The Psalms found an importance place in the prayer and person of Joseph. I offered Psalm 1 as a starting point and spoke about his understanding of the law as the expression of God’s will for his people. This first Psalm encourages as well as rewards meditation and application. Psalm 19 points in a similar direction and enables us to continue to reflect on Joseph as a just man in relation to the law of his people.
One of the three Torah Psalms in our Old Testament, Psalm 19 is often divided into two parts—in fact, some sources suggest the two halves are separate psalms. I do not find this separation convincing.
The first part of this psalm (vv. 2-7) speaks of how the heavens declare the glory of God and the verses come to focus on the sun (v. 7):
From one end of the heavens it comes forth;
its course runs through to the other;
nothing escapes its heat.
The passage highlights the all-encompassing influence of the sun. It reveals the glory of God everywhere in the natural world—nothing escapes its warmth and its light. It brings life and reveals beauty.
In the second part of the psalm (vv. 8-12), the text switches to the law and describes its value in flattering words. Then two images emerge to illustrate the point (v. 11). The law is:
More desirable than gold,
than a hoard of purest gold,
Sweeter also than honey
or drippings from the comb.
Gold and honey offer evocative images for the nature of the law. It is precious and sweet!
Each half of the psalm reinforces the other. A wondrous elemental amber aura engages the senses: the warmth of the sun, the brightness of gold, the sweet taste of honey. Can you imagine Joseph, the just man, reflecting on the efficacy and application of the Law as he prayed this psalm? The literary images invite an expansive and welcome reverence for the teachings of God in the minds and hearts of a faithful, obedient people.
Joseph certainly influenced his son in respect for the law. Jesus insists upon its importance and its fulfillment.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. . . . Whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:17, 19)
In another context, we can recognize how Jesus calls some of the religious leadership into question as they compromise the law for their own purposes.
“You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.” (Mk 7:8)
Joseph affirms and cherishes the life-giving character of the law. It requires an insightful and compassionate interpretation. Just as one can savor the blessings of sun, treasure, and sweetness, so can one embrace and rejoice in the Law as the expression of the divine will.