If you love to read the book of Psalms, then you are aware how often it mentions God’s law. When reading Psalms in English, people do not realize what Hebrew words lay behind the English translations. Consequently, the depth of their meaning often evades people. Take this verse for example…
דֶּרֶךְ־שֶׁקֶר הָסֵר מִמֶּנִּי וְתוֹרָתְךָ חָנֵּנִי׃
“Keep me from deceitful ways; be gracious to me and teach me your law.”
(Psalm 119:29, NIV)
In English, the Psalmist says “be gracious to me and teach me your law” – וְתוֹרָתְךָ חָנֵּנִי (vetoratcha chaneni). In Hebrew, the text does not say anything about “teaching” specifically. It literally says “grace/favor me with your Torah”. The Hebrew חָנֵּנִי (chaneni) is a verb – חָנַן (chanan) meaning, “to be gracious, kind or compassionate.” It is tied directly to a very well-known noun, חֵן (chen), which means “liking,” “grace,” or “favorable disposition.”
Further, the word תּוֹרָה (torah) does not mean “law” as in a list of rules. The word actually means “instruction,” “teaching,” and “direction.” It originates from the verb יָרָה (yarah) meaning “to shoot,” “throw,” or “cast” something in a particular direction. Now the idea becomes clear. Just as a road sign points you in a proper direction to travel, so too does תּוֹרָה (torah) point you in the proper direction for life. The etymology suggests that תּוֹרָה (torah) has the same function of providing direction as a compass or a map would. A list of rules (i.e. Law) does not really do that, so translating תּוֹרָה (torah) as “law” is somewhat misleading. It projects the wrong idea.
Now we can paraphrase the translation to reflect the meaning of the original Hebrew – “turn me away from the deceitful way and be favorable to me with your instruction.” The Psalmist asks God to lead him in life by instructing him and by pointing him in the right direction. And at the same time, he asks that God would not allow him to follow the wrong path. See how, “teach me your law” means so much more in Hebrew!