The author of the contemporary-language Bible translation The Message, Eugene Peterson, passed away recently on 22 October 2018. He was an author, poet, scholar and in later years a Pastor, living in Montana. I am thankful for a life dedicated to the Word of God and the pursuit of leading people to salvation and to God’s love in a real and honest way. May you rest in peace Pastor Eugene Peterson.
Below an interesting short film that documents the friendship between Bono (of the band U2) and Eugene Peterson revolving around their common interest in the Psalms. Even though his translation of the Bible is controversial and not welcomed by everyone, I for one like to read the Word of God and compare from different translations, in order to widen my understanding and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to me the truth of that moment. When I read the below translation of Psalm 119 I was in complete agreement with the words towards God, and the journey the writer is describing in this Psalm. But more study of Psalm 119 (the longest chapter in the Bible) is required, as it was originally written in a unique poetic form known as an acrostic. (A few other psalms are written in this manner as well, but Psalm 119 is the best example.) In an acrostic, the first verse begins with a word starting with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, Aleph. The second verse then begins with a word starting with the second letter, Beth. This pattern continues until the alphabet is used up. This pattern is only seen in the Hebrew text. In any other language, it would be difficult—even impossible—to retain both the poetic form of the psalm and the complete accuracy of its translation.*
Let’s ask God to open up our understanding and pursue the right combination of knowledge and revelation from the Holy Spirit to understand what God wants us to hear from Him in this specific moment when reading Psalm 119.
You’re blessed when you stay on course, walking steadily on the road revealed by God.
You’re blessed when you follow his directions,
doing your best to find him.
That’s right—you don’t go off on your own;
you walk straight along the road he set.
You, God, prescribed the right way to live;
now you expect us to live it.
Oh, that my steps might be steady,
keeping to the course you set;
Then I’d never have any regrets
in comparing my life with your counsel.
I thank you for speaking straight from your heart;
I learn the pattern of your righteous ways.
I’m going to do what you tell me to do;
don’t ever walk off and leave me.
9-16How can a young person live a clean life?
By carefully reading the map of your Word.
I’m single-minded in pursuit of you;
don’t let me miss the road signs you’ve posted.
I’ve banked your promises in the vault of my heart
so I won’t sin myself bankrupt.
Be blessed, God;
train me in your ways of wise living.
I’ll transfer to my lips
all the counsel that comes from your mouth;
I delight far more in what you tell me about living
than in gathering a pile of riches.
I ponder every morsel of wisdom from you,
I attentively watch how you’ve done it.
I relish everything you’ve told me of life,
I won’t forget a word of it.
17-24Be generous with me and I’ll live a full life;
not for a minute will I take my eyes off your road.
Open my eyes so I can see
what you show me of your miracle-wonders.
I’m a stranger in these parts;
give me clear directions.
My soul is starved and hungry, ravenous!—
insatiable for your nourishing commands.
And those who think they know so much,
ignoring everything you tell them—let them have it!
Don’t let them mock and humiliate me;
I’ve been careful to do just what you said.
While bad neighbors maliciously gossip about me,
I’m absorbed in pondering your wise counsel.
Yes, your sayings on life are what give me delight;
I listen to them as to good neighbors!
25-32I’m feeling terrible—I couldn’t feel worse!
Get me on my feet again. You promised, remember?
When I told my story, you responded;
train me well in your deep wisdom.
Help me understand these things inside and out
so I can ponder your miracle-wonders.
My sad life’s dilapidated, a falling-down barn;
build me up again by your Word.
Barricade the road that goes Nowhere;
grace me with your clear revelation.
I choose the true road to Somewhere,
I post your road signs at every curve and corner.
I grasp and cling to whatever you tell me;
God, don’t let me down!
I’ll run the course you lay out for me
if you’ll just show me how.
33-40God, teach me lessons for living
so I can stay the course.
Give me insight so I can do what you tell me—
my whole life one long, obedient response.
Guide me down the road of your commandments;
I love traveling this freeway!
Give me a bent for your words of wisdom,
and not for piling up loot.
Divert my eyes from toys and trinkets,
invigorate me on the pilgrim way.
Affirm your promises to me—
promises made to all who fear you.
Deflect the harsh words of my critics—
but what you say is always so good.
See how hungry I am for your counsel;
preserve my life through your righteous ways!
41-48Let your love, God, shape my life
with salvation, exactly as you promised;
Then I’ll be able to stand up to mockery
because I trusted your Word.
Don’t ever deprive me of truth, not ever—
your commandments are what I depend on.
Oh, I’ll guard with my life what you’ve revealed to me,
guard it now, guard it ever;
And I’ll stride freely through wide open spaces
as I look for your truth and your wisdom;
Then I’ll tell the world what I find,
speak out boldly in public, unembarrassed.
I cherish your commandments—oh, how I love them!—
relishing every fragment of your counsel.
49-56Remember what you said to me, your servant—
I hang on to these words for dear life!
These words hold me up in bad times;
yes, your promises rejuvenate me.
The insolent ridicule me without mercy,
but I don’t budge from your revelation.
I watch for your ancient landmark words,
and know I’m on the right track.
But when I see the wicked ignore your directions,
I’m beside myself with anger.
I set your instructions to music
and sing them as I walk this pilgrim way.
I meditate on your name all night, God,
treasuring your revelation, O God.
Still, I walk through a rain of derision
because I live by your Word and counsel.
57-64Because you have satisfied me, God, I promise
to do everything you say.
I beg you from the bottom of my heart: smile,
be gracious to me just as you promised.
When I took a long, careful look at your ways,
I got my feet back on the trail you blazed.
I was up at once, didn’t drag my feet,
was quick to follow your orders.
The wicked hemmed me in—there was no way out—
but not for a minute did I forget your plan for me.
I get up in the middle of the night to thank you;
your decisions are so right, so true—I can’t wait till morning!
I’m a friend and companion of all who fear you,
of those committed to living by your rules.
Your love, God, fills the earth!
Train me to live by your counsel.
65-72Be good to your servant, God;
be as good as your Word.
Train me in good common sense;
I’m thoroughly committed to living your way.
Before I learned to answer you, I wandered all over the place,
but now I’m in step with your Word.
You are good, and the source of good;
train me in your goodness.
The godless spread lies about me,
but I focus my attention on what you are saying;
They’re bland as a bucket of lard,
while I dance to the tune of your revelation.
My troubles turned out all for the best—
they forced me to learn from your textbook.
Truth from your mouth means more to me
than striking it rich in a gold mine.
73-80With your very own hands you formed me;
now breathe your wisdom over me so I can understand you.
When they see me waiting, expecting your Word,
those who fear you will take heart and be glad.
I can see now, God, that your decisions are right;
your testing has taught me what’s true and right.
Oh, love me—and right now!—hold me tight!
just the way you promised.
Now comfort me so I can live, really live;
your revelation is the tune I dance to.
Let the fast-talking tricksters be exposed as frauds;
they tried to sell me a bill of goods,
but I kept my mind fixed on your counsel.
Let those who fear you turn to me
for evidence of your wise guidance.
And let me live whole and holy, soul and body,
so I can always walk with my head held high.
81-88I’m homesick—longing for your salvation;
I’m waiting for your word of hope.
My eyes grow heavy watching for some sign of your promise;
how long must I wait for your comfort?
There’s smoke in my eyes—they burn and water,
but I keep a steady gaze on the instructions you post.
How long do I have to put up with all this?
How long till you haul my tormentors into court?
The arrogant godless try to throw me off track,
ignorant as they are of God and his ways.
Everything you command is a sure thing,
but they harass me with lies. Help!
They’ve pushed and pushed—they never let up—
but I haven’t relaxed my grip on your counsel.
In your great love revive me
so I can alertly obey your every word.
89-96What you say goes, God,
and stays, as permanent as the heavens.
Your truth never goes out of fashion;
it’s as up-to-date as the earth when the sun comes up.
Your Word and truth are dependable as ever;
that’s what you ordered—you set the earth going.
If your revelation hadn’t delighted me so,
I would have given up when the hard times came.
But I’ll never forget the advice you gave me;
you saved my life with those wise words.
Save me! I’m all yours.
I look high and low for your words of wisdom.
The wicked lie in ambush to destroy me,
but I’m only concerned with your plans for me.
I see the limits to everything human,
but the horizons can’t contain your commands!
97-104Oh, how I love all you’ve revealed;
I reverently ponder it all the day long.
Your commands give me an edge on my enemies;
they never become obsolete.
I’ve even become smarter than my teachers
since I’ve pondered and absorbed your counsel.
I’ve become wiser than the wise old sages
simply by doing what you tell me.
I watch my step, avoiding the ditches and ruts of evil
so I can spend all my time keeping your Word.
I never make detours from the route you laid out;
you gave me such good directions.
Your words are so choice, so tasty;
I prefer them to the best home cooking.
With your instruction, I understand life;
that’s why I hate false propaganda.
105-112By your words I can see where I’m going;
they throw a beam of light on my dark path.
I’ve committed myself and I’ll never turn back
from living by your righteous order.
Everything’s falling apart on me, God;
put me together again with your Word.
Festoon me with your finest sayings, God;
teach me your holy rules.
My life is as close as my own hands,
but I don’t forget what you have revealed.
The wicked do their best to throw me off track,
but I don’t swerve an inch from your course.
I inherited your book on living; it’s mine forever—
what a gift! And how happy it makes me!
I concentrate on doing exactly what you say—
I always have and always will.
113-120I hate the two-faced,
but I love your clear-cut revelation.
You’re my place of quiet retreat;
I wait for your Word to renew me.
Get out of my life, evildoers,
so I can keep my God’s commands.
Take my side as you promised; I’ll live then for sure.
Don’t disappoint all my grand hopes.
Stick with me and I’ll be all right;
I’ll give total allegiance to your definitions of life.
Expose all who drift away from your sayings;
their casual idolatry is lethal.
You reject earth’s wicked as so much rubbish;
therefore I lovingly embrace everything you say.
I shiver in awe before you;
your decisions leave me speechless with reverence.
121-128I stood up for justice and the right;
don’t leave me to the mercy of my oppressors.
Take the side of your servant, good God;
don’t let the godless take advantage of me.
I can’t keep my eyes open any longer, waiting for you
to keep your promise to set everything right.
Let your love dictate how you deal with me;
teach me from your textbook on life.
I’m your servant—help me understand what that means,
the inner meaning of your instructions.
It’s time to act, God;
they’ve made a shambles of your revelation!
Yea-Saying God, I love what you command,
I love it better than gold and gemstones;
Yea-Saying God, I honor everything you tell me,
I despise every deceitful detour.
129-136Every word you give me is a miracle word—
how could I help but obey?
Break open your words, let the light shine out,
let ordinary people see the meaning.
Mouth open and panting,
I wanted your commands more than anything.
Turn my way, look kindly on me,
as you always do to those who personally love you.
Steady my steps with your Word of promise
so nothing malign gets the better of me.
Rescue me from the grip of bad men and women
so I can live life your way.
Smile on me, your servant;
teach me the right way to live.
I cry rivers of tears
because nobody’s living by your book!
137-144You are right and you do right, God;
your decisions are right on target.
You rightly instruct us in how to live
ever faithful to you.
My rivals nearly did me in,
they persistently ignored your commandments.
Your promise has been tested through and through,
and I, your servant, love it dearly.
I’m too young to be important,
but I don’t forget what you tell me.
Your righteousness is eternally right,
your revelation is the only truth.
Even though troubles came down on me hard,
your commands always gave me delight.
The way you tell me to live is always right;
help me understand it so I can live to the fullest.
145-152I call out at the top of my lungs,
“God! Answer! I’ll do whatever you say.”
I called to you, “Save me
so I can carry out all your instructions.”
I was up before sunrise,
crying for help, hoping for a word from you.
I stayed awake all night,
prayerfully pondering your promise.
In your love, listen to me;
in your justice, God, keep me alive.
As those out to get me come closer and closer,
they go farther and farther from the truth you reveal;
But you’re the closest of all to me, God,
and all your judgments true.
I’ve known all along from the evidence of your words
that you meant them to last forever.
153-160Take a good look at my trouble, and help me—
I haven’t forgotten your revelation.
Take my side and get me out of this;
give me back my life, just as you promised.
“Salvation” is only gibberish to the wicked
because they’ve never looked it up in your dictionary.
Your mercies, God, run into the billions;
following your guidelines, revive me.
My antagonists are too many to count,
but I don’t swerve from the directions you gave.
I took one look at the quitters and was filled with loathing;
they walked away from your promises so casually!
Take note of how I love what you tell me;
out of your life of love, prolong my life.
Psalm 119 (The Message)