Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119.105.
“Word” here is dabar. It denotes something that is spoken without in any way defining how it spoken. So although the “word” the Psalmist speaks of will certainly include (and primarily be) the written word of God as contained in the Scriptures, it cannot be limited to that. As Job once said: “For God does speak—now one way, now another— though man may not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men as they slumber in their beds, he may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings, to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword” (Job 33.14-18). Dreams, visions, prophecies, sermons, books, films, blogs … the ways in which God’s “word” may come to us are many and varied; but when his word does come to us, it comes to us a lamp and a light.
It is a light to my path. A nathiyb is something trodden, and the Psalmist is saying here that when the word of God comes to me it shines upon and illuminates the trodden track that lies ahead of me. “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left” (Isaiah 30.21). But who trod this way and made it for me so that I can walk in it, if I am walking in it for the first time? The answer lies in God’s dealings with the Children of Israel as they left Egypt: “And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night” (Exodus 13.21); “the LORD your God … went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go” (Deuteronomy 1.32-33). The Lord himself has trodden my path for me. He knows every twist and turn of it, every easy patch and every difficult bit. He knows where it is smooth, where it is steep, and where it is perilous. He knows for he is the Way (John 14.6) … the path for me that his word reveals to me.
But the word of God is not just a light to my path, it is a lamp to my feet. In other words, when God’s word comes to me, in whatever way it comes to me, it will (if I let it) show me where I am standing or walking in relation to the way. For my feet will not necessarily always be in the way that the Lord Jesus has gone before and trodden for me. I may, like Christian in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, have strayed into By-path Meadow, because the going there seems easier and the path there seems to be headed in more or less the right direction. Or I may have deliberately gone off in some other direction entirely. Peter speaks of those who “forsaking the right way … have gone astray” (2 Peter 2.15). Whatever the situation, the word of God is there to show me the truth of it and to get me back in “the way that leads to life” (Matthew 7.14).
Although the Psalmist doesn’t actually say so, he takes it as read of course that my path is being walked in a surrounding darkness and that light is actually needed if I am to see not only where to go but where I presently am. The world around me may seem bright and sunny, but the spiritual reality is something different and, in his second letter, Peter spells this out: “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1.19). “Dark” there is auchmeros — a rare word in the New Testament and one that means not just “dark” but “squalid” and “dirty” as well. It is a description of the murk I must live through as a Christian, holding high like a lantern the word of God that comes to me, until the Second Coming of Jesus when the Light of the World himself will shine out in all his glory, flooding my heart with brightness, and showing me at last my journey’s end — the end that he, my Way, has known from the beginning and is, even now, as he speaks to me, leading me in.