For those of us influenced by the historical evangelicalism of the Reformation, individual Bible study has become an important part of our personal piety. Yet since we are also creatures of our time, it is likely that we are not as familiar with biblical meditation as integral to our spiritual growth. Unfortunately, Christian meditation is not often spoken of in many churches today. While Bible study and Christian meditation on the Scriptures are closely linked, there are some uniquely beneficial aspects of meditation that are lost when our churches do not teach the practice today.
Today’s passage is a key text for what meditation means in a biblical context. The setting is just after the death of Moses, with Israel on the borders of the Promised Land. With the invasion and all its attendant battles ahead, we might expect the Lord to give Joshua detailed instructions on fighting techniques, battle plans, or some other strategy in order to guarantee the success of Israel. However, such things, while important, are not going to be what ensures the victory of God’s people. Instead, Joshua is to have the “Book of the Law” on his tongue so as to meditate on it around the clock (Josh. 1:8).
The “Book of the Law” is synonymous with Scripture, for the law given at Sinai was the only portion of Scripture that Joshua had at that stage in redemptive history. Authentic meditation, then, is not some exercise wherein we try to empty our minds and expunge all desires in order to achieve some kind of mystic experience or melding with the transcendent. In the biblical worldview, rather, meditation is to consider and ponder the Word of God. It is the repetition of the text to ourselves — the reading and rereading of a passage so that its meaning might take root. To keep God’s law from departing out of the mouth refers to the audible repetition of Scripture, which is in turn a reference to the reading of the text, since ancient peoples always verbalized the text before them when they read (silent reading to one’s self is a recent development). Such reading and rereading helps ensure the text is not forgotten.
Studying the depths of God’s Word is important, but at times we can walk away from such study and not remember much of what we have read. Meditating on the text helps get it in our souls so that we might never forget what it teaches.