Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Still more on the keywords of Psalm 119

I thought it was time I looked up the meaning of these words in my BDB which I have lugged around with me on the road these past 4 weeks.

Here's a bit about each:

תורה [torah] BDB direction, instruction, law - it is always tricky to find anything in BDB. This one is listed on page 435 under the yod - that's Bingo for you. Is it related to early rain (yoreh)? or throw or shoot (yarah)? It lists below teacher (moreh). I would never have thought of looking up torah under i in an English dictionary! At its simplest, it is an ordinary word meaning the instruction of a mother for her child, or a father, or the sages, or a poet.

עדה [edah] testimony - I found this under ayin as expected. ayin-daleth has lots of meanings - time related, perpetuity, even to, up to, until, during, while ..., booty! Then several pages later, I find ayin-daleth with a tsere under the ayin - aha, testimony, witness, , evidence. While these can be applied with due solemnity to the testimony of the ancient stories, I also find resonances of two or three witnesses, the subject of John 5. I admit to showing my bias here, but the problem we have with testimony is just that - believing it. I see I (correctly but accidentally) listed the feminine noun above (with the 'ah' ending). BDB has a distinction of 13 times this word in the plural, and 8 times also in the plural a slight variation on the same word (edut). The observable difference in the psalm escapes me.

אמרה [imrah] word, promise - there are quite a few words in the class aleph-mem-resh - this one based on the verb to speak, utter, etc, others based on the idea of a bond. BDB does give promise as a possible translation - so I am not beyond the pale.

פקּד [piqud] precept - In this form, the word always plural only appears in the psalms (19, 103, 111, 119) 21/24 times in psalm 119. It is as it sounds, good advice, it appears to agree with other roots PQD - the verb, attend to, visit, muster, appoint and the nouns PQDH oversight, or PQYD - commissioner, overseer. The precept is the thing appointed, God's precepts are the charges laid upon us.

חק [chuq] statute - nothing too surprising here either - something prescribed, a decree, a due, related to the verb, inscribe, decree and the issues of being just, right, obligatory, etc. Interesting that these are not legal - but perhaps they also encompass those uninscribed but expected behavioural aspects of family and cultural life... God's statutes, which make the heart complete, are what direct in God's way as opposed to what may be the cultural or social way which may not make the heart complete.

מצוה [mitsvah] commandment - Loving of Torah embraces all the variations we have seen in this Psalm. Doing of Mitsvot reflects the Deuteronomy passage - we will do them and we will understand. Some readings of Paul make appreciating this love and this doing difficult. Naturally, this word does not appear under M but under Ts from the root TsVH to command (and other things). It is a command. I always think of command as meaning co-mandere - you have a mandate to work with someone. It is always an invitation for me. Nonetheless, I do not consider some Mitsvot as part of my work but this is a subject of a more complex essay still to be written.

משׁפּט[mishpat] judgment - lesson learned, I looked under shpt and lo and behold, there was mshpt! Derived from the verb to judge, or govern. God is a good governor by all accounts from the psalm.

דבר [dabar] word, thing. Primarily word, the same root as the verb to speak, can also mean a matter, an affair, a thing about which one speaks - a frequent word, pages on it in the BDB.

So I have traced some of the verbs used in the psalm, and I have a better idea of the meaning of the nouns - now to consider the impact. What is the impact of the engagement with the God of Israel?

It is substantial. Whoever, by whatever stripe, knows it, will not ever be disappointed. The psalmist has much to say about the impact on him and his prayers for others, even his enemies. This is a third essay on the psalm which I will leave till I have mused further...

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