Liberty and freedom are terms and concepts that inform the idea of the United States. But as has happened with other words, it is possible that popular usage does not reflect the original meaning. And so we come to Psalm 119:45.
As I look at this verse, I marvel again at the efficiency of the Hebrew language. The version I am using today expresses the verse with fourteen words, while the Hebrew uses only five. The first clause in Hebrew has two words, and so does the second, but it is introduced by a connecting word.
Our verse is Psalm 119:45. I am using Young’s Literal Translation, because it is excellent and in this case follows the Hebrew word order exactly. It is: “And I walk habitually in a broad place, For Thy precepts I have sought.”
You may know that Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible, and it is constructed on an acrostic with each verse in a group of eight beginning with that sequential letter of the alphabet. In this group of eight each verse begins with the letter that we can express in English as “vav” or “waw.” There, now you know some Hebrew!
Our translation has “a broad place” where many others have “liberty” or “freedom.” The Hebrew word means “broad place.” And that is a way to express the idea of liberty. In itself there are no limits to it, but in context there are.
The verse begins with “And,” so we rightly wonder to what it connects. In an attempt to over-simplify, it connects to the writer’s commitment to God’s revelation to us; we could loosely paraphrase that as his commitment to the Bible. In that connection he walks in a broad or spacious place and is not confined.
In our translation again, “I walk habitually” is one Hebrew word, but Young translated it that way because of its Hebrew stem. It is what is called hithpael and suggests a picture of the writer walking back and forth in all the movements of life all the while enjoying this broad place.
In the second part of the verse the Hebrew places the direct object first; we would normally place it after the verb unless we wish to emphasize it, and so he put it into the place of emphasis. He wanted the “precepts” to be right next to the “broad place.” And they are God’s precepts. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says that this word ‘precepts‘ is “a general term for the responsibilities that God places on his people.” So he explained his walking in a spacious place as determined by the fact that he seeks to fulfill responsibilities God had placed on him.
Surely this opposes the thought we often have when we express the ideas of liberty or freedom. Popular today is an autonomous orientation. No law can direct me. I will do as I please, and you should not incarcerate me for it. But this is not the psalmist’s thought.
We can observe the created world and learn. A fish loses freedom when taken from his watery environment. Have him trade places with a bird, and they both lose their freedom.
Even the world of physics. A motorcycle whose gyroscopic inertia is overtaken by gravity to either the right or the left will go down; if it behaves beyond certain parameters, the results will be disastrous.
And so it is with us. You can start with the first chapter of the Bible, and you will discover that we were created for certain purposes. When you welcome God’s creative plan for you as recorded in the Bible, you will experience living in the spacious place right now. When you go beyond that, the results are at least unpleasant. And there are eternal consequences.
You should read Psalm 119, especially verses 41-48. It’s obvious that the writer had a love for God’s word. He did not find God’s word to be confining, he found it to be freeing. In John 8 Jesus spoke about freedom, and people like to quote part of what He said. He said, ‘If ye may remain in my word, truly my disciples ye are, and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ His context for knowing the truth and as a consequence being free began with abiding in His word.
So, are you free? Do you enjoy liberty? Are you living in a spacious place? Jesus can provide that for you now and forever.