This longest psalm in the Bible does go on for a while.
Having a stanza—another turn around the mulberry bush—for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet means twenty-two stanzas, from alef to tav, or aleph to tau, or however you want to spell them. Not twenty-three, because when they teach you to say the Hebrew alphabet, near the end you say “sin, shin, tav” but in Hebrew writing, before someone got this idea (maybe because of some ongoing fallout from that whole Shibboleth flap) of marking the difference between sin and shin with little dots, those two letters were just one letter. So twenty-two, not twenty-three.
Here’s a little secret. My Hebrew isn’t that great. I can’t just sit and read the Hebrew Bible the way I can mostly just sit and read the Greek New Testament. I wish I could, and I’ll keep working on it as long as my eyes and my brain hold out, but I still need Zev Clementson’s fabulous little IOS Hebrew Bible app to show me the Hebrew next to an English version and let me tap on a Hebrew word now and then—ok, maybe several times per verse—to refresh my memory of a definition or a parsing. I don’t always have time for that. I have not been reading Psalm 119 in Hebrew over these last several days. I’m not just accommodating you by posting pictures of my English Bible. That’s what I’m reading.
And when I read Psalm 119, my brain does stupid little things with the names of the letters spelled out in roman letters at the head of each stanza. The fifth stanza always grabs me because “He” strikes me as “Hey!” And “Waw” strikes me as “Wow!” “Yodh” reminds me that in praying the psalms I am letting myself be formed by a master (“Yoda,” you know). “Mem” tells me I should reMEMber. And if I try to do the whole psalm at once, by the time I get to “Pe” I have to take a short break and come back. (This psalm is long, and I’m 61 and trying to stay hydrated.)
I shouldn’t tell you all this because it makes me look dumb. But then there’s this stanza, which might make me look smart: because when I see “Nun” I think of the Greek word ΝΥΝ, which means “now.” Or nerdy/weird, because I also think, this is the fourteenth stanza, which is two times seven, and you know what seven is.
So the Nun stanza. The Now! stanza.
“Your word is a lamp to my feet.” Not to my head or my heart, so that my cognition should always be brilliant and my volition flawless and my affection perfectly pure, but to my feet, so that when I take the next step I will still be on the path. Well, as you already know if you have read my ramble regarding Hey!, I do believe this psalm wants to form and align my volition-affection-cognition: for the “I” that I am, what I want to do and what I love and what I know are being interwoven, line by line, day by day, closer and tighter, with the knowing, willing, loving, and doing of the deeper, original “I” in this Psalm, which is the Israel of God, and God’s Anointed One. But here in the Now! the first thing, the immediate thing, is: Next Step Stays on Path.
106: I am serious about this! “I have sworn an oath and confirmed it.”
107: This far in, this far down the path, and I am still “severely afflicted.” OK, so that doesn’t stop. Right. Deep breath.
108: So I keep offering praise, and keep praying to learn.
109: It’s dicey, slippery, dangerous! But remember torah, torah, torah—God’s instruction.
110: The bastards are still out to get me! But that won’t throw me off.
111: There’s something they can’t take away from me.
112: I may learn the torah—the large pattern of instruction may become internalized, fully integrated through all my willing, loving, knowing, and doing—but always, to the end of the path, it will nevertheless be step by step, statute by statute.
Which is OK, because there is always light for that next step.