Saturday, June 27, 2009

Commentary on the Wisdom Psalms

Delight in the LAW?! (by John Alexander)
In our study of Psalm 1 last Sunday we looked at the phrase, “but his delight is on the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night (Ps. 1:2).” I commented that there are various ways of understanding how the term “law” in the Psalms may apply to 21st century Christians.

For the Israelites, law could refer specifically to the legal code given by God through Moses, which is summarized by the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20, Deut. 5). But law can also be understood more broadly in reference to the first five books of the Bible (or Pentateuch). This understanding of law is broader than the actual law code given by God through Moses on Mount Sinai – the Pentateuch also includes the accounts of creation and fall, the extended history of the patriarchs of Israel, the exodus from Egypt and the desert wandering.

In this latter sense, “the word law is used to refer to the whole of God’s inscripturated revelation (Boice, Psalms Vol. 1, 16).” For the Psalmist, the “whole of God’s inscripturated revelation” at that point was the Pentateuch. Of course, God has given more revelation to his people since that time. He has revealed himself most clearly and completely in Jesus Christ, of whom we’re told, “he is the exact imprint of (God’s) nature (Heb 1:3)”, and Jesus himself said, “whoever has seen me has seen the Father (John 14:9).”

Psalm 1 doesn’t sing only about a law code, but about the entire Bible. Therefore, in our application of Psalm 1:2, we need to think of the “law” as our entire Bible, cover to cover. Meditate on it night and day. Walk with it, stand with it, sit with it.

That said, there are various times in the wisdom Psalms (several of them are listed on this blog) where the Psalmist does praise God for his legal codes, that is, his RULES.

For instance, in Psalm 19 David sings, “the rules of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold; sweeter also than honey…(19:9-10).” Have you ever thought of rules as sweet? In general, I think of God’s mercy and grace as sweet, but not his rules. Here is what C.S. Lewis says on this passage:
“One can well understand this being said of God’s mercies, God’s visitations, His attributes. But what the poet is actually talking about is God’s law, His commands; His ‘rulings’…this was at first to me very mysterious. ‘Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not commit adultery’—I can understand that a man can, and must, respect these ‘statutes,’ and try to obey them, and assent to them in his heart. But it is very hard to find how they could be, so to speak, delicious, how they exhilarate (Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, 54-55).”

Eventually, Lewis does come to a conclusion about what is going on here: “The order of the Divine mind, embodied in the Divine Law, is beautiful…this is the language of a man ravished by a moral beauty.”

I’ll let others reflect on this…

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