Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts. I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey your word. I have not departed from your laws [judgments], for you yourself have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Psalm 119.97-103.
Viewed from a position of grace on this side of Calvary, “the law” is something that Christians can easily find themselves regarding as something bad because they know that legalism is bad; but it is not so. Even Paul, who is easily seen as the great opponent of the law, says “So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good” (Romans 7.12). The law might be thought to be bad only because it exposes my sinfulness and inability to be what God wants me to be.
As this morning’s text (and the whole of the psalm from which it is taken) demonstrates, the law was the greatest source of joy for Israel; but what is “the law”? It is torah, and while torah may be used as a mere name for the first five books of the Bible (or even the whole of the Old Testament, though that is more properly called “the law, the prophets and the writings”), it means, on the lips of the psalmist, the God-given revelation of himself to his people in the written word. And as we see in these verses it can take the form of a mitzvah — a commandment (as in “bar mitzvah”, a son of the law); an eduth — a statute; a piqqud — a precept; a dabar — a word; and a mishpat — a judgment.
The law was the covenant document of Israel given to them as the people of the covenant God; and, particular during the exile when it was no longer possible to go to the temple, the study and practice of torah became the focal point of Jewish life and worship. Meditation on it was a “spiritual sacrifice”; and it was even taught by the rabbis that: “Where two or three gather together to study torah, the shekinah rests upon them” (mAboth 3.2). Shekinah was, of course, the presence of God himself as he had filled the tabernacle in the wilderness (Exodus 40.34) and had later filled the temple (1 Kings 8.10-11).
For Christians, of course, God has become fully present in Jesus — which is why Jesus turns that rabbinical saying into; “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18.20). It is also why Jesus can say: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5.17). Jesus embodies torah. God’s self-revelation has now been given to us in the Living Word, not just in a written word.
So it strikes me this morning that certainly no less than the psalmist should I rejoice in all that God has revealed of himself to me. The words of the Old Testament were “sweeter than honey” to the psalmist’s mouth … and by the time of Jesus, Jewish children were taught to memorise the scriptures by tracing the letters with a stick on a slate smeared with honey so that they made that “sweet” connection. So how much more precious to me should be this fuller revelation of himself that I have in Jesus and the writings of the whole Bible as they are brought to life for me by the Spirit?
Thank you, Father, for all that you have revealed of yourself in your written word and you Living Word. Keep me alive to both by your Spirit, this day and every day. Amen.