The Zealous Humility of Psalm 119, Tsadhe

Does this letter of the Hebrew alphabet look a bit like a kneeling person with upraised arms? In my mind, that reflects the meaning of Tsadhe (or Tzade).

Normally I visualize a kneeling person as bent over with clasped hands and a lowered head. A bowed posture indicates submitting in humility. But the righteous person represented in this eighteenth section of Psalm 119 is zealous as well as humble and submissive. And the hands raised in praise convey that zeal.

After praising God’s righteousness and faithfulness through his word, the psalmist speaks of his consuming zeal:

Righteous are you, O LORD,
   and right are your rules.
You have appointed your testimonies in righteousness
   and in all faithfulness.
My zeal consumes me,
   because my foes forget your words (137-139, ESV).

The psalmist’s consuming zeal is because his foes forget God’s word. This reference ties in with the previous section’s ending, in which the psalmist shed “streams of tears” because people do not keep God’s law.

The concept of consuming zeal sounds like a bad thing to our culture-adapted ears. We are supposed to be well-rounded individuals who do all things in moderation and maintain balance in life.

But obviously being consumed with zeal for God and his word is a good thing, particularly when this all-encompassing zeal is our response to our foes’ failures to remember God’s word.

If we remember God’s word, we know that God never forgets his promises. He is faithful and always fulfills his word.

Your promise is well tried,
   and your servant loves it (140, ESV).

Our only proper response to seeing God’s word continually fulfilled is wholehearted love.

Although I tend to think of a zealous person as being arrogant and self-righteous, this zealous psalmist humbles himself before God.

I am small and despised,
   yet I do not forget your precepts.
Your righteousness is righteous forever,
   and your law is true (141-142, ESV).

We may feel small and despised, but we can cling to God’s promises knowing that his word endures forever. And his every word is true.

God’s word delights even the believer bowed down in trouble and anguish.

Trouble and anguish have found me out,
   but your commandments are my delight.
Your testimonies are righteous forever;
    give me understanding that I may live (143-144, ESV).

Do you try to hide from trouble and anguish, but they inexorably find you like a heat-seeking missile? Even when you bow down from their blasts, you can lift your hands in zealous delight for God’s word. God’s word remains eternally righteous when people act deceptively wicked.

May God give us all understanding that we may live in zealous humility!


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