By Dr. Doug Redford
The Guiding Light was one of many soap operas that have been a part of television history. It’s listed in the Guinness World Records as the longest running television drama in American history, presented on CBS for 57 years from June 30, 1952, until September 18, 2009. It was also preceded by a 15-year broadcast on radio.
There is another guiding light that has been around for much, much longer than the soap opera. It is the light described in Psalm 119:105: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” The third of the Jewish feasts in our series of studies, known in Hebrew as Shavuot (pronounced Shah-voo-awt), commemorates for modern Jews the giving of the Torah (God’s law) at Mount Sinai.
The word Shavuot comes from the Hebrew word for seven (shavuot is the plural form). The Old Testament describes Shavuot as originally a harvest feast and refers to it by three different names. One is the Feast of Weeks, because it was observed seven weeks, or 50 days, after the Passover (Leviticus 23:15, 16). (The name Pentecost, by which the feast later came to be known, comes from a Greek word meaning “fiftieth.”) The second name is Feast of Harvest (Exodus 23:16) because the feast concluded the spring harvest of grain. The third name, Day of Firstfruits (Numbers 28:26), comes from the practice of offering to the Lord the first loaves made from the new grain (Leviticus 23:17).
The link between Shavuot and the giving of the law at Mount Sinai is not established in the Old Testament itself. Some have suggested that a connection was drawn between Passover and Shavuot in this way: Passover marks the Israelites’ freedom from physical bondage in Egypt; Shavuot celebrates the people’s release from spiritual bondage through God’s provision of his righteous law.
This year Jews will observe Shavuot beginning on sunset of May 30. The celebration will conclude with nightfall on June 1. One practice is to stay up the entire first night of Shavuot and study the Torah, or law, then pray as early as possible the next morning. The Book of Ruth is also read during the observance of Shavuot. This may be attributed to the book’s setting during a time of harvest, which reflects the original background for Shavuot’s celebration.
Shavuot’s focus on God’s law should challenge Christians today to consider the priority that God has always intended his written Word to have throughout the history of his people, in both Old and New Testaments.
Love the Law?
Psalm 119 offers some helpful insights into how the Israelites viewed life under God’s law. An especially noteworthy verse is 97 in which the writer expressed his genuine excitement for and devotion to God’s law: “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.” At the time, this writer did not have anything close to the complete Bible that we possess. He had some of the Old Testament, but there were likely a number of books that had not yet been written. His primary frame of reference was the law, meaning the law of Moses by which God’s covenant people were to live.
When the writer used the word love to describe his attitude toward the law, such language may strike us as rather strange. Perhaps we have been among those who resolved to read through the Bible in a year, only to get stuck in Leviticus and its massive amount of rituals and regulations. How can anyone love that?
What we must always keep in mind is this: the Israelites of Old Testament times were surrounded by various pagan peoples whose gods were idols and had nothing to offer in the way of help or guidance. Often the religion of these peoples was more a matter of guesswork as to which rituals or sacrifices were needed to appease the gods.
In contrast, the Israelites’ God had not left them groping in the dark for direction. (It’s hard to get any clearer than the directives found in the Ten Commandments!) God’s law provided a light for the Israelites that no other people possessed (Psalm 147:19, 20). Sadly, much of Old Testament history is marked by the disobedience of God’s people and their acceptance of the darkness of pagan ways. They did not love the law with the passion of the writer of Psalm 119.
Smart Where It Counts
The writer of Psalm 119 followed his tribute to God’s law in verse 97 with a description of how God’s law had benefited him personally. He stated that God’s commands had given him more insight and understanding than his teachers and elders possessed (vv. 99, 100). (Elders here may refer simply to older people rather than to an office or title.) The writer was not saying that he did not need or respect teachers and elders. He was affirming that the world’s wisdom (whether gained through education or experience) cannot provide an individual with what the light of God’s truth provides.
How can an ancient book like the Bible apply to life in our high tech, multidimensional world? While parts of the Bible reflect the culture of the times in which they were written, the Bible’s timeless quality allows it to shine its light into areas that the world is increasingly unwilling to confront. These include matters such as human sinfulness and God’s provision of redemption by means of the cross of Jesus. By addressing such issues, the Bible guides readers in any setting in developing the kind of character that will be more apt to make right decisions in a given situation. The Bible cannot offer the kind of help that say, Siri or similar devices can offer in answering the variety of questions that arise in the course of daily living. But neither can Siri offer what the Bible offers: the development of godly character that helps one navigate through the ungodly terrain of our world.
Thus whatever one’s cultural setting (the Western world or primitive tribal Africa), the Bible’s message is still relevant; and obedience to it will produce a godly character and therefore choices pleasing to God and most beneficial to the one making the choices. For example, the warnings against seductive women found in Proverbs 7 apply to an individual, whether that person is tempted by a Canaanite shrine prostitute or a pornographic web site. If one follows the Bible, he or she is equipped to resist either temptation.
Paul described the “Holy Scriptures” to Timothy as “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). Many books will make their readers wise in any number of fields of study. Only the Bible will make us smart where it really counts.
The writer of Psalm 119 also stated that God’s commands “make me wiser than my enemies” (v. 98). It may be helpful for Christians to apply this in terms of our primary enemy: Satan. Knowing and living by God’s Word will always give us the edge over Satan. Note that whenever Satan spoke in Scripture to someone, he spoke in a rather arrogant, condescending manner as though he knew more than the person he was addressing. Examples are his words to Eve (Genesis 3:4, 5), Jesus (Matthew 4:5, 6), and to God regarding Job (Job 1:8-11; 2:3-5). Jesus’ use of Scripture in response to every temptation of the enemy remains our best strategy: when faced with the prince of darkness, we must shine the light.
Maintaining a Light Diet
The writer of Psalm 119 stated in verse 103, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” For those of us who are older, there may come a time when we have to alter some of our eating habits. Perhaps we can’t eat as much of a certain food, or we have to eliminate that food completely from our diet.
In Old Testament times, honey came to symbolize the utmost in dietary satisfaction or enjoyment. The diet of God’s Word gave the author of the psalm a spiritual satisfaction that the world could not and still cannot provide. Regardless of how our nutritional requirements may change over the years, the nourishment from God’s Word will fulfill our spiritual needs at every age and stage of life. The guiding light that shone for the writer of Psalm 119 shines just as brightly for us today.
Dr. Doug Redford serves as minister with Highview Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio.