65You have dealt well with your servant, O LORD, according to your word.
66Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments.
67Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep [obey] your word.
68You are good, and do good; teach me your statutes.
69The insolent smear me with lies, but with my whole heart I keep your precepts;
70their heart is unfeeling like fat, but I delight in your law.
71It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.
72The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces. (Ps 119 ESV)
With the primary foundation of faith in God laid down, the psalmist attends to the current need. He is being slandered.
Going by the closest Hebrew meaning, the psalmist in v69 says in effect: “Rebellious ones have stuck on me falsehoods.” (Zedim = from the Hebrew primitive root zuhd/zud/zid – “to boil up; to seethe”; in various applications, specifically in the Psalms and in Jeremiah—presumptuous, wicked, oppositional, arrogant, insolent, prideful, godless, rebellious ones. Taphal = to smear, plaster over, stick, glue. Sheqer = deception, disappointment, falsehood).
Brown-Driver-Briggs elaborates on the verb taphal: “insolent men have plastered falsehood over me, ‘making his real character unrecognisable‘”. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance includes this: “figuratively, to impute falsely — forge(-r), sew up”.
The English word for this is to ‘slander’, which means to make false and damaging statements about (someone). It comes from the Latin scandalum (’cause of offense’), the Greek root (going back further) is skandalon, ‘snare, stumbling block’. We recognize these as the root of another word: ‘scandal’.
Truth has stumbled and it has fallen upon the psalmist in a way that he feels “smeared”, “plastered over,” his own character unrecognisable to himself and most likely to others as well.
Has this ever happened to you? Then you may identify with this psalmist.
But it is not just himself that he feels has been wronged. “Good” has been upended and been called bad, and “bad” has been upended and called good. Truth is called a lie and a lie is called a truth. There is chaos happening here that is greater than mere personal offense.
The Personality of the Slanderer
The psalmist goes on to describe the one from whom this slander comes. What is this slanderer like?
Their hearts (zedim is plural) are “fat as grease”. Now, this is an epithet that requires a bit of understanding in our time. Again, going back to the Hebrew as best as a layperson may do, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance defines fat (taphash, “to be gross”) as meaning “apparently, to be thick; figuratively, to be stupid—to be fat”.
The psalmist is not casting aspersions on the slanderer’s actual physical appearance. In the Bible, the “fat” was the ‘extra’ in relation to the meat. It meant “profit” or that which is above and beyond. In fact, to the Assyrian, according to Brown-Driver-Briggs, to be gross meant to “be abundant, large”. The application in verse 69 carries the negative idea of self-indulgent condition of the heart, primarily.
The Israelites were commanded not to eat of the fat of the sacrifices, that “the fat belongs to the LORD” (Leviticus 3:16). In the same sense as the offering of the tithe (the top 10% of the fruit of one’s labors), the fat is sacred and set apart to be offered to the Lord as a sweet aroma of sacrifice. The same is commanded of the blood of the sacrifice (Leviticus 17:1-16). Matthew Henry puts it this way:
God would not permit the blood that made atonement to be used as a common thing, Heb 10:29; nor will he allow us, though we have the comfort of the atonement made, to claim for ourselves any share in the honour of making it. This taught the Jews to observe distinction between common and sacred things; it kept them separate from idolaters. It would impress them more deeply with the belief of some important mystery in the shedding of the blood and the burning the fat of their solemn sacrifices.Matthew Henry, on Leviticus 3:6-17, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary, BibleHub.com
Also, in Psalm 119:69, the slanderer is likened to greasy fat in a general, physical sense. It is a metaphor: whereas the animals’ flesh contained the sensory nerves, the fat does not. The fat (and the slanderer’s heart) is void of sensation.
This shows a contrast that is helpful. What would have been a beautiful picture of offering the best to the Lord, given and received in mutual joy, the slanderer has sullied. Rather, he and anything he offers is insensate, ‘thick’ and wasted (and received as such). The slanderer has, somewhere along the way, lost that capacity to truly feel—significantly toward others, but also within himself.
Let’s stop for a minute and think of this: Have you met such a person? Have you been such a person at any time? (It’s okay to answer “yes” to both questions; that means you are a live human!)
The Personality of the Slandered
You and I and the psalmist are real flesh and blood (and fat, but I digress). That means that we will identify more with being persecuted than we will with this psalmist’s response to it. Why is that?
That is because the psalm is God’s script for us. True, the psalmist was real and Christ Himself lived out the truth of this psalm in every way as the Perfect Slandered One. But you and I realize that we are far less than the ideal. None of us can attribute perfectly the reactions the psalmist records but the Perfect One who lived it out to the Cross and the Empty Tomb.
Being God’s script, however, we are taught by it just how the slandered one should and can respond. That is the point. Picking it apart, here are a few of my own observations.
In verses 67, 69 and 70, quite literally we see that our psalmist reiterates a force of will to obey God nonetheless. What kinds of ‘commands’ are being obeyed? Well, we can think of a few things God says not to do, even when slandered:
- Do not murder (read: hate your neighbor)
- Do not steal (taking another’s reputation and honor is stealing)
- Do not retaliate against evil (this goes for reverse verbal slander as well as hateful actions)
- Do not use God’s name or character meaninglessly or blasphemously to carry your case
- Do not make any emotion, idea or thing into a false idol to stand in God’s place
- These are just a few that easily come to mind—we get the picture.
God also commands us how to repond in the positive.
- Do forgive (i.e., drop the heated replay of angry grudges and blame or blameshifting)
- Do bless (this means “desire and enact only good from God for them” as possible to do)
- Do trust God to be your defense and judge
- Do speak well in every way (i.e., use questions, be honest, find the good, avoid ‘hot’ words)
- Do act in kindness (i.e., act prayerfully, not with a heart to harm; listen deeply)
- Do be patient in well-doing; wait for God to act on your behalf and theirs.
The psalmist isn’t wallowing here. He is active; he is obeying. It is something you can do, not for results (that would be manipulation) but for love’s sake alone.
In fact, one important observation is central: He prayed to God about it.
I think sometimes that is one of the most overlooked things we can do. And sometimes, we have to do it again and again and again and. . . aren’t we all familiar with the pattern? The psalmist dropped to his knees (I’m envisioning it here; it surely seems to me this would be an appropriate response given the words of Teth) and laid it all out before God.
Maybe I envision it this way because it is repeated and described so many other places in scripture where God’s key people were so put upon and made destitute that they cast their all in body and soul upon the Lord in prayer.
I see him down low, possibly kneeling with his face in his hands; or with his face and hands upturned toward the heavens in calm, passionate conversation with his only Hope.
I just want to stop long enough in the reading of this psalm to really feel where the psalmist was in his distress. The distress was deep, it was real, it was painful almost beyond words; and yet it was directed and intentional and reasoned. He is passionate, but not undisciplined. He is full of all the normal feelings, yet he is not swerved in his faith.
He is resting not only in the Lord’s goodness, but in his own past intentions toward God. The psalmist knows he has not been what he should, but he knows that God sees the heart. He trusts that he still owns a place in God’s care. That is everything.
The Results of the Slander
This “fire” of affliction has resulted in good. God is good. All that God does, allows and says is good. All that God intends and enacts ends in good for those who love Him and keep His commands.
We can’t do anything about what people think, say or do, but we can do something about what we think, say and do. We can lay our trust in a good God and know that, in time, God will bring about good. We have to be part of that, but God will lead us in His time and in His manner at each moment.
And not just half-heartedly, but with one’s WHOLE heart. Adversity distills the frills out of our life so that all that remains is what is true and real and truly good. Where we were once divided in our interests, we are now laser-focused on discovering God and obeying Him.
The psalmist says that it was good for him that he has suffered “affliction” (L. afflictare, to be “knocked down; weakened” “harrassed”, L. afflictare), because affliction in general shows us who we really are as humans. To quote a hymn again, “prone to wander, Lord I feel it; prone to leave the One I love”, we are all “prone to wander” away from the Lord. I am flawed and yet He is all love toward His flawed creation. That is good. That is central.
The psalmist closes (v72) with a glorious statement about the high value of God’s Word: God’s Word is better, and does better for me, than all the gifts this world has to offer.
Gold and silver are universal symbols for the most sustainably precious things available. And not only are these available to our psalmist, they are available in “thousands”. Key to understanding this is that in Hebrew, ‘thousands’ generally means, figuratively, ‘unending or uncountable’—as in “my cup runneth over”. Indeed.
In conclusion: It’s all about Jesus and His love
We have walked through these eight verses of Teth a bit more slowly than we would in a mere casual reading. We have envisioned, defined, imagined, self-identified, and more.
But beyond our own identification of the psalmist’s life experience or even Israel’s or the Church’s, it is crucial to be reminded again that Christ lived the truth of this psalm. He was the Slandered One and yet He kept God’s precepts to the full measure.
Of course, you and I can say that “before I was afflicted, I went astray”, but Christ was sinless. You and I are slandered often with a tinge of something of our humanness at rock bottom; but Christ, though he was fully human as well as fully God, never earned his slander—not even a tinge.
Christ delighted in God’s law. He thought so highly of it that he obeyed God’s commands even to the point of dying for you and me, to release us from the bondage of our sin so we could live again in victorious blessing with Him. That was why the Father sent Him to us; that is why Jesus condescended to come as our Emmanuel, “God with us”. That—is true love.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.1 Corinthians 13:4-8a NIV
That is a picture of Christ, not me (and not you). But Christ is for me, and He is for you, too. If you see yourself as failed in this description of love like I do, take heart. Paul, the writer of the letter to the Corinthians, did too. We are invited to join him in his confession:
“For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.
“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; THEN . . . we we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; THEN . . . I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Cor. 13:9-12 NIV, emphasis added).
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV
 Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, Unabridged, Electronic Database. Available at BibleHub.com.
 Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. Available at BibleHub.com.
 “Come Thou, Fount of Every Blessing”, words by Robert Robinson, 1758, Public Domain. Listen to Chris Rice perform this beautiful hymn (lyrics provided on video) on YouTube (3:45min), uploaded by DrawMeInLord, April 14, 2012.
© May 18, 2022, ReadPsalm119.com