Beckett: Wisdom through the Law

Psalm 119:97-104
Oh how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me.
I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged, for I keep Your precepts.
I hold back my feet from every evil way in order to keep Your Word.
I do not turn aside from Your rules, for You have taught me.
How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through Your precepts I get understanding; therefore, I hate every false way.

In this section of the acrostic poem, the psalmist speaks of wisdom and understanding gained through God’s Law. Only through God’s Law is one able to hold back their feet from evil ways (v. 101) and “hate every false way” (v. 104). A person can only know these things if they meditate on the Word, as the psalmist says in verse 97, harkening back to Psalm 1: “but his delight is in the law of Yahweh, and on His law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2). The Law—God’s Word—tells us what is evil and false and, therefore, gives us the wisdom to abstain from these things (the Law functioning as a curb).

Discipline makes one wise. Through discipline, we gain the wisdom on how to be and how not to be. As a child, when I was in error, my father disciplined me and I grew in wisdom on how to be and how not to be. As our Father in Heaven, God does the same for us through His Word (cf. Hebrews 12:5-6), particularly through His Law.

As Moses said to the Israelites, “You shall therefore love Yahweh your God and keep His charge, His statutes, His rules, and His commandments always… consider the discipline of Yahweh your God” (Deuteronomy 11:1-2). And the reason for this, “You shall therefore keep the whole commandment that I command you today that you may be strong… and that you may live long in the land that Yahweh swore to your fathers to give to them and to their offspring” (vv. 8-9).

Of course, even though we have the Law—which is holy, righteous, and good (Romans 7:12)—we do not keep it perfectly and we fail to love God. Sin prevents us from these things. This is why Jesus came to do what we cannot. Jesus loved God perfectly and He kept the Law perfectly. It is for Christ’s perfect obedience that we are justified by faith for His sake, not our meagre obedience to the Law. For Christ’s perfect obedience on our behalf, God credits His righteousness to us—that is, God credits Christ’s perfect obedience to us as if we ourselves have loved God perfectly and kept the Law perfectly.

As Christ quotes from the Law, “‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice'” (Matthew 12:7). Thus, God the Father was merciful in sending His only Son to die for us and three days later to rise for us, giving us the share of His death and resurrection in our Baptism (Romans 6:1-11). Christ, perfect in wisdom, obeyed the Law to the extent that He died for us under the Law as the final atoning sacrifice for all our sins.

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