JUNE 22 — Deuteronomy 27:1—28:19; Psalm 119:1-24; Isaiah 54; Matthew 2
HERE THE PAIR OF ITALICIZED passages converge.
The setting envisaged by Deuteronomy 27—28 is spectacular. When the Israelites enter the Promised Land, they are to perform a solemn act of national commitment. They are to divide themselves into two vast companies, each hundreds of thousands strong. Six tribes are to stand on the slopes of Mount Gerizim. Across the valley, the other six tribes are to stand on the slopes of Mount Ebal. The two vast crowds are to call back and forth in antiphonal responses. For some parts of this ceremony, the Levites, standing with others on Gerizim, are to pronounce prescribed sentences, and the entire host shout its “Amen!” In other parts, the crowd on Gerizim would shout the blessings of obedience, and the crowd on Ebal would shout the curses of disobedience. The sheer dramatic impact of this event, when it was actually carried out (Josh. 8:30-33), must have been astounding. The aim of the entire exercise was to impress on the people the utter seriousness with which the Word of God must be taken if the blessing of God is to be enjoyed, and the terrible tragedy that flows from disobedience, which secures only God’s curse.
Psalm 119 is formally very different, but here too there is an extraordinary emphasis on the Word of God. It is almost as if this longest of all biblical chapters is devoted to unpacking what the second verse in the book of Psalms means: “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (1:2; see also the April 1 meditation). Psalm 119 is an acrostic poem: each of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet is given its turn to serve as the opening letter of each of eight verses on the subject of the Word of God. Throughout this poem, eight near synonyms are used to refer to Scripture: law (which perhaps might better be rendered “instruction,” and has overtones of revelation), statutes (which speak of the binding force of Scripture), precepts (connected with God’s superintending oversight, as of one who cares for the details of his charge), decrees (the decisions of the supreme and all-wise Judge), word (the most comprehensive term, perhaps, embracing all of God’s self-disclosed truth, whether in a promise, story, statute, or command), commands (predicated on God’s authority to tell his creatures what to do), promise (a word derived from the verb to say, but often used in contexts that make us think of the English word promise), and testimonies. (God’s bold action of bearing “witness” or “testimony” to the truth and against all that is false; the Hebrew word is sometimes rendered “statute” in NIV, e.g., lit. “I delight in your testimonies.”)