Psalm 119:97-104, the section labeled mem because every sentence begins with this letter, is about Bible study, or more accurately, Torah devotion. Today we look at v 97 and v 104.
O how I love your Torah! It is my study (or musing) all day long (97).
I ponder your precepts (piqud), or judgment-decisions-mandates.
The psalmist “loves” the teachings of God — and he devotes himself all day long to thinking about them. And he ponders in the sense of examining for discernment.
I wonder how much you read the Bible, how much you ponder the Bible, how much you delight in the Bible. Let me make a suggestion that you do something that has helped me, and it is something I wrote about briefly in Praying with the Church. Sometimes I think we try to get too much from the Bible. Sometimes I think we approach the Bible as something to be studied by way of intense examination of Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic words — and we can’t seem to open our Bible unless it is to figure out something new and clever.
Exegesis has its place. My favorite commentary on all things Psalms? John Goldingay, Psalm 90-150
But more importantly, listening to the Bible has its place. The psalmist was like the many in ancient Judaism: they pondered as they read and heard the Bible. They didn’t have concordances and word studies and commentaries. They had the Torah; they opened it; they read it; they heard it; and they pondered what they heard.
If we read it to hear it, we will also learn to love it.
Recently I became aware of Zondervan’s new The Bible Experience. It is the Bible “read” — CDs of the whole NT with actors and acrtresses reading the Bible with the skill of oral interpretation. Why not think of popping it in, sitting in a chair with your eyes closed, and just listening?
I don’t know an expression any more accurate, so I’ve chosen to say that the one who listens to Torah, who delights in God’s Word, develops morally. So Psalm 119:101-102, 104b:
I have kept my feet from every evil path
so that I might obey your word.
I have not departed from your laws,
for you yourself have taught me.
… therefore I hate every wrong path.
There is another way of reading so that the words flood our minds and memories — it takes a little discipline. When the cracks of the day appear, remind ourselves of what we read.
I believe this is what the Shema was all about: say it all the time, Deut 6:4-5 says. Why? Because it will flood your mind with the single-most obligation in life: to love God. And Jesus adds Lev 19:18, as I explain in Jesus Creed, and then we have the two single-most obligations in life: to love God and to love others.
When the commands of God flood our minds throughout the day, we can be formed by them; when we read them and then forget them, we can easily miss formation.
“How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103)
We don’t eat a lot of honey, but it is smooth with a pure sweetness. Kris sometimes puts honey on her English muffins — mixed with a little margarin you can get a pleasurable taste. (Pam Cooke, in Placerville CA, makes some wonderful honey. Order some from her if you are so inclined.)
I’ve learned to make risotto — and if you use the right stock, and if you use a good solid-bottomed cooking pan, and if you heat the rice just right, and then if you mix in a little extra olive oil and some pesto and a little pecorino cheese, you can get a risotto that is smooth and creamy and — yes — perfectly pleasurable to the taste buds.
That, the psalmist says, is what the words of Torah, of teaching, are to his “moral and spiritual tastebuds.”
Pleasurable. He hears them and he says, “Ah, yes, that’s the grace of God washing over me; that’s the truth of God washing over me; that’s God’s love and I bask in it. Glory.”