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God’s Commandments in Psalm 119

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Sunday, October 1, 2017

Psa 119- 4-5 precepts, script

God’s Commandments in Psalm 119

I appreciate Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words so much. His commentary on the beginnings of Psalm 119 hit home to me. We are considering verse 4:

You laid down Your commandments,

that we should fully keep them.

I was particularly intrigued by his description of “the Hebrew word for ‘commandments’ in this verse. It is a word that cannot be translated by a single word of ours.” [1] I am fascinated by these types of words that cannot be translated, word-for-word. Instead, translators are forced to find approximate definitions and translations.

I appreciate the candor of some translators and commentators when they honestly state their difficulties in translation and interpretation. And, sometimes, a word in one language takes a phrase or even a sentence to define it in another language. (Again, I think this is fascinating!) The word translated as “commandments” is one such word, “that cannot be translated by a single word of ours. It derives from the verb for seeking, visiting, paying attention to. Hence, the commandments are what God looks at, pays attention to, and the means by which He seeks and visits the human being.” [2] (The NIV translation is “precepts,” which conveys much similar ideas.)

Bonhoeffer considered God’s commandment to be a permanent thing, in fact, a continual thing. As Bonhoeffer mentions, God’s commands are not just for an instant, or for a short period of time. No, they are for a good long time. What’s more, God “laid them down.” God established the commandments as one lays a cornerstone for a building.

What a marvelous image! God meant the commandments to be permanent, laid as a foundation or cornerstone. Thank You, God, for giving us the gracious gift of Your Scriptures—Your commandments.



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[1] Meditating on the Word, Dietrich Bonhöffer, edited by David McI. Gracie. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley Publications, 2000, 106.

[2] Ibid.