God’s Torah: A Path to Life

Psalm 19 identifies two forms of divine speech. One is non-verbal, natural, and experienced through the natural wonder present in God’s creation. The other is verbal.

God has spoken in history and entered into covenant with Israel. That story is in the Torah. Those words are read in the assembly of God’s people. Israel had been given the “oracles of God,” and this comes, most fundamentally, in the form of Torah.

“Torah” heads the praise of this divine speech in Psalm 19. It is the controlling metaphor for the other descriptions:  decrees, precepts, and commandments. Those terms are couched in the framework of Torah, and Torah is not primarily a legal code but a story that guides Israel as it walks with God. Torah is instruction and guidance through narrative rather than primarily specific case-law or isolated commands.

Embedded within the Torah are guidelines, directions, and formative practices that transform people into the image of God. As the Psalmist declares, the Torah:

  • restores the soul as it renews life.
  • makes the simple wise as it guides the inexperienced and immature.
  • gives joy to the heart as it frees us from the anxiety and burdens of life.
  • enlightens the eyes as it illuminates what human flourishing really is.

The Torah provides a path for healthy, joyful, and wise living.

The phrase “making the simple wise” is particularly significant. This is the language of Proverbs 1:1-7. There are two paths in life–the foolish one and the wise one.  But the “simple” are often too inexperienced to discern the difference. The Hebrew term “simple” does not refer to a mental deficiency, but to a lack of life experience. The “simple” are easily deceived, driven by their desires, and act on impulse rather than careful reflection. They react rather than respond to situations. Due to a lack of experience, their discernment is impaired or underdeveloped.

The Torah serves as a wise sage to help the “simple” discern good from evil, make choices, and understand the consequences of the different paths life can take. In other words, the Torah–God’s guidance–is for their own good and for the good of the community in which they live. It is not an oppressive legal chain around the neck, but divine wisdom spoken for the sake of human health and well-being.

As a result, the wise response is submission, or, in the language of wisdom, it is to fear (awe, trust, or revere) the Lord. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and this humble submission and reverent respect for God calls us to embody the Torah’s wisdom in our own lives.

It is little wonder, then, that the Psalmist regards God’s speech as more valuable than gold or silver and sweeter than honey.  This speech is about life, authentic life. A discerning, wise life has better consequences than hoarding gold or silver, and it is much sweeter than the momentary taste of honey.

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