The Torah, the Bible for the psalmist, was God’s communication with Israel in order to inform Israel of God’s ways — and its intent was to guide the whole of an Israelite — heart, soul, and strength. Here the psalmist utters one of the few lines of this psalm — from the nun section (119:105-112) — that many have memorized:
“Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light for my path” (v. 105).
The “word” (devar) is a “lamp to my feet.” Israel knew of lamps for the lampstand in the tabernacle and Temple; they fired their lamps with olive oil; they carried torches with them as they walked in the night so they could see (no street lights). Reminds one of the use of a flashlight when one is camping.
The image of a lamp as the revelation of God’s will for Israel and the psalmist is found in the Psalms (18:28) and Proverbs (6:23; 13:9). The light of the righteous shines brightly. And this one: “the human spirit is the lamp of YHWH that sheds light on one’s inmost being” (Prov. 20:27).
A potent statement is found in 2 Sam 22:29, David’s song of redemption: “You, YHWH, are my lamp; YHWH turns my darkness into light”.
The Torah as God’s revelation illumines the responsive Israelite and it gives light for the path of life.
The psalmist has taken an oath (119:106) to follow God’s righteous laws (mishpatim); for this oath and his stubborn commitment to walk in God’s ways — with his feet enlightened by Torah — he has suffered afflictions.
JPS: “I am very much afflicted” (119:107). The idea is to be bowed down, oppressed, imprisoned, put in bonds, weakened, devoid of strength, and humbled.
Why? For walking by the light he finds in Torah.
His prayer: “Preserve my life, YHWH, according to your word.”
It’s a circle.
Oddity isn’t it? He follows the light of the Torah, he is afflicted for following that light, and expects that same light of Torah to give him renewed light. He comes full circle. There is a little bit of a “You got me into this, now You get me out” approach to his life. Some people use such words foolishly; some people use such words wisely — they have followed God’s ways and God’s ways will be their redemption.
I’m sure many who have ended up imprisoned for protest have found these words of help. I’m sure those who have charted a new path for their life have used these words for help.
But, let’s not forget this: the light that guides our feet may lead us in the circle of good things, bad afflictions, good things.
Again, the psalmist — the one whose torch in the Torah that guides his path — is in trouble: his life is in jeopardy (119:109) — snares have been set for this light-following feet (110), but he still does not stray.I’m impressed here: this psalmist over and over complains about being in trouble, being oppressed, and being chased. Over and over he says he is committed to following the Torah, and walking according to the light it gives. And over and over he gets himself back in trouble for following the Torah. Some would cave in.
Notice the interchange of the following:
Life in danger … I will not forget your Law (v. 109).
Wicked have set traps for me .. but I have not strayed from your precepts (v. 110).
The darkness is thick; the dangers many; the light of the Torah is sufficient; keep walking. His feet know the way.
I wear golf shoes made by FootJoy — and I like them. They are firm; they shed water well (for early morning golf); they have lasted. The psalmist has another kind of foot joy: “Your statutes (adot) are my heritage forever.” And now this:
“They are the joy of my heart” (119:111).
The light of his feet, the word that guides his path in the darkness and which gets him into all kind of oppressive situations, are his heart’s joy. He’s got the joy of lighted feet; he’s got foot joy. (My new shoes bring me “foot joy.”)
What brings our “moral feet” joy? For the psalmist, it is what he hears from God through Torah as he walks the path of life. He’s resolved; he’s committed forever; he knows the lights that guide his feet are his inheritance and what he will pass on to others — this all brings his feet great joy as he seeks to walk.
The “joy” here is exultation. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation (Is 12:3); those who return to Zion will enter with singing and everlasting joy will crown their heads (35:10); “joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing” (51:3); he also speaks of the “oil of joy” (61:3).
This kind of joy is the eschatological hope of an oppressed people. I suspect it is a special word that an oppressed psalmist was attracted to.
Some people put their foot in their mouth; this psalmist puts his foot in his heart — or does he have his heart in his foot? Notice these words:
“My heart is set on keeping your decrees
to the very end” (119:112).
And v. 111 ended with this: your statues are “the joy of my heart.”
The heart that is joyous is the feet that are guided by the light of the Torah.
The Torah gives light for the feet as they walk the path; because his feet know the way, his heart is joyous and now resolute to keep the Lord’s decrees to the very end.
Easy to resolve to go all the way; hard to do. The psalmist’s history shows his future: the best way to predict a person’s future is to know their past. This psalmist’s past was a clear path of following the light the Torah had provided for his feet.
The heart of the psalmist was in his feet — his heart was resolved to walk in the ways of the Lord.