like גס in Daniel 1:12. נפלאות is the expression for everything supernatural and mysterious which is incomprehensible to the ordinary understanding and is left to the perception of faith. The Tôra beneath the surface of its letter contains an abundance of such “wondrous things,” into which only eyes from which God has removed the covering of natural short-sightedness penetrate; hence the prayer in Psalms 119:18. Upon earth we have no abiding resting-place, we sojourn here as in a strange land (Psalms 119:19, Psalms 39:13; 1 Chronicles 29:15). Hence the poet prays in Psalms 119:19 that God would keep His commandments, these rules of conduct for the journey of life, in living consciousness for him. Towards this, according to Psalms 119:20, his longing tends. גּרס ( Hiph . in Lamentations 3:16) signifies to crush in pieces, Arab. jrš , and here, like the Aramaic גּרס , גּרס , to be crushed, broken in pieces. לתאבה (from תּאב , Psalms 119:40, Psalms 119:174, a secondary form of אבה ) states the bias of mind in or at which the soul feels itself thus overpowered even to being crushed: it is crushing form longing after God's judgment, viz., after a more and more thorough knowledge of them. In Psalms 119:21 the lxx has probably caught the meaning of the poet better than the pointing has done, inasmuch as it draws ἐπικατάρατοι to Psalms 119:21 , so that Psalms 119:21 consists of two words, just like Psalms 119:59 , Psalms 119:89 ; and Kamphausen also follows this in his rendering. For ארוּרים as an attribute is unpoetical, and as an accusative of the predicate far-fetched; whereas it comes in naturally as a predicate before השּׁגים ממּצותיך : cursed ( ארר = Arab. harra , detestari ), viz., by God. Instead of גּל , “roll” (from גּלל , Joshua 5:9), it is pointed in Psalms 119:22 ( מעל ) גּל , “uncover” = גּלּה , as in Psalms 119:18, reproach being conceived of as a covering or veil (as e.g., in Psalms 69:8), cf. Isaiah 22:8 (perhaps also Lamentations 2:14; Lamentations 4:22, if גּלּה על there signifies “to remove the covering upon anything”). גּם in Psalms 119:23 , as in Jeremiah 36:25, has the sense of גּם־כּי , etiamsi ; and גּם in Psalms 119:24 the sense of nevertheless, ὅμως , Ew. §354, a . On נדבּר בּ (reciprocal), cf. Ezekiel 33:30. As in a criminal tribunal, princes sit and deliberate how they may be able to render him harmless.


Verses 25-32

The eightfold Daleth . He is in deep trouble, and prays for consolation and strengthening by means of God's word, to which he resigns himself. His soul is fixed to the dust (Psalms 44:26) in connection with such non-recognition and proscription, and is incapable of raising itself. In Psalms 119:25 he implores new strength and spirits ( חיּה as in Psalms 71:20; Psalms 85:7) from God, in conformity with and by reason of His word. He has rehearsed his walk in every detail to God, and has not been left without an answer, which has assured him of His good pleasure: may He then be pleased to advance him ever further and further in the understanding of His word, in order that, though men are against him, he may nevertheless have God on his side, Psalms 119:26-27. The complaint and request expressed in Psalms 119:25 are renewed in Psalms 119:28. דּלף refers to the soul, which is as it were melting away in the trickling down of tears; קיּם is a Piel of Aramaic formation belonging to the later language. In Psalms 119:29-30 the way of lies or of treachery, and the way of faithfulness or of perseverance in the truth, stand in opposition to one another. חנן is construed with a double accusative, inasmuch as תּורה has not the rigid notion of a fixed teaching, but of living empirical instruction. שׁוּה (short for שׁוה לנגד , Psalms 16:8) signifies to put or set, viz., as a norma normans that stands before one's eyes. He cleaves to the testimonies of God; may Jahve not disappoint the hope which to him springs up out of them, according to the promise, Psalms 119:31. He runs, i.e., walks vigorously and cheerfully, in the way of God's commandments, for He has widened his heart, by granting and preserving to the persecuted one the joyfulness of confession and the confidence of hope.


Verses 33-40

The eightfold He . He further prays for instruction and guidance that he may escape the by-paths of selfishness and of disavowal. The noun עקב , used also elsewhere as an accus. adverb. , in the signification ad extremum (Psalms 119:33 and Psalms 119:112) is peculiar to our poet. אצּרנּה (with a Shebâ which takes a colouring in accordance with the principal form) refers back to דּרך . In the petition “give me understanding” (which occurs six times in this Psalm) חבין is causative, as in Job 32:8, and frequently in the post-exilic writings. בּצע (from בּצע , abscindere , as κέρδος accords in sound with κείρειν ) signifies gain and acquisition by means of the damage which one does to his neighbour by depreciating his property, by robbery, deceit, and extortion (1 Samuel 8:3), and as a name of a vice, covetousness, and in general selfishness. שׁוא is that which is without real, i.e., without divine, contents or intrinsic worth, - God-opposed teaching and life. בּדרכך

(Note: Heidenheim and Baer erroneously have בּדרכיך with Jod. plural. , contrary to the Masora.)

is a defective plural; cf. חסדך , Psalms 119:41, וּמשׁפּטך , Psalms 119:43, and frequently. Establishing, in Psalms 119:38, is equivalent to a realizing of the divine word or promise. The relative clause אשׁר ליראתך is not to be referred to לעבדּך according to Psalms 119:85 (where the expression is different), but to אמרתך : fulfil to Thy servant Thy word or promise, as that which ( quippe quae ) aims at men attaining the fear of Thee and increasing therein (cf. Psalms 130:4; Psalms 40:4). The reproach which the poet fears in Psalms 119:39 is not the reproach of confessing, but of denying God. Accordingly משׁפּטיך are not God's judgments i.e., acts of judgment, but revealed decisions or judgments: these are good, inasmuch as it is well with him who keeps them. He can appeal before God to the fact that he is set upon the knowledge and experience of these with longing of heart; and he bases his request upon the fact that God by virtue of His righteousness, i.e., the stringency with which He maintains His order of grace, both as to its promises and its duties, would quicken him, who is at present as it were dead with sorrow and weariness.


Verses 41-48

The eightfold Vav . He prays for the grace of true and fearlessly joyous confession. The lxx renders Psalms 119:41 : καὶ ἔλθοι ἐπ ̓ ἐμε ̓ τὸ ἔλεός σου ; but the Targum and Jerome rightly (cf. Psalms 119:77, Isaiah 63:7) have the plural: God's proofs of loving-kindness in accordance with His promises will put him in the position that he will not be obliged to be dumb in the presence of him who reproaches him ( חרף , prop. a plucker, cf. Arab. charûf , a lamb = a plucker of leaves or grass), but will be able to answer him on the ground of his own experience. The verb ענה , which in itself has many meanings, acquires the signification “to give an answer” through the word, דּבר , that is added (synon. השׁיב דּבר ). Psalms 119:43 also refers to the duty of confessing God. The meaning of the prayer is, that God may not suffer him to come to such a pass that he will be utterly unable to witness for the truth; for language dies away in the mouth of him who is unworthy of its before God. The writer has no fear of this for himself, for his hope is set towards God's judgments ( למשׁפּטך , defective plural, as also in Psalms 119:149; in proof of which, compare Psalms 119:156 and Psalms 119:175), his confidence takes its stand upon them. The futures which follow from Psalms 119:44 to Psalms 119:48 declare that what he would willingly do by the grace of God, and strives to do, is to walk בּרחבה , in a broad space (elsewhere בּמּרחב ), therefore unstraitened, which in this instance is not equivalent to happily, but courageously and unconstrainedly, without allowing myself to be intimidated, and said of inward freedom which makes itself known outwardly. In Psalms 119:46 the Vulgate renders: Et loquebar de ( in ) testimoniis tuis in conspectu regum et non confundebar - the motto of the Augsburg Confession, to which it was adapted especially in connection with this historical interpretation of the two verbs, which does not correspond to the original text. The lifting up of the hands in Psalms 119:48 is an expression of fervent longing desire, as in connection with prayer, Psalms 28:2; Psalms 63:5; Psalms 134:2; Psalms 141:2, and frequently. The second אשׁר אהבתי is open to the suspicion of being an inadvertent repetition. שׂיח בּ (synon. בּ הגה ) signifies a still or audible meditating that is absorbed in the object.


Verses 49-56

The eightfold Zajin . God's word is his hope and his trust amidst all derision; and when he burns with indignation at the apostates, God's word is his solace. Since in Psalms 119:49 the expression is not דּברך but דּבר , it is not to be interpreted according to Psalms 98:3; Psalms 106:45, but: remember the word addressed to Thy servant, because Thou hast made me hope ( Piel causat. as e.g., נשּׁה , to cause to forget, Genesis 41:51), i.e., hast comforted me by promising me a blessed issue, and hast directed my expectation thereunto. This is his comfort in his dejected condition, that God's promissory declaration has quickened him and proved its reviving power in his case. In הליצוּני ( הליצוּני ), ludificantur , it is implied that the זדים eht taht d are just לצים , frivolous persons, libertines, free-thinkers (Proverbs 21:24). משׁפּטיך , Psalms 119:52, are the valid, verified decisions (judgments) of God revealed from the veriest olden times. In the remembrance of these, which determine the lot of a man according to the relation he holds towards them, the poet found comfort. It can be rendered: then I comforted myself; or according to a later usage of the Hithpa .: I was comforted. Concerning זלעפה , aestus , vid., Psalms 11:6, and on the subject-matter, Psalms 119:21, Psalms 119:104. The poet calls his earthly life “the house of his pilgrimage;” for it is true the earth is man's (Psalms 115:16), but he has no abiding resting-place there (1 Chronicles 29:15), his בּית עולם (Ecclesiastes 12:5) is elsewhere (vid., supra , Psalms 119:19, Psalms 39:13). God's statutes are here his “songs,” which give him spiritual refreshing, sweeten the hardships of the pilgrimage, and measure and hasten his steps. The Name of God has been in his mind hitherto, not merely by day, but also by night; and in consequence of this he has kept God's law ( ואשׁמרה , as five times besides in this Psalm, cf. Psalms 3:6, and to be distinguished from ואשׁמרה , Psalms 119:44). Just this, that he keeps ( observat ) God's precepts, has fallen to his lot. To others something else is allotted (Psalms 4:8), to him this one most needful thing.


Verses 57-64

The eightfold Heth . To understand and to keep God's word is his portion, the object of his incessant praying and thanksgiving, the highest grace or favour that can come to him. According to Psalms 16:5; Psalms 73:26, the words חלקי ה belong together. Psalms 119:57 is an inference drawn from it ( אמר ל as in Exodus 2:14, and frequently), and the existing division of the verse is verified. חלּה פּני , as in Psalms 45:13, is an expression of caressing, flattering entreaty; in Latin, caput mulcere ( demulcere ). His turning to the word of God the poet describes in Psalms 119:59 as a result of a careful trying of his actions. After that he quickly and cheerfully, Psalms 119:60, determined to keep it without any long deliberation with flesh and blood, although the snares of wicked men surround him. The meaning of חבלי is determined according to Psalms 119:110 : the pointing does not distinguish so sharply as one might have expected between חבלי , ὠδῖνας , and חבלי , snares, bonds (vid., Psalms 18:5.); but the plural nowhere, according to the usage of the language as we now have it, signifies bands (companies), from the singular in 1 Samuel 10:5 (Böttcher, §800). Thankfulness urges him to get up at midnight ( acc. temp. as in Job 34:20) to prostrate himself before God and to pray. Accordingly he is on friendly terms with, he is closely connected with (Proverbs 28:24), all who fear God. Out of the fulness of the loving-kindness of God, which is nowhere unattested upon earth ( Psalms 119:64 = Psalms 33:5), he implores for himself the inward teaching concerning His word as the highest and most cherished of mercies.


Verses 65-72

The eightfold Teth . The good word of the gracious God is the fountain of all good; and it is learned in the way of lowliness. He reviews his life, and sees in everything that has befallen him the good and well-meaning appointment of the God of salvation in accordance with the plan and order of salvation of His word. The form עבדּך , which is the form out of pause, is retained in Psalms 119:65 beside Athnach , although not preceded by Olewejored (cf. Psalms 35:19; Psalms 48:11; Proverbs 30:21). Clinging believingly to the commandments of God, he is able confidently to pray that He would teach him “good discernment” and “knowledge.” טעם is ethically the capacity of distinguishing between good and evil, and of discovering the latter as it were by touch; טוּב טעם , good discernment, is a coupling of words like טוּב לב , a happy disposition, cheerfulness. God has brought him into this relationship to His word by humbling him, and thus setting him right out of his having gone astray. אמרה in Psalms 119:67 , as in Psalms 119:11, is not God's utterance conveying a promise, but imposing a duty. God is called טּוב as He who is graciously disposed towards man, and מתיב as He who acts out this disposition; this loving and gracious God he implores to become his Teacher. In his fidelity to God's word he does not allow himself to be led astray by any of the lies which the proud try to impose upon him (Böttcher), or better absolutely (cf. Job 13:4): to patch together over him, making the true nature unrecognisable as it were by means of false plaster or whitewash ( טפל , to smear over, bedaub, as the Targumic, Talmudic, and Syriac show). If the heart of these men, who by slander make him into a caricature of himself, is covered as it were with thick fat (a figure of insensibility and obduracy, Psalms 17:10; Psalms 73:7; Isaiah 6:10, lxx ἐτυρώθη , Aquila ἐλιπάνθη , Symmachus ἐμυαλώθη ) against all the impressions of the word of God, he, on the other hand, has his delight in the law of God ( שׁעשׁע with an accusative of the object, not of that which is delighted, Psalms 94:19, but of that which delights). How beneficial has the school of affliction through which he has attained to this, been to him! The word proceeding from the mouth of God is now more precious to him than the greatest earthly riches.


Verses 73-80

The eightfold Jod . God humbles, but He also exalts again according to His word; for this the poet prays in order that he may be a consolatory example to the God-fearing, to the confusion of his enemies. It is impossible that God should forsake man, who is His creature, and deny to him that which makes him truly happy, viz., the understanding and knowledge of His word. For this spiritual gift the poet prays in Psalms 119:73 (cf. on 73 a , Deuteronomy 32:6; Job 10:8; Job 31:15); and he wishes in Psalms 119:74 that all who fear God may see in him with joy an example of the way in which trust in the word of God is rewarded (cf. Psalms 34:3; Psalms 35:27; Psalms 69:33; Psalms 107:42, and other passages). He knows that God's acts of judgment are pure righteousness, i.e., regulated by God's holiness, out of which they spring, and by the salvation of men, at which they aim; and he knows that God has humbled him אמוּנה ( accus. adverb. for בּאמוּנה ), being faithful in His intentions towards him; for it is just in the school of affliction that one first learns rightly to estimate the worth of His word, and comes to feel its power. But trouble, though sweetened by an insight into God's salutary design, is nevertheless always bitter; hence the well-justified prayer of Psalms 119:76, that God's mercy may notwithstanding be bestowed upon him for his consolation, in accordance with the promise which is become his ( ל as in Psalms 119:49 ), His servant's. עוּת , Psalms 119:78, instead of being construed with the accusative of the right, or of the cause, that is perverted, is construed with the accusative of the person upon whom such perversion of right, such oppression by means of misrepresentation, is inflicted, as in Job 19:6; Lamentations 3:36. Chajug' reads עוּדוּני as in Psalms 119:61. The wish expressed in Psalms 119:79 is to be understood according to Psalms 73:10; Jeremiah 15:19, cf. Proverbs 9:4, Proverbs 9:16. If instead of וידעי (which is favoured by Psalms 119:63), we read according to the Chethîb וידעוּ (cf. Psalms 119:125), then what is meant by ישׁוּבוּ לּי is a turning towards him for the purpose of learning: may their knowledge be enriched from his experience. For himself, however, in Psalms 119:80 he desires unreserved, faultless, unwavering adherence to God's word, for only thus is he secure against being ignominiously undeceived.


Verses 81-88

The eightfold Kaph . This strengthening according to God's promise is his earnest desire ( כּלה ) now, when within a very little his enemies have compassed his ruin ( כּלּה ). His soul and eyes languish ( כּלה as in Psalms 69:4; Psalms 84:3, cf. Job 19:27) for God's salvation, that it may be unto him according to God's word or promise, that this word may be fulfilled. In Psalms 119:83 כּי is hypothetical, as in Psalms 21:12 and frequently; here, as perhaps also in Psalms 27:10, in the sense of “although” (Ew. §362, b ). He does not suffer anything to drive God's word out of his mind, although he is already become like a leathern bottle blackened and shrivelled up in the smoke. The custom of the ancients of placing jars with wine over the smoke in order to make the wine prematurely old, i.e., to mellow it (vid., Rosenmüller), does not yield anything towards the understanding of this passage: the skin-bottle that is not intended for present use is hung up on high; and the fact that it had to withstand the upward ascending smoke is intelligible, notwithstanding the absence of any mention of the chimney. The point of comparison, in which we agree for the most part with Hitzig, is the removal of him who in his dungeon is continually exposed to the drudgery of his persecutors. כּמּה in Psalms 119:84 is equivalent to “how few.” Our life here below is short, so also is the period within which the divine righteousness can reveal itself. שׁיחות (instead of which the lxx erroneously reads שׂיחות ), pits, is an old word, Psalms 57:7. The relative clause, Psalms 119:85 , describes the “proud” as being a contradiction to the revealed law; for there was no necessity for saying that to dig a pit for others is not in accordance with this law. All God's commandments are an emanation of His faithfulness, and therefore too demand faithfulness; but it is just this faithfulness that makes the poet an object of deadly hatred. They have already almost destroyed him”in the land.” It is generally rendered “on earth;” but “in heaven” at the beginning of the following octonary is too far removed to be an antithesis to it, nor does it sound like one (cf. on the other hand ἐν τοῖς ouranoi's, Matthew 5:12). It is therefore: in the land (cf. Psalms 58:3; Psalms 73:9), where they think they are the only ones who have any right there, they have almost destroyed him, without shaking the constancy of his faith. But he stands in need of fresh grace in order that he may not, however, at last succumb.


Verses 89-96

The eightfold Lamed . Eternal and imperishable in the constant verifying of itself is the vigorous and consolatory word of God, to which the poet will ever cling. It has heaven as its standing-place, and therefore it also has the qualities of heaven, and before all others, heaven-like stability. Ps 89 (Psalms 89:3) uses similar language in reference to God's faithfulness, of which here Psalms 119:90 says that it endureth into all generations. The earth hath He creatively set up, and it standeth, viz., as a practical proof and as a scene of His infinite, unchangeable faithfulness. Heaven and earth are not the subjects of Psalms 119:91 (Hupfeld), for only the earth is previously mentioned; the reference to the heavens in Psalms 119:89 is of a very different character. Hitzig and others see the subject in למשׁפּטיך : with respect to Thy judgments, they stand fast unto this day; but the עבדיך which follows requires another meaning to be assigned to עמדוּ : either of taking up one's place ready for service, or, since עמד למשׁפט is a current phrase in Numbers 35:12; Joshua 20:6; Ezekiel 44:24, of placing one's self ready to obey (Böttcher). The subject of עמדוּ , as the following הכּל shows, is meant to be thought of in the most general sense (cf. Job 38:14): all beings are God's servants (subjects), and have accordingly to be obedient and humble before His judicial decisions - היּום , “even to this day,” the poet adds, for these judicial decisions are those which are formulated beforehand in the Tôra. Joy in this ever sure, all-conditioning word has upheld the poet in his affliction, Psalms 119:92. He who has been persecuted and cast down as it were to death, owes his reviving to it, Psalms 119:93. From Him whose possession or property he is in faith and love he also further looks for his salvation, Psalms 119:94. Let evil-doers lie in wait for him ( קוּוּ in a hostile sense, as in Psalms 56:7, קוּה , cf. חכּה , going back to קוה , Arab. qawiya , with the broad primary signification, to be tight, firm, strong) to destroy him, he meditates on God's testimonies. He knows from experience that all (earthly) perfection ( תּכלה ) has an end (inasmuch as, having reached its height, it changes into its opposite); God's commandment (singular as in Deuteronomy 11:22), on the contrary, is exceeding broad (cf. Job 11:9), unlimited in its duration and verification.


Verses 97-104

The eightfold Mem . The poet praises the practical wisdom which the word of God, on this very account so sweet to him, teaches. God's precious law, with which he unceasingly occupies himself, makes him superior in wisdom (Deuteronomy 4:6), intelligence, and judgment to his enemies, his teachers, and the aged (Job 12:20). There were therefore at that time teachers and elders ( πρεσβύτεροι ), who (like the Hellenizing Sadducees) were not far from apostasy in their laxness, and hostilely persecuted the young and strenuous zealot for God's law. The construction of Psalms 119:98 is like Joel 1:20; Isaiah 59:12, and frequently. היא refers to the commandments in their unity: he has taken possession of them for ever (cf. Psalms 119:111 ). The Mishna ( Aboth iv. 1) erroneously interprets: from all my teachers do I acquire understanding. All three מן in Psalms 119:98-100 signify prae (lxx ὑπὲρ ). In כּלאתי , Psalms 119:101 , from the mode of writing we see the verb Lamed Aleph passing over into the verb Lamed He . הורתני is, as in Proverbs 4:11 (cf. Exodus 4:15), a defective mode of writing for הוריתני . נמלצוּ , Psalms 119:103 , is not equivalent to נמרצוּ , Job 6:25 (vid., Job, at Job 6:25; Job 16:2-5), but signifies, in consequence of the dative of the object לחכּי , that which easily enters, or that which tastes good (lxx ὡς gluke'a); therefore surely from מלץ = מלט , to be smooth: how smooth, entering easily (Proverbs 23:31), are Thy words (promises) to my palate or taste! The collective singular אמרתך is construed with a plural of the predicate (cf. Exodus 1:10). He has no taste for the God-estranged present, but all the stronger taste for God's promised future. From God's laws he acquires the capacity for proving the spirits, therefore he hates every path of falsehood (= Psalms 119:128 ), i.e., all the heterodox tendencies which agree with the spirit of the age.


Verses 105-112

The eightfold Nun . The word of God is his constant guide, to which he has entrusted himself for ever. The way here below is a way through darkness, and leads close past abysses: in this danger of falling and of going astray the word of God is a lamp to his feet, i.e., to his course, and a light to his path (Proverbs 6:23); his lamp or torch and his sun. That which he has sworn, viz., to keep God's righteous requirements, he has also set up, i.e., brought to fulfilment, but not without being bowed down under heavy afflictions in confessing God; wherefore he prays (as in Psalms 119:25) that God would revive him in accordance with His word, which promises life to those who keep it. The confessions of prayer coming from the inmost impulse of his whole heart, in which he owns his indebtedness and gives himself up entirely to God's mercy, he calls the free-will offerings of his mouth in Psalms 119:108 (cf. Psalms 50:14; 19:15). He bases the prayer for a gracious acceptance of these upon the fact of his being reduced to extremity. “To have one's soul in one's hand” is the same as to be in conscious peril of one's life, just as “to take one's soul into one's hand” (Judges 12:3; 1 Samuel 19:5; 1 Samuel 28:21; Job 13:14) is the same as to be ready to give one's life for it, to risk one's life.

(Note: Cf. B. Taanîth 8 a : “The prayer of a man is not answered אלא אם כן משׂים נפשׁו בכפו , i.e., if he is not ready to sacrifice his life.”)

Although his life is threatened (Psalms 119:87), yet he does not waver and depart from God's word; he has taken and obtained possession of God's testimonies for ever (cf. Psalms 119:98); they are his “heritage,” for which he willingly gives up everything else, for they ( המּה inexactly for הנּה ) it is which bless and entrance him in his inmost soul. In Psalms 119:112 it is not to be interpreted after Psalms 19:12 : eternal is the reward (of the carrying out of Thy precepts), but in Psalms 119:33 עקב is equivalent to לעד , and Psalms 119:44 proves that Psalms 119:112 need not be a thought that is complete in itself.


Verses 113-120

The eightfold Samech . His hope rests on God's word, without allowing itself to be led astray by doubters and apostates. סעפים (the form of nouns which indicate defects or failings) are those inwardly divided, halting between two opinions ( סעפּים ), 1 Kings 18:21, who do homage partly to the worship of Jahve, partly to heathenism, and therefore are trying to combine faith and naturalism. In contrast to such, the poet's love, faith, and hope are devoted entirely to the God of revelation; and to all those who are desirous of drawing him away he addresses in Psalms 119:115 (cf. Psalms 6:9) an indignant “depart.” He, however, stands in need of grace in order to persevere and to conquer. For this he prays in Psalms 119:116-117. The מן in משּׁברי is the same as in בּושׁ מן . The ah of ואשׁעה is the intentional ah (Ew. §228, c), as in Isaiah 41:23. The statement of the ground of the סלית , vilipendis , does not mean: unsuccessful is their deceit (Hengstenberg, Olshausen), but falsehood without the consistency of truth is their self-deceptive and seductive tendency. The lxx and Syriac read תּרעיתם , “their sentiment;” but this is an Aramaic word that is unintelligible in Hebrew, which the old translators have conjured into the text only on account of an apparent tautology. The reading השּׁבתּ or חשׁבתּ (Aquila, Symmachus, and Jerome; lxx ἐλογισάμην , therefore חשׁבתי ) instead of חשׁבתּ might more readily be justified in Psalms 119:119 ; but the former gives too narrow a meaning, and the reading rests on a mistaking of the construction of השׁבית with an accusative of the object and of the effect: all the wicked, as many of them as are on the earth, dost Thou put away as dross ( סגים( ssor ). Accordingly משׁפטיך in Psalms 119:120 are God's punitive judgments, or rather (cf. Psalms 119:91) God's laws (judgments) according to which He judges. What is meant are sentences of punishment, as in Lev. 26, Deut. 28. Of these the poet is afraid, for omnipotence can change words into deeds forthwith. In fear of the God who has attested Himself in Exodus 34:7 and elsewhere, his skin shudders and his hair stands on end.


Verses 121-128

The eightfold Ajin . In the present time of apostasy and persecution he keeps all the more strictly to the direction of the divine word, and commends himself to the protection and teaching of God. In the consciousness of his godly behaviour (elsewhere always צדק וּמשׁפּט , here in one instance משׁפט וצדק ) the poet hopes that God will surely not ( בּל ) leave him to the arbitrary disposal of his oppressors. This hope does not, however, raise him above the necessity and duty of constant prayer that Jahve would place Himself between him and his enemies. ערב seq. acc. signifies to stand in any one's place as furnishing a guarantee, and in general as a mediator, Job 17:3; Isaiah 38:14; לטוב similar to לטובה , Psalms 86:17, Nehemiah 5:19 : in my behalf, for my real advantage. The expression of longing after redemption in Psalms 119:123 sounds like Psalms 119:81. “The word of Thy righteousness” is the promise which proceeds from God's “righteousness,” and as surely as He is “righteous” cannot remain unfulfilled. The one chief petition of the poet, however, to which he comes back in Psalms 119:124., has reference to the ever deeper knowledge of the word of God; for this knowledge is in itself at once life and blessedness, and the present calls most urgently for it. For the great multitude (which is the subject to הפרוּ ) practically and fundamentally break God's law; it is therefore time to act for Jahve ( עשׂה ל as in Genesis 30:30, Isaiah 64:4, Ezekiel 29:20), and just in order to this there is need of well-grounded, reliable knowledge. Therefore the poet attaches himself with all his love to God's commandments; to him they are above gold and fine gold (Psalms 19:11), which he might perhaps gain by a disavowal of them. Therefore he is as strict as he possibly can be with God's word, inasmuch as he acknowledges and observes all precepts of all things ( כּל־פּקּוּדי כל ), i.e., all divine precepts, let them have reference to whatsoever they will, as ישׁרים , right ( ישּׁר , to declare both in avowal and deed to be right); and every false (lying) tendency, all pseudo-Judaism, he hates. It is true Psalms 119:126 may be also explained: it is time that Jahve should act, i.e., interpose judicially; but this thought is foreign to the context, and affords no equally close union for על־כן ; moreover it ought then to have been accented עת לעשׂות ליהוה . On כּל־פּקּוּדי כל , “all commands of every purport,” cf. Isaiah 29:11, and more as to form, Numbers 8:16; Ezekiel 44:30.

The expression is purposely thus heightened; and the correction כל־פקודיך (Ewald, Olshausen, and Hupfeld) is also superfluous, because the reference of what is said to the God of revelation is self-evident in this connection.


Verses 129-136

The eightfold Phe . The deeper his depression of spirit concerning those who despise the word of God, the more ardently does he yearn after the light and food of that word. The testimonies of God are פּלאות , wonderful and strange (paradoxical) things, exalted above every-day life and the common understanding. In this connection of the thoughts נצרתם is not intended of careful observance, but of attentive contemplation that is prolonged until a clear penetrating understanding of the matter is attained. The opening, disclosure ( פּתח , apertio , with Tsere in distinction from פּתח , porta ) of God's word giveth light, inasmuch as it makes the simple ( פּתיים as in Proverbs 22:3) wise or sagacious; in connection with which it is assumed that it is God Himself who unfolds the mysteries of His word to those who are anxious to learn. Such an one, anxious to learn, is the poet: he pants with open mouth, viz., for the heavenly fare of such disclosures ( פּער like פּער פּה in Job 29:23, cf. Psalms 81:11). יאב is a hapaxlegomenon, just as תּאב is also exclusively peculiar to the Psalm before us; both are secondary forms of אבה . Love to God cannot indeed remain unresponded to. The experience of helping grace is a right belonging to those who love the God of revelation; love in return for love, salvation in return for the longing for salvation, is their prerogative. On the ground of this reciprocal relation the petitions in Psalms 119:133-135 are then put up, coming back at last to the one chief prayer “teach me.” אמרה , Psalms 119:133, is not merely a “promise” in this instance, but the declared will of God in general. כּל־און refers pre-eminently to all sin of disavowal (denying God), into which he might fall under outward and inward pressure ( עשׁק ). For he has round about him those who do not keep God's law. On account of these apostates ( על לא as in Isaiah 53:9, equivalent to על־אשׁר לא ) his eyes run down rivers of water ( ירד as in Lamentations 3:48, with an accusative of the object). His mood is not that of unfeeling self-glorying, but of sorrow like that of Jeremiah, because of the contempt of Jahve, and the self-destruction of those who contemn Him.


Verses 137-144

The eightfold Tsade . God rules righteously and faithfully according to His word, for which the poet is accordingly zealous, although young and despised. The predicate ישׂר in Psalms 119:137 precedes its subject משׁפּטיך (God's decisions in word and in deed) in the primary form (after the model of the verbal clause Psalms 124:5), just as in German [and English] the predicative adjective remains undeclined. The accusatives צדק and אמוּנה in Psalms 119:138 are not predicative (Hitzig), to which the former (“as righteousness”) - not the latter however - is not suited, but adverbial accusatives (in righteousness, in faithfulness), and מאד according to its position is subordinate to ואמונה as a virtual adjective (cf. Isaiah 47:9): the requirements of the revealed law proceed from a disposition towards and mode of dealing with men which is strictly determined by His holiness ( צדק ), and beyond measure faithfully and honestly designs the well-being of men ( אמונה מאד ). To see this good law of God despised by his persecutors stirs the poet up with a zeal, which brings him, from their side, to the brink of extreme destruction (Psalms 69:10, cf. צמתּת , Psalms 88:17). God's own utterance is indeed without spot, and therefore not to be carped at; it is pure, fire-proved, noblest metal (Psalms 18:31; Psalms 12:7), therefore he loves it, and does not, though young (lxx νεώτερος , Vulgate adolescentulus ) and lightly esteemed, care for the remonstrances of his proud opponents who are old and more learned than himself (the organization of Psalms 119:141 is like Psalms 119:95, and frequently). The righteousness ( צדקה ) of the God of revelation becomes eternal righteousness ( צדק ), and His law remains eternal truth ( אמת ). צדקה is here the name of the attribute and of the action that is conditioned in accordance with it; צדק the name of the state that thoroughly accords with the idea of that which is right. So too in Psalms 119:144 : צדק are Jahve's testimonies for ever, so that all creatures must give glory to their harmony with that which is absolutely right. To look ever deeper and deeper into this their perfection is the growing life of the spirit. The poet prays for this vivifying insight.


Verses 145-152

The eightfold Koph . Fidelity to God's word, and deliverance according to His promise, is the purport of his unceasing prayer. Even in the morning twilight ( נשׁף ) he was awake praying. It is not הנּשׁף , I anticipated the twilight; nor is קדּמתּי , according to Psalms 89:14, equivalent to קדמתיך , but ואשׁוּע ... קדּמתּי is the resolution of the otherwise customary construction קדמתי לשׁוּע , Jonah 4:2, inasmuch as קדּם may signify “to go before” (Psalms 68:26), and also “to make haste (with anything):” even early before the morning's dawn I cried. Instead of לדבריך the Kerî (Targum, Syriac, Jerome) more appropriately reads לדברך after Psalms 119:74, Psalms 119:81, Psalms 119:114. But his eyes also anticipated the night-watches, inasmuch as they did not allow themselves to be caught not sleeping by any of them at their beginning (cf. לראשׁ , Lamentations 2:19). אמרה is here, as in Psalms 119:140, Psalms 119:158, and frequently, the whole word of God, whether in its requirements or its promises. In Psalms 119:149 בּמשׁפּטך is a defective plural as in Psalms 119:43 (vid., on Psalms 119:37), according to Psalms 119:156, although according to Psalms 119:132 the singular (lxx, Targum, Jerome) would also be admissible: what is meant is God's order of salvation, or His appointments that relate thereto. The correlative relation of Psalms 119:150 and Psalms 119:151 is rendered natural by the position of the words. With קרבוּ (cf. קרב ) is associated the idea of rushing upon him with hostile purpose, and with קרוב , as in Psalms 69:19; Isaiah 58:2, of hastening to his succour. זמּה is infamy that is branded by the law: they go forth purposing this, but God's law is altogether self-verifying truth. And the poet has long gained the knowledge from it that it does not aim at merely temporary recompense. The sophisms of the apostates cannot therefore lead him astray. יסדתּם for יסדתּן , like המּה in Psalms 119:111.


Verses 153-160

The eightfold Resh . Because God cannot suffer those who are faithful to His word to succumb, he supplicates His help against his persecutors. ריבה is Milra before the initial (half-guttural) Resh , as in Psalms 43:1; Psalms 74:22. The Lamed of לאמרתך is the Lamed of reference (with respect to Thine utterance), whether the reference be normative (= כאמרתך , Psalms 119:58), as in Isaiah 11:3, or causal, Isaiah 25:2, Isaiah 55:5; Job 42:5. The predicate רחוק , like ישׂר in Psalms 119:137, stands first in the primary, as yet indefinite form. Concerning Psalms 119:156 vid., on Psalms 119:149. At the sight of the faithless he felt a profound disgust; ואתקוטטה , pausal aorist, supply בּהם , Psalms 139:21. It is all the same in the end whether we render אשׁר quippe qui or siquidem . ראשׁ in Psalms 119:160 signifies the head-number of sum. If he reckons up the word of God in its separate parts and as a whole, truth is the denominator of the whole, truth is the sum-total. This supplicatory חיּני is repeated three times in this group. The nearer it draws towards its end the more importunate does the Psalm become.


Verses 161-168

The eightfold ש (both Shin and Sin )

(Note: Whilst even in the oldest alphabetical Pijutim the Sin perhaps represents the Samech as well, but never the Shin , it is the reverse in the Biblical alphabetical pieces. Here Sin and Shin coincide, and Samech is specially represented.)).

In the midst of persecution God's word was still his fear, his joy, and his love, the object of his thanksgiving, and the ground of his hope. Princes persecute him without adequate cause, but his heart does not fear before them, but before God's words (the Kerî likes the singular, as in Psalms 119:147), to deny which would be to him the greatest possible evil. It is, however, a fear that is associated with heartfelt joy (Psalms 119:111). It is the joy of a conflict that is rewarded by rich spoil (Judges 5:30, Isaiah 9:3). Not merely morning and evening, not merely three times a day (Psalms 55:18), but seven times ( שׁבע as in Leviticus 26:18; Proverbs 24:16), i.e., ever again and again, availing himself of every prayerful impulse, he gives thanks to God for His word, which so righteously decides and so correctly guides, is a source of transcendent peace to all who love it, and beside which one is not exposed to any danger of stumbling ( מכשׁול , lxx σκάνδαλον , cf. 1 John 2:10) without some effectual counter-working. In Psalms 119:166 he speaks like Jacob in Genesis 49:18, and can speak thus, inasmuch as he has followed earnestly and untiringly after sanctification. He endeavours to keep God's law most conscientiously, in proof of which he is able to appeal to God the Omniscient One. שׁמרה is here the 3rd praet. , whereas in Psalms 86:2 it is imperat . The future of אהב is both אהב and אהב , just as of אחז both אחז and אאחז .


Verses 169-176

The eightfold Tav . May God answer this his supplication as He has heard his praise, and interest Himself on behalf of His servant, the sheep that is exposed to great danger. The petitions “give me understanding” and “deliver me” go hand-in-hand, because the poet is one who is persecuted for the sake of his faith, and is just as much in need of the fortifying of his faith as of deliverance from the outward restraint that is put upon him. רנּה is a shrill audible prayer; תּחנּה , a fervent and urgent prayer. ענה , prop. to answer, signifies in Psalms 119:172 to begin, strike up, attune (as does ἀποκρίνεσθαι also sometimes). According to the rule in Psalms 50:23 the poet bases his petition for help upon the purpose of thankful praise of God and of His word. Knowing how to value rightly what he possesses, he is warranted in further supplicating and hoping for the good that he does not as yet possess. The “salvation” for which he longs ( תּאב as in Psalms 119:40, Psalms 119:20) is redemption from the evil world, in which the life of his own soul is imperilled. May then God's judgments (defective plural, as in Psalms 119:43, Psalms 119:149, which the Syriac only takes a singular) succour him ( יעזּרני , not יעזרני ). God's hand, Psalms 119:173, and God's word afford him succour; the two are involved in one another, the word is the medium of His hand. After this relationship of the poet to God's word, which is attested a hundredfold in the Psalm, it may seem strange that he can say of himself תּעיתי כּשׂה אבד ; and perhaps the accentuation is correct when it does not allow itself to be determined by Isaiah 53:6, but interprets: If I have gone astray - seek Thou like a lost sheep Thy servant. שׂה אבד is a sheep that is lost (cf. אבדים as an appellation of the dispersion, Isaiah 27:13) and in imminent danger of total destruction (cf. Psalms 31:13 with Leviticus 26:38). In connection with that interpretation which is followed by the interpunction, Psalms 119:176 is also more easily connected with what precedes: his going astray is no apostasy; his home, to which he longs to return when he has been betrayed into by-ways, is beside the Lord.

 


Copyright Statement
The Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.

Bibliography Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Psalms 119:4". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/kdo/psalms-119.html. 1854-1889.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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