From Psalms 119.1-88
Today we start looking at the biggest psalm in the bible. It takes two normal daily readings to finish the whole thing as it is a massive 176 verses! It is Psalm 119 and it is all about the law. It is an acrostic Psalm, it is organised and remembered by sequential Hebrew letters. Since it is about the law I thought I would say a couple things just to understand what exactly the author (unknown) is talking about.
This post is part of my bible in a year series.
Passage and Comments
“The OT has a variety of terms for ‘law’, the commonest of which are: tôrāh, ‘law, instruction, teaching’; hōq, ‘statute, decree’; mišpāt, ‘judgment, legal decision’; dābār, ‘word’; miṣwāh, ‘command (ment)’. Their number reflects the importance of law within the Bible. The first five books are called Tôrāh, ‘law’, by Jews and the NT, even though they appear to be as much about history as law. The specifically legal sections are embedded in narratives about Israel’s early history, and this context is important for the understanding of biblical law.” (Wood, D. R. W., & Marshall, I. H. (1996). New Bible dictionary (3rd ed.) (672). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.)
Thus the Jewish Law can be understood in at least two different ways.
- The Story of the Jews,
- The Commands of the Jewish law recorded in the Story of the Jews.
Here is a tabulation of the commands of the Jewish law.
|Attitudes||Actions(‘Works of law’, Ceremonies)||Prohibitions||Conditional laws|
|Love||Circumcision||Idolatry and Foreign Worship||Firstborn|
|Honor||Festivals and holidays||Murder and Violence||Property, Land and Servants|
|Worship and Sacrifice||Sexual immorality||Punishment and Restitution|
|Purity and Washings||Stealing||Social Justice and the Poor|
I have spelled this out because its easy to forget the Psalmist is talking about the Jewish law with all its bells and whistles and imagine instead our own version of the law. Our own moral code. This will not do. The Psalmist is talking about the Jewish law. Lets begin.
119 Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD!
2 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart,
3 who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways!
4 You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.
5 Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!
6 Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.
7 I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules.
8 I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me! (Ps 119.1-8)
The Psalmist pronounces blessing on the blameless. This doesn’t mean they are sinlessly perfect. Rather the make an ongoing practice of the law and have been forgiven any slips. Those who keep the LORD’s testimonies are those who seek him with their whole heart. He describes these people in very positive ways – they do no wrong. Wow. They walk in his ways. When the LORD commands his people he expects to be obeyed. Consequently the Psalmist expresses the hope his ways will be steadfast – constant and sure – in keeping to the LORD’s statutes. If he does this he will not be put to shame. He will praise the LORD and value his rules. He asks the LORD not to forsake him. Perhaps because he vows to keep his statutes.
9 How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.
10 With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!
11 I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
12 Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes!
13 With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth.
14 In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches.
15 I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.
16 I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word. (Ps 119.9-16)
The young keep themselves pure by paying attention to God’s word. Here the law of the LORD is equated to the word of the LORD. He seeks the LORD, but he also acknowledges he needs his help so he will not wander. His heart is a container for God’s word. If his heart is full of his word, no sin can enter in. He delights in God’s law. It is good, spiritual and pure. He spends time with it, meditating, absorbing it into his mind, spirit and life.
Story of Jesus
There are positive and negative aspects to the Jewish law. In the gospel, there are some laws Jesus overruled and others he emphasised. Today we will have a look at the positive from what Jesus says. Tomorrow the negative from what Paul says.
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 5.17-20)
Jesus fulfills the law. Some of the commands (the ceremonial and ritual commands) he replaces through his own corrections (e.g. cleanliness laws in Mk 7) and ministry (his death on the cross replaces the levitical sacrifices). The other commands (what most people would deem natural morality) he sends the Spirit to enable them to fulfill. Thus Jesus fulfills the law. What are the commandments Jesus is referring to? See the context… Jesus refers to ‘these commandments’, if you read the what Jesus commands in chapters 5-7 you will get an idea of what Jesus thinks is important.
Jesus was questioned on the greatest commandments of the law.
34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Mt 22.34-40)
Love God and love others. Love. Jesus then commanded his followers to teach others to obey all he has commanded from the law.
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, h“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28.16-20)
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