Psalm 119

Wednesday, December 5, 2012 — Week of 1 Advent, Year 1

Clement of Alexandria, Priest, c. 210

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Note: We are now in Year One in the Daily Office Lectionary. We are using the readings on the left side (even numbered) pages starting in the Prayer Book on page 936.


Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 936)

Psalms 119: 1-24 (morning) // 12, 13, 14 (evening)

Isaiah 2:1-11

1 Thessalonians 2:13-20

Luke 20:19-26

For those of us who read the Daily Office, Wednesday often means that one of our Psalms will be a portion of Psalm 119, the longest psalm in the Psalter. For a long time I dreaded these verses. They seemed to praise something I was trying to escape from.

Psalm 119 is a song of praise for God’s law. The psalmist pledges faithfulness to the statutes, decrees and commandments of the law, keeping these words as the focus of life and allegiance. The psalmist promises to study and grow in understanding of the law. Those who do not keep the commandments will be judged and suffer judgment from God. The psalmist hopes to be one who follows the law and therefore avoids the shame and rebuke of God’s judgment. He lives with liberty and delight because he loves God’s commandments.

For a long time I have read these verses out of my own context of discomfort having grown up in a culture that felt oppressed by Southern Baptists. Their religion seemed to me to be a legalistic, moralistic and judgmental one — a religion of law. It was grounded in their commitment to “the Word,” a peculiar way of reading the Bible that turned it into a book of statutes, decrees and commandments serving judgment upon all humanity.

I also grew up under what I experienced as the oppressive legalistic commandments of a judging father who would shame and rebuke whenever I failed to follow his statues, decrees and law.

The joy of my religion was an escape from these oppressions into the arms of a God of unqualified love, who encouraged me in the challenging new commandment to love God, neighbor and self, a summary of the law which superseded the objective statutes, decrees and commandments.

I have found a new way to read Psalm 119. I know God’s law to be love. I sense God’s commandment to be the call to do God’s will in the present moment, and God’s will is always some exercise of love. So now, I read Psalm 119 through that lens, and it opens up with joy and devotion. So I paraphrase:

Happy are they who do your will,

who walk in love, O God!

Happy are they who know your love

and seek you with all their hearts;

Who love their neighbor as themselves

doing your will moment by moment.

You gave us your divine love

that we might love also.

Oh, that I might love so deeply

that I might always live in union with you!

Then I should not be put to shame

when I live in your benevolent love.

I thank you with an unfeigned heart

when I dissolve into your divine love.

I will do your will — loving you, my neighbor and myself;

be with me always, O beloved One.

For me, Psalm 119 now rings with new life and passion. I can appropriate for myself the love and devotion that the psalmist expresses for the life-giving gifts of God.

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