Life is a journey. Our path may be long, it may be short – it may have many twists and turns with unexpected surprises along the way – but in the midst of much confusion and contrary advice we might stumble across, we need somehow to find a way through to a rewarding destination.
To the Israelites, God gave his written law, or torah, as the means by which they would be guided through life. Torah should not be understood as law in the formal sense, as if God was ever obsessed with legality in the modern notions of rules and regulations, but rather in the more simple sense of teaching or instruction – rather as parents will want to teach and guide their children.
When “Moses undertook to explain this law” to Israel before they were to take their journey into the land God had promised to their ancestors (Deuteronomy 1:5), he didn’t begin by listing rules and regulations but by telling the story of God and how he had saved his people and delivered them from oppression. The love of God and his faithfulness to Israel were always to be the context of torah and the motivation for following his ways throughout their journey.
So Israel grew to love the law. They saw it not as being oppressive or burdensome, but rather as a great blessing in the lives of the people. The teachings and instructions of God were
“more desirable than gold, even the finest gold … sweeter than honey, even honey dripping from the comb.” (Psalm 19:10 NLT)
After telling the story of God and his salvation, Moses began to speak of God’s instructions and commands:
“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?” (Deuteronomy 4:5-8)
Borrowing themes from the book of Deuteronomy, Psalm 119 meditates on “walking in the law of the Lord”. Far from seeing the torah of the Lord as being a burden or prohibitive, the people of God loved it, thought about it day and night, and saw it as the means to true freedom and life. Perhaps the best known part of this psalm is found just over half-way through:
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (verse 105)
Unlike the nations around them who walked in darkness, fumbling their way through life along unlit paths and guided by those who knew no better, Israel had been shown clearly how to navigate the journey of life. This had nothing to do with their ‘religious’ activities, but was all about living from day to day in God’s presence.
That same light that has guided the people of God for centuries is just as able to lighten our paths today. Challenges and obstacles will still hinder our progress, but with the light of God’s word we need not stumble in the dark.
This article is from BiBloS, a teaching resource of the British Bible School. To read more articles or download the whole of Issue 2, click here.