Showing posts with label Leviticus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Leviticus. Show all posts

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Structure of 1st Timothy 1:3-11

Paul begins his first letter to Timothy by exhorting him to "charge" certain persons not to teach the Law "differently." Indeed, the different uses (abuses) of Law found among these teachers that are contrary to health-giving doctrine amount to bad management of God's house, and therefore may be worthy of discipline. They may need to be treated mercifully too. This is evident from the larger context (1:3-20) wherein Paul mentions his discipline of Hymenaeus and Alexander a few verses later (vv. 19-20), who consciously rejected apostolic teaching; but Paul also mentions a contrasting example of the Lord's mercy toward his own ignorant and unfaithful use of the Law toward Christians (vv. 12-15).

According to Paul, the goal or aim (τέλος) of Timothy's "charge" to these "teachers-of-the-Law" is love which flows out of a clean heart, good conscience, and unhypocritical faith. Paul and Timothy both know that God's Law is attractive if it's used lawfully, for God did not lay it down for those who are just, law-abiding, and obedient. (What discipline could possibly be laid down for those who using the Law lawfully?) Even in the secular use of law, it is not laid down for law-abiding citizens; how much more then is it laid down for citizens of God's kingdom who abide by the law? The law is not laid down for law-keepers, but for those who are unjust, law-breaking, and disobedient: those who strike their fathers and mothers (Exod. 21:15; Deut. 21:18-21), murderers (Exod. 21:12), the sexually immoral (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:13-30), homosexuals (Lev. 20:13), kidnappers (Exod. 21:16), liars (Exod. 23:1; Lev. 6:1-7), perjurers (Exod. 23:2-3; Deut. 19:16-19), and the like. The examples which Paul uses are unmistakably clear in at least one way: such behavior within the house of God--among God's covenant people--is in need of a serious charge to repent if discipline is to be mitigated. 

This opening charge of Paul to Timothy is arranged chiastically, making it a little easier to notice the conceptual and linguistic parallels:

A) As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge (παραγγείλῃς) certain persons not to teach any different doctrine (ἑτεροδιδασκαλέω), nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than management of the house of God that is by faith (θεοῦ τὴν ἐν πίστει)

     B) The aim of our charge (παραγγελίας) is love out of a clean heart and a good conscience and a unhypocritical faith. 

          C) Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers-of-the-Law (νομοδιδάσκαλοι), without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.

     B') Now we know (Οἴδαμεν) that the law is attractive, if one uses it lawfully, 

A') knowing (εἰδὼς) this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and whatever different use is contrary to health-giving doctrine (εἰ τι ἕτερον διδασκαλίᾳ), in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted (θεοῦ ὃ ἐγώ ἐπιστεύθην). 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Another Exodus for Jacob (Jeremiah 30:18-22)

Jeremiah 30 (NASB)
18 “Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob and have compassion on his dwelling places; and the city will be rebuilt on its ruin, and the palace will stand on its rightful place.
19 ‘From them will proceed thanksgiving and the voice of those who celebrate; and I will multiply them and they will not be diminished; I will also honor them and they will not be insignificant.
20 ‘Their children also will be as formerly, and their congregation shall be established before Me; and I will punish all their oppressors.
21 ‘Their leader shall be one of them, and their ruler shall come forth from their midst; and I will bring him near and he shall approach Me; for who would dare to risk his life to approach Me?’ declares the Lord.
22 ‘You shall be My people, and I will be your God.’”

Chapter 30 of Jeremiah begins the first proclamation of good news to Yahweh's people in exile. Chapters 1-29 present a tour of Yahweh's faithfulness to Israel wherein he repeatedly confirms his hatred for Israel's repeated rebellion. Israel wants to live and think idolatrously like all the other nations, so Yahweh is going to pluck them up from their own land and plant them in the midst of the Gentiles. Only in chapter 30 do we begin the first lengthy exposition of good news. Yahweh would indeed punish Israel like all the other rebellious nations, as promised, but yet again he would spare Israel for his name's sake, and establish his covenant with them again. 

The language of chapter 30 is filled with Exodus imagery, but especially in verses 18-22, which begin with Yahweh's calling of Jacob, the son of Abraham who would later be called "Israel," and would lead Israel into Egypt. Egypt, of course, is where Yahweh delivered Israel from captivity in the beginning of their formation as a nation. This call of Yahweh in 30:18 recapitulates Yahweh's call to Jacob, before Israel was formed as a royal priesthood at Sinai, eventually developing into a kingdom-city with a royal palace and Yahweh enthroned in their midst. In verses 18 and 19, Yahweh says he is coming again to restore those fortunes of Jacob, to start a new beginning, just as he did with Jacob's descendants all the way up to David and his descendants. From them will come another great thanksgiving and celebration like the time in which it's city and palace was first established. 

Verses 20-22 are also reminiscent of the Exodus, which describes the blessings and curses pronounced upon Israel in Deuteronomy just prior to parting the Jordan, thereby completing the Exodus which began in Egypt and waited for 40 years in the wilderness. This time the restoration is from Babylonian captivity, and will follow all the curses of Yahweh's Law which sentenced them there in the first place (Deut. 28:15-68). Once that exodus begins, tremendous covenant blessings will accompany Israel as promised in the Law (Deut 28:1-14). Instead of decreasing in number, Israel will be as the sand of the seashore, multiplying greatly in number. The Lord will honor them in the sight of all nations, and that honor will be significantly great. Yahweh will establish them again, and drive out all their oppressors from the land, like he did when they first entered Canaan. Yahweh will even bring all rulers into account who live in their midst, and will cause them to draw near to Him. This Israel will be reformed, like the first formation out of Egypt. Israel would again be Yahweh's people, and again have Yahweh as their God (Ex. 6:7; Lev. 26:12; Jer. 7:23; 11:4; 30:22)

Time after time Yahweh proved his loyal love toward Israel. Over and over Yahweh proved himself to be merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in tremendously gracious love toward Jacob. But the days were coming, according to Jeremiah's next prophecy (in chapter 31), that Yahweh would establish a new covenant with the house of Israel, a covenant unlike the one he made with Israel during the first Exodus. With this new covenant he would write his Law upon their hearts and not on tablets of stone. No longer would each Israelite teach his neighbor through the old covenant administration of sacrifice, temple, and priesthood. All of Israel and their surrounding neighbors would know Yahweh intimately, in a powerful sweeping way which had never been accomplished before. Yahweh would forgive their iniquity once for all, and remember their sin no more, through the sacrifice of his Son. Then finally, once for all time, under that new covenant in his blood, it could be said of Israel that Yahweh is their God, and they are his people (Jer. 31:33).

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Misconceptions of Mosaic Law

In his book, Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World, James Jordan comments on the misconception that the Mosaic laws were so tough, so demanding, and so stringent that nobody could ever keep them. He writes:
  Why do people think the Mosaic law was hard to keep? In general, it is because they do not know what the law really commanded, and because they have the Mosaic law confused with the rabbinical traditions of Judaism. The rabbinical traditions were  a "heavy yoke" (Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23; Acts 15:10; Matthew 23:4). Jesus called the people back to the Mosaic law, making it his own, and in doing so said that He was offering an "easy yoke" (Matthew 5:20-48; 11:29-30). We should, then, briefly look at the Mosaic law. 
  What about all those sacrifices, you may ask? There were the Burnt, Meal, Peace, Thank, Votive, Sin, Reparation, "Heave," and "Wave" Offerings, for starters. Some used salt, and some did not. Some used oil, and some did not. Some required a lamb; others, oxen; others, birds. Leavened bread  was used with some, unleavened with others. Some parts of the animal were burned up, others given to the priests, and others were eaten by laymen. These things differed for each sacrifice. It was an awful lot of detail to master. The Israelite citizen, however, never offered any sacrifices himself. Only the priests were allowed to do the sacrifices, and they did them every day. They soon became familiar with all these details. 
  Compare the details of the complicated sacrificial system with the details of auto repair, and it suddenly becomes clear just how simple the priests's job was. How many different kinds of cars are there? Add on the fact that they change from year to year. Now consider all the different parts and aspects that can go wrong. Next time you take your car in, look at all the volumes of "Chilton" auto repair manuals that your mechanic keeps on hand, and compare their size and detail with the book of Leviticus. If your mechanic can learn to fix cars, and enjoy it, obviously the priests of Israel had no trouble managing the sacrificial system.
  What about the sabbath? Wasn't that a burden? No, it was a time of rest. But weren't they forbidden to cook on the sabbath? No, they kept the sabbath as a feast. But weren't they forbidden recreation on the sabbath? No, the Bible nowhere says this. Well then, what did they do? They went to church to worship God (Leviticus 23:3), and relaxed the rest of the day. The sabbath was not an "impossible burden."
  What about all those cleansing rules in Leviticus 11-15? Well, in the first place, becoming unclean only meant one thing: You were not permitted to go into the forecourt of the Tabernacle and bring a sacrifice. Since most forms of uncleanness only lasted a day or a week, it was no real burden to be unclean. Second, if you were seriously unclean, you could make other people unclean for a few hours (until sundown) if you touched them; but again, that was only a matter of concern if the other person were on his way to offer a sacrifice. At the most, being unclean was an inconvenience. Of course, if you were unclean for months on end, and could not attend festivals, it became a more serious matter.
  The laws of uncleanness were not hard to keep. You were to wash out a pot if a lizard fell into it and died. We would do the same today. You were not supposed to marry your sister, aunt, or child. Few of us would be tempted to. You were not supposed to eat dog-burgers or salted roast roaches. Most of us wouldn't either. That is because these are our customs, and we don't find them burdensome. If we were used to eating dog meat, as some cultures do, then the restriction would be temporarily burdensome until we got used to it. The Jews were not to eat pork either, but that was not hard for them. They were no more tempted to eat pork than we are to eat roaches. 
  So, the Mosaic law was not horribly complicated or impossible to keep. Of course, in the New Covenant we are not under the Mosaic law. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ replaces all the sacrifices of Moses. Christ has cleansed the world once and for all in His Resurrection, and so the laws of uncleanness no longer apply to us. That is, they no longer apply as laws. In terms of their symbolism, they still provide wisdom.1

1.  James B. Jordan, Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World [Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1999], pp. 199-201

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Accusations of Sabbath-Breaking: Matthew 12:1-8 (section D1)

Continuing where we left off in this series of Matthew gospel, we arrive at the central section of this narrative, which is connected by three pericopes: D1 (Matt. 12:1-8), D2 (vv. 9-14), and D3 (vv. 15-21). 

As noted in a previous post, chapters 11 & 12 are compiled as one connected narrative of events, and each pericope within chapters eleven and twelve are connected by Matthew in a way which is not found in the other synoptic gospels (cf. Luke chap. 5-7). Also, this central section at which we have finally arrived focuses heavily upon one theme: the theme of Sabbath-Rest. As we go through this central section in its entirety, it will become more and more apparent that Matthew has "sandwiched" these Sabbath controversies between the surrounding pericopes in order to give his readers the sense that these events transpire around the same general time: the time of the Sabbath; the time of rest for the people of Israel.

Beginning with the first part (D1), we find this brief sketch of events:
  At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, "Behold! Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!" 

  He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the House of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?

  Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the Temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the Temple is here. And if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless ones. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."

In order to appreciate the significance of these accusations by the Pharisees, it's important to ask and answer the question, "Was Jesus allowing his disciples to do something unlawful on the Sabbath?"

It is very clear from the text of God's Law that "work" was not allowed on the Sabbath. The Sabbath was a day of rest for God's covenant people. "Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of Yahweh your God. In it you shall do no work..." (Ex. 20:9-10). Also, as it concerns the actions of Jesus' disciples, God's Law also allows the poor to glean from the edges of certain fields, including grain fields (Lev. 19:9-10; Deut. 23:24-25; 24:19-22). But the problem with which Jesus was confronted concerning both of these aspects of God's Law --Sabbath resting and grain gleaning-- was that the Law did not, per se, clarify whether gleaning was permitted on the Sabbath Day. That is to say, if you look at all of the laws pertaining to the Sabbath Day, there is no clear indication that gleaning heads of grain qualified as the "work" forbidden in the Sabbath Laws. The Law simply does not address those overlapping issues. But the Pharisees did have an interpretation of the Law that addressed those overlapping issues. In fact, according to the pharisaical laws of 1st century Judaism, all forms of "reaping" were forbidden on the Sabbath because "reaping" was considered work. And the action of plucking heads of grain, and then rubbing them together to get the kernels inside, was considered a form of "reaping," and therefore was unlawful to do in their eyes.

But Jesus' response is very telling. Jesus does not spend any time affirming or denying their pharisaical interpretation. Jesus' response assumes it was lawful for his disciples to be gleaning on the Sabbath, which means that Jesus' response is not so much concerned with proving that there are exceptions to God's rules as it is with proving that the Pharisees have misunderstood the Law and its Lawgiver entirely.

Jesus asks them, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the House of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?" This is a reference from 1st Samuel 21:1-6, in which we learn that David did, in fact, eat the bread of the Presence, which was, according to the strict letter of the law, designated for "Aaron and his children" (Lev. 24:5-9). The reason why Aaron and his children could eat "holy food" was because they were ritually consecrated as 'holy' to the Lord for their service in God's House, but laymen were not considered 'holy' (Lev. 22:1-16) unless they became properly consecrated according to the law (e.g. As a nazarite, or for holy war, etc.). Ordinarily, laymen like David were just ceremonially 'clean,' like the rest of ordinary Israelites who avoided defiling themselves with ceremonial uncleanness. But if we look at 1st Sam. 21 carefully, it is obvious that David had been consecrated as 'holy,' similar to the consecration of a priest, and the Priest considered it lawful to give it to him because he was specially consecrated as holy. Notice how obvious this is from the story of 1st Sam. 21:1-6:
Then David came to Nob to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech came to meet David trembling and said to him, “Why are you alone, and no one with you?”  And David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has charged me with a matter and said to me, ‘Let no one know anything of the matter about which I send you, and with which I have charged you.’ I have made an appointment with the young men for such and such a place.  Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever is here.”  And the priest answered David, “I have no common bread on hand, but there is holy bread—if the young men have kept themselves from women.”  And David answered the priest, “Truly women have been kept from us as always when I go on an expedition. The vessels of the young men are holy even when it is an ordinary journey. How much more today will their vessels be holy? So the priest gave him the holy bread, for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence, which is removed from before the Lord, to be replaced by hot bread on the day it is taken away.
Notice carefully that David assures the priest that he and his men have abstained from ceremonial uncleanness and that their vessels are holy too, not merely ceremonially "clean." This infers that David and his men have been consecrated as holy too, because only servants of the Lord who were ceremonially consecrated as holy could partake of holy food (Lev. 22:1-16). Jesus knew the Law taught this. But did the Pharisees make this connection? 

But notice again, and just as carefully, that Jesus responds to the Pharisees with an assertion about it being unlawful for David to eat the holy bread. Well, which one was it? Was it lawful or unlawful for David to eat the holy bread? It is true that the letter of the Law only mentions in passing that Aaron and his children are to eat the bread, but was that law intended to exclude all other servants in God's House who became specially consecrated as holy too? 

In the next verse, we learn a clue about why Jesus said it was unlawful for David to eat the holy bread. In the next verse, Jesus asks another question:
Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the Temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?
Stop and think about this statement for a minute. Is it true that the priests of the Lord profane the Sabbath? According to Leviticus 24:5-9, which is the same place we learn that "Aaron and his children" are to eat the holy bread, we learn that the twelve loaves of bread were exchanged on the Sabbath Day. This means David entered the House of God and ate the holy bread on a Sabbath Day. But when you read 1st Samuel 21, did you conclude that the priest was profaning the Sabbath by working that day? My guess is that you assumed he did not profane the Sabbath that day, or any other Sabbath Day, because God ordered them to exchange the holy bread on the Sabbath Day. Even though God commanded His people to do no "work" on the Sabbath Day, the priests self-consciously affirm their duty to "work" on the Sabbath Day by exchanging the twelves holy loaves of bread every week. 

But which is it? Are the priests profaning the Sabbath or not? Are they "working" on the Sabbath or not? 

It turns out that what Jesus is doing is answering the Pharisees according to their own traditions of interpretation. The Pharisees attack Jesus for allowing his disciples to do what is "unlawful" on the Sabbath, according to their dubious traditions. Jesus responds with two equally dubious illustrations of law-keeping. And by responding in that way, Jesus arrives at the underlying problem with the Pharisees and their accusations of Sabbath-breaking: The Pharisees don't know the true Lawgiver

The Pharisees know that God requires "burnt offerings" and "sacrifices," and so they offered sacrifices according to the letter of the law; whereas the Lord desired loyal love (i.e. mercy), not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6). The Lord wanted them to know Him, rather than merely offer burnt offerings. But their love was like a morning cloud, and like the dew on the ground which goes away quickly once light shines on it (Hosea 6:4). Like Adam in God's Garden, they transgress God's covenant, and they deal faithlessly with God Himself (Hosea 6:7). They are evildoers tracked with blood (Hosea 6:8), banding together and lying in wait to commit villainy against God's people (Hosea 6:9). Their whoredom with Herod's idolatrous temple and their man-made traditions defiles them (Hosea 6:10). They do not know that something greater than Herod's Temple is before them. They do not accept his claim that "The Son of Man is Lord", let alone lord of the Sabbath. Therefore, when the Lord restores the fortunes of his people as promised on the day of Harvest (Hosea 6:11), the Pharisees will reap what they have sown. 

As we progress through Matthew's gospel, we learn that because they refuse to turn away from their man-made idols, and turn to the Lord (Hosea 6:1), they will, instead, seek an alternative course of action. In the very next pericope we learn that the Pharisees conspire to destroy Jesus from that Sabbath Day forward (Matt. 12:14). From that day forward, they will attempt to tear Jesus apart, strike him down, and bind him up (Hosea 6:1). But little do they know that in doing so, He will fulfill what Adam did not. He will fulfill the life which Israel did not. He will be the faithful son of God which both Adam and Israel failed to be. Little do they know that after two days he will revive, and on the third day he will rise up, that his people may live before him (Hosea 6:2).


Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Prayer of a Living Sacrifice: Psalm 119:169-176

There are two translations below. The first comes from an ESV Bible. The second is my own "wooden" translation of the same verses, organized according to its own literary structure (without verse numbers). Following that is my commentary on this portion of Psalm 119.

Psalm 119  (ESV)
169  Let my cry come before you, O Lord;
give me understanding according to your word!
170  Let my plea come before you;
deliver me according to your word.
171  My lips will pour forth praise,
for you teach me your statutes.
172  My tongue will sing of your word,
for all your commandments are right.
173  Let your hand be ready to help me,
for I have chosen your precepts.
174  I long for your salvation, O Lord,
and your law is my delight.
175  Let my soul live and praise you,
and let your rules help me.
176  I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant,
          for I do not forget your commandments.

Psalm 119:169-176
A)  Let my cry draw near before your face, O Yahweh.
B)  According to your commanded-word, give me discernment!
A’)  Let my plea enter before your face.
B’)  According to your spoken-word, rescue me!

C)  My lips will burst forth a song of praise because you instruct me in your written-laws!
C’)  My tongue will shout jubilantly of your spoken-word because all your regulations are just!

D)  Let your hand be to my succor, because I have chosen your directions.
E)  I long for your deliverance, O Yahweh, and your Law is my delight!
D’)  Let my soul revive so that it can praise you, and let your judgments succor me.
E’)  I have wandered like a lost sheep; so search for your servant because I do not forget your commandments

The first line of the first verse (in the ESV) says, "Let my cry come before you," whereas the first line of the second verse says "Let my plea come before you." Clearly those two statements parallel each other. And at first glance, the only noticeable difference between the two is the word cry and the word plea. But the ESV translation is actually misleading. According to the more "wooden" translation above, what King David actually wrote in the first verse (and yes, I do believe King David wrote this Psalm) was "let my cry draw near...". In the second verse, David wrote something different. He wrote, "let my plea enter...". And so, the difference is not merely between crying and pleading (as the ESV suggests), but also between drawing near and entering.

At a second glance, you might be thinking that there still isn't much of a difference between drawing near and entering; but according to the culture in which King David was raised, such distinctions were profoundly important. The word for "drawing near" is קרב (qrb), and has a peculiar importance within the Law of God, particularly because it is frequently used throughout the book of Leviticus. Just to show a small sample of how frequent qrb is, below is another "wooden" translation, only this one shows the first few verses of Leviticus. Notice the frequency of the qrb root: 
Now he called to Moses. Yahweh spoke to him from the Tent-of-Congregation, saying: "Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: 'When anyone among you brings-near (qrb) a near-offering (qrb) for YHWH, from domestic animals, from the herd or from the flock you may bring-near (qrb) your near-offering (qrb). If an ascension-offering is his near-offering (qrb) from the herd, then a male, without blemish, let him bring-it-near (qrb) to the entrance of the Tent-of-Congregation, let him bring-it-near (qrb) as acceptance for him, before the presence of Yahweh.'"

According to God's Law, certain boundaries were set by God for worshiping-laymen such as David. David understood that once he entered the courtyard surrounding the Lord's house (the tabernacle), that would be as far as he could "draw near." If he desired to draw near further, and enter into the Lord's holy presence, he would die. And not by his own choice, of course, but because God's Law taught him so. God's Law taught him how polluted he was because of sin, how holy God was, and how pure one needed to be in order to enter the very presence of God. But the Lord, full of grace and mercy, placed Himself in a covenant with man and allowed an animal without blemish to represent everyone who desired to draw near. In order to draw near, that animal would have to die in his (or her) place and be carried by a priest before the altar. In doing so, that animal-representative would draw near before Yahweh. If David were offering an animal without blemish, that animal would die and draw near before the face of Yahweh in David's place. And so, when King David asked Yahweh for his cry to draw near before His face, David was using sacrificial terminology. David was, in essence, saying, "Let this cry of mine be received as a sacrifice, brought near before you according to your Law."

Similar but distinguishable terminology is also used in the second verse, when David describes the entrance, the בוֹא (b'wa), of his plea. Just as Moses alone entered (b'wa) the cloud of Yahweh at the top of Mount Sinai (Ex. 24:18) and the cloud of Yahweh covering the Tabernacle (Ex. 33:9), so the High Priest only entered (b'wa) the Most Holy Place of Yahweh in the Tabernacle (Lev. 16:17). David's plea, therefore, is distinguishable from his cry. David wants his cry, his wailing, to draw near as a sacrificial offering without blemish, and he wants his plea to actually enter the most holy presence of God. While acknowledging the holy boundaries of access to God, David embraces God as one to whom he can draw near and actually enter before. Through faith, David embraces the gracious character of God revealed in his Law.

But for what does David cry? And for what does David plea?

Again, we find another misleading translation in the ESV. The ESV doesn't distinguish what "word" David trusts in. In the second line of the first two verses, the ESV says "according to your word," with no distinction between either verse. But in Hebrew, the first verse says "according to your commanded-word" (דָבָר  dbr), whereas the second verse says "according to your spoken-word" (אמרה  imrh). The first "word," dbr, is very common. It's most familiar use is with the ten commandments, the ten commanded-words, the ten dbr's. The other word, imrh, refers to that which God has spoken, which is why it's often translated as God's "promise" throughout the Scriptures. Elsewhere in this Psalm, it is translated as "promise" (119:38, 41, 50, 58, 76, 82, 116, 123, 133, 140, 148, 154; ESV). I have only translated it as God's spoken-word to distinguish it from God's commanded-word.

And so, what David cries out to Yahweh for is understanding, or discernment, according to Yahweh's commanded-word.  And what he pleads for is deliverance, or rescuing, according to Yahweh's spoken, or promised, word. Two important principles for Christian living can be deduced from this: First, it teaches us not to presume upon God's deliverance in all circumstances, but to find assurance in those promises which God has spoken. And secondarily, it teaches us David's priorities in prayer. 

Let's look at both of these principles in more detail.

According to the first principle, we learn that David was not pleading for deliverance apart from something God had spoken to him--something God had promised him. Such a promise, in the context of David's life, is obviously that which was spoken in 1st Samuel 16, when God provided for Himself a king among the sons of Jesse, David by name. From that time on, David was the Lord's anointed, not Saul, and Saul treated David's anointing as a threat to his own throne. This means that within the historical setting behind the scenery of Psalm 119:169-176, David is pleading for the Lord to rescue him at a time when David felt his life and throne was in jeopardy. God had anointed him and filled him with His Holy Spirit, yet David was on the run from King Saul who was trying to kill him and keep him from ever ascending the throne of Israel. This time is generally understood to be around the events recorded in I Samuel 23. 

The second principle we learn involves David's priorities. Here we see a pattern of thought in David. If these historical circumstances are true, as I have argued them to be, notice carefully that David does not simply plea for God to rescue him. Nor does David plea for rescuing first. Ordinarily, when a Christian finds himself in extremely stressful and even dangerous circumstances (like David's), the first desire of the heart is for God to get us out of trouble. Ordinarily, we don't want any more stress, which means we don't want the headaches of learning to endure trials. We want out! We want deliverance from our troubles. We don't want to learn what to do next as we endure trials. But that was not David's first priority. David's first priority was to learn discernment according to God's commanded-word. David's first priority was to learn more about what he could do to please God through his trials. David's first priority was to understand what he ought to do (and not do) through in his present trial, as he awaited deliverance. David's other priority--his plea--was for deliverance, and that was a secondary priority because he trusted, by faith, in God's promise; which means he trusted God's faithfulness. He trusted in God's faithful character because he learned God's holy character from His Law. It was God's holy Law which gave him hope and taught him to fear God and His holy boundaries. It was the work of God's Holy Spirit that ennobled his heart to trust and obey faithfully, and maintain such holy priorities, even through such difficult trials. 

David's great confidence in the Lord is made clear in the central section of this Psalm (sections C and C'). David knows the day is coming when his own lips will burst forth with a song of praise. David looks forward to shouting jubilantly before all of Israel about God's spoken-word, i.e. God's promise to him. Yet notice carefully that David's confidence is grounded in God's written laws (section C). David knows that all of God's regulations for living are just (C'), and therefore he has nothing to fear. If God is for him, who would be so foolish as to be against him? Historically we know that King Saul was that foolish.

In sections D and D', David refers to God's "hand" and His "judgments" succoring him. This brings us back to David's first priority--David's cry. David is being hunted by Saul, but David knows that God has spoken to him, promising him the throne of Israel; and David cries for discernment according to God's commanded-word. David cries for such discernment because he doesn't want to displease the Lord and foolishly presume that God's hand would not be against him too, especially if he chose a path of lawlessness and sinful behavior (like Saul did) to get out of his troubles. David understood that God's covenant involves both blessings and curses--blessings of God's hand for faithful obedience and the curses of God's hand for disobedience. And here we learn that David sees God's hand of judgment as a good thing for him. It's a good thing for him because his first priority is to discern God's commanded-word and obey it. Why should David fear God's hand of judgment if he is doing those things which please God? David should have nothing to fear because he had chosen Yahweh's directions and his delight was in Yahweh's Law (sections D and E).

Finally, David closes with these words: "I have wandered like a lost sheep; so search for your servant..."

Many commentators suggest that David is confessing his private, and even ignorant, sins. That is to say, David is pouring out his heart and soul, confessing every possible sin imaginable, even secret sins which caused him to wander away from the faith. This, allegedly, is what he meant by wandering like a lost sheep. But is that really what's being taught here? Is David acknowledging that he has wandered, however slightly, from the faith? Such an interpretation would be odd and unnecessary. It would be odd because David's final words are "search for your servant because I do not forget your commandments." If David was confessing that he had wandered from the faith, however slight, that would seem to conflict with his confidence that he has not forgotten God's commandments. It also would conflict with the many other repeated statements about loving and keeping God's commandments. 

Instead, what I believe David is expressing is his vulnerability. David is describing a familiar scene to shepherds like himself. The scene is of a "lost" or "perishing" sheep in unfamiliar territory--a territory where enemies surround him and where he is not safe. Therefore David cries out, "I have search for your servant." This fits well within the historical setting described above. David is in distress and danger, on the run for his life from king Saul. Nevertheless, David trusts in God's promises concerning his kingdom. David finds comfort in the Lord's anointing. David draws near before the face of God in prayer, and because his pleading actually entered the Most Holy Place, the Lord sought his servant. That God of peace and Great Shepherd of the sheep made him complete in every good work to do his will, working in him what was well-pleasing in his sight. To Him belongs the glory for ever and ever. Amen.