Why Meditate on God’s Law?
Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, 2 but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. 3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers. 4 Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. 6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction. (Psalm 1 NIV)
Do you think about small things or big things? Puny things or Infinite things? Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that people who live in democracies are “habitually engaged in the contemplation of a very puny object, namely himself.” Psalm 1 describes the person who is habitually engaged in the contemplation of an infinite object, indeed an infinite Being, namely YHWH.1 Our culture teaches us to contemplate ourselves; Psalm 1 teaches us to contemplate the infinite.
The contemplation of God in Psalm 1 is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end, but not the end of being blessed. It is the means to knowing God (YHWH). The consequence of knowing YHWH is a relationship, and the consequence of this relationship is that YHWH watches over us (vs 6). And, if YHWH watches over us, the outcome is deliverance, salvation, blessedness. (These are one thing; not three things.) The moment we begin meditating in (contemplating, studying, thinking about) God’s Law for the purpose of being blessed rather than knowing God, the process is short-circuited.
The contemplation of God in Psalm 1 is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end, but not the end of being blessed. It is the means to knowing God.
Knowing, not Numbing
Psalm 1 sits on the front end of the book of worship given to the church. This helps us know that worship is about knowing God; about relationship with God. For Christians, relationship is wrapped up in knowing. God doesn’t bypass the head to get to the heart. But it is not knowing a set of things about God that constitutes this relationship. It is knowing God. When we know Him, we know His nature, His character, you might say, what He is like. This leads to knowing how He wants us to live, and contains a desire to want to live that way.
It is important that we realize that, although our relationship with God will involve activities (such as meditating on God’s Word), those activities find their purpose in knowing God and being known by God. The person described there is not just meditating, but is meditating on the Law of the Lord. This isn’t that kind of meditation that involves emptying the mind and repeating a mantra over and over as a focal point. This meditation has a goal of knowing the ways of the Lord; not numbing the mind.
Although our relationship with God will involve activities , those activities find their purpose in knowing God and being known by God.
The Law of the Lord
Many tend to treat the word “Law” here in one of two ways. Some simply read over the word and think “Word of God” rather than Law. I did this for many years simply thinking in terms of “updating” things to more New Covenant thinking. This can be helpful at the beginning of our studies of Scripture. Others may get stuck on the word “Law” because to them it consists of a bunch of rules and regulations. They may think, “we are not under the law, but under grace.” (And that is true.)
It may be helpful to consider what the Law meant to the psalmist. First of all, the Hebrew word itself means “teaching.” So a set of rules is not inherent in the word itself. Second, the Law was the first five books of our Bibles (Genesis through Deuteronomy), strictly speaking. The first sixty-nine chapters are stories and genealogies, not rules and regulations. They are stories and genealogies teaching us about God’s redemptive activity in the world. Psalm 1 is teaching us that in order to know what YHWH is like, we have to do more than read these accounts. We have to meditate on them. We have to contemplate them. We have to let those stories write the inward stories by which we view the world. In that space, YHWH makes Himself known by showing us His ways. He is not known by a list of rules, but by His activity in the world.
Psalm 1 is teaching us that in order to know what YHWH is like, we have to do more than read these accounts. We have to meditate on them.
The Ways of the Lord
What are the ways of the Lord? Meditation leads to knowing the just ways of the Lord found in God’s Law. As far back as Abraham this purpose is spelled out.
18 Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. 19 For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” (Genesis 18:18-19 NIV)
The directing that Abraham did for his children is carried forward and applied to the instruction of children in the Law of God (Deuteronomy 6:6-7; 11:19). At the heart of the Law is righteousness and justice because YHWH loves righteousness and justice (Psalm 33:5). Keep in mind that the Biblical concept of righteousness and justice is knit together with the idea of mercy. It does not stand in strict contrast to justice. In the Law, worship is less about sacrifices than it is about God’s justice and righteousness… God’s ways (Proverbs 21:3).
The Biblical concept of righteousness and justice is knit together with the idea of mercy.
The blessed person of Psalm 1, contemplates God’s ways as described in His Law and comes to know Him. In the Gospel era, we understand that the Law was pointing forward to Christ who fully made YHWH known. As we contemplate the Gospel we know this God. Meditating on the Gospel will include the Law, for the Gospel is the whole story. In knowing Him, our way of life is changed (even though we may at times not even know it). In knowing Him, we have relationship with Him.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,
1YHWH represents the consonants of the Hebrew name for the God who revealed Himself to Israel, often spelled out Yahweh, or Jehovah. This name is commonly represented in English translations by the spelling of Lord with small capital letters for the o-r-d.