Imagine the sound a dog makes when he is gnawing on a bone, or the sound of a dove cooing, or of a lion the growling over its prey. All three sounds have something in common with the blessed man of Psalm 1. They are the sounds of deep satisfaction. The word “growling” in Isaiah 31:4, and “moaning” (or cooing) in Isaiah 38:14, are the same word in Hebrew and translated “meditate” in Psalm 1. The blessed man is one who delights in the Law of the Lord and on His law he “meditates” day and night.
Robert Alter helps us to understand the connection: “The verb hagah means to make a low muttering sound, which is what one does with a text in a culture where there is no silent reading.” Most of us have seen people quietly reading aloud a text. We see their lips moving. We may even hear them whispering or quietly reading aloud the text. We have all probably done it ourselves. This is the idea captured by the word hagah.
Eugene Peterson, in his book Eat This Book, focuses more on the “delight” aspect of meditation. Not everyone experiences the kind of satisfaction in the word that the blessed man does. It is only those who delight in the Law of God that growl or coo over it. When the dog or lion “meditate” they chew and swallow, using their teeth and tongue, stomach and intenstines. Eugene Peterson writes of Scripture, that it “…invites this kind of reading, soft purrs and low growls as we taste and savor, contemplate and take in the sweet and spicy, mouth-watering and soul-energizing morsel words— “O taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Ps 34:8). When we meditate, we are taking God’s word into our minds to affect the whole inner man—the mind, will, and emotions.
Another author compares this way of reading to “letting a very slowly dissolving lozenge melt
imperceptibly into your mouth.” This is the kind of reading we all ought to be interested in when
it comes to the Bible. Evelyn Wood’s school for speed reading will be of no value here. We
should be more interested in reading books with titles like How to Read Slowly, by James Sire.
That’s good news to me, because we can’t all read fast, but we can all read slowly.
(I owe a great deal in this article to Eugene Peterson and his book, Eat This Book: a
conversation in the art of spiritual reading.)