Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.
Situated very near the exact middle of the Bible, Psalm 119 serves as a uniquely resplendent centerpiece, a work of literary genius and thematic gravity on which everything before and after it leans. The lengthiest chapter in the Bible, it’s an acrostic poem composed of 22 stanzas named for the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, each having eight lines whose first words begin with the indicated letter. This novelty and effort are most notable because its author(s) intended Psalm 119 to stand out to fasten attention on its theme: God’s Word.
With few exceptions, every verse references Scripture (i.e., The Torah) in some fashion—as God’s laws, decrees, ways, commands, promises, precepts, and so on. The psalm extols God’s Word as the source of all we need to lead successful lives that please Him. It glories in how Scripture guides us, delights us, preserves us, and sets us free; how it gives us hope, comfort, and strength; how teaches us, sharpens our faculties, instills confidence, drives enthusiasm, and establishes what’s right and true; how it overwhelms us with joy, calls us to prayer and meditation, sets just boundaries, and enlightens our understanding.
As we read Psalm 119, awareness of parallel, simultaneous existences takes hold. People governing their lives by human principles and those who live by God’s Word co-exist, sharing the same time and space. Yet they also occupy distinctly separate realities. They experience the same things, but attach different, often contradictory meanings and importance to them. One group relies on what it knows. The other trusts God’s Word. Verses 99-100 exclaim, “I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts.”
Life guided by the Word is life at its most adventurous. It’s driven by heightened awareness that while not everything it brings can be fully or adequately explained, none of it is without purpose and meaning. It looks beyond physical observation and experience to find spiritual mystery and truth. Living by human wit relies on reason to shape thoughts and behaviors. Living by God’s Word works differently, however. Principles, which often seem unreasonable at the time, shape attitudes and actions in certainty the reasons will become evident in time. When we embrace God’s Word as the governing authority in our lives, we exchange knowing now for understanding later. As a result, we often feel dislocated—perhaps even detached—from logical “reality” and at a quandary about what to do and where to go. We trust God’s Word completely. Sometimes, though, we’re less trusting of our capabilities to follow its direction.
In Case of Emergency
My job entails a lot of air travel and after I settle into my seat, the first thing I do is check its proximity to the exits. After that, I tune out the safety demonstration. But recently a phrase I’ve heard hundreds of times caught my attention: “In case of emergency, lights along the aisle floor will guide you to the nearest available exit.” A morbid scenario flashed through my mind—a fuselage filled with impenetrable smoke leaving nothing visible but a strand of footlights to prevent passengers from tripping over seats and one another. In that moment, they don’t know where the plane has landed, why the pilot chose to land there, what caused the accident, or what’s beyond the exit. All they know is their survival and safety depend on staying within the lighted boundaries on either side of the aisle.
I believe this is what the psalmist means by “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” When situations arise where we can’t properly find our way on our own, we don’t know why or how they happen, and we aren’t sure of what’s on the other side, God’s Word illuminates our path. We don’t panic. We don’t wander aimlessly, trying to feel our way out. We look to Scripture for light. Our survival and safety depend on it. Deuteronomy 31.8 promises, “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” That’s God’s Word laid out in footlight.
God's Word is like the emergency lights along a jetliner aisle--in times of uncertainty it leads us to safety.
(Tomorrow: Love Conquers All)