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  • Rev. Dale Cohen

The Nature of Obedience



“Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord! Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with the whole heart!” (Psalm 119:1-2, NRSV)


Psalm 119 is the longest book in the Bible, with 176 verses divided into 22 sections. Each section represents one of the 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. In this acrostic poem, each section has eight lines, and all eight lines begin with the same letter. For instance, the first section is the aleph section, and each line starts by using the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet—the aleph. The next eight verses comprise the beth section, and each line begins with the letter beth. The fact that this Psalm contains all 22 letters could be symbolic of the completeness of the instruction the Psalmist offers. Indeed, we could refer to the 119th Psalm as the ABC’s of faithfully following God.


The first verse and its reference to blessedness and walking remind me of Psalm 1:


Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly…” (Psalm 1:1a, NRSV)


The references throughout Psalm 119 to law, decrees, statutes, commandments, ordinances, word, precepts, and promise is reminiscent of the love of God’s law as described in Psalm 19:


“The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul…” (Psalm 19:7a, NRSV)


Therefore, it’s fitting that the chapter numbers of Psalm 1 and Psalm 19, when placed together, form 119. Of course, that is probably coincidence because the Psalms, in their current format, are the result of human interaction and construction. That is not to say that God couldn’t have prompted those humans who were responsible for laying out the Psalms to lay them out this way. But it does raise an interesting question about both biblical interpretation and the notion of free will.


Regarding biblical interpretation, to what degree did God write, direct, compile, and order the words that we have before us today as scripture? We know that humans played a role in writing and putting together the Bible, but to what extent was God’s hand at work? There’s not enough space in this context to fully answer these questions but, suffice it to say that what we consciously or unconsciously believe the answers to be, determines our response to what we refer to as God’s word.


Regarding free will, how much does God intervene in our lives? To what level does God “make” people do things against their will? Again, this article does not lend itself to adequately even begin to deal with the multitude of ways we could answer this question. However, what we consciously or unconsciously believe the answers to be, determines the degree to which we’re willing to take responsibility for our lives.

This Sunday, I’ll be preaching on this Psalm and exploring the nature of obedience. I hope to see you here!

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