“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; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” (Psalm 19:7–11, ESV)
Precepts, Precepts, Precepts, what could this word mean and how in the world does it rejoice the heart?
Precepts is an interesting word. It is the Hebrew word piqqudim and is used only in the Psalms. In 23 of the 24 places it is translated “precepts”, the one other place it is translated “commandments”. Even more interesting is that 22 of the 24 verses come out of Psalm 119, a psalm that exalts the word of God and its impact on our lives.
What can we learn from just a quick look at some of those verses…
“You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.” (Psalm 119:4, ESV)
“Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.” (Psalm 119:104, ESV)
“I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.” (Psalm 119:15, ESV)
“But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.” (Psalm 103:17–18, ESV)
So what kind of conclusion can we draw about “Precepts” from this quick examination of these verses? Seems “Precepts” are to be kept diligently, they provide understanding, they help us to fix our eyes on the ways of the Lord, and our one translation that is not “Precepts”, translated commandments, is tied to keeping the covenant by obedience. So, it seems that precepts are related to the commands of God. A quick check of the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament seems to confirm this idea…
פִּקּוּדִים (piqqûdîm). Precepts, statutes, commandments (used only in pl.) (RSV “precepts” in all twenty-four occurrences), used only in Ps (all but three of its occurrences are in Ps 119), is a general term for the responsibilities that God places on his people.
OK, so how are the responsibilities that God places on his people able to drive us to the conclusion of the Psalmist – “rejoicing the heart”?
The Hebrew word here for rejoicing is “samah” and the Dictionary of Bible Languages has this for the definition…
8523 שָׂמַח (śā·mǎḥ): v.; ≡ Str 8055; TWOT 2268—1. LN 25.116–25.134 (qal) rejoice, be glad, delight in, be elated, i.e., have a feeling or attitude of joy and happiness, with a possible focus of making an outward expression of that joy (Dt 27:7), note: for Isa 9:16[EB 17] cj+, see 9022; (piel) bring joy, gladden, make merry, bring happiness (2Ch 20:27); (hif) make rejoice (Ps 89:43[EB 42]+); 2. LN 88.283–88.288 (piel) be merry, i.e., drink alcohol as a mood elevator, but apparently prior to the full stage of staggering drunkenness (Ecc 10:19+)
Wow, this is really joyful, so much so that another form of the word is the feeling from drinking alcohol to elevate the mood. But that still leaves me the question, how does the responsibilities that God places on His people provide this joy to my heart.
So, in ancient Semitic cultures there were a lot of different Gods, I mean a whole plethora of God’s that people could potentially worship. These gods were not very friendly and generally one did not know how to please these gods or even understand what these gods even wanted. It was a guessing game and hopefully you might figure out just what one of these god’s might desire.
For the faithful Israelite who trusted in the one true God, this was simply not the case. They understood exactly what God desired of them, and what the impact would be for living a life that walked in obedience to them. Not only that, they were tied to a covenant. A covenant that showed a deep relationship between God and His people. To me, that is definitely enough to rejoice the heart.
But, you may be thinking…I don’t have other gods around that distract me from what God really wants – “my heart”. Well, in our culture today we do have a lot of different gods (idols) we worship. Idols like sports, drink, games, jobs….you get the picture. Anything that we exalt higher in our priorities than the one true God that deserves ALL of our priority.
I love the word picture that we get from the word Heart. The root Hebrew word for heart is “lev” and the word picture that is derived from these letters combine to give us a definition of “that which controls the inside”. Everything about us, our emotions, thoughts, and will, combined, control all that we are and do. So God’s precepts brought great joy to the inner man, all that controls us, that overflowed at times into an outward expression….WORSHIP.
So, does the precepts of the Lord have that impact on your life? Or, does the idea of God putting responsibility on His people make us uncomfortable in a culture that says I am free to do anything I want? A culture in the end that seems more focused on how to bring myself joy, rather than finding that joy in a relationship with a God who loves us and want the best for His people.
 Harris, R. L., Archer, G. L., Jr., & Waltke, B. K. (Eds.). (1999). Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 732). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.