The psalm reading today (Psalm 119:97-120) was not a good way to kick off a morning. For me, Psalm 119 is especially trying with its seeming idol-worship of the Law overall, though I know the Spirit can reach and teach me through it. But today’s section? Not so much.
119:97 Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all day long. 98 Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is always with me. 99 I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your decrees are my meditation. 100 I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts. 101 I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. 102 I do not turn away from your ordinances, for you have taught me. 103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! 104 Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.
My first impression when reading this morning? I hear the scribe-writer and not the Spirit. And the writer sounds like a resolute, life-inexperienced zealot – a young person – in their twenties – maybe a seminarian, not someone I’d be enlightened by. The writer sounds self-righteous, not humble, but tight and bound up, a worrier. And finally, I sense from this almost desperate-sounding prayer just no breathing room for life experience, let alone the Holy Spirit.
My recollection of the origin of this PS is that it was written after the exile and is basically a reflection on how Israel ended up in exile – ignorance and disobedience to God’s word let to the judgment/exile – so the point of the psalm was to remind Israel of the wonder, glory, joy and truth of God’s word/law and how, through strict obedience, they would never again fall away. Some commentators believe it became the seed bed out of which the Pharisees grew.