Tag Archives: Pentateuch

The Psalms and the Torah

If one stops to think about the fact that the Psalms are the “hymnal” for the worship of God in the temple, then it seems fitting that those psalms be theologically correct. As is so often the case in modern day use of songs, so it was in ancient times that people can and do receive their understanding of God through songs. Whether it is the tune or the catchy phrasing or the way it simply relates to a person’s mental or emotional state, songs and psalms penetrate the heart and influence the mind. And so, as Tucker wrote: “The tôrâ of Yahweh functions as the fundamental guide that leads one into the way of the righteous.”[1]

From the opening Psalm, one is faced with this fundamental guide that leads to righteousness.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3, ESV).

Thus, the psalm immediately points the reader/singer to the law. It calls upon the person to meditate on it and to live it if he/she desires to be stable and prosper. Spurgeon was correct when he wrote,

This Psalm may be regarded as The Preface Psalm, having in it a notification of the contents of the entire Book. It is the psalmist’s desire to teach us the way to blessedness, and to warn us of the sure destruction of sinners. This, then, is the matter of the first Psalm, which may be looked upon, in some respects, as the text upon which the whole of the Psalms make up a divine sermon.[2]

For this reason, the Torah—the Law of God—frequently comes up in the Psalms. While Tucker is correct that, “There are only three such psalms in the Psalter: Psalms 1; 19; 119,”[3] there are many direct and indirect pointers to the Law, the Mosaic Covenant, and the need for instruction. For example:

O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent?
Who shall dwell on your holy hill?
He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
and speaks truth in his heart;
who does not slander with his tongue
and does no evil to his neighbor,
nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
in whose eyes a vile person is despised,
but who honors those who fear the LORD;
who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
who does not put out his money at interest
and does not take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be moved. (Psalm 15, 1-5, ESV).

If one were not closely reading he may miss the fact that these are issues dealt with in the Psalm are also those which are throughout the Torah, but especially in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Laws against slandering (Lev. 19:16) and doing evil against the neighbor (Exod 20:16-17) are part of the covenantal law. Honoring the Lord (Exod 20:1-11), fearing the Lord (Deut 10:12-13), are the very foundations of the Law. Interest and bribery are not simply social issues of the day, but commands to be lived by within the Torah (Lev 25:35-38; Deut 16:19).

Psalm 25 mentions the covenant ever so briefly:

All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies (v. 10, ESV).

Hearkening back to Exodus 34, where God makes the emphatic statement that He is a God of steadfast love and faithfulness, but also that He will judge justly those who break His law–those who break covenant with Him (vv. 6-7, ESV). The interesting part of the Exodus account is that when Moses heard this (along with seeing the back of God), he fell down and worshiped. “And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped,” (v. 8, ESV). The very truth that God expressed is what led to worship is made clear in verses 9-10. Thus Moses did according to the covenant, what the psalmist was doing and expected the singer to do as they read/sung Psalm 25: worship in light of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness according to the covenant.

Psalm 37 ought to bring one to remember the words of God as the people were soon to enter the land of Canaan. “Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me to possess this land,’” (Deut 9:4a, ESV). It is clear that the people were not righteous. However, it is just as clear that if the people would be righteous, they themselves would not be thrust out of the land, but would keep it as their inheritance (Exod 20:12, Deut 29:1-9). Thus when one sang the following words, being familiar with the Torah and the Covenant, they ought to have been putting God’s Word straight into their hearts and minds (as verse 31 will state), so as to live the very truths that came from their lips.

Turn away from evil and do good;
so shall you dwell forever.
For the LORD loves justice;
he will not forsake his saints.
They are preserved forever,
but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.
The righteous shall inherit the land
and dwell upon it forever.
The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
and his tongue speaks justice.
The law of his God is in his heart;
his steps do not slip. (Psalm 37:27-31, ESV).

These psalms mentioned do not even begin to mention the historical psalms in which the history of Israel or history of the cosmos is recounted, which would once again bring with them the notion that the God to whom they sing or of whom they hear others sing, is the creator God and covenant God who sustains them.

Finally, one quick word about Psalm 119. As Tucker wrote, “Psalm 119 is the Torah psalm par excellence.”[4] Each set of eight verses are alliterated with the Hebrew alphabet. Each verse within the first 8 verses start with Aleph (the first Hebrew letter), then the second set of eight verses start with Beth (the second Hebrew letter) and so on down the line. Not only is this chapter the longest chapter of the Bible, but it is 176 verses pointing one to the excellencies of the Law—the Torah. Some of the most memorized Scriptures come from this text: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path,” (Psalm 119:105). “Thy word have I hid in my heart that I may not sin against God, (Psalm 119:11). “Open thou mine eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law,” (Psalm 119:18). This entire psalm was to bring the worshiper to revere and love God’s law, His statutes, His precepts, and His rules.

Within the Psalter, the hymnal of the Jews, the worshipers were taught to worship God but to do so according to the Law and the Mosaic covenant. Calvin wrote, “There are. . .two things which the prophet [writer of Psalm 119] mainly aims at; the exhorting of the children of God to follow godliness and a holy life; and the prescribing of the rule, and pointing out the form of the true worship of God, so that the faithful may devote themselves wholly to the study of the Law.”[5] The same could be said about all the psalms quoted here in this post, and many more. The Book of Psalms is a book built upon the premise of the Law and the Covenant(s). One cannot read/sing for long without standing upon some truth directly or indirectly linked to the Torah.


[1] W. D. Tucker, Jr., “Psalms 1: Book of,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry and Writings ed. Tremper Longman III and Peter Enns, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 585.

[2] Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David: Volume 1, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977), 1.

[3] W. D. Tucker, Jr., “Psalms 1: Book of,” in DOT: Wisdom, Poetry and Writings, 585.

[4] Ibid., 585.

[5] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries: Volume VI, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 398.

The Continuity of the Pentateuch

The Pentateuch is better seen as five volumes of one book rather than five books, distinct and separate from each other. Ultimately they display God’s creation, covenants, and man’s inability to live up to such covenants due to their own indwelling sin. As Moses wrote in Genesis 6:5, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” (ESV). This was how it was since the fall.

Recently, due to a controversy in the media, I began to look into Scripture so as to come to a biblical worldview on sex. Starting with Genesis, I found every sexual sin category with which the Levitical laws deal. There was tension between Adam and Eve (Gn 3:7), rape (Gn 6:1, 34:2), homosexuality (Gn 19:4-5), incest (Gn 19:32), pleasure without responsibility (Gn 38:19), prostitution (Gn 38:15-16), and of course adultery (Gn 39:7). Each of these is dealt with in Leviticus 18 in some way, which included bestiality that I was not able to find in Genesis. You can read that article here. Thus, Leviticus links with Genesis in giving laws against the sins that had their beginnings soon after creation.

In addition, other laws that have their roots in Genesis, either by sins observed, traditions begun, or covenants made, are given or repeated in Exodus-Deuteronomy. We have the first substitutionary sacrifice made by God himself to atone for the sins of Adam and Eve. Yet by the time one gets to Cain and Abel, humanity gives their own sacrifices, but when they make their offerings, one sees the beginning of acceptable and unacceptable sacrifices to God. The proper layout of these sacrifices are dealt with in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  There is the first murder when Cain kills Abel, the accepted one, thus expressing the despair that “the woman’s seed” was murdered by the unaccepted child. This same despair can be felt in the very first chapter of Exodus as all the male babies are to be murdered. Coupling the murder of male children with the promise of the Abraham’s blessing to the world and becoming a great nation, one cannot help but wonder how God will fulfill His covenant. Thus we find a deliver, a show of God’s great might, and His protection over His son whom He called out of Egypt (Hos. 11:1).

At the same time, one finds other continuities in Genesis through Deuteronomy. The promise of land given to Abraham by God included the prophecy that his people would not enter the land until after spending time as sojourners in a strange land. “Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years,” (Gn. 15:13, ESV). Genesis ends with the Abrahamic family in Egypt and growing, and this is exactly where Exodus begins. The family has grown greatly, but have experienced life in slavery for some odd years. Exodus and the following books of the Pentateuch deal in great detail (in their own way/genre) about the descendants of that Abrahamic Covenant wandering about to enter into the land that was originally promised to Abraham and then Isaac and finally Jacob. They are becoming the nation, the chosen covenant nation though still split as twelve tribes. Like Abraham who was called out of the pagan city of Ur, so Israel was called out of the pagan nation of Egypt. Like Abraham who showed at times faithfulness to God and at times distrust, so one sees–especially in the Exodus account prior to and during the Sinai visit, and the accounts in Numbers with grumblings and grievous sins–Israel wandered, semi-nomadic, learning to trust in this God who called them out.

There is a constant renewal within these books. From the six days of creation to the re-creation after the flood to the starting over with one family (Abraham), to bringing that family into a new land to be a holy nation and a priesthood to God, there is one continuous thread of God’s covenant promises and God’s covenant protection. This is due, at least in part, to God’s unfailing love expressed continually throughout the first five books of the Bible. As Alexander and Baker wrote, “The most significant thing the Israelites learned about the holy character of God is that it is ‘unfailing love.’ . . .It speaks of a favor given to someone who does not have a right to that favor by someone who does not have to give that favor,” (T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker, Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 850.)  One may even rightly go as far as God’s seventh day of rest to the Sabbath rest demanded of the people to the Sabbath holy days to the rest promised in the land of Canaan, showing a clear path that God’s revelation to Moses is interwoven with the story of Israel’s journey. Genesis shows the beginning of Israel, beginning with creation, the fall, the flood, and tower of Babel detailing the need for a covenant people. Exodus detailing the nation’s size, their being called out of Egypt and to God as His holy people, as well as Exodus setting up a system of government and worship for the newly formed tribal-nations. Leviticus is a book predominately making up the ceremonial/cultic laws that the Levites and priesthood was to make sure was followed, giving examples of what happens when those laws are not kept. Numbers is predominately a census book of the nation, detailing the number of Israelites at the beginning, middle, and end of their forty-year journey. While these volumes of books would be available for the reading, Moses condensed such books (Exodus-Numbers) into one as the restating of the law or Deuteronomy.  This was given just before Israel would enter into the Promised Land, and Moses, reflecting back on the previous forty years, reminds the new generation of all that transpired with their parents and grandparents, providing extra measures of wisdom and instruction on top of restating the basics of the law sometimes in more detail. Of course, when one reads Joshua and Judges, one will see that once again humanity fails. Each person with whom the covenant was made (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses the people of Israel, as well as the first generation in the land of promise, as well as the second and third, and all throughout Israel’s history) all failed to live up to the demands of their holy God. This ultimately shows that while the laws and covenants were made, no human has the capacity of obedience. As Alexander and Baker wrote, “The covenant did not exist to show humans that they could obey God and thus please him. Rather it existed to show them that even with the best will they could not attain his holy character in themselves,” (Ibid., 858).

It is clear that the Pentateuch, while thought of as five distinct books, should be understood more like five volumes of one book. There is one constant story and theology taking shape through varying genres: historical, legal, census, poetic, etc. To separate them as distinct books developed by persons with different agendas, motivations, and times is to disregard the evidence of succession. While, perhaps I would vary slightly with Alexander and Baker’s assessment of structure, it is clear and concise as to the Pentateuch’s formation:

The broad triadic scheme reflects (1) the transparently introductory function of Genesis 1:1-11:26 with respect to the whole; (2) the manifest concentration on God’s purposes achieved through people and events leading to, occurring at and ensuing form Sinai in Genesis 11:27-Numbers 36:13; and (3) the distinctly recollective, interpretive and transitional function of Deuteronomy with respect to the whole, (Ibid., 549).

I hope you enjoyed reading the summation of my homework in the Old Testament Survey class. If you have any thoughts, comments, or questions, I would love to read them. If this was somehow a blessing to you, praise the Lord. If not, I completely understand.