Psalm 119:33-40

Each verse starts with the Hebrew letter he.

The psalmist asked YHWH to teach him the “way of [his] statutes,” indicating that he wanted to understand the commands aright. This would enable him to follow the way these statutes directed him to conduct himself. His doing so “to the end” may mean doing so completely. Translations have variously rendered the Hebrew expression to mean “to the utmost” (Tanakh), “with care” (NAB), “at every step” (Margolis), and “at all times” (GNT, Second Edition). In the Revised English Bible, the Hebrew expression is interpretively translated to refer to the objective. “In keeping them [the statutes] I shall find my reward.” According to the Septuagint, he would “always” (diá pantós) seek after the way of God’s statutes.

To be able to keep the law, the psalmist wanted YHWH to grant him understanding, which would prevent him from making missteps out of ignorance. With his “heart” or deep inner self being fully involved in observing the law, he would be doing his very best in living up to it.

The psalmist asked YHWH to lead him in the “path of [his] commandments,” indicating that he desired help to conduct himself in the way these commandments outlined. This kind of aid would keep him on the right course and prevent him from straying. He found delight in pursuing this path. According to the Septuagint, the psalmist “wanted” it.

For God to incline the psalmist’s heart to his “testimonies” and not to “gain” (“greediness” or “covetousness,” LXX) would signify that the Most High would help him to have the inner motivation to heed his solemn charges and to avoid giving in to any desire for unjust profit.

The psalmist asked YHWH to turn his eyes away from looking at valueless things (“vanity” or “emptiness,” Masoretic Text), preventing him from developing a desire for anything that would prove to be worthless or divinely disapproved. He asked to be given life in God’s ways. This could mean that, for him, living signified faithful adherence to divinely approved paths. “Let me find life by walking with you.” (CEV) Another possibility is that he desired to live so as to be able to continue conducting himself uprightly.

In the second half of verse 37, one of the Dead Sea scrolls has a different reading. It represents the psalmist as petitioning God to grant him favor according to his word or promise. “Be gracious to me according to your word.” (The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible) There is also other Hebrew manuscript evidence for the reading “in your word,” and a number of modern translation have rendered the text accordingly. “By your word give me life.” (NJB) “Grant me life by your word.” (REB) “Preserve my life according to your word.” (NIV) Another Dead Sea scroll, however, says “in your way” (as do certain other Hebrew manuscripts and the extant Septuagint text), with the plural “ways” appearing in still other Hebrew manuscripts.

As his servant, the psalmist petitioned YHWH to establish or confirm his word or promise, delivering him from his distress. There is a measure of obscurity about how the words relating to fear apply. Translations vary in their renderings. “Fulfill your promise to your servant, so that you may be feared.” (NIV) “Do for me what you promised to those who worship you.” (CEV) “Fulfill your promise for your servant, the promise made to those who fear you.” (REB) “Keep your promise to your servant so that all may hold you in awe.” (NJB) Erfülle deinem Knecht dein Wort, dass ich dich fürchte. (Fulfill your word to your servant that I may fear you.) (1984 revision of Luther’s translation)

His enemies reproached him, and the psalmist dreaded or anticipated with great anxiety his continuing to be the object of their taunting. The ridicule and the prospect of its continuance would have greatly pained him. A contributory factor would have been the realization that the reproach also misrepresented his God. The psalmist would have been known as being devoted to YHWH and yet he found himself suffering distress, with no apparent evidence of divine help. Whereas those who reproached him had no regard for divine judgments or ordinances, he acknowledged them as good and determined to follow them. This marked difference in attitude would have prompted reproach. He would have been ridiculed for not getting any benefit from following God’s law.

The psalmist had a longing for God’s precepts or commands. This yearning stemmed from his wanting to conduct himself uprightly. He asked that YHWH, in his righteousness or in expression of his just dealings, would quicken him. For the psalmist to be freed from his afflicted state and to be preserved alive or to be revived (infused with new life) would have revealed God’s righteousness or justice. It would have demonstrated that the Most High does repay his servants for remaining loyal to him.