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Posts Tagged ‘Psalm 19’

Psalm 19 is a profound psalm with lots of good teaching in it. It’s also a very beautiful poem. I want us to really dig into this today and see what we can learn.

I have a handout for you –  Psalm 19 outline. There are some issues of translation that I won’t get into. I am using two translations, the ESV and NIV. Let’s read it through as a whole first, from the handout.

Introduction

Let me begin by pointing out that there are several allusions to Genesis 1 in Psalm 19. Here are some examples from verse one:

  • “the heavens” is the same word as is found in Genesis 1:1
  • “the sky” is the same word as “firmament” in Genesis 1:7

(For more see below. The seven statements about God’s instructions could also echo the seven days of Genesis one)

But most basically, the structure of Genesis 1 helps us understand how this Psalm is put together. It is generally recognized that days 1-3 and days 4-6 in Genesis 1 are parallel to each other, with the first series focusing on the making of different spaces, and the second series focusing on filling those spaces. 

Making spaces

Filling spaces

Day 1 – light & darkness (temporal space) Day 4 – Filled with stars.
Day 2 – waters below, above (sky) Day 5 – Filled with fish, birds
Day 3 – the earth Day 6 – Filled with animals.

Now on day 4, as a part of filling the created spaces, God set rulers over the day and night, the Sun and the moon. Day 5 has no mention of a ruler. But again, on day 6, God set humanity as the ruler over the earth, both man and woman.

I draw attention to this because these two servants who rule, specifically the Sun and humanity, are contrasted in our Psalm in sections B and B1 (handout).

Now we’re ready to look at our Psalm. We begin with –

The words of the heavens

“1The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. 2Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.”

A couple of notes, “The heavens declare,” can also be translated “are declaring.” And “the sky above proclaims,” can also be translated “is proclaiming.” This is an ongoing activity. And this is reinforced by v. 2, which tells us that this happens “day to day,” and “night to night.” (The day and night language also echoes day 4 in Genesis 1)

So the heavens are declaring, proclaiming, pouring out speech and revealing knowledge. And this is all focused on “the glory of God.” The heavens praise God and point to God in that they are God’s “handiwork.” For when people see the heavens and their workings, they see the glory of the one who made them. (For similar thoughts see Romans 1:28)

Then we have a qualification. “3They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. 4Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” They do a lot of talking, but not with audible or human words. And yet in spite of this, they still speak. In fact their words go everywhere, to the ends of the world.

Now we have a focus on the Sun, as the ruler of the day –

The faithful servant over the heavens

“In them he (God) has set a tent for the sun, 5which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and like a strong man, runs its course with joy.”

The sun is here vividly personified. It retires in a tent that God gives it during the night. When the sun “comes out” of its tent in the morning, it’s ready to go. This is described with two images: 1) like a bridegroom right after his marriage ceremony, ready to take on the world. 2) like a strong man, or an athlete ready to run, who then “runs his course with joy.” It is not a toil, and there is no complaining. It is ready to go and is happy about it.

“6Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.” It travels its path from east to west each and every day, staying true to the path given to it by God. It goes from one end of the heavens to the other and “nothing is hidden from its heat,” referencing its rule over all the heavens, echoing Genesis 1:16 and 18.

So the sun is singled out as a prime example of the heavens declaring God’s glory. It is doing what it is supposed to do and thus glorifying God.

Next we learn about –

God’s instructions

This is really a poem within a poem – about God’s Law, or as I am putting it his “instructions” to us; God’s will. It is made up of seven statements.

1. “7The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul”

2. “the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple”

3. “8the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart”

4. “the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes”

5. “9the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever”

6. “the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether”

7. “10More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.”

Notice the synonyms: law, testimony, precepts, commandment, fear, rules. Notice the characteristics of God’s instructions: perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, enduring forever, true, righteous altogether. And notice its benefit for those who keep it: reviving the soul, making wise the simple, rejoicing the heart, enlightening the eyes.

This section ends with two comparatives that speak to its value. God’s instructions are more valuable than gold or honey. They are to be sought out. Let me ask, Do you seek it out more than gold or honey? If someone put a pot of gold in front of you and said choose this or a better of understanding of what God wants from you, which would you pick?

In the background here is Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. One scholar (David Clines) has pointed out parallels between these passages. Here are two: In Genesis 3:6 the tree seemed good “to make one wise.” But in Psalm 19:7 God’s Law is characterized as “making wise the simple.” In Genesis 3:7 it says when they ate “the eyes of both were opened.” But in Psalm 19:8 God’s Law characterized as “enlightening the eyes.”

The underlying message in this comparison is this. Instead of seeking out wisdom to rule apart from God, we are to find wisdom in God’s instructions. He gives us true insight and enlightenment.

Next we move to a focus on humanity. In contrast to the faithfulness of the sun, we have –

The flawed servant over the earth

And this is in the form of a prayer. “11Moreover, by them (that is, God’s instructions) is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”

Here we see the quandary that David, and all of us face in terms of God’s Law – judgment or blessing? Judgment if we disobey – hence the warning language. Blessing if we keep it. He speaks of “great reward.”

Already in vs. 7-10 we have begun to see the human problem, but this is spelled out further in these next verses, in the form of two obstacles that stand in the way of receiving God’s blessing. This speaks to the flawed rulership of humanity.

“12Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. 13 Keep your servant also from willful sins; let them not have dominion over me!”

1. We have errors or hidden faults. That is, inadvertent sins, sinning when we don’t even know we are. What is the solution? He asks for forgiveness. Grace.

2. We have willful sins. That is know, willful choices we make that go against God’s will. What is the solution? He asks for help. Keep me from them. Once again, grace. (In the phrase “let them not have dominion over me,” the word “dominion” echoes Genesis 1:28. But it is an ironic allusion, because it refers now to sin having dominion over humanity, as opposed to humanity having dominion over the earth.) (“Dominion” is the same word used in Genesis 4:7 where God tells Cain must rule over sin) (The word “hidden” is used to describe the sun’s expansive rule. Here it is used to highlight the flawed rule of humanity.)

So, with God’s forgiveness and preventative help, David goes on to say, 13“Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.” In this way he can receive God’s great reward. (Perhaps he means he will be blameless due to forgiveness and innocent of great transgression due to God’s preventative help)

This leads us to the last verse –

The words of humanity

We have already seen in v.1 how “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork;” how they pour forth speech. And we have seen how the sun is a prime example of this, as the faithful servant of God who rules over the sky, never wandering from his path.

Now David prays, that as a human, as a ruler over the earth, he will have words that are acceptable in God’s sight. 14 “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

He acknowledges in this Psalm human brokenness and sin, including his own. But with the help of God’s instructions, instead of his own wisdom, and with God’s forgiveness and preventative help, that is, God’s grace, he prays that his words can be a part of declaring God’s glory. That just as the heavens do this, and the Sun as the ruler of the day does this, that he might fulfill his role in offering up praise to God and pointing others to God in the way he runs his course.

And he also prays this for the mediations of his heart, the source of his words. This is not just an outer thing. He prays that his heart would be acceptable and glorifying to God.

He ends with the theme of redemption as a counterpoint to his brokenness. He uses “Lord” or Yahweh, God’s personal name. In the first part of the psalm it was the generic, “God,” the creator God. But from vs. 7-14 Yahweh is the name that is used seven times – God’s covenant or saving name. It is this God who is his rock and redeemer and, the one who protects him and saves him.

Let me end by asking –

What about you?

Do you desire to join in the chorus of praise to God? To pour out day to day acceptable words that point to and praise God?

Then we too, like David need God’s help. And thankfully we have all the more help, through our Lord Jesus Christ.

  • We have God’s clearest instructions, God’s Word made flesh. We have Jesus’ teaching and example to guide us, give us wisdom and enlighten our eyes.
  • And we have Gods’ grace. We have forgiveness for all our sins, errors and willful ones, through Jesus’ death on the cross. And we have God’s help, so that sin will not have dominion over us through the Spirit whom we receive in our hearts, who gives us the power to overcome.

In this way we too can fulfill our role; our words too can join in with the words of all creation to give proper praise to God.

 William Higgins


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