The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether.
Today it is the Hebrew word torah that is under consideration. This is the word that is traditionally used to describe the first five books of the Bible: they are also referred to as the Books of the Law.
Despite the fact that the word torah is often translated as ‘law’, this can be a little misleading as it tends to restrict the meaning in our minds to the world of ‘law and order’.
In reality, the base meaning of the word torah is ‘teachings’ or ‘training’. The word is linked to a verb which can denote teaching or instructing.
Sometimes the word torah is used to describe the advice people may provide. We see examples of this in the book of Proverbs. First we have an example relating to parental advice, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching (torah)” (Proverbs 1:8). This is advice intended to set the son on the right track as he embarks on life’s journey.
In the second example, it is ‘the wise’ who provide the teaching, or torah, “The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death” (Proverbs 13:14).
Torah, however, is mostly used to describe God’s teachings, and yes, those include many laws and rules. Indeed, in Deuteronomy, before listing the Ten Commandments and the various rules and laws which form the essence of the book, they are introduced like this: “This is the law (torah) that Moses set before the people of Israel” (Deuteronomy 4:44). These are God’s standards for the lives of his people and it should be remembered that they were God’s good teachings, like a parent looking after their child.
There are several positive statements about God’s torah in Scripture. Therefore, in Psalm 19 it is said, “The law (torah) of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7).
It is no surprise, therefore, to read the following response in Psalm 119:97, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.”
There is no better thing than having the law of the Lord within, which is brought about by the new covenant, as is explained through Jeremiah, “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33).
Iwan Rhys Jones, ‘Torah’, Geiriau Bywyd