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.

Bible Study?

Lately I have been hearing this term used in a somewhat derogatory fashion. Seems that people are starting to see Bible Study as a difficult and unhelpful tool in their walk with the Lord. Seems that more and more we are focusing more on the relational aspect of the body and very little on the relationship that is the head of that body. Sermons are becoming more and more stories and psychology methods than the true Spirit lead preaching of the word of God. Many sermons that I hear today are becoming more and more topical and filled with a lot of fluff.  So I wonder…are we seeing the reality of 2 Timothy 4:3-4 play out in our cultures? (At least I see this in american culture)

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3–4, ESV)

I ask the question in my mind…What is the purpose of the church, or better the ekklesia (called out ones)? Do we still see the body in the way that Paul did when he wrote to the Ephesian church?

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:11–16, ESV)

This is the same writer who penned to Timothy these words…

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:14–17, ESV)

Wow, the word of God is profitable for just about everything in our lives, yet we have become so filled with bible cliches and whimsical quoting of scripture in a way that does not build up the body but beats on a person our point of view of the passage. Can we not get back to a place where we have a passion for GOD’s WORD so that we can identify with David when he writes…

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law(Torah) of the Lord, and on his law(Torah) he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:1–2, ESV)

Look how beneficial it can be to our lives….

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)

More desired than Gold? I once knew a person that was a treasure hunter and the passion that he put into seeking out hidden treasures and gold was almost obsessive. Seems to me that our passion for the WORD of GOD should be equally obsessive. Yet what we tend to be obsessive about is usually not His WORD. We can binge watch Netflix, play video games from dusk till dawn, Instagram and twitter until our fingers are numb, but we wrestle to just spend 5 minutes with the Scriptures and then we pat ourselves on the back because we feel like we have accomplished something and done our daily bible study or reading for the day.

So where can we start, maybe we can start with a prayerful desire to know God and learn of the beauty of HIS Words to us. Spend a few weeks or more just pondering Psalm 119. Seek not to think of it as Bible Study but as a time to learn more about our God and the amazing words He has given to us to instruct us on how to live in His presence and in HIS Kingdom and with His people. Kindle in our hearts a healthy fear of the Lord but wrapped in the Love of His presence.

Maybe as we seek His presence and wade deeply into HIS WORDS, the Spirit can quicken in us the same feeling that the disciples had on the road to Emmaus when they said….

“Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”” (Luke 24:32, ESV)

In my own life, I have personally reflected on some of the words that Jesus prayed in John 17…

And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent……..Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” (John 17:3, ESV) and (John 17:17–19, ESV)

How do get to know the “one true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” By a deep Spirit lead desire of HIS WORDS, because it is here that we see who He is and what He desires of our lives. It is in those Words that we are edified and equipped.

My prayer, is that we can feel deeply the words that were penned in Psalm 119…

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes! With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth. In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes;

I will not forget your word. (Psalm 119:9–16, ESV)

 

 

 

Remember

 “Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever? But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not overtake your fathers? ” (Zechariah 1:5–6, ESV)

The Lord through the prophet Zechariah is asking this generation to look back at the example of the previous generations and learn from them. God used them as an example. Why? Because this generation still had the same root problem that the previous generation had, a problem that has existed since the days of Noah…

“…the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.” (Genesis 8:21, ESV)

Then the Lord makes this point..”But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not overtake your fathers?”

To understand the full meaning of what he is saying only requires one to turn to Deut. 28 and read the whole chapter. The theme of this chapter is a list of blessings that will overtake the people if they are obedient, and curses that will overtake the people if they are disobedient. In other words, what the Lord spoke regarding our choices, will happen. It may seem that God is not acting on it now, but it will come to pass and the Lord’s judgment will come.

When Israel was taken into captivity by the Assyrians, the southern Kingdom of Judah had them as an example.

 “The Lord said to me in the days of King Josiah: “Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the whore? And I thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to me,’ but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. Because she took her whoredom lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. Yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 3:6–10, ESV)

What about today, Paul had this to say in 1 Cor 10

“For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:1–13, ESV)  

Not only is it an example, but it is written down for our instruction! What have we done with it? We change the terms to be more palatable, we redefine what God has called sin, we ignore the sections that don’t agree with our desires, and like Judah we justify our own folly by wrapping it in nice terms like freedom and grace. Don’t get me wrong, God is a God of grace, the entire Bible is full of His amazing grace, but it has become a tool we use to justify our own sinful desires.

God may desire for us to remember the failures of our previous generations, but He also desires us to look to Him and remember the amazing things He has done for us and not to forget the instruction he has provided for us to walk in…

“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”” (Luke 22:19, ESV)

“Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,” (Deuteronomy 8:11–14, ESV)  

“Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually! Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles and the judgments he uttered, O offspring of Israel his servant, children of Jacob, his chosen ones!” (1 Chronicles 16:11–13, ESV)  

 “See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today? “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children— how on the day that you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, the Lord said to me, ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.’” (Deuteronomy 4:5–10, ESV)

“‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.” (Revelation 3:1–3, ESV)  

This last verse is a wake up call, it suggests a body of believers who have a reputation of being alive, the people in the community surrounding them saw works that suggested that this was a vibrant active body of believers. This may also suggest that they to believed that they were alive. We are doing all the right things, we are growing, we are doing great things in the community around us…but, they were dead. This is a position of pride, and dare I say it is pride inside the body. We must be so careful today to remember this example that has been written down for our instruction. What did the Lord desire to see...

“Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent.”

Lord, help us to have a heart of humility, help us to seek after your instructions and not our traditions, help us to remember what we have received and heard, keep it, and repent.

A final thought from Charles Spurgeon:

“Repentance grows as faith grows. Do not make any mistake about it; repentance is not a thing of days and weeks, a temporary penance to be got over as fast as possible! No; it is the grace of a lifetime, like faith itself. God’s little children repent, and so do the young men and the fathers. Repentance is the inseparable companion of faith.” 
― Charles H. SpurgeonAll of Grace