Meditation and The Purpose of the Law

One of the few places that I think the translators of the New International Version and The Message have come up with a wimpy rendition of the writer’s original intent is their wording of Galatians 3:24:

So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.

“Put in charge” was the verb form that they agreed upon to translate a noun that just doesn’t easily translate to English. That’s too bad, because taking the term from a noun to a verb strips it of the personification that Paul’s original poetry here intended.

Various other translations give it to us as “schoolmaster” (KJV), “tutor” (NASV, ASV, Darby), “guardian” (ESV), “teacher” (Contemporary) and “trainer” (Amplified). Maybe my favorite is “child-conductor,” the term that Young’s Literal Translation creates for a position in society that we no longer have.

A footnote in the Holman Christian Standard Bible argues that “In our culture, we do not have a slave who takes a child to and from school, protecting the child from harm or corruption. In Gk the word paidogogos described such a slave. This slave was not a teacher.”

“School bus driver” certainly doesn’t do it.

Even “child-conductor” makes me think of the principle character voiced by Tom Hanks in the movie The Polar Express.

I wonder if perhaps the better image is that of Boothby, the gardener/groundskeeper at Star Trek‘s Star Fleet Academy: an observer, a mentor, an advisor, a life coach helping cadets wrestle with their challenges. Never the faculty, always the staff. Valuing wisdom above knowledge; experience above rote. The paidogogos.

That’s Boothby.

What’s Boothby got to do with meditation?

Meditation on the law – I believe – was part of what God intended for Israel to do with it when He gave it. Rather than just saying to themselves, “The law’s the law; you don’t question it; you just obey it,” I think God truly wanted His people to question it.

Questions like “Why should I have to do this?” or “Why can’t I do that?” should have been legitimate. If you meditate on them, the answers inevitably lead to the conclusion: “Because God loves you. He wants the best for you. He wants you to survive, and thrive, and mature and grow closer to others and to Him your whole life. He wants you to love Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. He wants you to love your neighbor as yourself. He wants you to seek out His ways, His will and His nature in His words, creations and His actions.”

The Lord told Moses’ successor Joshua:

Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. ~ Joshua 1:7-8

And the opening Psalm in the collection declares:

Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night. ~ Psalm 1:1-2

Psalm 119 recommends the practice, not once, not twice, but eight times: on God’s precepts (twice), decrees (twice), ways, wonders, statutes and law. After meditating on God’s law, it becomes written on your heart (Psalm 37:31, 40:8, 119:30, Isaiah 51:7, et al.

Meditation – as well as obedience – was how the law functioned as a paidogogos.

The law was meant to bring God’s people to maturity, to wisdom, to that time when His law would be written not so much on tablets of cold stone nor leaves of perishable papyrus – but on their hearts:

“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” ~ Jeremiah 31:33

Paul says that the day when obedience through heart-devotion to God’s law has come, even to the Gentiles:

All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. ~ Romans 2:12-16

And that naturally leads to the context of the quote above with that elusive word paidogogos (and here I will switch to the ESV and substitute the original term):

Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our paidogogos until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a paidogogos, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. ~ Galatians 3:19-28

So, I have to ask you: has the purpose of Law been completely fulfilled? Have God’s people matured to faith in Christ Jesus, with His law written on their hearts; having put on Christ and become sons of God? Is there complete equality among followers of Christ, without artificial divisions because of race, social status, or gender? Now that Christ has come, is there nothing further that we can learn of God from His original covenant that men did not keep?

In the Star Trek mythos, Boothby knew his place and never left it. When a cadet graduated from the Academy, Boothby’s job was done.

But from time to time, an officer would return from the far-flung stars to see him, to thank him, to seek his wisdom.

Maybe it wouldn’t hurt for us to go back and meditate on God’s law from time to time; to seek His wisdom and nature there. Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to search out what it means and what is required to worship Him … what He has given and what He has taken away … whether He can use slaves (like Joseph) as well as kings (like David), one race (like Ruth) as well as another (like Esther), and women (like Deborah) as well as men (like fill-in-the-blank) to do His work in this world.

Perhaps we need to revisit Boothby.

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3 thoughts on “Meditation and The Purpose of the Law

  1. Keith,Wonderful post.I think you handled this topic the best I have seen yet.God bless you brother!Have a great week! 🙂

  2. Great blog…but really what I wanted to comment on is that I LOVE that your wordpress blog posts the whole thing in Google Reader…..please don’t change that.

    I love a good Trekkie

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