81 My soul longs for your salvation;
I hope in your word.
82 My eyes long for your promise;
I ask, “When will you comfort me?”
83 For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke,
yet I have not forgotten your statutes.
84 How long must your servant endure?
When will you judge those who persecute me?
85 The insolent have dug pitfalls for me;
they do not live according to your law.
86 All your commandments are sure;
they persecute me with falsehood; help me!
87 They have almost made an end of me on earth,
but I have not forsaken your precepts.
88 In your steadfast love give me life,
that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth.
In 1997 Sylvia Stayton was handcuffed and arrested in Cincinnati. A grandmother of 10 and 63 years old at the time, she was impenitent. Her crime was feeding coins into parking meters she noticed were about to expire, thereby preventing a traffic enforcement officer from writing a ticket. That police officer warned her that she was breaking an obscure city code, but she ignored him and fed coins into several more cars. Finally, he arrested her. A jury found her not guilty of disorderly conduct, but she admitted to doing what she did and there was a city ordinance against it. The judge fined her $750 and she spent 90 days in jail. Her case made national news, much to the chagrin of Cincinnati’s government.
The psalmist in this section of Psalm 119 was being persecuted for doing what God commanded and for following the statutes of God. His condition seems to have been much worse than Mrs. Stayton’s plight. The insolent dig pitfalls to entrap him, they persecute him with falsehoods, they have almost made and end to him upon the earth. He longs for deliverance and the rescue of his life. But he will not budge from his commitment to God’s Torah.
Sylvia stuck to her convictions, as idiosyncratic as they might have been. She went to jail and paid her fine but was unwilling to stop feeding meters. I believe the city fathers of Cincinnati squirmed under the national attention which her case drew and quietly changed that statute on the books. I don’t know that she was ever arrested again. The people of God are called upon to heed our Lord, pay attention to His statutes, no matter the cost. Many Christians have spent their life blood rather than bend to the demands of authorities who wanted them to deny their allegiance to Christ. Of course, one of those statutes of our Lord is that we should be obedient to civil authorities, even when their rules don’t make sense. It is only when we must renounce our faith that we can claim God’s sanction for an act of civil disobedience. Sorry Sylvia, God is not probably going to back you up on your guerilla tactics to keep cash out of the city traffic court coffers, no matter how righteous you felt when you did it. Why was the psalmist being persecuted? We don’t know. He doesn’t tell us.