Torah’s Words

Israel knows God speaks in other ways than through the rising sun and the testimony of the heavens. God has spoken in history, and God has acted within history to enter into covenant with Israel. That story is told in concrete ways–it is written in the Torah. These words are heard, and they are heard in the assembly of the people of God. Israel has been given the “oracles of God” (cf. Romans 3:2), and this comes in the form of Torah.

“Torah” heads the praise of this divine speech. It is, one might say, the controlling metaphor for the following descriptions:  decrees, precepts, and commandment. Those further terms are couched in the framework of Torah, and Torah is not primarily a legal code but a story that guides Israel walk with God. Torah is instruction and guidance through narrative and story rather than merely specific case-law or isolated commands.

Embedded within God’s story with Israel are guidelines, directions, and formative practices that transform people into the image of God. This story:

  • restores the soul; it renews life
  • makes the simple wise; it guides the inexperienced
  • gives joy to the heart; enables a life free of burdens
  • enlightens the eyes; enables us to see more clearly

The Torah–the story of God with Israel–provides a path for healthy, joyful, and wise living.

The colon “making the simple wise” is particularly significant. This is the language of Proverbs 1:1-7. There are two paths in life–the foolish one and the wise one.  But the “simple” are often too inexperienced to discern the difference. The Hebrew term “simple” does not refer to mental deficiency but to lack of life experience. The “simple” are easily deceived, easily driven by desires, and act on impulse rather than careful reflection. They react rather than respond to situations. Due to a lack of experience, their discernment is impaired or underdeveloped.

The Torah serves as a wise sage to help the “simple” discern good from evil, make choices, and understand the consequences of the different paths life can take. In other words, the Torah–God’s guidance–is for their own good and for the good of the community in which they live. It is not an oppressive legal chain but divine wisdom spoken for the sake of human health and well-being.

As a result, the wise response is submission, that is, it is to fear (awe, reverence, trust) Yahweh. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7), and this humble submission and reverent respect for God calls us to embody the Torah’s wisdom in our own lives. It is little wonder, then, that the Psalmist regards God’s speech as more valuable than gold or silver and sweeter than honey.  This speech is about life, authentic life. A discerning, wise life has better consequences than hoarding gold or silver, and it is much sweeter than the momentary taste of honey.