“Blessed is the man…(whose) delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yield its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”
From Psalm 1:1-3, NIV
I usually have a book lying around for entertainment purposes. There are favorites from C.S. Lewis or Ferrol Sams, for example, which I've read many times and will never stop returning to. Or I’ll get on one author and strip the local library shelves of two or three of his or her offerings at a time, primarily when I’m in the mood for a good crime story or humor.
I’ll read for research or study as well, gleaning from those more learned than myself or anticipating the lively discussion with a group of people reading the same book simultaneously.
As much as I love books –as often as I have fussed at a child for carelessly leaving a book’s binding in stress, or getting sticky fingers on its sacred pages—as often as I have scolded, “Books are our friends!” I myself am terribly hard on books. Paperbacks generally end up gaining width from hot afternoons, resting against my sweatiness as I sit by the pool…or being splashed in the tub as I read in my favorite spot of all. If the library saw me with their precious and generous volumes suffering the perilous conditions to which I frequently subject them, they would install a guard outside the door and prohibit my entry every two weeks.
Obviously (because it is The Guidebook to end all guidebooks, and I am just one more sojourner in a foreign land) I must continually turn to the Bible for instruction and illumination, no matter how often it has been read or how familiar its passages. The fact is, I don't fully follow its precepts on a day to day, minute to minute basis. There is a great deal I don’t understand, much less follow! therefore, I must continue my studies.
What a privilege this is, what a luxury, compared to the experience so many have had throughout history and in other parts of the world today. To own even complete copy of the Bible, to have it within reach at all times, to say nothing of the fact that most Christian homes own multiple copies, whether underlined and highlighted and much thumbed-through, or sitting on shelves in fancy leather bindings gathering dust.
My library book at the moment is People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. Based on a true story, it winds through history telling the story of one beautiful book, a haggadah used for Jewish Sabbath worship in the home. A modern-day analyst is asked to unlock the mysteries of various stains and bindings and parchment choices, but Brooks also takes readers back in time, letting us see the particular events and people that have made the book’s survival possible for hundreds of years.
Whereas people underwent great trials to protect the haggadah…and whereas throughout history people have suffered to protect their own holy books…we, I fear, are jaded to the importance of the Bible. We can easily purchase any size, color, weight, print, or translation we desire. Audio or illustrated, hardback or paper, large print for a massive pulpit or tiny print in a pocket version, Bibles for athletes and women and children and Messianic Jews and the military.
The old saying "familiarity breeds contempt" may apply. We have access to the Bible that costs us little or nothing, but do we love the Law?
When a person has a deep emotional need he or she is like a dry, thirsty plant surrounded by arid terrain, withering day after day beneath a merciless sun. Another person…perhaps with good motives, perhaps not…walks by with a watering can and empties it on the tree. Does the tree stop and ask if it should drink in the moisture? Does it ask whether or not death might be preferable to the assistance in that particular watering can? No, the tree responds. Any person passing by, any source of water, and the tree will respond. How can it not?
Rather than tell us how to resist strange water, the psalmist tells us how to avoid the very state of drought. Not only do we not have to respond to the wrong people, the wrong distractions, the wrong thoughts, the wrong supplying of needs, we can….through God’s word….maintain a life of continual "wateredness" so that our leaves never wither.
The person who loves the Law, Psalms 1 says, is like a tree planted by streams of water. Regardless of the outward circumstances, the needs that this person or that can not or will not meet, the stress, the trials... the person who LOVES THE LAW OF GOD is like a tree by a stream. The circumstances, the so-called reality of his life are not different, but HE is different. He is like a plant with a ready, constant source of water. His leaves never wither, regardless of the heat of the sun or the failed irrigation systems around him.
Some of us rarely look at the Law (the first five books of the Bible) outside of Sunday school lessons about Noah, Moses, Abraham and David. There are dry stretches. There is THE law that makes us uncomfortable with its apparent pickiness over things we might, as American Gentiles, find irrelevant. And besides, that was the Old Testament. Jesus brought a new covenant.
Makes you want to curl up with Leviticus, doesn’t it?