The Light of the World: Psalm 119:105-128 (Nun, Samekh and Ayin)

July 16, 2017

A note to readers: Today’s post is part of a Sunday Voice Series by Dr. Timothy C. Tennent, a close friend, mentor and colleague of mine. He serves as the President of Asbury Theological Seminary among other posts he holds across the global church. This Sunday Voice Series will cover the Psalms, beginning to end, by focusing on a Psalm each Sunday. I can’t tell you how excited I am for his interest in contributing here. This will be a huge blessing to us all.

Psalm 119:105-128 (NIV)

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.
I have taken an oath and confirmed it,
that I will follow your righteous laws.
I have suffered much;
preserve my life, LORD, according to your word.
Accept, LORD, the willing praise of my mouth,
and teach me your laws.
Though I constantly take my life in my hands,
I will not forget your law.
The wicked have set a snare for me,
but I have not strayed from your precepts.
Your statutes are my heritage forever;
they are the joy of my heart.
My heart is set on keeping your decrees
to the very end.

I hate double-minded people,
but I love your law.
You are my refuge and my shield;
I have put my hope in your word.
Away from me, you evildoers,
that I may keep the commands of my God!
Sustain me, my God, according to your promise, and I will live;
do not let my hopes be dashed.
Uphold me, and I will be delivered;
I will always have regard for your decrees.
You reject all who stray from your decrees,
for their delusions come to nothing.
All the wicked of the earth you discard like dross;
therefore I love your statutes.
My flesh trembles in fear of you;
I stand in awe of your laws.

I have done what is righteous and just;
do not leave me to my oppressors.
Ensure your servant’s well-being;
do not let the arrogant oppress me.
My eyes fail, looking for your salvation,
looking for your righteous promise.
Deal with your servant according to your love
and teach me your decrees.
I am your servant; give me discernment
that I may understand your statutes.
It is time for you to act, LORD;
your law is being broken.
Because I love your commands
more than gold, more than pure gold,
and because I consider all your precepts right,
I hate every wrong path.

CONSIDER THIS

Verse 105 of Psalm 119 is probably the most quoted and well-known verse of this grand psalm: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” Because this is a verse of poetry intended for singing, there is no point in trying to discern some big distinction in meaning between “lamp” and “light” or how God’s word falls upon “our feet” versus “our path.” This is a feature of Hebrew poetry known as parallelism. It is a poetical way of making a single, big point; namely, that the revelation of God’s word is what guides and directs us. The word “light” is one of the most important images for the word of God. Later, this psalm goes on to say, “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (vs. 130), one of dozens of times the word light is used in the psalms to refer to God’s revelation. It is also prominent in the book of Proverbs: “These commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light” (6:23). This theme also runs throughout the Old Testament.

However, it is in the New Testament that we see the ultimate revelation of God’s light. It comes as a Person, to which even his word must point in eager anticipation. When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus into the Temple for his dedication when he was eight days old, they met Simeon who took Jesus in his arms and prophesied saying, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32). Even as an infant, Jesus is declared to be the light of God’s revelation.

John’s gospel makes it clear that John the Baptist was not the light, but that he came only as a “witness to the light,” for the “true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world” (John 1:8,9). He was referring to the word made flesh, Jesus Christ (John 1:14). “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind” (John 1:4). The light of God’s word was now being manifest in the flesh through the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity. Jesus himself would declare in his public ministry, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

We now see the full trajectory of Psalm 119. In the psalm, God’s word is light. It guides us and leads us to life. This testimony is true. Yet, as Christians, we recognize that in the incarnation this great truth is fulfilled and en-fleshed in ways the psalmist could never imagine. From the days of the thunderous word of God pouring forth from Mt. Sinai, or the beautiful strophes of this psalm dedicated to the beauty of God’s word, or the great prophets of old proclaiming the word of the Lord, our greatest vision was that of God’s word made text. God speaking to us in words we could hear, read and understand. However, in the end, God had an even greater light to give to the world; not just the word made text, but the word made flesh: Jesus Christ, the light of God. He is not only the lamp to our feet, but the light to the whole world; he is not only the light to our path, but is himself the very path which leads us to God!

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Timothy C. Tennent is the President of Asbury Theological Seminary and a Professor of Global Christianity. His works include Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century and Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology. He blogs at timothytennent.com and can be followed on twitter @TimTennent.

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