“. . .the commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes” Psalm 19
You can see better. That’s the essence here, really—the way of the righteous gives light to the eyes. What David is selling here is the idea that following God’s ways has unique advantages over any and all other worldviews, and now he comes back to the very feature with which he began the psalm—believers, he claims, simply see better.
I buy it, but reluctantly. Witness John Winthrop.
In his journal for July 5, 1632, Massachusetts Bay Colony’s first governor records a remarkable incident. In
he says, “in the view of divers witnesses,” a lowly mouse did battle with a
vile snake, and, “after a long fight, the mouse prevailed.” Amazing.
And there were, be sure to note, “divers witnesses.”
Governor Winthrop, like most of our Puritan ancestors, cannot stop himself from further analysis and testimony because what happened was simply too fascinating. To these devout folks who knew themselves to be children of the Lord, there was meaning in such bizarre moments, and the meaning was frequently quite easily ascertained. Here’s how
Winthrop claims the pastor, the good Reverend
Mr. Wilson, interpreted the combat: “. . .the snake was the devil; the mouse
was a poor contemptible people, which God had brought hither, which should
overcome Satan here, and dispossess him of his kingdom.”
What the pastor laid out and Winthrop recorded was an exercise in typology. What occurred in
Watertown wasn’t simply a
battle royale between a mouse and a snake, it was itself a type—a symbol, an
analogy (call it what you will) of the great cosmic crusade the Puritans saw
themselves waging in the new world’s wilderness. What they had witnessed—what they had seen
with their own eyes—was a symbol of the spiritual warfare between God and Satan
they knew they were living through.
I like that. I like the fact that in the vision of the Puritans, ordinary things, natural things, looked different. Life offered riddles, events that needed to be understood and translated for their spiritual value because, within the Puritan mind, things had meaning. Life itself was a huge screen on which they could observe their own shadows dance a cosmic opera whose plot line they knew long before the entered the theater.
What David has in mind in verse eight is at least something similar, I think. The way of the righteous allows us to see the heavens declare God’s glory—it gives light to the eyes. The whole world looks different to believers. I’m convinced that’s true. A dawn isn’t just a dawn, and a rose isn’t just a rose. Life looks different to believers.
But that doesn’t mean that our translations, our symbolism, our readings of the events can’t be wrong. We may well see things differently, but we’re still capable of falling pray to optical illusions.
It would take another two generations, and the reasons were many, but the same kind of typological thinking—we are the Lord’s chosen people, and those snakes who oppose us are demons—would generate the frenzy that led to the hanging of those accused of witchcraft—all done in God’s name and with, seemingly, His blessing.
David’s enthusiasm here is for a rich and wonderful truth: God’s ways bring light to the eyes. Things have meaning.