Law, Testimony, Precepts, Oh my


The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;” (Psalm 19:7–8, ESV)

Why should I desire to study God’s Word? Should it feel like a burden? What benefit does it have on my life? Can I reach a place like that of Psalm 1 where the man who is blessed is the one who delights in the law of the Lord and on it he meditates day and night? Why do so many struggle with Bible Study?

Is it possible we just don’t see the benefit? Maybe we need to reflect more on the benefits that God has spoken to us about His word through His servants. So today I am starting a series of writings on various Psalms and passages in Scripture that reflect on the benefits of God’s Word in our lives.

The second half of Psalm 19 (ESV) begins with “The Law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul”. I really love to examine scripture with a variety of versions, the Holmen Christian Standard Bible translates the verse this way…

The instruction of the Lord is perfect, renewing one’s life.” (Psalm 19:7a, HCSB)

Why did these translators choose to word it this way? The English word Law in this passage is really to me a poor translation choice since in our cultures today Law has a very negative feel to it. I really prefer the translation as instruction, since it actually captures more closely the meaning of the word Torah.

When Psalm 19 was penned, God had instructed His people that the responsibility of educating our children was the responsibility of the family. What little ancient evidence we have suggests this was done by the practice of repetition and a firm foundation of discipline. If we were to reflect back to Psalm 1, there, the idea of meditation is one of mumbling the Word of God to one’s self over and over quietly, but out loud. This is actually a very effective tool and can be done just about anywhere.

As we reflect and consume God’s word, and act on the instruction that God has given us, Psalm 19 then says that it has the effect of “reviving the soul”, or “renewing one’s life”. The underlying Hebrew word here is mesibat (transliteration) and has a root in the word sub. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says this about sub…

The Bible is rich in idioms describing man’s responsibility in the process of repentance. Such phrases would include the following: “incline your heart unto the Lord your God” (Josh 24:23): “circumcise yourselves to the Lord” (Jer 4:4); “wash your heart from wickedness” (Jer 4:14); “break up your fallow ground” (Hos 10:12) and so forth. All these expressions of man’s penitential activity, however, are subsumed and summarized by this one verb šûb. For better than any other verb it combines in itself the two requisites of repentance: to turn from evil and to turn to the good.[1]

If you were to do an extensive word study on this word you would find a variety of glosses that give us a sense of restoration, turning, returning, to restore, to turn back, and to return. The word for soul in our passage is nepes with the p having a ph sound. The concrete meaning of this word is to breath, it points us at the heart of man, the inner being, which is why “The Scriptures” version of the Bible translates the word as “the being”[2]

So, to put it all in simple terms, the study of the Bible turns our inner being back towards God. That alone should cause us to desire to study Scripture more, but, as we turn more and more towards our Lord, there are more benefits to be found…

In the next article I will continue with examining the word testimony and what it means to “make wise the simple”.

[1] Hamilton, V. P. (1999). 2340 שׁוּב. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 909). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Institute for Scripture Research. (2000). The Scriptures. South Africa: Institute for Scripture Research (Pty) Ltd.

HCSB – The Holy Bible: Holman Christian standard version. (2009). Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers.

ESV – The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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