ONE OF THE GREAT THEMES OF SCRIPTURE, and one that surfaces with special frequency in Psalm 119, is that the unfolding of God’s words gives light; “it gives understanding to the simple” (119:130) in at least two senses.
First, the “simple” can refer to people who are foolish, “simpletons” — those who know nothing of how to live in the light of God’s gracious revelation. The unfolding of God’s words gives light to such people. It teaches them how to live, and gives them a depth and a grasp of moral and spiritual issues they had never before displayed.
Second, God’s words expand entire horizons. A few paragraphs earlier the psalmist wrote, “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts” (Ps. 119:97-100). The psalmist is not saying that he has a higher IQ than that of his teachers, or that he is intrinsically smarter than his enemies or brighter than all the elders. Rather, he is claiming that constant meditation on God’s instruction (his “law”) and a deep-seated commitment to obey God’s precepts provide him with a framework and a depth of insight that are unavailable to merely brilliant scholars and well-trained political leaders.
One of my students may serve as illustration. He barely staggered out of high school. He had never been to church. When he asked his father about God, his dad told him not to talk about subjects like that. He joined the United States Army as a lowly GI, and lived a pretty rough life. At various times he was high on LSD. Eventually he joined the Eighty-second Airborne, and started carrying his Gideon Bible as a good-luck charm to ward off disaster when he was jumping out of airplanes. Eventually he started to read it — slowly at first, for he was not a good reader. He read it right through and was converted. He went to one of the local chaplains and said, “Padre, I’ve been saved.” The padre told him, “Not yet, you’re not” — and inducted him into some catechism. Eventually he found a church that taught the Bible. He came off drugs (and six months later many of his army drug pals were busted), eventually left the army, squeaked into a college, grew mightily, and is now in the “A” stream of Greek in the divinity school.
He was absorbing the words of God. It transformed his life, and gave him more insight than many of his teachers. The unfolding of God’s words “gives understanding to the simple.”