9PSALM 119 (This psalm is in 26 sections of 8 verses, each beginning with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet.)
The reader will easily see that I have chosen to represent the Hebrew in half-lines, making a 16 line unit in English. I have in almost all cases used the ancient name Yahweh, rather than the later “Lord”. Given that Hebrew words are much less unitary in meaning than English words, I have not always translated the same Hebrew with the same English, but felt free to welcome alternatives.
I started out thinking of this psalm as a chore, a boring exercise in piety. I have ended thinking of it as wonderfully composed, subtle, and beautiful, not to mention its theological depth.
It is the meditation of a person for whom God’s presence is the presence of the holy tradition, probably in written form as Torah, the books of the Pentateuch. This does not make him a fundamentalist, but rather an imaginative disciple of the words which have been given to him. S/ He interprets the tradition with his/her life and soul. The substance of the tradition is called Teaching, Commandment, Judgement, Testimony, Witness, Rules, Decree, Statute, Advice, Guidance, words which are used and re-used in different contexts and with a range of meanings. Each section is an act of meditation, and can be used by the reader as such. The psalm as a whole plays with the various acts of listening, reading, understanding, obeying, and cherishing which together make up the wisdom that God offers his “slave.”
There is a confident self-consciousness about the psalm, joined with humility before God, which makes it am attractive mixture of ancient and modern.
All happiness for those whose ways are wholesome
Who walk in the teaching of Yahweh!
All happiness for those who value his advice
Who approach him with all their heart!
Indeed they do no wrong
But walk in his ways.
You insist that your precepts
Are carefully kept.
I truly wish that my ways were aligned
To keeping your decrees.
Then I shall not be shamed
When I attend to all your commandments.
I will praise you with an honest heart
When I learn your just judgements.
I will keep your decrees:
do not desert me!
By what means can a young man keep his act clean?
By observing your sayings.
With all my heart I approach you;
Stop me straying from your commandments!
I have hidden your word in my heart
To avoid any sin against you.
May you be blessed by mortals, Yahweh!
Make me memorise your decrees!
I will relate with my lips
All the just judgements of your mouth.
I am delighted with your wise directions
As if with the wealth of the world.
I will ponder your precepts
And behold your highways.
I will delight in your decrees
And I will not forget your word.
Care for your slave with kindness
That I may live to watch over your word.
Unseal my eyes that I may see
The treasures of your Teaching.
I am an immigrant on your land;
Do not conceal your commandments from me!
My soul is squeezed with eagerness
For your true judgements at all times.
You reprove proud people, whose ways are doomed
For they wander from your wise commands.
Set me free from scorn and shame
Since I value your advice.
Though princes sit and slander me
Your slave will ponder your precepts.
Your advice is very pleasant to me,
It gives me guidance.
Dust is the destiny of my soul;
Enliven me with your law!
I have revealed my life to you and you responded;
Set me to learn your statutes!
Help me see the road of your rules,
So that I can meditate on your marvels.
My soul sinks down in sadness;
Lift me up by your law!
Remove me from the road of deception
And grant me the grace of your teaching.
I have taken the road of truth;
I have placed your fair judgements before me;
I have adhered to your advice.
Please, Yahweh, do not put me to shame.
I will run the road of your commandments,
For you are helping my heart to grow.
Educate me Yahweh in the lifestyle of your statutes
And I will keep to it continually.
Give me the wit to be guided by your Teaching
And to heed it with all my heart
Forward me on the footpath of your commandments
For I find pleasure in it;
Turn my heart towards your testimony
Not to the love of lucre.
Turn my gaze away from gain
And revive me on your road.
Perform for your slave the promise
Made to those who fear you.
Turn away from me the taunts that I fear;
For sure, your judgements are fair.
In truth I desire your statutes;
Join me to life in your justice.
Favour, your favour Yahweh, may it flow to me!
Your welfare, as promised by your word!
Then I shall have something to tell those who taunt me
For I have put my trust in your promise.
Do not snatch from my lips all mention of your loyalty
For I await your wise judgements.
Then I will retain your Teaching
At all times for all time;
And I will walk as in a wide space
Since I practice your precepts.
I will mention your recorded wisdom before monarchs
And will not be made ashamed.
Your commandments captivate me
I love them dearly.
I will lift up my hands to your commands that I love
And murmur over the laws that you have made.
God, you have given me hope;
Please remember your promise to your slave
For this is my medicine in misery:
Your law gives me life.
Arrogant people ridicule me
But I do not turn away your Teaching.
By bringing to mind your judgements of former times
I can medicine myself, Yahweh.
Horror at wrongdoers takes hold of me
When they trash your Teaching.
Your statutes have been my songs
In the place of my pilgrimage.
Your name I have remembered at night Yahweh
And I will treasure your Teaching.
This has been my blessing:
To have kept your commandments.
Here is my inheritance Yahweh:
Keeping your commandment.
I hope for your smile with all my heart;
Be good to me, as you have guaranteed.
I will watch over my ways
And turn my feet to your established truth.
I step to it and do not saunter
In keeping your commandments.
Though snarled in the snares of criminals
I do not turn from your Teaching,
But get up at midnight to give thanks
For your just judgements.
I am a friend to all who fear you
Who practice your precepts.
The earth, Yahweh, is laden with your lovingkindness;
Discipline me in your decrees!
Indeed you have done good to your slave
Yahweh, as you promised!
Train me in good taste and understanding
As I cleave to your commands.
Before I was brought low, I would go wrong
But now I respect your sayings.
You are good and do good;
Discipline me in your decrees!
Presumptuous people plaster me with lies
But with all my heart I perform your precepts.
Their hearts are heavy as if with fat
While I tread lightly with your Teaching.
It is good for me that I was brought low
So that I might be disciplined in your decrees.
More precious to me is the teaching of your mouth
Than gold and silver coins in plenty!
Just your hands have formed and fashioned me;
Give me the wit to learn your wishes.
Those who fear you will feel joy when they see me
Because I wait on your word.
I know Yahweh that your judgements are just:
Out of loyal love you brought me low.
May your lovingkindness comfort me
As you have assured your slave.
May your compassion mother me so that I may live
For your teaching entrances me.
May arrogant people be put to shame
Who by deceit have slandered me;
As for me, I will study your statutes.
May those who fear you not be far from me
The ones who know your wisdom.
Let me be perfect in your precepts
So that I may not be made ashamed.
Know that my soul is dying for your deliverance;
And I am waiting for your word.
My eyes weary for your word;
And I ask, When will you attend to me?
Though wizened like a wineskin in smoke
I do not forget your fixed requirements.
How many days must your slave endure?
When will you pass judgement on those who pursue me?
Proud people have dug pits for me
In contempt of your Teaching.
All your commands are constant in truth,
But they pursue me with a lie: Protect me!
They have nearly ended my life on this earth
But I have not abandoned your advice.
Give me life with your lovingkindness
And I will watch over the witness of your mouth.
Lord, your word lasts forever;
It holds firm in the heavens.
Your faithfulness joins the generations.
You established the earth and it stands.
By your fair judgements they stand firm today:
All things are your slaves.
If your law were not my delight
I would have wasted away in my affliction.
I will never forget your wise guidance
For by it you led me to life.
I am yours, Yahweh, deliver me
For I look to your guidance.
Wrongdoers lie in wait to destroy me
But I have regard for your recorded wisdom.
All completeness has its closure
But your legislation is beyond limit.
My true love is your Teaching!
All through the day it is my devotion.
Your Commandment makes me wiser than my enemies
It is always with me.
I have greater attention than my teachers
For your spoken witness is my study.
I show more sense than my seniors
For I do what you demand.
I have pulled back my feet from every evil path
So that I can watch over your word.
I do not turn from your true judgements
For you have been my teacher.
How pleasing are your words to my palate
More than honey to my mouth!
Through your demands I get discernment:
So I detest every deceitful path.
Now your word is a lamp for my feet
A light on the trodden way.
I have made a vow which I will verify
Not to reject your just judgements.
I am hugely humbled, Yahweh:
Repair my life as you have promised.
Oh, may the praises of my mouth please you, Yahweh
As you teach me your true judgements.
AlI day I hold my life in my hands
But I do not neglect your Teaching.
Evildoers are trying to trap me
But I do not avoid your advice.
I inherit your laws as my forever home
For they are the joy of my heart.
I have stretched my heart to perform your statutes
For ever, right to the end.
Oh I hate half-hearted people
For I love your Law.
You are my secret place and my shield;
I await your word.
Get away from me you wicked people
And let me keep the commandments of my God.
Support me Yahweh as you have promised, and I will live
That no one may heap shame on my hope.
Support me and I will be saved
To study your statutes unceasingly.
You weigh up all who wander from your statutes
So that their guile is good for nothing.
You dump earth’s evildoers like dross
So I love your wise laws.
My flesh trembles in terror of you;
I revere your just rulings.
Please, I have done what is due and just,
Do not leave me in the power of my oppressors.
Be the guarantee of good for your slave,
Do not let arrogant people oppress me.
My eyes are red with watching for your rescue
For the appearance of your promised justice.
Care for your slave with your lovingkindness
And help me learn your written laws.
I am your slave: give me the insight
To understand your words of witness.
It is time for Yahweh to take action:
For they are trashing your Teaching.
Because of this I love your commandments
More than gold, yes, more than fine gold.
Because of this I regard all your precepts as right
And detest every deceitful path.
Quite wonderful your witness!
That’s why my soul watches over it.
Unfolding the scroll of your words sheds light
Giving insight to the simple ones.
Open-mouthed I gasp,
Grasping at your commandments.
Face me and show me favour
As you do for those who delight in your name.
Steady my steps in your word
And let no malice master me.
Free me from human force
That I may practice your precepts.
Oh smile on your slave,
Turn and teach me your statutes!
My eyes weep rivers of water
Because people do not treasure your Teaching.
Ruler, you stand for the right
And your judgements are just!
In justice and great loyalty
You laid down your legislation.
Indignation ignites me
That my enemies neglect your words.
Your word is well -refined as in fire
And your slave loves it.
I am insignificant and despised
Yet I do not neglect your guidance
Your justice is just forever
And your Teaching is truth.
Anguish and affliction have found me
But your decrees are my delight.
Your witness is justice always:
Give me insight and I shall live.
” So answer me Yahweh!” I cried with a whole heart,
“that I may observe your statutes.”
“Deliver me!” I demanded
“that I may respect your rules.”
I anticipate dawn asking for help;
I wait for your word;
My eyes are awake before the watches of the night
To ponder your promise.
Listen to my voice in your lovingkindness;
In your good way, revive me.
They press close, the pursuers of harm,
They are distant from your decrees,
But You are near, Yahweh,
And all your rules are reliable:
Long ago I knew of your Laws
That you had founded them forever.
Take note of my affliction and rescue me
Since I never fail to attend to your Teaching.
Argue my case as my kinsman-advocate
Enlivening me with your eloquence.
Rescue is far from the wrongdoers
Since they do not study your statutes.
Colossal is your compassion Yahweh:
Wake me to life as is your way.
Those who hassle and hate me are many
But I do not swerve from your set requirements.
I look on crooked people with loathing
Because they do not keep your command.
Look how I love your precepts Yahweh
In your lovingkindness, enliven me.
The totality of your word is truth
And every one of your just judgements is forever.
Utterly without reason, princes pursue me,
But my heart is weak only before your words.
Indeed I delight in your speech
Like one who discovers rich booty.
I detest deceit and despise it
But I love your Law.
Seven times a day I sing your praise
For your just judgements.
There is large peace for lovers of your Teaching:
No cruel trick can trip then up.
I yearn for your rescue Yahweh
And I do what you demand.
My soul attends to your testimonies
Because it loves them dearly.
I will attend to your precepts and testimony
For all my ways are open to you.
Vital that my yelling reaches you Yahweh:
Give me wisdom through your word.
Vital that my call for kindness reaches you;
Pluck me from problems as you have promised.
Praise will pour from my lips
For you are instructing me in your statutes.
May my tongue testify about your word
That all your requirements are right.
May your hand be poised to help me
Since I choose to practice your precepts.
I desire your deliverance Yahweh;
Your Law is my delight.
Let my soul live to praise you;
May your decisions defend me;
When I have strayed like a lost sheep
Seek out your slave,
Since I cannot forget your commandment.