Happy Are Those Who Walk in the Law of the Lord

By the grace of God, I did it! I set the coffee machine to make me a fresh pot at 7 AM, went to bed at 10 PM, and while I missed my mark of waking and showering before 7, I did get up happily as soon as the baby woke me and got in some Bible time, too.

Since I have been reading a chapter of Hebrews every night before bed, I decided to read some Psalms this morning to put me in a good frame of mind for the rest of the day. Usually I read the shorter, more vague and generic, feel-good kind of Psalms because they make me happy. Just a few short verses about how faithful the Lord is, how much He loves us and has mercy on us, and how He saves us from spiritual death. What better way to start the day than by contemplating such things?

But this morning I decided I was up for a challenge. There is one chapter of Psalms I have never been able to force myself to read all the way through, and that's Psalm 119 -- the 176-verse long monster of a love letter to . . . God's law?

God's law, the law I break and/or ignore on a routine basis. The law that is ever nagging at the back of my mind as I live for my wretched self. The law that I would go to hell for breaking, had Jesus not, in the Father's infinite mercy, been sacrificed to pay for my redemption and forgiveness. That law. Goody.

So I opened the Bible I keep downstairs, which is a New Revised Standard Version (favored by Catholics and Anglicans), and the first verse, as worded in the NRSV, just about knocked me out of my chair. "Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord." Suddenly I was seeing this verse with new eyes. It did not say "Saved are those who walk in the law of the Lord." It did not say "Righteous are those who walk in the law of the Lord." It didn't even say "More loved by God are those who walk in the law of the Lord." No, it said "Happy." Happy are those who walk in the law of the Lord.

All at once I started thinking the author of this Psalm wasn't the holier-than-thou, unattainable saint I always thought he was. He wasn't condemning the reader to a life of unworthiness for failing to keep God's precepts. He was telling us how to be happy. God's law isn't a death sentence -- it's an instruction book on how to have a happy, fulfilled life. Happy are those who walk in the law of the Lord.

I went upstairs and opened my trusty NASB, supposedly the most literal English-language translation available. Since I don't speak Greek or Hebrew (yet!), it would have to do. The more literal translation is apparently "Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord." Again, not saved, righteous or loved, but "blessed." Well, the word "blessed" is such a uniquely religious word that it was no wonder it hadn't spoken to me as a sinner in quite the same way as the more human word "happy" did in the NRSV. "Blessed" is a word that has always been difficult for me to grasp. I usually think of it as having been given things -- health, family, love, prosperity. There's a part of me that knows the word means much, much more than that, but it has been hard for me to deepen my understanding. But coincidentally (yeah, right -- I don't believe in coincidence, especially when it comes to God), I have been reading Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen, and the chapter I finished last night was called "Blessed."

According to Nouwen (and on this point I will have to take his word, since I do not speak Latin, either), the word "bless" in Latin is benedicere and the word "benediction" literally means speaking (dictio) well (bene) of someone. So a blessing, in one respect, can be an admission of worthiness. When God blesses us, He is saying good things about us and calling us worthy. Is it any wonder that those who keep His laws are blessed?

But paradoxically, it's not because they've kept His laws that they are called blessed. After all, none of us are capable of keeping God's laws without His divine intervention. We are flawed creatures, doomed from the start, and it is only God's grace that allows us to do anything good at all. The reason that those who follow God's law are called blessed is that He loves them. He has cleansed them and made them worthy, just because He wanted to, and because it glorified Him. It is not under their own power that they have kept His precepts -- no one can do that but for God's grace, grace, grace. And under the Old Covenant, when this Psalm was written, surely only the grace of God could have saved a person, just as today, since it would have been impossible for any person to keep every one of God's laws without His direct help.

So what does this mean for believers today, since we are no longer under the law of the Old Testament?

Jesus came to fulfill the law and free us from the Old Covenant. It is no longer by the law that we are saved, but by His sacrifice. So those who are in Jesus, who are in the New Covenant in His blood, are part of a covenant in which the law is fulfilled. By the blood of Jesus, every jot and tittle of the law has been honored and fulfilled for those who love Him. How much more are we who give our lives to Christ blessed than those long ago who relied on the law and grace to save them? How well does God speak of us who are part of a covenant in which every law is fulfilled? And most of all, how very happy should that make us?

I still haven't gotten past verse 25 of Psalm 119, but I'm no longer afraid of it. On the contrary, I am looking forward to savoring it over the next several mornings and gleaning beauty and truth from all 176 verses. I already have more I want to say, but I'll save it for another time.


Blogger Anne said...

I loved this! You are SO right that we tend to look at the law as the 'boogie man' that made us so unhappy and thank heaven we don't have to 'be under it' anymore. I really was blessed by what you said here and look forward to seeing what you get out of the 'monster' psalm!

PS... I'm NachoMama from the forums... Anne is my blog id name (and my real one)

10/24/2005 12:49:00 PM  

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