I was reading my Bible this morning and I came to Psalm 19 and its positive evaluation of the law ( if you are reading the Message, you will miss what the Psalmist really says). The Psalmist here and in Psalm 119 has a very positive evaluation of the law which does not coincide with that normally believed in evangelical circles today. surely the law can’t revive,refresh or restore the soul can it? After all the apostle Paul has shown us what a negative thing is, hasn’t he?
But perhaps our Picture of the apostle Paul’s teaching is not a complete one, in other places he seems to have a more positive attitude to the law. Is Paul inconsistent when he quotes the promises of the law when addressing children in the book of Ephesians?
When Paul deals with the Judaizers’ in his letters he comes down harshly upon them and their use of the law because they saw the law as part of their contribution to being saved. If they kept the law it will be a cause of gaining merit. Paul realizes that this is to misuse the law because the law was never intended to be the path of salvation.
Lets take a step back to what the Psalmist thought the law was, he sees it as the Lord’s pattern of right living given to the people who the Lord has redeemed. The Psalmist knew that the law was given to Israel after they had been delivered from the Egyptians. So the law is given to God’s redeemed people to show them how to live before the face of God. This is why the Puritans could use an expression that is foreign to us, the grace of law. Ernest Kevan( The founding Principle of London School of Theology) wrote his doctoral thesis on this subject and this makes a vital contribution to discussions about the place of the law.
But how could the Psalmist say that God’s law revived him? we think of the commandments as something negative but the biblical attitude to the teaching of the law is entirely different, the law is the guide to the holy life. When the Psalmist wanted with all his heart to please God, he looked to the law for guidance. The biblical writers however saw the first five books of the bible as The Law. When we see this we can see that the Psalmist could be revived by the accounts of God’s loving faithfulness to his people, when he read the account of the exodus, he saw the God of holy love at work delivering his people from bondage. He could also see in the Levitical law that god had provided sacrifice for all sorts of sin, the sacrifices were a constant reminder to him of the grace of God. I along with many other Christians used to struggle with the book of Leviticus until I realized that every sacrifice in the book shows me a little more of what Christ has achieved for us on the cross. The book of Leviticus is full of Jesus when we use the eyes of faith. Perhaps with these thoughts in mind, we can take a closer look at the law and realize that it is not a threat to us but rather it guides us in the path of holiness and because God’s law is gracious it can revive our souls.