Skip to comments.On Psalm 119, the Acrostic Psalm
Posted on 11/09/2011 10:09:19 PM PST by ELS
On Psalm 119, the Acrostic Psalm
"Wholly Pervaded by Love for God's Word"
VATICAN CITY, NOV. 9, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave at today's general audience.
* * *
Dear brothers and sisters,
In previous catecheses, we meditated on several of the psalms that exemplify the typical kinds of prayer: lament, trust and praise. In today's catechesis, I would like to turn to a consideration of Psalm 119 according to the Hebrew tradition, 118 according to the Greco-Latin: It is a very special psalm, the only one of its kind. First, it is unique for its length: It is composed of 176 verses, divided into 22 stanzas of eight verses each. Then, it has the peculiar characteristic of being an "acrostic alphabet": It is constructed, that is, according to the Hebrew alphabet, which is made up of 22 letters. Each stanza corresponds to a letter of that alphabet, and with this letter the first word of the stanza's eight verses begins. It is an original and very demanding literary construction in which the Psalm's author had to employ all his skill.
But what is more important for us is this psalm's central theme: It is, in fact, an imposing and solemn hymn about the Lord's Torah; i.e., about His Law -- a term which in its broadest and most complete acceptation is understood as teaching, instruction, as a directive for life. The Torah is revelation; it is the Word of God that questions man and calls forth from him a response of trusting obedience and of generous love.
And this psalm is wholly pervaded by love for God's Word -- it extols its beauty, its saving power, and its capacity to bestow joy and life. For the divine Law is not a heavy yoke of slavery but a gift of grace that liberates and leads to happiness. "I will delight in thy statues; I will not forget thy word" (Verse 16); and again: "Lead me in the path of thy commandments, for I delight in it" (Verse 35), and yet again: "Oh, how I love thy law! It is my meditation all the day" (Verse 97). The Lord's Law, His Word, is the center of the life of the one praying; in it he finds consolation, he makes it the object of his meditation, he keeps it in his heart: "I have laid up thy word in my heart, that I might not sin against thee" (Verse 11), and this is the secret of the psalmist's happiness; and again: "The godless besmear me with lies, but with my whole heart I keep thy precepts" (Verse 69).
The psalmist's faithfulness is born of his listening to the Word, of keeping it within his inmost being, meditating upon it and loving it, just like Mary, who "kept all these things, pondering ... in her heart" the words that had been spoken to her, and the wondrous events in which God revealed Himself and asked her assent of faith (cf. Luke 2:19,51). And if our psalm begins in its first verses by proclaiming "blessed" "those who walk in the law of the Lord" (Verse 1b) and "who keep His testimonies" (Verse 2a), it is again the Virgin Mary who brings to fruition the perfect figure of the believer described by the Psalmist. She, in fact, is the truly "blessed" one, and was thus proclaimed by Elizabeth, for she "believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord" (Luke 1:45) -- and it is to her and to her faith that Jesus Himself gives testimony when, to the woman who cried out "blessed is the womb that bore you," He responds: "Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!" (Luke 11:27-28). Certainly, Mary is blessed in having borne the Savior in her womb, but she is blessed above all for having welcomed the announcement of God, for having been the attentive and loving keeper of His Word.
Psalm 119 is therefore wholly woven around this Word of life and blessedness. If its central theme is the "Word" and the "Law" of the Lord, alongside these words there also recur, in nearly all of the verses, the synonyms "precepts," "decrees," "commands," "teachings," "promise," "judgments"; and then also many related verbs such as to observe, to keep, to understand, to know, to love, to meditate upon, to live. The entire alphabet unfolds through the 22 stanzas of this psalm, as does the whole vocabulary of the believer's trusting relationship with God; therein we find praise, thanksgiving and trust, but also supplication and lament -- always pervaded, however, by the certainty of divine grace and of the power of God's Word. Even the stanzas most notably marked by suffering and a sense of darkness remain open to hope and permeated by faith. "My soul cleaves to the dust; revive me according to thy word" (Verse 25), the psalmist trustingly prays; "For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, yet I have not forgotten thy statutes" (Verse 83) is the cry of the believer. His fidelity, even though put to the test, finds strength in the Lord's Word: "Then shall I have an answer for those who taunt me, for I trust in thy word" (Verse 42), he resolutely affirms; and even before the agonizing prospect of death, the Lord's commands are his point of reference and his hope for victory: "They have almost made an end of me on earth; but I have not forsaken thy precepts" (Verse 87).
The divine law -- the object of the Psalmist's ardent love and that of every believer -- is a fount of life. The desire to understand it, to observe it, to orient one's whole being toward it is the defining characteristic of the just man who is faithful to the Lord, who "meditates on it day and night" as Psalm 1 states (Verse 2); it is a law -- God's Law -- which is to be held "upon the heart," as the well known text of the Shema in Deuteronomy states:
"Hear, O Israel … these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise" (6:4, 6-7).As the center of life, God's Law asks for the heart's listening -- a listening carried out in an obedience that is not servile but filial, trusting and mindful. Hearing the Word is a personal encounter with the Lord of life, an encounter that must be translated into concrete choices and become a path and a sequela. When asked what must be done to have eternal life, Jesus points to the path of the observance of the Law, but He does so by indicating how it is to be brought to completion: "You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me" (Mark 10:21). The fulfillment of the Law is to follow Jesus, to take the path of Jesus, in company with Jesus.
"The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup ...
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
yea, I have a goodly heritage" (Psalm 16:5-6).
[Translation by Diane Montagna]
[The Holy Father then greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our catechesis on Christian prayer, we now turn to Psalm 119, a solemn celebration of the Torah, the Law of the Lord. In twenty-two stanzas, each beginning with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the psalmist proclaims his love for God's Law, which brings light, life and salvation. His song voices the range of sentiments which fill the hearts of those who pray: praise, thanksgiving, trust, supplication and lament, all within the context of a heartfelt openness to the Lord's word. In praying this Psalm, Christians see in the Blessed Virgin Mary the model of this loving docility to God's will, and in Jesus the fulfilment of the Law. A striking example of the psalmist's devotion is seen in his words: "The Lord is my portion" (v. 57). We can apply these words in a special way to priests, whose lives of celibacy testify to their call to complete devotion to the Lord and his Kingdom. But they can also be applied to all the faithful, who share in Christ's royal priesthood and are called daily to bear witness to the Gospel. May the Lord grant us a deeper love for Him, so that, like the psalmist, we may always make His word "a lamp to our feet and a light to our path".
* * *
I welcome the priest jubilarians from England and Wales and I assure them of my prayers for the spiritual fruitfulness of their ministry. I also greet the Sisters of Saint Paul of Chartres taking part in a programme of spiritual renewal. I also greet the members of American Society of the Italian Legion of Merit, and I thank the members of the brass ensemble from Malta for their musical offering. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims present, especially those from England, Denmark, the Philippines, Canada and the United States, I invoke God's blessings of joy and peace!
© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
[He added this appeal in Italian:]
At this time various parts of the world, from Latin America -- especially Central America -- to South-East Asia, have been struck by storms, flooding and landslides that have lead to many deaths, missing persons and homeless. Once more, I desire to express my closeness to all those who are suffering through these natural disasters, and I invite everyone to pray for the victims and their families and to remain united with them, so that institutions, and men and women of good will, might collaborate with a generous spirit in helping the thousands of persons tried by these calamities.
[And he concluded with these greetings:]
Lastly, my thoughts go to young people, to the sick and to newlyweds. Dear young people, plan for the future in complete fidelity to the Gospel, and grow according to the teaching and example of Jesus. You, dear sick, offer your suffering to the Lord, so that thanks also to your participation in His sufferings, He may extend His saving action in the world. In the path you have begun, may you, dear newlyweds, be guided by a joyous faith to always serve life, which is God's gift.
[Translation by Diane Montagna]
Please let me know if you want to be on or off this ping list.
You are my inheritance, o Lord.
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1Blessed those whose way is blameless,
who walk by the law of the LORD.a
2Blessed those who keep his testimonies,
who seek him with all their heart.b
3They do no wrong;
they walk in his ways.
4You have given them the command
to observe your precepts with care.
5May my ways be firm
in the observance of your statutes!
6Then I will not be ashamed
to ponder all your commandments.
7I will praise you with sincere heart
as I study your righteous judgments.
8I will observe your statutes;
do not leave me all alone.
9How can the young keep his way without fault?
Only by observing your words.
10With all my heart I seek you;
do not let me stray from your commandments.
11In my heart I treasure your promise,
that I may not sin against you.
12Blessed are you, O LORD;
teach me your statutes.c
13With my lips I recite
all the judgments you have spoken.
14I find joy in the way of your testimonies
more than in all riches.
15I will ponder your precepts
and consider your paths.
16In your statutes I take delight;
I will never forget your word.
17Be kind to your servant that I may live,
that I may keep your word.
18Open my eyes to see clearly
the wonders of your law.
do not hide your commandments from me.
20At all times my soul is stirred
with longing for your judgments.
21With a curse you rebuke the proud
who stray from your commandments.
22Free me from disgrace and contempt,
for I keep your testimonies.
23Though princes meet and talk against me,
your servant meditates on your statutes.
24Your testimonies are my delight;
they are my counselors.
25My soul clings to the dust;e
give me life in accord with your word.
26I disclosed my ways and you answered me;
teach me your statutes.
27Make me understand the way of your precepts;
I will ponder your wondrous deeds.
28My soul is depressed;
lift me up acccording to your word.
29Lead me from the way of deceit;
favor me with your law.
30The way of loyalty I have chosen;
I have kept your judgments.
31I cling to your testimonies, LORD;
do not let me come to shame.
32I will run the way of your commandments,
for you will broaden my heart.
33LORD, teach me the way of your statutes;
I shall keep them with care.f
34Give me understanding to keep your law,
to observe it with all my heart.
35Lead me in the path of your commandments,g
for that is my delight.
36Direct my heart toward your testimonies
and away from gain.
37Avert my eyes from what is worthless;
by your way give me life.
38For your servant, fulfill your promise
made to those who fear you.
39Turn away from me the taunts I dread,
for your judgments are good.
40See how I long for your precepts;
in your righteousness give me life.
41Let your mercy come to me, LORD,
salvation in accord with your promise.
42Let me answer my taunters with a word,
for I trust in your word.
43Do not take the word of truth from my mouth,
for in your judgments is my hope.
44I will keep your law always,
for all time and forever.
45I will walk freely in an open space
because I cherish your precepts.
46I will speak openly of your testimonies
without fear even before kings.
47I delight in your commandments,
which I dearly love.
48*I lift up my hands to your commandments;
I study your statutes, which I love.
49Remember your word to your servant
by which you give me hope.
50This is my comfort in affliction,
your promise that gives me life.
51Though the arrogant utterly scorn me,
I do not turn from your law.
52When I recite your judgments of old
I am comforted, LORD.
53Rage seizes me because of the wicked;
they forsake your law.
54Your statutes become my songs
wherever I make my home.
55Even at night I remember your name
in observance of your law, LORD.
56This is my good fortune,
for I have kept your precepts.
57My portion is the LORD;
I promise to observe your words.
58I entreat you with all my heart:
have mercy on me in accord with your promise.
59I have examined my ways
and turned my steps to your testimonies.
60I am prompt, I do not hesitate
in observing your commandments.
61Though the snares of the wicked surround me,
your law I do not forget.
62At midnight I rise to praise you
because of your righteous judgments.
63I am the friend of all who fear you,
of all who observe your precepts.
64The earth, LORD, is filled with your mercy;h
teach me your statutes.
65You have treated your servant well,
according to your word, O LORD.
66Teach me wisdom and knowledge,
for in your commandments I trust.
67Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I hold to your promise.
68You are good and do what is good;
teach me your statutes.
69The arrogant smear me with lies,
but I keep your precepts with all my heart.
70Their hearts are gross and fat;i
as for me, your law is my delight.
71It was good for me to be afflicted,
in order to learn your statutes.
72The law of your mouth is more precious to me
than heaps of silver and gold.
73Your hands made me and fashioned me;
give me understanding to learn your commandments.
74Those who fear you rejoice to see me,
because I hope in your word.
75I know, LORD, that your judgments are righteous;
though you afflict me, you are faithful.
76May your mercy comfort me
in accord with your promise to your servant.
77Show me compassion that I may live,
for your law is my delight.
78Shame the proud for leading me astray with falsehood,
that I may study your testimonies.
79Let those who fear you turn to me,
those who acknowledge your testimonies.
80May I be wholehearted toward your statutes,
that I may not be put to shame.
81My soul longs for your salvation;
I put my hope in your word.j
82My eyes long to see your promise.k
When will you comfort me?
83I am like a wineskin shriveled by smoke,l
but I have not forgotten your statutes.
84How long can your servant survive?
When will your judgment doom my foes?
85The arrogant have dug pits for me;
defying your law.
86All your commandments are steadfast.
Help me! I am pursued without cause.
87They have almost put an end to me on earth,
but I do not forsake your precepts.
88In your mercy give me life,
to observe the testimonies of your mouth.
it is firm as the heavens.
90Through all generations your truth endures;
fixed to stand firm like the earth.
91By your judgments they stand firm to this day,
for all things are your servants.
92Had your law not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.
93I will never forget your precepts;
through them you give me life.
94I am yours; save me,
for I cherish your precepts.
95The wicked hope to destroy me,
but I seek to understand your testimonies.
96I have seen the limits of all perfection,
but your commandment is without bounds.
97How I love your law, Lord!*
I study it all day long.
98Your commandment makes me wiser than my foes,
as it is forever with me.
99I have more insight than all my teachers,
because I ponder your testimonies.
100I have more understanding than my elders,
because I keep your precepts.n
101I keep my steps from every evil path,
that I may observe your word.
102From your judgments I do not turn,
for you have instructed me.
103How sweet to my tongue is your promise,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!o
104Through your precepts I gain understanding;
therefore I hate all false ways.
105Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light for my path.p
106I make a solemn vow
to observe your righteous judgments.
107I am very much afflicted, LORD;
give me life in accord with your word.
108Accept my freely offered praise;q
LORD, teach me your judgments.
109My life is always at risk,
but I do not forget your law.
110The wicked have set snares for me,
but from your precepts I do not stray.
111Your testimonies are my heritage forever;
they are the joy of my heart.
112My heart is set on fulfilling your statutes;
they are my reward forever.
113I hate every hypocrite;
your law I love.
114You are my refuge and shield;
in your word I hope.
115Depart from me, you wicked,r
that I may keep the commandments of my God.
116Sustain me by your promise that I may live;
do not disappoint me in my hope.
117Strengthen me that I may be safe,
ever to contemplate your statutes.
118You reject all who stray from your statutes,
for vain is their deceit.
119Like dross you regard all the wicked on earth;
therefore I love your testimonies.
120My flesh shudders with dread of you;
I fear your judgments.
121I have fulfilled your righteous judgment;
do not abandon me to my oppressors.
122Guarantee your servant’s welfare;
do not let the arrogant oppress me.
123My eyes long to see your salvation
and the promise of your righteousness.
124Act with mercy toward your servant;
teach me your statutes.
125I am your servant; give me discernment
that I may know your testimonies.
126It is time for the LORD to act;
they have disobeyed your law.
127Truly I love your commandments
more than gold, more than the finest gold.
128Thus, I follow all your precepts;
every wrong way I hate.
129Wonderful are your testimonies;
therefore I keep them.
130The revelation of your words sheds light,
gives understanding to the simple.
131I sigh with open mouth,
yearning for your commandments.
132Turn to me and be gracious,s
according to your judgment for those who love your name.
133Steady my feet in accord with your promise;
do not let iniquity lead me.
134Free me from human oppression,
that I may observe your precepts.
135Let your face shine upon your servant;
teach me your statutes.
136My eyes shed streams of tears
because your law is not observed.
137You are righteous, LORD,
and just are your judgments.t
138You have given your testimonies in righteousness
and in surpassing faithfulness.
139I am consumed with rage,
because my foes forget your words.
140Your servant loves your promise;
it has been proved by fire.
141Though belittled and despised,
I do not forget your precepts.
142Your justice is forever right,
your law true.
143Though distress and anguish come upon me,
your commandments are my delight.
144Your testimonies are forever righteous;
give me understanding that I may live.
145I call with all my heart, O LORD;
answer me that I may keep your statutes.
146I call to you to save me
that I may observe your testimonies.
147I rise before dawn and cry out;
I put my hope in your words.
148My eyes greet the night watches
as I meditate on your promise.u
149Hear my voice in your mercy, O LORD;
by your judgment give me life.
150Malicious persecutors draw near me;
they are far from your law.
151You are near, O LORD;
reliable are all your commandments.
152Long have I known from your testimonies
that you have established them forever.
153Look at my affliction and rescue me,
for I have not forgotten your law.
154Take up my cause and redeem me;v
for the sake of your promise give me life.
155Salvation is far from sinners
because they do not cherish your statutes.
156Your compassion is great, O LORD;
in accord with your judgments, give me life.
157Though my persecutors and foes are many,
I do not turn from your testimonies.
158I view the faithless with loathingw
because they do not heed your promise.
159See how I love your precepts, LORD;
in your mercy give me life.
160Your every word is enduring;
all your righteous judgments are forever.
161Princes persecute me without reason,
but my heart reveres only your word.
162I rejoice at your promise,
as one who has found rich spoil.
163Falsehood I hate and abhor;
your law I love.
164Seven times a day I praise you
because your judgments are righteous.
165Lovers of your law have much peace;x
for them there is no stumbling block.
166I look for your salvation, LORD,
and I fulfill your commandments.
167I observe your testimonies;
I love them very much.
168I observe your precepts and testimonies;
all my ways are before you.
169Let my cry come before you, LORD;y
in keeping with your word, give me understanding.
170Let my prayer come before you;
rescue me according to your promise.
171May my lips pour forth your praise,
because you teach me your statutes.
172May my tongue sing of your promise,
for all your commandments are righteous.
173Keep your hand ready to help me,
for I have chosen your precepts.
174I long for your salvation, LORD;
your law is my delight.
175Let my soul live to praise you;
may your judgments give me help.
176I have wandered like a lost sheep;
seek out your servant,
for I do not forget your commandments.z
* [Psalm 119] This Psalm, the longest by far in the Psalter, praises God for giving such splendid laws and instruction for people to live by. The author glorifies and thanks God for the Torah, prays for protection from sinners enraged by others’ fidelity to the law, laments the cost of obedience, delights in the law’s consolations, begs for wisdom to understand the precepts, and asks for the rewards of keeping them. Several expected elements do not appear in the Psalm: Mount Sinai with its story of God’s revelation and gift to Israel of instruction and commandments, the Temple and other institutions related to revelation and laws (frequent in other Psalms). The Psalm is fascinated with God’s word directing and guiding human life. The poem is an acrostic; its twenty-two stanzas (of eight verses each) are in the order of the Hebrew alphabet. Each of the eight verses within a stanza begins with the same letter. Each verse contains one word for “instruction.” The translation here given attempts to translate each Hebrew word for “instruction” with the same English word. There are, however, nine words for “instruction,” not eight, so the principle of a different word for “instruction” in each verse cannot be maintained with perfect consistency. The nine words for “instruction” in the translation are: law, statute, commandment, precept, testimony, word, judgment, way, and promise.
* [119:19] A sojourner in the land: like someone without the legal protection of a native inhabitant, the psalmist has a special need for the guidance of God’s teaching.
* [119:48] I lift up my hands to your commandments: to lift up the hands was an ancient gesture of reverence to God. Here the picture is applied to God’s law.
* [119:97] Lord: the inclusion of “Lord” follows the tradition of the Septuagint and the Vulgate.