Devotion to a Lamp
Psalm 119:105-106 ESV
“Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.
I have sworn an oath and confirmed it,
to keep your righteous rules.”
When my brother finished high school and I was just starting, we worked for a grocery store. It was my first real job. I had cut grass before, but I never had a job where I had a boss or paid taxes. One thing the two jobs had in common, though, were customers. Customer service is a wonderful industry! You get to meet all kinds of people with all kinds of problems that love to dump them out all over the people who can’t do anything about their problems. What a wonderful opportunity to serve people for the Lord! Well, the following story doesn’t have anything to do with evangelism and witnessing, but I think it makes a bright idea to introduce today’s discussion.
Well one day, a customer saw a lamp in the store on sale that she just had to have. I don’t know the brand. I don’t know the suggested wattage. I don’t know why a lamp was being sold in a grocery store. There’s nothing wrong with that, though. You see a lamp in a grocery store, you like it, you have the funds, you wish to make commerce, you buy it. That is exactly what the lady did. She also happened to bring it back several hours later.
She immediately approached the customer service desk, which was appropriate. She was dissatisfied with her purchase. I could see why. She made commerce of a lamp in exchange for hard-earned funds, and it did not work to the customer’s dismay. My brother, who was the on-shift customer service manager, was tickled pink to assist the customer with her dilemma. She told him that the lamp just doesn’t turn on. He politely asked if she plugged it into the wall socket, to which she gently replied in the affirmative. So, he plugged it in behind the customer service desk and excused himself while he acquired a bulb from the aisle. To his amazement and my own, the customer inquired, “You mean it doesn’t come with a bulb?” My brother promptly replied, “No, ma’am. Did you put a bulb in the lamp?” She said she did not put a bulb in the lamp, and my brother confirmed the lamp was working just fine when he secured a light bulb in the socket of the lamp. If the customer had fully tended to the lamp properly, she would have found no bulb in the lamp, and she would not have wasted a trip back to the store.
It is the same with the Christian and God’s Word. The Scriptures are a spiritual lamp to light the path for us. If we continue to watch it, tend to it, and center our lives around His Word, we will walk this dark path in the world to God’s glory and successfully for Him. Through God’s Word we understand righteousness, and though sometimes we may not like or understand the rules, if we make our oath and confirm it before God in Christ Jesus, we will reap the benefits of this ever-burning spiritual lamp of God’s Light. To do so, we must not only possess the lamp of God’s Word, but further than that, we must diligently tend to His Word.
The Lamp and Light Tend to the Psalmist
Psalms are not known for using direct language. They are written in poetic form to give imaginative expression to convey ideas that prose, literature written in direct language, cannot begin to communicate. When the psalmist says God’s Word is a lamp, he is not speaking of a literal lamp. He is speaking of the wisdom imparted by God through His Word that informs the psalmist how to live in such a way that is consider righteous in the sight of God. That light of God’s Word contrasts, by implication, with not knowing what God’s Word says about life and with this world’s system(s) that are void of God’s Word and its most sapient guidance. So, the psalmist reads and understands God’s Word in order to serve God in areas of life that can be obscure.
When we think about a lamp today, we are most likely like the customer that purchased a lamp from the store. There are several presuppositions. For her, a light bulb came with the lamp. For us, when we read about a lamp, we probably think about an electric lamp that needs to be plugged into a wall socket. Lamps in ancient days, however, were oil lamps. Think hurricane lamps that you might find in Mama’s or Grandma’s you come across in an old attic or basement. These lamps required time and attention. As long as someone tends to the oil lamp, it would keep giving its light It would tend to the person’s needs of scattering the surrounding darkness away.
At night, there were no streetlights that would come on at a set timer. When ancient peoples came up with streetlights, they were still larger oil lamps or candle lamps that lit the way by the small flame, giving small patches of light to illumine the path ahead. What is interesting is that manmade lamps only work if someone puts them together and lights them. God’s Word, however, is a lamp that is already lighting the way for His people. God’s lamp and light is guiding His people into all righteousness and illuminating their path forward. Man does not need to light the lamp of God’s Word; it is a lamp already shining and tending to His people. This does not mean, however, that His people do not have to tend to the light of God’s Word.
The Psalmist Tends to the Lamp and Light
The lamp and light of God’s Word tends to His people every day. It is important for God’s people, in return, to commit to tend to God’s Word. We must read the Word, lest we be in the dark about what God says to do in life. We must be committed to looking for the path illumined by God’s Word. Just like we can wander off into the darkness of side alleys that run by the main streets, we can just as easily miss God’s Word and step into dark areas in our lives. We must tend to the light of God’s Word that is so diligently tending to us.
When I was a child, my Mema and I would make candles. We would burn the candles in the evening instead of turning on the lights sometimes. When it would rain on the tin roof, making its beautiful music, we would turn everything off, light the candles, sip on a glass of iced sweet tea, and enjoy God’s sweet tin roof sonata. It was so relaxing. A lot of stress, worry, and heartaches melted away on nights like those.
As the candles we made burned, we would shave the excess wax, put the pieces in jars, and cut the burnt wicks down. When a candle was finished, we would melt down the wax, install a new wick, and start the process over again. As long as we could keep up with new wicks and a new candle ever now and then, we could keep candles and keep a light in the house. It just took some tending to. It is the same with God’s Word. The Bible can bring His people such peace that goes beyond what the dark world could ever imagine, but it takes more than simply letting the light source exist. We must tend to it in reading, study, prayer, and living out the Scriptures for the light to take effect in our lives.
The Psalmist Swears and Confirms an Oath
Swearing and making oaths might seem a bit odd to some of us in the Western world. Making a promise with such a weight to it can sometimes carry a stigma of sin, especially in light of some interpretations of Matthew 5:33-37 and James 5:12. Ancient civilizations like Israel also made their covenants differently than we do today. They would make a sacrifice to establish a covenant, such as when God established His covenant with Abraham and He swore by Himself in Genesis 15. Instead of making sacrifices and performing a ritual, we simply write or type the words of the covenant, or contract, on paper, and then we sign and date it. If it is a serious contract, we involve lawyers, a judge, or maybe we just have a few witnesses. Their swearing is our words on the paper. Their confirmation is our signature, handshakes, witnesses, notarizing, etc. So, although there are significant differences between their covenants and our contracts, we can have some understanding of what it means to swear and make an oath.
One of the important things to understand here is the psalmist makes a signed, notarized covenant with God about God’s Law. God’s Law was already written; it is not clear whether the psalmist really made a sacrifice, but it’s very possible. What is clear, though, is the psalmist takes God’s Law seriously and he commends himself to God’s Law. It is also important to consider the fact that, just like we scrutinize a contract and, at many times, return to a contract for clarifications during the contract’s life and authority, it would seem that the psalmist would study God’s Law carefully before making his oath, especially since this is not about a minute thing like a car or a house; it’s about the Eternal God of Heaven and what He expects of the psalmist!
We should be like the psalmist. We should investigate God’s Word daily. We should go back to God’s Word for clarifications because God’s Word stands forever, meaning that its life and authority over us is forever. There may be some parts that were for ancient Israel; we no longer need to keep to certain dietary restrictions, but God’s Law is still relevant for us in so many ways. Though we cannot discuss all the details of how the Law is relevant for Christians today, we can understand that when we serve Christ Jesus, we do uphold and fulfill the established Law through obedience to God and His Christ, Who saw the Scriptures as being forever and never passing away (Romans 3:31, Matthew 5:17-20).
Many Christians, and others, treat God’s Word and His Law like Aladdin and his lamp. They think they can rub the covers or maybe a few pages and hopefully get what they want from God as if He were a genie that pops out and sings Disney songs for their own personal fantasies. Name it and claim it, speak it into existence, God will look after me because I’m me, etc. are some of the philosophies that go behind their interpretation and use of the Bible. The Bible doesn’t work that way. The psalmist’s goal was only to do God’s Word to please God. The psalmist does petition deliverance from his enemies, but consider the words of David, a man after God’s own heart, that if he himself did wrong to his enemies without any just cause, then he desired God to allow his enemies to overtake him and have justice (Psalm 7:3-5). The point of psalmists asking for deliverance was not about serving God just for victory; it was about serving God so that He alone might receive the glory for His own righteousness and His own justice. The same should be with us. We should dig into God’s Word and commit to it, not because we want something material from God, but because we want to glorify God in knowing, understanding, and obeying His righteous Law.
God’s Law is a light to our paths. He has certain tasks for each of us to do, whether it is facing a horde of personal enemies, going through sickness and sorrow, or something else that I could not even fathom. In all these areas of life, it gets pretty dark. many times, it just gets fuzzy and unclear as to what we are supposed to do. If we commit ourselves to God’s Word by studying it, memorizing it, and applying it to our lives, there is no guarantee that we will be perfect in this life. We are all sinners, and we need our Sovereign Savior every day to forgive us and restore us. By tending to God’s Word, however, we stand a better chance at glorifying Him through our living, because His Word will always tend to His children like a light unto our path.
 Daniel J. Estes, Handbook on the Wisdom Books and Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 143. Kindle.