This verse describes the defense against sin that is provided by the word of God. By remembering the word of God and “treasuring” it in one’s heart, one is protected from sin. The consciousness of God’s word provides a corrective at a moment of weakness that could otherwise lead to sin.
Concealed and Protected
The Hebrew word here for “I treasure” is tzafanti. The verb root is Tz,F,N. This verb appears 32 times in the Bible. What does this word mean?
In other translations, the word tzafanti in our verse is translated as “store.” However, it does not mean “store” in the sense of collecting or gathering something. For example, this is not the verb used when describing the storing of grain or other possessions.
Based on the way this verb is used throughout the Bible we see that it has two related connotations:
- Something being concealed or hidden from view.
- Something being protected.
In other words, the meaning of this verb is not about storage, per se. Rather, it refers to hiding or protecting something. It is also important to note that this word is written in the past tense. A more accurate translation would be, “I stored Your word”, rather than “I store”.
Primary meaning: Hidden
The first use of this verb is in Exodus 2, just after the birth of Moses. Moses’ mother hid him so that he would not be drowned due to the decree of Pharaoh to kill all Israelite baby boys:
וַתַּהַר הָאִשָּׁה וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן וַתֵּרֶא אֹתוֹ כִּי־טוֹב הוּא וַתִּצְפְּנֵהוּ שְׁלֹשָׁה יְרָחִים׃
va-Y’-khal e-lo-HEEM ba-YOM ha-sh’-vee-EE m’-la-KH’-to a-SHER a-SA va-yish-BOT ba-YOM ha-sh’-vee-EE mi-KOL m’-la-KH’-to a-SHER a-SA
The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw how beautiful he was, she hid him for three months.
Similarly, when Joshua sent two spies to scout out Jericho before conquering it, they were concealed in a hiding place by Rahab so they would not be discovered:
וַתִּקַּח הָאִשָּׁה אֶת־שְׁנֵי הָאֲנָשִׁים וַתִּצְפְּנוֹ וַתֹּאמֶר כֵּן בָּאוּ אֵלַי הָאֲנָשִׁים וְלֹא יָדַעְתִּי מֵאַיִן הֵמָּה׃
va-ti-KAKH ha-i-SHA et-sh’-NAY ha-a-na-SHEEM va-titz-PE-no va-to-MER: KEIN ba-U e-LAI ha-a-na-SHEEM v’-lo ya-DA-ti may-EIN he-MAH
The woman, however, had taken the two men and hidden them. “It is true,” she said, “the men did come to me, but I didn’t know where they were from.
In both these instances, the goal is to conceal and protect from harm.
In some verses where this verb is used, the connotation is only of concealment, not protection. For example:
To sum up, the word used in our verse for “store” implies something that is concealed from view. Often this word is used in the Bible to describe something or someone that is being protected. This makes sense, as concealing something from view is a common and effective way of protecting it.
In light of this precise understanding of the word tzafanti in our verse, it seems that this choice of word is puzzling. Does “In my heart I store Your word” mean that the word of God is concealed, hidden from view? That it is protected? What exactly is this verse teaching us?
God’s Word Becomes Second Nature
I would like to suggest that there is a powerful psychological lesson in this verse. The psalmist is not describing someone who remembers the word of God and therefore makes a conscious decision to hold back from sinning in a particular situation. In fact, this verse does not refer to consciously remembering anything. Rather, it describes a person who is so committed to the word of God that his awareness of God’s word is subconscious. It is concealed.
When ideas are repeated regularly and drilled into us, they become what we call “second nature.” The dictionary defines “second nature” as “an acquired, deeply ingrained habit or skill” (Merriam-Webster). When we react instinctively as a result of trained values and habits, rather than our natural base instincts, we have acquired a “second nature.” We are not consciously aware of the decision to behave the way we do because it has become instinct. In effect, the ideas or values that lead to this behavior are hidden from view. We are unaware of them at that moment. They are concealed.
I mentioned that the verb tzafanti is written in the past tense. The psalmist is saying, “The work of educating and conditioning myself to the word of God was already done. This conditioning prepared me for the challenge of facing the enticements of sin.”
To sum up: In my heart I have stored Your word – I have conditioned myself through education and reinforcing the values that I have learned from Your word so that they have become hidden; they are second nature to me. My instincts have been transformed by Your word. This subconscious, second-nature awareness of Your word protects me from sin.
Regular study and reinforcement of the word of God transform our second-nature instincts. In this way, we align ourselves subconsciously with God’s will and His values. This is the greatest protection from sin.
This article was taken from Rabbi Pesach Wolicki’s new book, Verses for Zion. Verses for Zion offers a profound exploration of devotional Bible teachings, intricately woven around the land, people, and God of Israel. Each page is a journey through history and faith, illuminating biblical narratives with insightful interpretations and spiritual wisdom. Click here to order your copy of Verses for Zion now.