וּֽבְתוֹרָת֥וֹ יֶהְגֶּ֗ה יוֹמָ֥ם וָלָֽיְלָה׃
“and on His [Yahweh’s] Torah he [the blessed man] meditates both day and night [at all times].
To Meditate (יֶהְגֶּ֗ה)
The whole of verse 2 is a poetic line with two parallel cola. (See Futato’s Interpreting the Psalms, pp. 26ff., for more on the structure of Hebrew poetry.) So, we have to think of 2b in its connection with 2a. As we noted about the preceding parallel phrase of 2a (“But his delight is in the Torah of Yahweh”), the “delight” is a statement about the blessed man’s heart/affections. Accordingly, in the subsequent parallel phrase of 2b the verb “to meditate” refers to the heart’s inner thoughts; the literally translated actions of the verb, “to mutter,” or “to moan” or “to devise,” are overflows of the heart’s inner thoughts. To attempt a word picture, if the heart is a slow cooker, to meditate is to cook something slowly in the heart. (See TWOT, I:205 on the connection of “meditate” with heart and on the literal renderings of the verb.)
The act of meditating may involve reading the Torah out loud (ibid). Such an action would make sense due to the connection often made in Scripture between words and thoughts (Psa. 19:14), words and actions (Col. 3:16), or meditating in one’s heart and speaking with one’s lips (i.e. Josh. 1:8). John’s Revelation even adds a specific blessing for reading the book out loud (Rev. 1:3). Perhaps you could say putting God’s Word often on your lips helps it to slow-cook or percolate into your heart.
In Scripture, reading God’s Word aloud is not limited to individual, private reading. In fact, a good case could be made that more Scriptural examples exist of reading God’s Word aloud in the corporate worship context rather than in the individual, private context (i.e. Nehemiah 8). Accordingly, Reformed theology views the public reading of God’s Word in worship as a means of grace (WLC 155, WSC 88-89). The public and private reading serve and enrich each other; the one feeds the other, and vice versa.
In short, meditating on God’s Word means bathing your heart over and over in the ocean of God’s Word both the corporate and private context.
Interesting Messianic Connection between יֶהְגֶּ֗ה in Psa. 1:2b with and וְהָגִ֤יתָ in Joshua 1:8
After Moses’ death, God speaks to Joshua, preparing him to lead the people into the Promised Land. As a part of this preparation, the Lord commands Joshua to “meditate” on the Book of the Law “day and night” (Joshua 1:8). The language finds a direct parallel in Psalm 1:2, “meditate day and night.” Such a connection is not coincidental. For, not only is the command parallel, but also the reward: Compare the last phrase in Josh. 1:8 to Psalm 1:3.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers (Psalm 1:3 ESV).
For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success (Josh. 1:8b).
In my mind such a strong connection between Joshua 1 and Psalm 1 coupled with the fact that (in terms of typology) Joshua is the most pristine Old Testament prototype of the New Testament Messiah (i.e. one of my pastors mentioned recently that no evil deed committed by Joshua is recorded in the Old Testament, as opposed to Moses, David, etc.) yields a strong case for interpreting Psalm 1 Christologically. I will explain what I mean by “Christologically” later, but I wanted to introduce the idea here at a point where the typological allusion to Christ is strong, in my opinion
The idiom, “day and night” (יוֹמָ֥ם וָלָֽיְלָה)
This phrase, literally “daytime and nighttime” is used as an Hebrew idiom for “all the time.” Compare, for example, the usages of this phrase found elsewhere in the Psalter (Psa. 32:4; Psa. 42:4; Psa. 55:11) with a specific poetic connotation of “all the time.”
It would be too much to force this idiom into a hyper-literal prescription that Christians must be reading, reciting, and memorizing, etc., God’s word every waking and sleeping moment as in every literal second of every 24 hour day. For, (a) such a feat is physically impossible; (b) such a hyper-literal interpretation contradicts Scripture’s proclamation that there is a time and season for all things (i.e. Eccl. 3:1); (c) such a hyper-literal hermeneutic cannot be applied consistently throughout the Psalter: Does Psa. 1:1 refer to exclusively literal physical walking, standing, and sitting, for example?
Nonetheless, although the idiom ought not be interpreted hyper-literally, neither should the heavy force of the idiom be avoided. Believers are to live always and at all times according to God’s self-revelation in the Holy Scriptures. Within our world of darkness, only in God’s light do we see light (Psa. 36:9). To attempt to live otherwise is foolish and fatal, for the blessed-by-God man who is constantly ruminating dependently on God’s Word is set against the description of the not blessed-by-God autonomous man.
To contrast the blessed and not-blessed man, Psalm 1:1 begins with three strong negatives (not walk in sinful counsel, not stand in the sinners’ way, not sit in the scorners’ seat); thus, the representative blessed man is set immediately in an antithetical relationship with the non-blessed man. (Perhaps such a relationship, set as it is in the first verse of the Psalter, sets the tone for the entire Psalter.) This irreconcilable enmity ought not surprise us since this antithetical state of affairs between God’s seed and Satan’s has existed since Adam’s Fall:
And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel (Genesis 3:15 KJV; emphasis mine).
“Day and night” as a Biblical Theological Motif
יוֹמָ֥ם וָלָֽיְלָה conjures up allusions worth exploring further, though all I will do now is mention the starting points for further digging:
- Creation (Genesis 1 and 2): In terms of cosmology, day and night form part of the ontological framework within which the created order exists.
- Christology: The Mediator’s office of King is exhibited in His guiding Israel out of Egypt via the glory cloud’s covenantal presence “by day and by night” (Exodus 13:21; Jude 1:5).
- Eschatology: At the parousia, the New Creation enters eternal day, for “there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 22:5 KJV). It is interesting to think of Psa. 1:2 in this light . . . the need to meditate on God’s Torah day and night is only temporary.
- Covenant: Related directly to the previous thought on eschatology is the New Covenant promise that in the ultimate fulfillment of the Covenant, God’s Torah will be written on our hearts and we will not have to teach anyone to know it for all will know the Lord (Jer. 31:31f.). Thus the exhortation to be meditating on Torah has an end in sight—the ultimate fulfillment of parousia at Christ’s Second Advent.
Again, these notes are jumping off points for further study, not firm conclusions. I am not trying to read extra meaning into a simple idiom, but simply trying to look at where the idiom is located and how it is used in the unfolding scheme of redemptive history.
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