Imagination Formed by Scripture’s Music
The way that you live will be controlled ultimately by your image of the good life—what it means to really flourish and prosper, And, in particular, your image of what it means to flourish in relation to God’s rule is what controls your life.
This is what we have been seeing from Psalm 1 over the past couple of weeks. The psalms have been given to us to help us know how we should live in the midst of world in which it appears that wickedness is actually flourishing, a world in which we are bombarded by the kind of counsel that says, “Free yourself from God’s rule—that’s true flourishing.”
But as Psalm 1 demonstrates, and truly blessed person will not walk in that that kind of counsel, he will not allow his image of prosperity to be shaped by a wicked imagination.
Rather, “his delight”—what will shape and form his path—“is the Law,” the Torah, of the Lord.” This word Torah, of course, often refers to the Mosaic Law, the first 5 books of the Old Testament, those “rules”—that’s what the word Torah means—those “rules” by which God’s people are supposed to live their lives.
But isn’t it interesting that just like there are 5 books in the Mosaic Torah, so there are 5 books in the Davidic Torah, the Book of Psalms? Do you suppose that’s deliberate? It certainly is. The editors of the Book of Psalms organized the collection into five books almost certainly to display a parallel with the Five Books of Moses.
Everyone recognizes the importance and life-regulating significance of the Books of Moses, but do we recognize the Books of Psalms as just as important and life-regulating? Or, to put it another way, we all recognize the critical importance of God’s commandments and God’s doctrine to govern our lives, but songs? That’s just extra; that’s just something enjoyable.
No, the editors of the Psalms, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, arranged these songs in Five Books in parallel with the Five Books of Moses as a way to say, “These Five Books of songs are the Torah of God with just as important, life-regulating significance as the Five Books of Moses.” And a righteous person will delight himself in this Torah. In fact, the Torah of Moses is absolutely important to give a righteous person the instruction he needs to live a prosperous life under the rule of God, but the Torah of David is equally important because it shapes and forms the righteous, blessed life in ways that the Torah of Moses actually cannot do alone.
Once again, our way, our lives, are driven ultimately by whatever we allow to shape our image of what it means to be blessed, what it means to be prosperous. There’s the image of the wicked, an image of prosperity and flourishing apart from submission to God, and there is the image of the Torah, an image of prosperity that results from submission to God. And whatever image you have set before you is what will shape your way.
It’s like a treasure map. X marks the spot, and whatever map you have controlling your search will determine the path you take and the resulting treasure. If you have a genuine map that will take you to gold, if you follow that map, it will take you there. But if you have a counterfeit map that promises gold but instead leads to quicksand, the results are inevitable.
This life-governing map, this inner image of what it really means to prosper, is what the Bible often calls “the heart”—this is why verse two says that a righteous person will delight himself in the Torah of the Lord. The heart in Scripture is not just “emotion.” The heart is an all-encompassing, inner image of the good life, what it means to be blessed, what it means to prosper, and that inner image then drives everything about how we live and move and have our being. It becomes the map that directs our way.
And so whatever shapes that inner image, what shapes your heart, is of utmost importance. If your heart is shaped by the counsel of the wicked, the way of sinners, the seat of scoffers—if your inner image is shaped by their conception of the good life, then you’ll walk the way of the wicked.
But the truly blessed person, the righteous person, will shape his heart by the Torah. Our image of the good life will be shaped by God’s image of the good life. And by the way, notice that the psalmist doesn’t just describe blessedness to us in strict, propositional, doctrine terms; he uses an image to shape our imagination of what that would be like. True blessedness is like a tree planted by an abundant source of nourishment so that it easily produces beautiful, rich, juicy, delicious fruit and never withers for lack of sustenance. He’s describing blessedness in a way that shapes our imaginations, not just our intellects.
That’s what is meant by the term “meditates” in verse 2. The Hebrew word literally means to “vocalize,” and so it has the idea of murmuring about something; sometimes this word is translated “to muse” on something. What do we do when we muse on something? We allow it to roll around in our mind, we contemplate it from every angle, but even those ways of describing it are insufficient, because it’s more than just something we do with our mind, it’s something we do with our heart; to meditate on something, to muse on something is to allow it to form and shape our heart, our map of the world, our image of the good life. This is why this Hebrew word is also sometimes translated “to imagine.”
What this means is that meditation is more than just studying Scripture, it’s more than just thinking about doctrine; it is “writing the Word of God on the tablet of you heart” (Prov 3:3, 7:3; Jer 17:1, 31:33; Heb 10:16). It is “letting the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col 3:16).
And what’s particularly interesting about that reference from Colossians 3:16 is what comes next; how do we allow the Word of Christ to dwell richly within us, how do we meditate on God’s Word, how to we muse on the Torah? By singing psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs. Again, this kind of image-forming meditation on the Torah is a function of our hearts, our imaginations, and that requires not just doctrinal statements, not just the Mosaic Torah, it requires forms of imagination—it requires songs, the Davidic Torah.
We muse on the Torah when the Torah takes on the form of music.
About Scott Aniol
Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.