Lectionary Year A
July 14, 2002
Psalm 119:105-112

Step IV: Context

A. Primitive Christianity

(JFC) The prologue to John's Gospel capitalizes on the concept of God's Word. In the New Testament, it becomes a reflection on the person of Jesus Christ who personifies God's Word, teaches it, preaches it and practices it. Much of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount seems to be based on some of the Ten Commandments, which this Psalm would term of supreme importance. Jesus also utilizes the images of light and lamps to refer to God's ways and will, see Matthew 5:14-16, John 8:12 and 12:35. Paul uses these similes, too, similarly, in Romans 2:19. Also, these figures arise in II Corinthians 4:6, Ephesians 5:8 and I John 1:7. Paul also frequently writes, re: the Law, e.g., Romans 2:13, 4:15, 5:20, 7:8 and especially 7:22, where Paul "delights in the Law of God". I Timothy 1:8 knows "that the Law is good" and James 1:25 and 2:8 add import to God's Law. What is more, Hannukah, also called 'renewal' (John 10:22) or 'lights' (Josephus, Antiq. 12, 235).

B. The Old Testament and Judaism

(JFC) God's commandments begin in the earliest chapters of the Old Testament, like when God commands the created order to be formed. Divine decrees are recorded in chapter after chapter throughout the Old Testament. God's Law is mentioned frequently from Exodus 20, the Ten Commandments. Stories of God's light/lamp(s) guiding humans' journeying come in Exodus 10:23, 13:21 and II Samuel 22:29, Job 22:28 and Psalm 112:4. Many an Old Testament person and nation knew afflictions, precarious offenses and insecurities from which they pled for God's relieving them, such as the enslaved people in Egypt, whose cries for help God heard and responded to by delivering them. God's promises get many mentions in the Old Testament, as well, e.g., Exodus 3:17 and II Samuel 22:31. Furthermore, in II Baruch 17:4, we read of Moses' "bringing the Law of God to the descendants of Jacob and he lighted a lamp to the generation of Israel," signifying these images are still common ways of referring to God's guiding people at least through the earliest decades of the second century CE. And, what about Hannukah, here? It celebrated the Maccabaean rededication of the temple and it was commemorated by the lighting of lamps"?

C. Hellenistic World

(JFC) These scholars would appreciate the style of this part of this Psalm, since it repeats for emphasis' sake the main points being made. The subject matter would appeal to them, too, as it is about performing up to a standard, God's standard, at that. The metaphoric concept of enlightenment speaks their language as well. The differences between affliction and life addresses some dualities if not dichotomies, at least tangentially it does. Moreover, the idea of "joy in my heart" would get their attention, also. They could happily discuss these and other topics this part of this Psalm declares.

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