Psalm 119:17 is both a little request and a world of insight. “Do good to your servant, and I will live; I will obey your word.” That first verb, “Do good,” brings one element of the verb gml to the surface: it can mean “to deal kindly” or even to “deal bountifully.” What seems to be a little request — “God, do good to me” — covers up a world of intention.
The psalmist asks God, after the psalmist realizes that he has spent time learning Torah, to be good to him so he can spend plenty of days “keeping the word (dbr).” Like the student who has spent years of studying to get degrees, like the apprentice who has spent hours toiling under a master, like a minor league baseball player who has spent the dog days of summer grinding out his game, like parents who have spent decades nurturing children — and who each want to see the reward of their efforts — like teaching for decades, or working wood on one’s own, or playing in the big leagues, or seeing kids come of age with wisdom and righteousness.
That’s the longing of the psalmist: he has dedicated himself to the Torah and got it down, and he now simply asks God to have a long life of praxis.
That request, by the way, is a serious one: this psalmist is being hunted down. We’ll get to that next week.