1 Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the Lord.
2 Blessed are those who keep his statutes
and seek him with all their heart.
If you are like me, then as much as we might appreciate that the laws of our nation are there for a good reason (most anyway), we probably wouldn’t express this appreciation the same way the psalmist in Psalm 119 does concerning God’s law, as revealed in my last Post, e.g., I love your commands more than gold, more than pure gold. (v. 127)
For some years I misunderstood this Psalm and so avoided reading it, thinking that it was just tedious and repetitive. How wrong I was! I also had trouble with the number of different words for “law” which the psalmist used. Words such as statutes, testimonies, precepts, ordinances, commands, decrees, word, promise and ways. Rather than confusing the issue, Kidner suggests that these “synonyms belong together [and] … contribute … to our total understanding of what Scripture is.” (# 29) [see Kidner (Psalms 73-150) pages 417-419 for further explanation].
I also lacked understanding of the purpose of the law (torah). I guess, maybe partly because of the controversy it appeared to produce in the life of Jesus as he faced opposition from the Pharisees. This was until I read a book some years ago which was very helpful. Today, I will quote from this book and hopefully summarize the key points and trust it will be helpful for you as well. The book is called “Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament – Rediscovering the roots of our faith.” by Chris Wright (# 46), and the section I will quote from is on pages 191-222 titled “Jesus and the Law”.
Wright reminds us firstly that it is important to know the context of when God gave the Law and that is, “it comes in the context of a story. Before we face the ten commandments in Exodus 20 we have had a book and a half of narrative… a story of God’s relationship with his people… a story of constant blessing, protection, promise and fulfilment, reaching its climax in the great act of liberation – the exodus. It is the story, in other words, of God’s grace in action. Before God gave Israel his law he gave them himself, as their redeemer… He saved them and then asked them to keep his law in response… So the law, then, was given to Israel in the context of a relationship that had already been established by God. It was never established as a means of achieving salvation, but rather as guidance for living in a way that pleased the God who had saved them.”
Speaking concerning this Psalm, Wright says that “There is much in the life and teaching of Jesus which reflects the ethos of Psalm 119 – a Psalm which rejoices in the law, but rejoices more in the richness of relationship with God himself which is then expressed through diligent obedience… He delights in the law because it enables him to please the God he loves.”
Wright then explains what he calls the “Motivation for Obedience” to the law and suggests they are
- “Gratitude for what God has done” – “In the light of all that God had done for his people, how should they respond? Sheer gratitude should trigger obedience out of a desire to please the God of such faithfulness and salvation… This motive of gratitude… surfaces most often… when the law is dealing with how Israelites were to treat vulnerable people in their society – the poor, the stranger, the debtor, the slave. These were the very conditions from which God had rescued Israel, so their behaviour should, in gratitude, be correspondingly generous.” See for example Exodus 22:21, 23:9, Leviticus 19:33-36, 25:38, 25:42.
- Imitation of what God is like – “The law was meant to enable Israel to be like Yahweh their God. His character and behaviour were to be their moral target. A favourite expression in the Hebrew Bible for how one ought to live is ‘walking in the way of the Lord’ – that is, God’s way, as distinct from the ways of other gods, or of other nations (2 Kings 17:15), or one’s own way (Isaiah 53:6), or the way of sinners (Psalm 1:1)… [This is summed up in the words] You shall be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy. (Leviticus 19:2) … [note] the kind of holiness [that] God has in mind, the kind that reflects his own, is thoroughly practical.” [see Leviticus 19:9, 13, 14, 32, 15, 16b, 23,33, 35 as well as Deut. 24:19, 24:14,27:18, 16:18-20, 22:8, 20:19, 24:17, 25:13]
- Being different – “The word ‘holy’… means, essentially, ‘different.’ It speaks of something or someone being distinctive, set apart and separate. It is the fundamental description of God himself precisely because he is different – utterly ‘other’ than anything or anyone in the created world… For Israel then, being the people of Yahweh meant being different too. [see Leviticus 18:3, 20:26] … Israel [though] was not to regard themselves as better than the nations out of self-righteous pride… Rather, by reflecting the character of their God, they were to be a light to the nations – a light witnessing to the moral values of God himself… [this being] seen through their practical obedience to God’s law. [see Deut. 4:5-8]”
- For our own good – “God, as the creator of human beings, knows best what kind of social patterns will contribute to human well-being. His laws were not meant to be negatively restricting [the Pharisee’s error], but to provide the conditions in which life can be most truly humane and beneficial. Obedience therefore brings blessing, not as a reward, but as a natural result… an illuminating exercise, is to apply the question ‘Who benefits?’ to the range of social legislation in the Torah… The answer so often will be found to be that the law is benefiting the weaker, poorer, defenceless categories of people in Israel’s community: the debtor, the slave, the homeless widow or orphan, the landless worker, prisoners of war, women and children, refugees… The law was a gift of grace… one of the great privileges God had entrusted to Israel – for their own good and then for the blessing of the rest of humanity.” (# 46)
No wonder the psalmist often expressed in different ways that the law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold. (v. 72) May God help us to appreciate and live according to his Word today. Amen.