Tag Archives: torah

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.

God’s Covenant Within the Pentateuch

Like most Baptists, I grew up with Dispensational Theology as the only theology. I had never even heard of Covenantal Theology. I was intrigued with the books of Clarence Larkin and J. Dwight Pentecost. It was all I knew; and I consumed the theology. Initially, it was all about the end-times; after all, what else was there? We could be raptured at any moment! Yet, as I went into young adulthood, I realized there was more. It was a whole way of reading the Bible, of understanding the text, especially the covenants and how God related with humanity–but predominately, still the end-times (for me personally). Here is my confession: As I was reading The Left Behind series, I began to have my doubts about the eschatology of the Dispensational Theology. I knew what I was reading was fiction, but as I was growing in my studies of the rest of Scripture, I could not jive what I was reading in that series with what the Bible was saying. At that point I went on a theological journey and discovered Covenant Theology. I read books like Far As the Curse is Found by Michael Williams. I read the covenants for what they were,  without preconceived ideas (at least tried), and discovered that they read differently than I was ever taught. Williams (following McWilliams) would argue that there was an Adamic Covenant but rather than it being a covenant of works, it was indeed a covenant of grace. “Adam was required to obey the covenant instruction not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and Adam’s failure to obey would bring sin and death. But the sufficient condition for the covenant and Adam’s life within it was the father and kingly favor of God. What I am suggesting here is that life in covenant relationship with God was something that Adam enjoyed by God’s grace” (Michael D. Williams, Far As the Curse is Found, (Philipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2005), 72). The sign (and blessing) within the Adamic Covenant (as all covenants have their signatures) was the tree of life itself (ibid., 51). Being a covenant of grace did not necessitate it to be an everlasting or unconditional covenant however. Upon Adam’s fall, the tree of life (sign/blessing) was forbidden and eventually removed, only to reappear in Revelation 22 when all things are restored and even made greater. I bring this part up simply because Alexander and Baker seemed to dismiss entirely the idea of an Adamic Covenant (Alexander and Baker, Dictionary: Pentateuch, 141-142), but instead wrote and argued against a creation covenant (Ibid., 139-143).

From here one would go to the Noahic Covenant, which as indicated by Alexander and Baker, was a retelling of the creation story (Ibid., 323-324), which would give credibility to a covenant with Adam. If Noah–the one from whom all life would come–received a covenant, would not the original one from whom all life would come also have received a covenant, even if not explicitly laid out? It would seem, at minimum, plausible. The Noahic Covenant was, like the Adamic, a covenant of grace. It’s sign and blessing was that of a rainbow. Unlike Adam’s covenant, this one is eternal. “God promises here are not contingent upon human response or behavior,” (Ibid., 140). However, like the Adamic, there are calls to obedience: no eating of blood, multiply and fill the earth (subdue it). “Thus, the primary obligation imposed on humanity is that of fulfilling the role appointed by God in the beginning,” (Ibid.).

Both Williams (p. 100) and Alexander and Baker (p. 143) would agree that the Abrahamic Covenant builds off the Noahic and the Mosaic/Sinaitic builds from the Abrahamic. One of the issues that I struggled with long ago was that of the Abrahamic Covenant not truly being a covenant of grace since to be part of the covenant one, if he were male, must be circumcised. If he was not, he was cut off from the people and the covenant. If, according to Alexander and Baker, God was narrowing the focus from filling the earth to simply making a nation that would bring blessing to the earth (Ibid., 356), this would seem to make perfect sense. God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants cannot be circumvented by allowing anyone to come in anytime they please, nor allowing anyone to stay in when they will not abide. Whether one sees Genesis’s chapters 12, 15, and 17 as one covenant expansion or as separate covenants, chapter 17 ultimately includes all the substance of the previous two (seed, land, and blessing), and incorporates circumcision as both a sign and blessing.  The sign to remind the male of God’s promises and a blessing for without it all the promises would be removed as he would be cut off. Thus, while the Abrahamic Covenant was one of grace in the same manner as the Adamic and Noahic (no one compelled God to make a covenant, but He did so out of grace), it was not unconditional, and so not in any real way, eternal (according to man’s standard).

It is not difficult, therefore, to see how the Mosaic Covenant is an extension or expansion of the Abrahamic. In one sense, one could say that it was a reissuance of Abraham’s to the entire nation, however in another sense, the Mosaic is better thought of as being encompassed within the Abrahamic (Ibid., 150). The sign of the Mosaic Covenant (as well as its blessing) is that of the Sabbath rest, not only Saturdays, but any and all Sabbaths. “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I the LORD, sanctify you,” (Ex 31:13, ESV; italics mine). Once again, to break the Sabbath is cause for being cut off from the covenant and thus the blessing. The Sabbath blessing was not the only blessing, but it was a sign of the blessed rest in God. One should not forget that according to 2 Chronicles 36:20-21, the Israelites were taken into Babylon so that the land could enjoy its Sabbaths that the people never kept; thus, not keeping the sign and so not keeping the blessings, but rather being cut off.

What is interesting is that Alexander and Baker only mention the Suzerain treaty in passing.  Williams (citing G. E. Mendenhall) notes six components of such a treaty paralleling with Exodus:

  1. Preamble – Ex. 20:2 “I am the LORD your God”
  2. Historical Prologue – Ex. 20:2 “who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery”
  3. Covenant Stipulations – Ex. 20:3-17 (The Ten Commandments)
  4. Public reading of the document – Ex. 24:1-11
  5. Deposit of the tablets – Ex. 25:16 (often 2 copies were made, 1 for the king and 1 for the vassal, leaving the possibility that the two tablets in Moses’s hands were identical copies rather than 5 to 5 or 4 to 6 commandments on each)
  6. Giving of blessings/cursings depending on adherence – the rest of the Old Testament (but predicted in Deuteronomy 28-30)
    (Williams, Far As the Curse is Found, 141-142)

Williams also pointed out that in giving this covenant, Israel was agreeing to have God as their King and they would be His servants (vassals – a kingdom of priests and holy nation). At the same time, God covenanted with the people to “fulfill his promised role as covenant overlord to his people,” (Ibid., 143).

Taking all this information together, one may define covenant as an initiative by a loving and gracious God to an undeserving people to show that love and grace through blessings, protection, and discipline. Each covenant goes deeper and wider, becoming deeply rich in its implications and widely spread encompassing 2 persons, then 8, then a nation, finding its ultimate and truest form in Jesus Christ given to all who believe.

Once again, you get to enjoy what I am studying in my Old Testament Survey class. Feel free to respond. I’d love to hear from you, even if it is about covenants.