Psalm 119:105 tells us that “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Like many statements of great metaphorical and artistic meaning, it is easy to wonder what that means. How does God’s word light our paths and shine in front of us to illuminate our way? Part of the answer to this question lies in the immediate context to the verse itself. Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the whole Bible, is full of praise for God’s law and its instructional value. God’s law makes us wiser than our unfriendly foes, gives us more understanding than our teachers and instructors, and gives us more wisdom than the ancients of old, because we can use their example to help guide us if we are wise. It is said that the wisest learn from the experience of others because the cost of relearning everything for oneself is prohibitive and wasteful. Certainly this is true in areas like military history, where a study of the great leaders and campaigns and insights of the past is frequently to be preferred to the wasteful destruction of lives and property by those seeking to understand the rudiments of strategic and tactical skill in conflict. Certainly, when we reflect on the seriousness of matters in our spiritual lives the same concerns exist as well.
There are at least two ways that God’s word serves as a light and a guide to our path. The most obvious way this is done is directly. At times, as in Psalm 119:105, the Bible points directly to its didactic and instructional role. So we see in Proverbs that Solomon writes to his son, and at least vicariously to us, that we are to engage in some practices and to avoid others in this masterpiece of practical instruction. The Apostle Paul tells us that the writings of old were recorded for our instruction and that all scripture is God-breathed and suitable for instruction, correction, and reproof. At times the Bible explicitly draws our attention to the fact that His word is guiding us and shaping our conduct and that our conduct needs to be shaped by such external means because the way of God and righteousness is not automatically within us. We need to be taught both because we are teachable, and capable of grasping knowledge, instruction, and wisdom and because we have need of instruction because we do not naturally follow the narrow and difficult path of righteousness. The instructional content of the Bible is both a sign of honor to us that we are capable of understanding its wisdom and humbling because we are reminded that we have need of teaching because we do not know or do everything that we ought to already .
This instruction, as might be expected, comes in many forms. There are prophetic blessings and curses that compare and contrast the fate of the righteous and the wicked, as in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. Somehow the curses always seem to end up being longer than the blessings, both because so many more people are disobedient to God than loyal to His ways, and because when things go well they tend to look the same–there is enough to eat, a good roof over our heads, people to love and be loved by like a wife and children, and so on. In the absence of these things there is a great variety in the sort of miseries that can afflict us, which the writers of scripture have no shyness in painting out in vivid and graphic detail. At other times this instruction comes to us bluntly, telling us that we shall do certain things and we shall not do others. Sometimes we are given reasons for this and sometimes we are not, but we are expected first to obey and then to understand.
At other times we are given instruction in a more indirect fashion, through the workings of divine providence. In Ruth 2, for example, we read that Ruth went to Boaz’s field by accident, without intent, but we can gather from the course of the whole book that it was part of God’s plan, but one where God did not wish to order Ruth around but rather let her own actions and behavior bring about what He desired by chance. The same can be seen in 2 Kings 5, where Naaman is brought to worship of God in stages, somewhat gradually, through a series of providential actions. This sort of instruction, and it is common in scripture, is doubly indirect. Not only are the people in the stories initially unaware of how God is directing their paths by their being obedient to Him and listening to the promptings of circumstance and providence that present themselves, but we as the reader are being informed of God’s ways in an indirect fashion and taught how we should behave as they did, and witness for ourselves the workings of providence in our lives which is often as indirect for us as it was to the heroes of old we read of in scripture.
At times we are also taught indirectly through the lives and stories that we read, even where we are not looking for divine providence itself, but rather about how we are to behave in the midst of life’s circumstances. We may look in scripture for people who have a similar life history to ourselves and seek to draw encouragement from how God dealt with them. We may sorrow and grieve for the rape victims we read of like Dinah and Tamar, and so grieve for ourselves at least indirectly. We may reflect on those accused and even imprisoned unjustly despite their loyal service to God like Joseph with regards to Potiphar’s wife, and see how God shapes our character through the trials that He allows that refine us and humble us and improve us so that we can be the sort of person God wishes for us to be at the end of it all.
We see in these examples, and many more could be chosen, various ways that God’s word shapes and illuminates our lives and our walk in His paths. At times God’s word spells out what those paths are, what the proper boundary markers are for our behavior. At other times God lights our path indirectly through stories that teach us lessons without hitting us over the head with the points, and where we identify with those we read and hear about and seek either to emulate or to surpass, and where we find out that we are not so alone in this world as we thought, but live our lives surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Whether we receive direct or indirect instruction, the point is to heed and follow it and also to be a fit example to others just as the examples we hear of and read and see are supposed to inspire us. Just as we are taught by God, we become teachers through living out what we have taught.
 This is presumably why so much effort is spent in seeking to teach the youth, so that they may be encouraged to follow God before the costs of folly and error become too prohibitive. See, for example: