Whenever I go to read and pray the psalms for the day and take up my old Jerusalem Bible with its now frayed leather cover and weakened binding, the Book naturally falls open at page 788, the psalm appointed for Day 26, beginning at Psalm 119, verse 105, the verses beginning with the Hebrew letter Nun. My eyes fall immediately on that beloved verse, “Now your word is a lamp to my feet, a light on my path,” and wherever else I go in my reading or in the world, that faithful Word goes ahead of me, showing the way.
That is how I relate to the Word of God, the Holy Bible. I take to heart what Augustine of Hippo wrote, which I read for the first time in the year that I came to the Lord, “The way in to the Holy Scriptures is low and humble, but inside the vault is high, and veiled in mysteries” (Confessions, III, 5). This is how I approach the Bible, this is the way I regard it, this is how I have made it my home, and this is how I have let it shape me. This November, it has been thirty-eight years that I have served the Lord with this light on my path.
Others have risen up, during that time, and come to know the Lord and His holy scriptures better than me, and I do not envy them. They have gone to college and finished, to seminary and finished, have traveled the world, seen sights, studied under the great names of the theological schools, experts in biblical research and hermeneutics, and I—well, I don’t even know for sure what hermeneutics really means. I am a mere ‘am ha-aretz.’ Yes, I confess it, in my innermost mind I am just ‘a man of the earth,’ as that Hebrew term implies.
I study the scriptures in Hebrew and Greek, but I have no papers and no letters after my names, and as if to prove my ignorance, I can’t scale the heights of theological discussion with the robed scholars, can’t understand when they tell me, the psalms are written by a king, in the person of a king, and for kings, and they can only be truly understood within that context. For me, the psalms are my entrance into the presence of Him I love, and entering therein, I find my peace.
Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You who shut up the Kingdom of Heaven in men’s faces, neither going in yourselves nor allowing others to go in who want to. Matthew 23:13 JB
It’s something like this.
There is a very good restaurant, an excellent restaurant, its dishes are beyond the delights of ordinary men. Outside, posted on the door, are the menus. Gathered in front of the door are the scribes, those who pride themselves on their learning. (No, not the Pharisees anymore, for there are none left who pride themselves on their following of the commandments, only scribes remain, who pride themselves on their education.)
These scribes are crowded around the door, assiduously studying the menu, line by line, dreaming of the dishes, and arguing among themselves which dishes are better than others, which are the best, which are not to be bothered with.
Along comes an ordinary man. He can read, of course, same as anyone, and he tries to take a look at the menu posted on the door, his hunger and his patience vying with one another because he can’t get quite close enough—the scribes are in front of the door as thick as a swarm of bees.
His hunger wins, and he grabs hold of the door handle and yanks the door open despite the spectators hanging on the menu, and he goes in. The door slams behind him.
Inside the restaurant, he is given the menu, which he studies in silence, far away from the roar of debate, makes his choices, and soon he is served the meal that satisfies his hunger.
After he is refreshed, he pushes his way out through the crowd of scribes at the door, and goes his way. Meanwhile the scribes continue fantasizing, speculating, arguing and boasting in their intellectual combats, and life goes on.
Now, back to the psalms, for Day 8.
“Yahweh, do not punish me in Your rage, or reprove me in the heat of anger…”
Psalm 39:1 JB