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September 22nd, 2008 at 12:27 pm

Psalm 119:1 – Blessed Are Those Who

Dear Friends,

Today we jump into the text of Psalm 119. You may wish to read the introduction to be reminded of general aspects of this Psalm that are important.

Verse one introduces the first stanza, the “Aleph section” and the Psalm as a whole:

Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord!

A few general comments would be in order before jumping into specifics. If you read the first stanza, and peruse the Psalm as a whole you will see that the first three verses of the Psalm are in the third person (those). They speak generally about the importance of being the kind of people who commit their lives to the Lord and to His ways. But then, for the next 173 verses with one or two minor exceptions the Psalm is addressed directly to God. There is a back and forth between  “you” being God, and “I” being Psalmist. So the Psalm as a whole is very much like a prayer, a conversation between the Psalmist and his God. The very first three verses are commending a way of life that involves prayerful grappling with God, a way of life exemplified in the rest of the Psalm.

A casual reader might detect a tone of triumphalism or legalism or even self righteousness in the first three verses. But the Psalm as a whole presents just the opposite. This is a person who is deeply aware of his tendency to drift away, His dullness of spirit, His need for God’s mercy and strength. He knows that Life is to be found by following the Lord and His ways, and yet he knows his heart, and his tendency to slide into darkness. Humility characterizes the Psalm as a whole.

Often we find that we must articulate our purpose. We must remind ourselves of the general principles that would guide our life. We affirm them, we assert them, and we know them to be true. But then we turn into real life and realize how hard it can be. This Psalm is written by a man immersed in real life.

Verse one is like a life purpose statement. It is spoken boldly and confidently. The writer will soon enough be much less confident in his ability to live accordingly.

Let us look at verse one. Very simply put the Psalmist knows that there is one way and one way only to have a life that is “blessed” and that is by ordering, orienting, aligning, and living out one’s life according to the law of the Lord.

The word “blessed” is used to speak of the good that belongs to such a person. “Blessed” is not an easy word to put into English. It is more felt than defined it seems. We know what it means, but how do we put it? When a man is right with God, when his life is lived according to the law of God, when he seeks the Lord with his whole heart and puts aside all competing claims upon his loyalty and duty, then that man will be rich, even if poor; he will have the peace of God even as battles rage around him; he will have a completeness about him even as the world splinters into piece. He will be rewarded by God, not necessarily with great possessions or victory in battle of the absence of hassle in life, but by the Lord’s very presence, by open and full relationship with God. He will have lived out his life purpose to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. He will know “blessedness” and God will “bless” him.

Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord!

The word “Lord” is, in the Hebrew of Psalm 119 (or 118 in the Hebrew Bible), the personal name of God, sometimes rendered YHWH,  “I am that I am.” Most English Bibles follow the custom of the older translations (and the Greek Old testament) in translating YHWH as “Lord.” Whether in deference to this tradition, or in deference to our Jewish neighbors, who are hesitant to speak the name of God directly, or because of uncertainty as to how to pronounce YHWH, this tradition has persisted in the Christian bible. But there is a deeply personal aspect to YHWH, God’s personal covenant name given by Him to His people. God is not remote, a distant figure that wound up the world and lets it tick-tock away. He is personal. He is YHWH, whom we Christians understand as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

To be blameless toward God is to walk in the “torah” of the Lord. As a Christian I see the word “blameless” and recoil somewhat. Are we not all sinners? Is anyone without blame before God? Isn’t that why Jesus came?

I am not sure that “blameless” here means absolute moral perfection but a way of life given over to the Lord and His word. It speaks of loyalty of one to another, and of a life surrendered to the other. In a sense we believe as Christians that only Jesus Christ himself ever was blameless in an absolute sense. We believe that we have standing with God through Jesus and his righteousness. This verse points us to Jesus, the only human being who ever lived a life of utter and complete blamelessness.

Yet, still, over and over in the New Testament we are called to live in such a way that is described as blameless: The word is often used of the state in which we hope to found ourselves when Jesus Christ returns. We want to be loyal to our King, to please him in every way, to love Him with our whole heart. I like the way it is put in the well known “benediction” at the end of the book of Jude:

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”

We know that this is what will please the Lord. We know that a life lived in humble obedience before God is a life that glorifies Him. How is it possible to love God with all of one’s heart, mind, and strength and not want to be blameless before him?

And we know, do we not, that to walk in obedience, as hard as it sometimes is and as much trouble as it may bring our way – that that is the way of blessedness. Do we not want to become, finally, ourselves? This is a mystery, that in living a life of utter loyalty to God, giving our lives over to Him, and losing ourselves in Him, that we find ourselves, and we find life.

There will always be a differential between who we are now and what we are called to be. The Christian life is a life lived closing that gap. There is no “sinning that grace may abound.” We long to be blameless at his appearing, even as we cling to his mercy and grace.

The word “law” used in Psalm 119:1 is the most common of the eight words used for the Word of God in  Psalm 119. It translates (poorly) the rich word “torah.” This word may be used alternatively for the specific precepts of the covenant between God and His people. It may be used for the first five books of the Bible, the “Pentateuch.” It may be used of the entirety of the God’s self revelation to His people.

God is there. He reveals Himself. He speaks. He speaks in promises, in statements about Himself, in commandments to us. Add all of this together and we see “torah” as God’s guidebook, His book of instruction, His teaching. It is His self revelation. And though we usually don’t think of “law” and “blessing” in the same sentence, in reality human blessing comes by living consistently with the guidance and truth which torah provides.

Reading this as Christians we of course include the “torah” of Christ, His word and His teaching and His commandments. Not only that but Christ Himself and in Himself we believe to be true “revelation” of God, so he Himself is the “torah” of God in that He reveals the way of blessedness and fulfillment.

The one “whose way is blameless” is the one who “walks” in the torah of YHWH.

The life of faith is often pictured as a “walk.” This is true over and over in the New Testament as well. This word “walk” reminds us of three things.

First, the word “walk” reminds us that the life of faith must be lived out amidst the very real challenges of daily life. These are not ivory tower meditations.  Soon enough for the Psalmist His statement of purpose is going to collide with his own sinfulness and the challenges of real life. There is no line between “religion” over here and “life” over there.

Second, we find it helpful to think of our lives as a long walk. Eugene Peterson wrote a book called “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society.” I love that title. It pretty much gives meaning to the idea of our lives as a “walk” before God.

Third, the length of Psalm 119 reminds us of a walk. Every time I go for a walk, even if it is the same path I may have taken a hundred times before, I discover something new – a new way that light shines off the lake, a tree I hadn’t noticed before, the way the wind sounds in the leaves from season to season or according to whether it is dry or wet. Likewise, though the Psalmist will revisit these themes over and over, at every turn there will be something new. That is the beauty of the grand acrostic which Psalm 119 is.

Do you want to be “Blessed of God” The walk according to His ways, His torah, His truth. He has revealed himself to us in a way that we can understand Him, and He is there to help in our journey. Follow Him and you will be blessed.

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