Psalm 119:33-40 - Give me understanding

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33) Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes,
and I will observe it to the end.
34) Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
and observe it with my whole heart.
35) Lead me in the path of your commandments,
for I delight in it.
36) Turn my heart to your decrees,
and not to selfish gain.
37) Turn my eyes from looking at vanities;
give me life in your ways.
38) Confirm to your servant your promise,
which is for those who fear you.
39) Turn away the disgrace that I dread,
for your ordinances are good.
40) See, I have longed for your precepts;
in your righteousness give me life.

Psalm 119
7th Sunday after Epiphany, Year A, verses 33-40
Sunday between May 24 and 28, Year B, verses 1-13, 22
Proper 18, Sunday between September 4 and September 10, Year A

In this fifth section of the longest psalm, we see, and put on our own lips, the problem of internalizing, of truly grasping and loving God's law. The opening verses asks not "What is your way?," but Teach me, lead me, disciple me, help me way in the way you have established. Help me make your law my guide.

We might hear echoes of this from other scripture. "Create in me a clean heart, O God" (Psalm 51:10); "Write the commandments on the tablet of your heart" (Proverbs 7:3); "Fix these words of mine in your heart" (Deuteronomy 11:18). In Hebrew, "heart" is that beating organ in our chest, but also used metaphorically to mean our will, our being. If our heart is right, we have a moral and spiritual compass to help keep us on God's path of righteousness, compassion, and justice.

They speak to our issue. Help me believe, help me know, deep within me, that this is right. The hymn sings "Take away the love of sinning," as we are taught to pray "Lead us not into temptation." Often those seeking a way out of addiction wish for, hope for, pray for deliverance from the temptation to turn back to their addictive behavior or substance. They need the good to drown out the voices of destruction. We need God's law of life to become ours.

The one petitioning the Lord is specific about the many ways in which he or she needs help:
  • Teach me (v33), and Give me understanding (v34) of your statutes;
  • Lead me (I need a guide) (v35);
  • Turn my heart to your decrees (v36);
  • Turn my eyes... (away from idle distractions (v37);
  • Confirm your promise - that, is, reassure me (v38);
It describes a process of letting God's way take root within us, becoming our trusted and beloved companion.

And then there is the kicker: "Turn away the disgrace that I dread." Tell me that I am acceptable, beloved. Deliver me from shame. It's irrelevant whether the shame comes from our sin, from our weakness, from what others have laid on us. We need to be strengthened in hope that we are loved, that there is a path for us to healing.

        "See, I have longed for your precepts;
                in your righteousness give me life.

Credits:
Philippe de Champaigne. Moses with the Ten Commandments, 17th century. Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia. Public domain.

* New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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