by Lois Tverberg
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105
We read in this psalm that God’s word is a light to ones’ path. To understand this metaphor, we need to imagine how perilous it was to journey at night in Israel’s rocky, mountainous terrain. When walking on a narrow path on the side of a hill, it was an utter necessity to have an oil lamp to light the way, to avoid twisting an ankle or losing ones footing and crashing down the hill.
A poignant Hasidic story expands on this metaphor to teach us a lesson. They tell a tale of a man walking through a forest one night without a light, alone and afraid. He was slowly stumbling along, trying very hard not to lose his way or trip over an obstacle. As he was going along, another man joined him on the path with a lantern, and together they walked easily and quickly together, until they came to a crossroads where they went their separate ways. Then the man without the light went back to groping and stumbling down the path, while the man with the lamp receded into the distance, moving forward smoothly, with no trouble.
The point of the story is to teach us that everyone must have his or her own knowledge of God’s word to guide them – achieved through personal study and effort to know the Scriptures. We can’t be lazy and let our pastor, wife or friends be the ones who learn while we can’t be bothered. The difference is between worrying and stumbling through each situation, or walking sure-footedly by God’s word, as a compass that always points towards his will.
(1) A Hasidic story relayed in Old Testament Words: Reflections for Preaching, by Mary Donovan Turner, Chalice Press, 2003, p. 8. The Jewish Hasidism (hah-SEED-ism) movement arose in Poland in the 18th century. See this article for more.