Posted on: January 25th, 2024 Freedom & the Law of the LORD (Ps 139)

For the last several years I have had a growing love and appreciation for Psalm 139, a psalm dedicated to the extolment of God’s law. If I had to articulate one reason for this growing attraction, I’d say that it (the Psalm) compels me to admit that aligning my will, my imagination, my life with the “things of God” is the path to true fulfillment, to the satisfaction of my desires.

Over the last couple of mornings, as I’ve meditated on Psalm 139, the longest Psalm in the Old Testament (I pray the Psalms according to the 30-day cycle in the Book of Common Prayer), I’ve noticed a deep connection between God’s law (do keep in mind that the Hebrew noun for law is torah, תורה) on the one hand and freedom on the other.

Now, the BCP Psalter does not use the word “freedom”; it uses the term “liberty.”

Two verse in particular:

  • Ps 119:32—”I will run the way of your commandments / for you have set my heart at liberty.”
  • Ps 119:45—”I will walk at liberty / because I study your commandments.”

Now, freedom or liberty are what you might call “abstract concepts.” They are not “physical things”; they are not characterized or constituted by matter or materiality, and the thing about the ancient Hebrew is (as thinkers such as Owen Barfield and Mark Vernon have been convincing/reminding me) that it is not very abstract. So when I went to my Bible software (and its built-in lexicons) to look at the Hebrew noun (and cognate forms) for this word that gets translated “liberty,” I was both surprised and not surprised to find that it means “wide” or “broad” (as the two pics below indicate).

In other words, following God’s law infuses our lives with liberality (which is the older and better, more original meaning of the word “liberal”). It makes us free. It enlarges our hearts and minds. It makes us great-souled (megapsychikos).

Is there much (or at least something) that is “lost in translation” between the Hebrew, and the English used in the BCP? No doubt that there is. But is a happy loss, a happy (if messy) (mis)translation.

For liberality, freedom, liberty, is nothing if it is not wide, broad, and spacious.

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