The Word: Lighting the Path
The Word: Lighting the Path
by William Klock
We’ve seen over the past couple of weeks how, since the mid-point of Psalm 119, David has been praising the Word of God for all its glories. In the twelfth stanza he praised God for the fact that his Word is everlasting, unchanging, and infinite in its perfection. In the last stanza he praised God because, considering the Word is everlasting and infinite perfection, he knew that it’s also the only source and storehouse of true knowledge and wisdom for life. And now this week we come to the fourteenth stanza, verses 105 to 112.
Verse 105 may be the best-known line of the 119th Psalm. Look at it with me.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Now think about what that meant to someone living in the ancient world. In David’s time people didn’t usually travel at night. It was just too dark. They didn’t have street lamps. The roads weren’t paved like ours are. If you went out at night, unless it was cloudless and there was a full moon, assuming you didn’t lose your way, you could step in something left behind by an ox or a horse, you could trip and fall over the uneven surface of the road, you could stumble and fall into a ditch and be badly hurt, or you could be ambushed by robbers in the dark. Imagine how hard it is sometimes even to navigate your own bedroom in the middle of the night! All sorts of things could happen to you in the dark on an ancient road. Travelling in the dark was dangerous and if you did venture out at night, you needed a good source of light to keep you safe and to guide you.
David’s been singing the praises of God’s Word and telling us how faithful it is, how perfect it is, how it guides him and keeps him out of trouble. After telling us all these wonderful things about the Word, what better illustration than to compare it to a light for a traveller on a dark road. As we seek to follow God, we all walk down a dark road. The world is dark and we poor sinners stumble around in it, falling into ditches and getting ourselves hurt. Think of another passage that talks about the Word and about darkness and light. St. John begins his Gospel, writing:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world…To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-9, 12-14)
The world was dark with sin, and yet into the darkness came the Word—God Incarnate—to bring light. Jesus described his way as hard and narrow, and yet he, the Light of the world, lightens the way before us, shows us where to go, and leads us on. He restores our fellowship with the Father—the fellowship we lost through sin—and faithfully leads us in his ways to the New Jerusalem and to an eternity living in God’s presence.
David had a glimpse of the true Light of the world as he threw himself into the Word written—into God’s law. It was as much a light to his sin-darkened path as the Word Incarnate and the New Testament Scriptures are to ours. And with that in mind, consider: Is God’s Word, his light, something that’s simply supposed to amaze us with it’s light and beauty, or is there more to it than that? Brothers and sisters, I’ve known a lot of people, and I’m sure you have too, who know the Scriptures inside and out, backwards and forwards. They’ve read theology. They can explain the doctrines of the Trinity or the Incarnation in technical detail. They even know the Gospel. And yet they don’t follow it. They’re surrounded by light, but they continue to live in the dark. They continue to show the works of the flesh instead of the fruit of the Spirit. They talk the talk, but they never step out, letting the light lead them, and walk the walk. Friends, it isn’t enough to know the Word; you have to follow it—you have to do it, you have to live it. If you don’t, you’re like a man standing in the middle of the dark road with his flashlight, but not going anywhere, or worse, stupidly choosing to walk away from the light, still stumbling in the dark and falling into another ditch. How often do we do that? We have the light. We’ve seen the pitfalls in its light, and yet we still walk right into them. We need to live in the light and follow it where Christ points it. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Happy is the man who personally appropriates God’s word, and practically uses it as his comfort and counselor,—a lamp to his feet.” That’s what David did. Look now at verse 106:
I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to keep your righteous rules.
There are two points here. First, with this understanding that’s God’s Word is the only true light to his path and that it’s not only true, but will always guide him rightly, David made a pledge to follow it—he committed himself to it. Now, it’s true that today some people make far to many pledges and swear to do far too many things, but this is one thing that we should pledge and commit ourselves to, because when you make a pledge to do something, it makes that commitment more difficult to forget or to ignore. As much as David was glorying in the light when he wrote this, he knew his soul. He knew that as much as God had regenerated his heart, as much as God had given him new life, he was still prone to straying. He knew that there were times when, because of the foolishness of his fallen and sinful nature, the darkness would look better than the light. And so he pledged himself to stay in the light and to follow it.
You and I should do the same. Think back. You probably don’t have to think back beyond the last week, but think back to the last time you were faced with temptation. You knew something was wrong, your conscience stopped you before you did it, and you even took a moment to weigh the situation—and then you sinned anyway. You chose to step out of the light and deliberately threw yourself into the ditch. And yet, consider, brother and sisters, what you vowed in your baptism. The last of the baptismal vows reads, “Will you keep God’s holy will and commandments, and serve him faithfully throughout your life?” And the response, “With his help I intend to do so.” We follow that up with a prayer by the priest that says, “We receive you into the congregation of Christ’s flock and sign you with the sign of the cross, to show that you will not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and to fight bravely [or as the Prayer Book puts it: “to fight manfully”] under his banner against sin, the world, and the devil, and to continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant to your life’s end.” We’ve made the commitment. You and I have enlisted, by virtue of our baptism, in the army of Jesus Christ. We come back each week to pledge ourselves to him as he pledges himself to us in the bread and in the wine at his Table. And yet how faithful are we to serve him? How often do we willingly run when the battle becomes difficult, or worse, how often do we turn against him and side with the world, the flesh, and the devil when temptation finds us?
We need to pledge, with David, to keep God’s righteous rules. And that’s the second point. The rules God records for us in his Word are righteous. Some version read “righteous judgements” which is more accurate in the sense that the Word contains God’s decrees as a righteous judge. He will judge every one of us on the Last Day as we see him judging men down through the ages in the Scriptures. He has the final word on who will inherit his kingdom and who will not. It really does matter whether or not we have pledged to follow Christ, putting our trust in him as Lord.
But remember that trusting in Christ, let alone following the path he sets before us, is never something we can do on our own. Remember that you and I, by nature, were God’s enemies. Our every desire was against him. It took the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit to turn our hearts towards him in the first place and it’s the continued work of the Holy Spirit as he indwells us, that enables us to make that pledge to keep God’s righteous rules. Look at verse 107:
I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to your word!
David knew that God had given him physical life. He knew that God had given him new spiritual life. And so it’s only natural that when he found life a struggle, when it was hard to stay on the path and to keep walking in the light, he turns again to God. Notice how David’s affliction drives him not away from God, but back to God as the very source of life itself. And notice that this isn’t a complaint. He isn’t grumbling or whining to God because life is hard. No. Life is hard so he turns to God and pleads with him for an extra measure of spiritual life and vitality.
How often do we do just the opposite? Times get hard and instead of turning to God for help, we grumble like the Israelites. God led them out of slavery in Egypt—he gave them a new life—and yet when the going got tough, they grumbled and complained: “Life in the desert is hard! Why did we ever follow Moses and this God of his? We wish we were back in Egypt!” God calls us out of the world, but when things get uncertain or when things get tough we run back to the world and to our old sinful ways. We trust in our bank accounts, in our jobs, in government, in other people, or in our own efforts when times get hard. When we don’t get what we want in life, we leave God’s path and make trouble for ourselves by using sinful means to get what we want. Think about Abraham. God promised him a son, but when the son didn’t come in Abraham’s timing, he and Sarah decided to have him father a son by her maid. They did the sinful thing and got themselves into all sorts of trouble.
Remember, the new life that God gives us comes as part of his covenant with us. That was true for Abraham, for Moses and the Israelites, and for David. When God covenants he makes a promise, and as he demonstrated to Abraham, he puts his own being on the line. When God pledges something to us we can be totally and absolutely sure that he will come through. If he gave us life, he will always continue to give us life. He promises to guide us. He also promises that following him will be hard sometimes, because it runs counter to the ways of the world, but he does promise to see us through to the end. We get ourselves into trouble when we discount his promises and turn back to our old ways.
The response to God’s having given us life that we don’t deserve is for us to praise him, to worship him, and to do everything in our power to give him glory. Look at verse 108:
Accept my freewill offerings of praise, O Lord, and teach me your rules.
Freewill offerings were those offerings or sacrifices that were given to God above and beyond the offerings and sacrifices that the people were obligated to give by the law. Usually we see freewill offerings made at times when people wanted to testify to God’s goodness in a general way or to give thanks for some special mercy he had shown them. Again, these weren’t offerings people had to make; they were offerings people chose to make because they wantedto. David looked at the life God had given him and his natural response was to offer God his praises—not because he was obligated to, but because he wanted to and, really, because he couldn’t help it. He was glorying in the blessings of God.
At the same time, he asks God to continue to teach him. He knew that new spiritual life was only half of God’s blessing. He had new life, but his desire was for teaching and instruction so that he could make the most of that life. Going back to his analogy of the Word as a light to his path, David didn’t want to be the man standing on the road with a bright light, but going nowhere with it. He wanted the light to show him where to go and he wanted to follow it.
And David knew that as he went through life, he really did need God’s guidance. He lived in danger. If you read the story of his life in 1 and 2 Samuel, you see a man who lived his life in troubled times. He had enemies. His life was surrounded by intrigue. It’s an exciting story, but I’m sure that’s not how David saw it. When he went out into the world, he took his life in his hands. And that’s what’s behind verse 109:
I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your law.
Both the Hebrews and the Greeks used this expression about holding one’s life in his hands to describe what it meant to live in danger. And yet David could still go out into the world with confidence. First, he could go out in confidence trusting in God. He knew God’s law; he knew God’s Word and because of that he knew that God was a God who keeps his covenant promises. David had the record of God’s dealings with his people and knew that God always cares for his children. David could go out and face danger, strong in the knowledge that no matter how bad it looked, God would always see him through. In verse 110 he says:
The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts.
People were out to get him, but he trusted in God and his promises. Notice how David gives the “why” in each of those verses—why he could face danger and hostility and affliction and persecution. He says in the first instance, because “I do not forget your law” and in the second, because “I do not stray from your precepts.” First, he knew the law. He had studied God’s Word. He had meditated on it. He had stored it away. And because he had stored the Word in his heart and mind, it had changed and moulded his character. It had made a difference in his life. Not only had it taught him to trust in the promises of God, but it had changed the way he responded to the world—to danger and affliction and persecution. Again, the purpose of the light isn’t just to amaze the eyes. It should amaze the eyes, but more importantly it should guidethe feet. Knowledge of God’s Word should lead us to follow it—should teach us to respond to life in godly ways.
We’ve all heard the old aphorism, “All’s fair in love and war.” David was faced with war all around him and yet he knew that for the believer all is not fair in love and war. The world may operate that way, but not the believer. The man or woman who trusts in God always acts in accordance with his laws and precepts. Following God’s way is, more than anything else, the way we show our trust, just as Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Lots of people claim to be Christians, but the ones who really are followers of Christ will reveal their true faith by living like David did—by keeping his commandments and walking in his precepts.
David also knew that to stray from the light—to start doing things his own way—was the surest way to get himself into trouble. I can’t say it any better than Spurgeon did: “If we err from the precepts, we part from the promises; if we get away from God’s presence, we wander into the wilds where the fowlers spread their nets.” And that’s a real danger. David writes about the wicked laying snares. They do. Hunters aren’t stupid. They lay their snares and traps in the places that the animals usually run. The enemy lays his snares in our runs. And that’s why we need to run in the way of God’s commandments, not in our own.
In verse 111 David goes on, saying:
Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart.
What’s a heritage? The Hebrew word that David uses is one that is usually used to describe the land of Canaan as the heritage or inheritance of Israel. David looked at the testimonies of God—at the Scriptures—and claimed them as his heritage and his inheritance. Over and over we’ve seen him willing to give up his claim to all the things the world could offer him, because he saw greater value in the Word. And brother and sisters, that same choice lies before each of us. We can choose the world or we can choose the Word. We can choose the things that moth and rust destroy and that thieves creep in and steal, or we can choose a heavenly treasure that will last for eternity. Because our old sinful natures die so hard, the choice isn’t always an easy one. Because the world, the flesh, and the devil are always fighting for control, we may face affliction and persecution for our choice. That’s exactly what happened to David, but if you and I have an eternal perspective, we can then see that it’s worth the price.
What makes it worthwhile is when the head-knowledge that Scripture gives us becomes the heart-experience that brings joy—that helps us to see that we made the right choice. This is where a lot of people struggle. They have the head-knowledge. They’ve read Scripture and they understand. They’ve seen God’s promises, but they struggle to trust. They know, but they never do. They’re like the man standing in the road with the bright light showing him the path, but they’re either stuck simply being amazed by the light, or more often than not, they’re simply afraid to start following it. They’re stuck in an old mindset that says, “Don’t walk in the dark!” They have trouble understanding that Christ—the true light—will faithfully lead them in the dark if only they will trust him. To begin to follow is to take a step of faith, but it’s a faith strong in the knowledge of God’s promises. If we look at Scripture we see that everyone who took that step of faith and began to follow was always and perfectly sustained by God. They experienced the joy—but to experience the joy takes that step, takes that faith, and takes that trust in the promises that leads to action—to following the precepts.
David closes the stanza in verse 112, saying:
I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end.
He knew the joy of following his Lord, and so he pledged to follow him forever. Lots of people in this world are inclined to preach, but David actually practiced; lots of people are inclined to perform ceremonies and rituals, but David was inclined to perform and live out God’s statues; lots of people are inclined to obey occasionally and when it suits their purposes, but David pledged himself to always obey; and lots of people are inclined to temporary religion, but this godly man was bound for eternity and pledged to perform the statutes of his Lord and King to the end. Brothers and sisters, may we devote ourselves to the Word the way David did, but not to just know it. Study it, meditate on it, learn it, store it away, but do it. Trust and follow. Let it change and mould your character and choose to walk in its light. Remember, God has established his covenant with you. He will not fail. Trust in his promises and walk in his precepts.
Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, thank you for your Word. Without it we would have no way to truly know you, no way to truly follow you. Thank you for giving us a light for our feet that we might walk in your way. Strengthen our faith that we might step out to follow you and give us the grace to keep following your path when the going gets tough. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Saviour, our Lord, and the Light of the world. Amen.