OUTLINE - DISCUSSION OF THE PSALMS - PART V
INTRODUCTION TO PSALMS OF WISDOM AND THE LAW
PSALMS 19 AND
I. The overall idea of wisdom and a delight in the law is that they provide access to a comprehension of the order by which God governs all things.
A. As understood
in Scripture, wisdom is above all the order that is at the very heart
of all creation. See, e.g., Wis. 9:1-3; Sir. 24:1-8; Prov. 8:22-31.
As applied to human beings it means both the ability to peer into this
order and the ability to carry out a righteous life, almost by instinct.
See, e.g., Sir. 16:22-25; Proverbs 1:1-7; Wis. 7:22-25.
B. Wisdom also gives
one the ability to solve difficult problems, as demonstrated especially
by the figures of Solomon and Daniel and his companions. See 1
Kings 3, 10; Daniel 1.
C. At a lesser level,
wisdom can be the ability to apply this order to specific areas, such
as conversation, craftsmanship, medicine, and especially governance.
See 1 Kings 7:13; Isaiah 40:20; Sir. 20:6; 37:22, 38:1-8; Wisdom 9.
D. The law guides one to be able to be wise. See, e.g., Sir. 38:24-34. The law (torah) involves commandments, but means in general God's guidance of all things, including human lives, history, and natural phenomena.
- The Psalms especially reflect a delight in the law, for it guides one's life and elevates one above the chaos and strife that is the ordinary lot of man. See, e.g., Ps. 1
- Knowing the law is
critical to gaining wisdom because one can become wise only by obeying
God's law. Wisdom and a true understanding of the order of creation
is a gift of God. See, e.g., Wisdom 1:4; Sir. 1:1; 16:22-25; Prov.
II. Psalm 19 connects the law of God in the world, which glorifies God, and in the guidance of each person so that we may glorify God, as well as a desire to be purified of sin so that one can participate in this order and worship of God.
A. The first seven verses present creation, and especially the sun , the moon, and the stars as glorifying God by their continual pageantry. These celestial bodies, which work according to their set laws above the human condition, are considered analogies for the law of God, which can be seen by all, and even as analogies to the saints. See, e.g., Wis 3:7; Dan. 12:31; 1 Cor. 15:41.
- There is also an
implicit condemnation of pagans who worshiped the sun, the moon and
the stars, rather than seeing them as honoring their creator.
See also Wisdom 13:1-10; Romans 1:19-23.
B. The next section then switches right into a praise of God's law as it guides each person. It is the same order and law that guides the universe and personal conduct. In a like fashion, Sirach 43 goes right from describing the wisdom of God in creation to praising the patriarchs.
1. These verses
use five terms for the law, and adds the fear of the Lord to the list,
almost as if that is a part of the law. This inclusion represents
a constant theme of wisdom literature that the fear of the Lord is at
the essence of wisdom. See, e.g., Prov. 1:7, 9:10; Sir. 1:16;
Ps. 11:10; Job 28:28. A sense of wonder at the glory of God and
a desire to avoid offending Him is both a condition and a result of
2. There is a
notion that anyone has access to wisdom by following the law, and that
the law gives delight, refreshment, purity and grandeur to the law.
C. The final three verses recognizes, however, that one cannot be free from all sins. It asks with increasing fervor to be freed from unknowing sins, from deliberate sins, and from being controlled by sins.
- These verses balance
the preceding section by keeping the speaker from being arrogant or
complacent in believing that his appreciation of the law is enough.
III. Psalm 119 is the longest of the psalms and has a very structured, acrostic style to it.
A. The acrostic style
is based upon the fact that each stanza has eight lines, each of which
begins with a set letter of the alphabet. The first stanza uses
the first letter of the alphabet to begin each line, the second stanza
uses the second letter, and so forth. In addition, the psalm reflects
the order and rotating aspects of the law by using eight of nine terms
for the law or order in each stanza. The terms are law, precept,
way, decree, commandment, statute (or edict), ordinance, word, and promise
B. There is no comment on the Temple, the history of the Chosen People, or on worship. Instead, the focus is entirely on God's guidance of the faithful person's life in the midst of enemies and struggles.
- Consequently, it seems that this psalm was written during or after the Exile, during a time in which the Temple worship was downplayed.
- The focus is much more upon the individual person than is the case with most Jewish writing.
- After a general wisdom
reflection at the beginning, the psalm becomes a prayer for guidance
in the ways of God and deliverance from evil. There is a dramatic
contrast between the chaos of the world and the stability and order
of the law of God.
C. The first two
stanzas (verses 1-16) proceed along the lines of traditional wisdom
literature, describing the way of the just that leads to stability and
delight in the presence of God. There is not much of a reflection
on the fortunes of the unjust.
D. The next four
stanzas (verses 17-48) begin a prayer for deliverance from the travails
of the world. The third and fifth stanza portrays the speaker
as desperately seeking the order of the law during this life's pilgrimage.
The speaker abides by the law as he understands it, but desperately
desire to understand it more. Intertwined with these stanzas are
two others that focus on enemies who threaten the speaker and confidence
that God and His law
E. The next four
stanzas draw a connection between the law, suffering, and comfort.
The seventh stanza (verse 49-56) comfort that the law gives in the midst
of suffering, while the next stanza (verse 57-64) indicates that the
Lord and His order are the portion of the just, which brings them into
a realm of love that fills the world at a level deeper than all human
struggles. The next stanza (verses 65-72) go so far as to indicate
that the struggles were necessary to attain the wisdom that brings one
such a sense of peace and comfort. Then there is a stanza that
focuses on how the law of God guides the just into the order of all
of creation and leads to the defeat of enemies.
F. The next two stanzas,
standing at the middle of this psalm (verses 81-96) again reflect al
call for help in the midst of turmoil, and then a reflection of salvation
G. The next stanzas
(verses 97-112) goes up again to the heights of praising God and His
law, which bring one to the heights of vision and are sweeter than any
food. There is a sense of adventure in this stanza and the next
one as God's law is described as guiding the faithful in the midst
of life's journey.
H. The next three
stanzas (verses 113-136) then go on to praise God's law as imminently
precious and providing stability. They also reflect a desperate
need for protection and guidance so that the psalmist may follow God's
law in the future.
I. The following
two stanzas (verses 137-152) alternate between a declaration to keep
God's law and a call for protection based upon that law.
J. There, in the following two stanzas (verses 153-168) there is then another sense of plummet into distress, with enemies threatening the psalmist's life. But there is also a determination to keep these commandments against all opposition.
- Verse 164m referring
to praising God seven times a day is part of the basis for the old rules
for the Liturgy of the Hours, which would traditionally be prayed seven
times a day.
K Finally, at the end there is a stanza that mysteriously reflects both a confidence that the speaker has followed God's law, along with a recognition of a need for forgiveness and further instruction. The psalm thus ends on a note of humility to avoid the arrogance that can come from looking down on others who do not understand or keep the law.