Everyone knows that Psalms are poetry. But aside from the beauty of ancient poetry, knowing the meaning of the individual words in Hebrew is paramount to the understanding the original meaning of these beautiful poems. Many people do not realize how much is hidden behind these simple words.

דֶּרֶךְ־אֱמוּנָה בָחָרְתִּי מִשְׁפָּטֶיךָ שִׁוִּיתִי׃

“I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
I have set my heart on your laws.” (Psalm 119:30 NIV).

The Psalmist speaks of wanting to walk a דֶּרֶךְ־אֱמוּנָה (derech emunah) – the “way of faithfulness”. The Hebrew word דֶּרֶךְ (derech) literally means a “road”, “path,” or “way.” The writer actually wants to walk in God’s paths in a very practical manner. He places God’s ordinances before himself so that he can be mindful of them – so that they are right in front of him at all times. A simple meaning of the Hebrew אֱמוּנָה (emunah) is “firmness”,  “stability/reliability”. A very well-known word אָמֵן (amen) – “Amen!” originates from this noun. What was heard is confirmed to be firm, stable and reliable.

The word מִשְׁפָּט (mishpat) means a “judgment”, “decree,” or “ruling.” The original term implies an idea of “judicial ruling on a specific case” or “an assessment of a concrete situation.” The common English translation of מִשְׁפָּט (mishpat) as “law” does not fully express this idea. The writer says, “your judgments I placed/set,” but there is no word for “heart” in the Hebrew text (this is so because Biblical Hebrew does not require it!). However, the form of the verb שִׁוִּיתִי (shivity) communicates the intensity of action, so it can indeed be translated as “setting before” or “setting on one’s heart.” The insertion of the English word, “heart,” is interpretive but fully appropriate.

God’s ways are indeed stable, firm and true. It makes sense that one who desires righteousness would “choose” to walk such a path. Fixing our minds on how God ruled in certain situations enables us to live according to the intent and spirit of God’s laws.

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15 COMMENTS

  1. Yes, I can see why so many people think there are so many contradictory passages in the English Bible after understanding it through Hebrew.
    Thank You

  2. “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his names sake” psalm 32
    Psalm 119: 32 has it “I will run the way of they commandments, when thou shall enlarge my heart” KJV would heart there be ‘make more stable and firm” ?With good intent in keeping the instructions.

    • All translations are just that. I frequently use Artscroll and Koren Tanakh, even JPS is fine. But all of them have their nuances. Nither is perfect.

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  3. Its really interesting to study on your line, but due to inability to raise the needed money to do a full course, I’m really lacking and left behind. I have found your materials to be helpful because what I learnt from my Theology School at St.Andrews Seminary are almost similar.

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