Theme: A Lamp and a Light
In this week’s lessons, this stanza of Psalm 119 tells us how we can shed light on the darkness of our lives.
Scripture: Psalm 119:105-112
The nighttime journeys of Israel through the wilderness were illumined by a pillar of fire that moved before them on their march. Most of the time the pillar stood in the center of their camp over the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle where during the day it was a pillar of cloud. But when they marched it went before them to lead the way, and at night it also illumined their path by becoming a flaming pillar of light (see Exod. 40:36-38).1 In a similar way our nighttime passage through the dark and dangerous journey of this life is illumined by God’s Word, the Bible. For that is what stanza fourteen of Psalm 119 says when it begins,
Your word is a lamp to my feetand a light for my path.
In his commentary, Alexander Maclaren speculates on the fact that God’s Word is pictured both as a lamp and a light. “A lamp is for night; light shines in the day,” he says. “The Word is both to the psalmist.” His antithesis may mean that the Law gives “light of every sort” or in all “the varying phases of experience.” It is a light for our darkness and for our brighter times as well.2
The place to begin this study is by noting the clarity of Scripture, that attribute of the Bible that meant so much to the Protestant Reformers, who also called it perspicuity.
What they meant by the words clarity or perspicuity is that the Bible is basically clear, lucid or comprehensible to any open-minded person who reads it. Therefore it does not require an ordained clergyman or official church magisterium to tell the normal believer in the church what it means. That is not to say that all parts of the Bible are equally clear or that there are no difficult passages. It does not mean that there is no value in an educated clergy or in acquiring some knowledge of the accumulated wisdom of the church. The creeds, catechisms, confessions and theologies of the church are valuable for digesting and remembering what the Bible teaches. A serious student of the Bible is foolish to neglect them.
Even more, the clarity of the Bible is not an excuse for releasing an undisciplined tide of merely private opinion—what the Bible “means to me”—as if any hair-brained notion of the Bible’s teaching is to be thought as valid as any other. In fact, perspicuity means exactly the opposite. It means that the Bible is sufficiently clear so that any normal individual can read it and discover what it is saying.
Why then are there so many differing theologies in the church? There are two answers at this point. One is that we are sinners who have a built-in tendency to misread and misinterpret the Bible to our personal advantage, seeing its teaching through our own distorted grids. This is not unique to our reading the Bible. We have a tendency to do this with anything at all. We rework the simplest facts to put ourselves in a good light and other people in the wrong. That is why cultures develop elaborate legal systems to try to get to the heart of disputed matters. It is also why we must pray when we study the Bible, asking God to keep our sinful, self-serving biases from getting in the way. It is also why we use the work of believers from the past, drawing upon the wisdom others had before us.
1Exodus 40 is not the only chapter that mentions this unique phenomenon. It is also described in Exodus 13:21, 22; Numbers 9:15-23; 10:34-36; and other passages.
2Alexander Maclaren, The Psalms, vol. 3, Psalms 90-150 (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1894), p. 273.
How is the Word of God like a lamp used to guide us? Why is light used as a metaphor?
What attribute of the Bible was noted by the Protestant Reformers? What is meant by it?
For what reason are there differing church theologies?
Have you encountered someone who used a relativistic and subjective approach to the Bible? What did you say to him or her? What could you have said?
Has prayer helped you understand true teaching? If so, how?
Prayer: As you begin your Bible study, ask God to keep personal bias from distorting Scripture.
For Further Study: To learn more about the Word of God, download for free and listen to Richard Phillips’ message, “God’s Living Word.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)