January 14th, 2017

Psalm 119:1-8

Psalm 119 is written in praise of Torah, God’s law or teaching. Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the book of Psalms, is an alphabetical acrostic that contains praises, laments, meditations, petitions, and assurances of God’s presence. The 176 verses are divided into twenty-two sections, each named after a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Some Bibles show the letters as the subtitles for the divisions.

Hebrew letters differ from the English alphabet because each has a name that is itself a word. Each letter is also a picture or symbol, representing an object, animal, or thing. When people read Hebrew, not only do they understand the sounds of the letters, they know the words they are reading. They also have the added dimension of seeing how the images interact!

The first letter in the Hebrew alphabet is aleph, which means “master.” Aleph is the first and master of the other twenty-one letters. As such, the first verses of Psalm 119 remind us of the blessings we receive when we keep God’s laws.

These pointed reminders of blessing and promise need to be repeated many times for us mortals. The author of 1 John writes in chapter 5 that “the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (v. 3). It would be nice to think that second-century C.E. life was filled with fewer temptations, making the commandments less of a burden, but we know that people throughout history have struggled to follow God’s ordinances. Those who find them light to carry are the saints among us.

I have difficulty obeying some of the laws, especially the one dealing with covetousness. My daughter, the mother of our two beautiful granddaughters, lives in another state. Her father and I have been divorced for many years, but our relationships with each other and our respective new mates have improved since we are now grandparents. Or so I thought.

One day, my daughter called and explained what they were going to do when they visited her father for four days. Four days! They don’t visit us very often, and they never stay for more than two days! We make the seven-hour trip every other month to ensure that our four- and six-yearold granddaughters know their shimmy (Navajo for my mother’s mother) and hosteen (Navajo for old man). My feelings were hurt, and jealousy’s ugly head rose quickly and strongly. I hung up the phone and cried on Hosteen’s shoulder. I decided not to talk to my daughter again that day.

By the next morning, I was much better and had gotten things into perspective. I called my daughter and thanked her for giving me some time to get my house in order. I reassured her that her family is very important to us; visits to us are not a condition for us to be part of their lives. I had reminded myself of the reasons her father is not able to visit them as frequently as we can. I remembered that the girls would be on summer vacation, and we would be at a yearly conference. I had moved from the jealous woman to the loving mother and grandmother. But it was not easy. It took time and effort, and in all honesty, I didn’t even think about the commandment “Thou shalt not covet” (Exodus 20:17 KJV).

What I did was read Psalm 119:1-4, and I discovered, to my complete astonishment, that I was happy. I had obeyed the commandment and, in doing so, enabled my daughter and her family to be with her father without guilt or worry. We were both free because I finally followed God’s command.

As I mentioned, aleph is the first letter and the master of all other Hebrew letters. It is first and considered by Jewish theologians to actually be made in the image of God. In fact, the first two letters of the Hebrew alphabet spell “father,” which is an example of God at the beginning of all things.

Psalm 119 begins by reminding us that we need to conscientiously choose to walk in God’s ways. It does make a difference in our relationships, all of them; our relationships with God as well as with our fellow human beings.

The second half of today’s lection is a prayer seeking God’s help in keeping the commandments of the Lord. Originally this was written in regard to Torah and all of its 613 laws, but we still need help to obey even the two greatest commandments! Our situation has not changed. We are still tempted, and we still forget the Lord’s laws. Even knowing some of the consequences, we forget. Shame is not easy to live with. We feel guilt when we recognize we have done something wrong, but shame is what we feel when we believe something is wrong with us as people.

The God of creation made us in God’s own image and did not want shame to be a part of our lives. The idea that we are not good enough or will never be right is an attack on our faith. God promises we will be heirs because God sees us as sons and daughters. When we follow God’s commandments, never taking our eyes off them, shame will not rest on us. Knowing we are keeping our relationship with God first prevents doubt from creeping into our prayers and enables us to fulfill our destiny as God’s children.

God wants to be first; in the Hebrew alphabet and in our lives. God has given us the pattern to live through God’s Son, Jesus. Let us remember the laws and why we need to follow them. It is not just happiness and blessings; it is love. It’s the love we have for God and the love we are to have for others, which, as promised, becomes stronger when we diligently keep God’s precepts.

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