Meditating on Torah
“O how love I thy law! It is my meditation all the day.”
An old sailor kept getting lost every time he put out to sea, so his friends gave him a compass. The next time he went out in the boat, he took the compass with him, but as usual he became hopelessly confused and unable to find land. Finally, his friends rescued him. Disgusted and impatient, they asked him, “Why didn’t you use that compass we gave you? You could have saved us a lot of trouble.” The sailor responded, “I tried to use it. I wanted to go north, but as hard as I tried to make the needle aim in that direction, it just kept on pointing southeast, so I threw the blinking thing overboard.” That old sailor was so certain he knew which way was north that he stubbornly tried to force his own personal persuasion on his compass. Unable to do so, he tossed it aside as worthless and failed to benefit from the guidance it offered. Many people use the Bible the same way. They read into it what they “know” is so. They are so persuaded that they know what the Bible says, that they are unable to hear what it says. There is an old saying, “You cannot fill a full cup.” It means that you cannot teach people who think they already know. Perhaps it was Mark Twain who observed that it is not what we don't know that is the problem, it is what we know that ain't so. Therefore, our question might be how do we read the Bible in an effective way. Or, how do we read the Bible so that we get at what it is trying to tell us?
Psalm 119:97 offers us an answer to that question. It says we should meditate on Torah. Now I have used the KJV this morning and it says we should meditate on the law of God. Unfortunately, when we think of OT law we think of the 10 commandments or the other laws given in the Bible, the “Thou shalt nots,” but the actual Hebrew word is “Torah” and “Torah” would certainly include 10 commandments but would be far more than that.
The Hebrew word “Torah” means “instruction” or “teaching,” specifically the teaching of God. Most often Torah refers to the first five books of the Bible, also called the Five Books of Moses, or Pentateuch. Sometimes however the Torah can mean all the books of our OT and the rabbinic commentaries that Jews call the Talmud. I suspect that the psalmist is using the word “Torah” in this broader sense, meaning the whole word of God. We are to meditate on Torah, the written word.
So let us think about what that means. Meditating begins by clearing your mind of the other stuff. We come to the Bible to think about the Bible, not the weather, not about how a 20-year-old won the Daytona 500, not about gas prices, not about what you are going to have for dinner. Meditating means focus. In this case, focus on Torah. It means we are going to get serious and actually think about what we are reading. Meditating means that I am intensely involved with what I read.
We see this in verse 97. The Psalmist says I love God's word. This reminds me of a story about a young girl in college, who went into a local bookstore and spotted a really handsome guy sitting at a table. Obviously, he was an author; he was autographing books for buyers. She was instantly smitten, not by the book but by the author. She got in line and made her to the table. “Is this a good book” she asked the young author. “Well, I certainly hope so,” he replied. She bought a book, got him to autograph it, took it home, and spent all night reading it. Next day she returned to the bookstore, found the young man still at his table. “This is the most wonderful book I ever read in my life,” she gushed. “This is a truly great book.” But we might say, of course she thought that. She was in love with the author; so she naturally loved his works. Yes, but maybe there is a lesson there. What is our motive for meditation on scripture? We need to be in love with the author. Jesus said that is the first commandment: Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and mind and soul. We see that love in v97. The psalmist is in love with God; therefore, in love with God's teaching. Because he loves God he wants instruction in God's way.
In Psalm 1:2, speaking of the blessed man, the Psalmist says, “His delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” The blessed man, or woman, loves the word of God and wants to know how to apply that word. That is part of any real meditation on scripture—applying it to myself. How do I apply God’s will that I see in God's word to my life?
The phrase “day and night” expresses the constant nature of this meditation. The Psalmist loves Torah and wants to stay in Torah. This is his desire, his delight. In V103, he says, “How sweet are thy words unto my taste! Yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” He emphasizes how intensely he loves to think about scripture.
The psalmist frequently describes life as a path. Our goal in this path is to walk in God's way. In Psalm 119:101 the psalmist puts this negatively saying, “I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word.” You can see that the Psalmist's concern is to live according to Gods will.
Again, in 119:105, God’s Word is described as a lamp for my path. The Torah is not like the light of day, but rather like a lantern that lights my way to take the next step in my journey. It is often a step of faith, so, as much as I pray that God would reveal his will to me, I also need to pray for the courage to do his will. I do not see very far along the path as I take that step, but I know who guides my path, so I walk confidently.
God told Joshua this as he took command of Israel before they crossed the Jordan River. God said in Joshua 1:8, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”
Therefore, we need to start applying mediation on Torah. Indeed this is the foundation of faith. Meditation is the elementary school of belief. That is not to say that it is easy or unimportant.
Several years ago, Roy Firestone interviewed the famous basketball player Kareem Abdul Jabar. During the interview, Firestone Asked Jabar if there was one coach during his career that influenced him the most. Immediately, Jabar answered, “Yes, John Wooten of UCLA.” Firestone then asked him what it was that made him so special. Kareem said, “He was an ardent student and teacher of the fundamentals of basketball.” He then went on to tell how on the first day of practice, Coach Wooten taught the whole team how to put on their socks so as to never get a blister, and how to tie their shoes so that they never come untied. Now that is basic.
Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, did something similar. Once, after losing a game, he called for a team meeting in the locker room. He held up a football and announced, “This is a football!” He then said, “Men, we must get back to the basics.”
The same is true of the Christian life. The basic premise of Christianity is that we are a people of the Book. We need to get back to the book. Kellogg’s Corn Flakes ran an ad, several years ago which said, “Taste them again for the first time.” I invite you to taste the Bible again for the first time.
You have probably seen all the polls that show that Christians do not know the Bible and do not read the Bible. It is estimated that less that 1/5 of Christians read scripture daily. So, you might ask, If spending time in God’s Word is so important for spiritual growth, why do not more people do it? Why does Bible reading sometimes feel like pure drudgery? How is it that when we do read scripture we often feel as if we are not getting anywhere? Because we have forgotten how to meditate.
Meditation fills our minds and hearts with God and God's word. That means that meditation is absolutely necessary for growing in the faith. Biblical meditation involves focusing on scripture, thinking about what it says, ruminating about what it says. Meditation is not prayer. In prayer, we are talking to God. In meditation, we are reflecting on God or about God. Again, meditation is not precisely Bible study, though it may include some bible study. Meditation is more of an attempt to absorb what God has for me in a particular verse. Meditation is to the Word of God what digestion is to food. Food is of little use if we fail to digest it well. Doctors tell us that the digestion process that takes place after swallowing is not enough to process our food completely. Our mothers used to tell us, over and over, “Chew your food.” Of course, they were right. If we want to maximize the nutritional benefit, we must first chew well. Let us apply that. If we want to maximize what we get out of scripture, we must spend some time with it, ponder it, chew it over. Meditation is a process of reflecting and absorbing.
Obviously this process requires time and peace and quiet. If I were the devil, I would do my best to divide and fragment the thinking of the God's people. I would get them confused as to who they are and why they are here. I would get them preoccupied with other things. I would try to get them to think like the world thinks. In the NT, Ephesians describes this worldly way of thinking, saying, “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them” (4:18). Paul urges the Ephesians not to live this way, saying, “You must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds” (4:17). But that is precisely how the devil would want us to walk. Again, if I were the devil, I would like to keep people away from serious involvement with the Bible. I would want them to have a superficial relationship. You may know that the name Satan means “adversary” in Hebrew. Our Adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry, and crowds, things that keep us away from God. All of Satan's tools attempt to prevent us from developing the mind of Christ through meditating on the Word. Satan's desire is to keep us out of the Word because the Word draws us to God.
Meditation draws us to God. The purpose of reflecting on Scripture is to apply the passage to ourselves. Through meditation, we internalize and personalize. We bring the word into our minds and make it personal, then we respond.
You are the focal point in application. This is not selfish or self-centered. You are meditating on the Word as part of your search for spiritual help and direction.
Meditation on Torah is a lost art among most Christians. This holy exercise of pondering over the Word, chewing it over, takes time, which ill fits the speed of our modern age. Today most Christians' devotions are too hurried, their lives too rushed. Americans are materialistic, consumer-minded, and they want instant gratification. Holiness and hurry never go well together. Prayer and preoccupation make strange bedfellows. A deep knowledge of spiritual things can only come by the way of unhurried reflection upon God's truth.
The believer, who practices Biblical meditation, not only learns more, but also enjoys more. So often, Christians read their Bibles in a legalistic sort of way, as a sort of duty that quickly becomes a drudgery. They think that reading scripture will make them holy. It does not. Reading the Bible does not make us holy. Applying the Bible makes us holy.
If I want to go to a church, I need to go where the meeting is held. It is no different with God. If I want to grow spiritually, I need to go where God is. God can be found in the Word. God can be found in meditation and prayer. As I begin to meditate and pray over a passage of scripture, I receive more of the power of God in my life. Thus, meditation serves as a sort of conduit for receiving the Holy Spirit and being renewed in the image and likeness of God.
So let us get to a practical application. Choose a small portion of scripture and read it over and over until it is very familiar. Then meditate on it by pondering its meaning. Apply it to yourself in various ways. Look at each word or phrase individually. Think about a little personal commentary on the verse. Finally, when you have “chewed” on it enough, pray the verse or an application of the verse. It is too easy to read verses and forget them. Perhaps this is what James had in mind when he spoke of those who are hearers of the word, but not doers of the word. But when you meditate on what you read, it sticks with you. It becomes part of you. James says that those who are hearers of the word are like a person who looks in a mirror and sees themselves and then goes away and forgets what they saw. An occasional reading of a few verses makes no impact on our lives. James urges us to a more serious view of scripture, saying in 1:22, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Meditate on Torah, ponder it, for there you will meet the beloved author. You will meet God, and that will change your life.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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