Word Study: Fat As Grease


Psalms 119:70: “Their heart is as fat as grease; but I delight in thy law.”
“A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”
― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
I was listening to a talk show where a former CIA agent and Navy Seal who had served in the White House under both a Republican and Democratic administration were being interviewed. When asked what they found most distasteful about the people they served under in the White House, the elite of the elite, they both responded that they could not believe the arrogance among these elite people and how childish they were in their back stabbing and attempts to be more important than the other.
Webster defines arrogance as an offensive display of superiority or self importance and overbearing pride. David was a king, right up there on top of the political ladder. He knew all about the arrogance and pride that was displayed in seats of power. In fact in the verse prior to Psalms 119:70 he says: Psalms 119:69: “The arrogant have forged a lie against me; With all my heart I will observe Your precepts.” It is the arrogant that David says in verse 70 that have a heart as fat as grease.
C.S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity says that all men are afflicted with this disease known as pride. We all struggle with it. This phrase fat as grease is obviously an idiom as well as a literal rendering of the word chalav. Some pronounce it as kalav which is really incorrect and causes confusion with the word spelled with a Kap rather than a Cheth. However, David was making a poetic play on words. Kalav is the Hebrew word for dog. A dog in David’s time was not a domesticated animal and were scavengers and filthy creatures. If they were domesticated they were trained to hunt down slaves or be attack dogs. Thus these arrogant people have hearts like dirty filthy scavengers or attack dogs seeking only to please themselves and do harm to others.
This word chalav and its idiomatic intent has a curious origin. The phrase fat as grease or chalav has its origins in the fat protecting your intestines. The thought in ancient times is that the fatter you were the more protection you had for your inward parts including your heart. However, obesity was recognized as the result of laziness and self indulgence. Most men in those days served in the army and as warfare involved much hand to hand combat, someone who was obese had little value in the army. Someone who was obese was much slower and had little endurance and was not fit for combat to protect his home or nation. They were jokingly declared to have no need for a shield in combat because their fat would protect their heart. This is likely the description David gave to someone who was arrogant. An arrogant person has a heart surrounded by worthless fat that makes him worthless to protect anyone, even himself.
There is also an esoteric picture with the word chalav. This is the word heart lev with a Cheth in front of it. The Cheth in its shadow meaning carries the idea of rudeness and pride. Thus an arrogant person has a heart filled with rudeness and pride. Pride flows from the heart.
David apparently in all the splendor, honor and praise as a king seems to have escaped this entrapment of arrogance. He gives his reason in verse 70, he delights in the law. Come on, who really delights in the law? Driving back from the Northwoods I would have like to travel at 80 or 90 mph to get home quicker, oh but that law on speed limits and I have to obey it or pay a big fine if I get caught. Then again someone could have stolen my car and left me stranded in the Northwoods, but I was confident in the law as being a deterrent. So there I delighted in the law.
However, when David talks about the law he is talking about Torah which we translate into English as law. That is a sad rendering because generally we have such a negative attitude toward law. To us it is something we obey out of fear of the consequences. Actually Torah has many possible renderings, most of which have a positive spin, like instruction, guidance and an expression of love.
I attended my nephew’s wedding yesterday and my kid brother, who is a Wycliffe missionary and thus ordained, performed the service. As my nephew and his bride held hands and looked into each others eyes my brother laid down the law. You will forsake all others, you will love, honor and cherish until death do you part etc. Wow, there are a lot of laws that my nephew had to agree to follow yet, he just smiled from ear to ear as he agreed to abide by everyone of those laws. He had absolutely no intention at that moment to violate even one of those laws, in fact he was happy and excited to obey these laws, moreover, he even delighted in these laws.
The word delight in the Hebrew here is sha’a’ which means to be smeared all over and to be blinded. My nephew wanted to be smeared all over and blinded to anything that would go contrary to the laws he was agreeing to as a husband. All he saw was the woman he loved and he was sha’a’ blind to any other woman but her.
People look at the law of God and think, “Hoo boy, I really need to buckle down and make sure I obey these laws. It is going to be hard and a real sacrifice, but by golly I will follow them.” Then when they do they are like the Pharisees, “Hey, look at me, I follow the laws perfectly, ain’t I special.” Once again we are back to pride and arrogance.
David did not follow laws any more than my nephew is following the laws in his marriage. To him each law was a delightful and joyous opportunity to express to his bride: “I love you. I will forsake all other women because I love only you and I am delighted to forsake all other women.” So it is with God, Torah is a guide and an instruction manual on how to show God that you love Him and to follow each law is an opportunity to say: “God I love you so much, how can I show you. Hey, your Torah says to keep the Sabbath day holy. Well, then I will delightfully and joyfully make each Sabbath as holy as possible as an expression of my love for you.”