Perhaps you have seen the Extreme Makeover TV series in which a team of experts does an extraordinary renovation on a house. When the project is finished, a huge bus blocks the family and friends’ view of the house. The show’s host leads the crowd in chanting, “Move that bus!” The bus moves out of the way to reveal the handiwork of the team of designers and builders. Were we to watch the show enough, we would begin to see a design and know something about its designer, based on how they work with molding, window treatments, or cabinetry.
Now imagine standing in a crowd with the psalmist, whose hymn is about to reveal God to us, as we chant, “Move that bus!” As fun as this thought is, Psalm 19 does a ‘God reveal’ so much better than a bus does. It is God who has chosen to reveal himself to us. The Holy Spirit breathed this psalm through the psalmist as part of God’s self-revelation.
In Reflections on the Psalms, C.S. Lewis declared, “I take this to be the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.”[i] This great poem was written in two distinct parts. The first part, verses 1-6, looks at the day and night skies of God’s creation. The second part, verses 7-14, is a quick overview of the law God gave to us through Moses. The first part refers just once to God, El in Hebrew. The second part makes mention seven times of the LORD, Yahweh in Hebrew, the name God himself revealed to Moses at the burning, non-burning bush. The verses are longer in the first part and shorter in the second part of the psalm. The style of the first part is that of a hymn. The style of the second part is typical of wisdom poetry.
These section subtitles will assist your study of this psalm: James Limburg:
What the Heavens Tell – 19:1-6 What the Scriptures Teach – 19:7–10 A Prayer for Telling and Teaching – 19:11-14[ii]
David L Thompson: Heavens Declare the Glory of God – 19:1–6 Torah Revives the Soul – 19:7–11 Petitions for Acceptance by Yahweh – 19:12-14[iii]
Derek Kidner: The Eloquence of Nature – 19:1–6 The Clarity of Scriptures – 19:7-14[iv]
Peter C. Craigie The Praise of God in Nature – 19:1–6 The Praise of the Lord in Torah – 19:8-15[v]
It is obvious that Psalm 19 contains two distinct parts. Some scholars think that there were two different authors and the two original parts were combined into a unity by an editor. There is no way to know for sure. What we do know for sure is that the Spirit inspired this psalm to be an incredible unity.
Verses 1-6: The Cosmos Reveals the Creator
The backstory for this passage is Genesis 1-3. We live in an incredible world that is part of an incredible solar system which is a subset of an incredible universe. Each day we are able witness God’s handiwork in our little corner of the world. We primarily witness our world in the daytime under the predictable, dependable ‘path’ of the sun from east to west. Many cultures have been in such awe of the sun that they worshiped it as a deity. In verse 4c, the psalmist quickly pops that bubble by proclaiming, “God has made a home in the heavens for the sun”. The sun is not a deity but is the work of a Craftsman who is the only true Deity.
The day, the night, the heavens and the entire universe speak silently, yet profoundly, of the Creator that made them. Just as the Extreme Makeover renovations “say something” about their designers, craftsmen and builders, so too do all the parts of the universe “say something” about their Designer, Craftsman and Builder.
But what if we had been born into a world of eternal daytime? How would we ever be aware of the rest of the universe? Just four verses into Genesis we learn that God separated the light from the darkness and ever since we can see the galaxies. NASA tells us that currently, there are more than 2,500 other stars that we know of with orbiting planets. We also know that there are about 200 billion stars in our galaxy.[vi] That is a huge amount of silent speech proclaiming God’s glory.
While darkness reveals, it also grows. Macrina Wiederkehr writes, “There is a necessary darkness to assist all life in the growing process. Night and day complement each other. Both night and day are needed in the cycle of life.”[vii]While gestation occurs around the clock, it always takes place in the dark. Then, we, and many other species of mammals, are birthed into a world of nights and days. Simply amazing!
For Lewis, the key clause in this psalm is found in verse 6: “there is none hidden from its heat.” Peter Craigie comments on that phrase:
“The clause marks the transition between the two parts of the psalm and at the same time links them intimately together. Just as the sun dominates the daytime sky, so too does Torah dominates human life. And as the sun can be both welcome, in giving warmth and terrifying in its unrelenting heat, so too the Torah can be both life-imparting, but also scorching, testing, and purifying. But neither are dispensable. There could be no life on this planet without the sun; there can be no true human life without the revealed word of God in the Torah.[viii]
Verses 8-11: The Old Testament Law Reveals the Lawgiver
Just at the universe reveals God the Creator; so too the Old Testament Law reveals God the Moral Lawgiver. The Hebrew word for ‘law’ is torah, which also is the name for the first five books of the Old Testament often credited to Moses as the author. The Torah is also know as the Law of Moses, although it came from God through him.
Choose your preferred translation and then chart the six Synonyms for Law in verses 7-9. In the second column, list the Evaluations of the Law. In the third column, list the Effects of the Law on those who observe it. Construct a table like this one based on the NTL:Synonyms for the LawEvaluations of the LawEffects of the LawThe instructions of the Lordare perfectreviving the soulThe decrees of the Lordare trustworthymaking wise the simpleThe commandments of the Lordare rightbringing joy to the heartThe commands of the Lordare cleargiving insight for livingReverence for the Lordis purelasting foreverThe laws of the Lordare trueeach one is fair
This will easily preach both vertically and horizontally.
The psalmist proceeds to compare the law with the purest gold. He makes it clear that God’s law is even more desirable to his people than the purest gold ever found. Next, the author tells us that the law is even sweeter than honey that his dripping out of the honeycomb. When we follow God’s law, our life will have a sweetness about it that is at the opposite end of the scale from anything that is rotten. A lawless life will eventually turn quite rotten for those who pursue a selfishly driven lifestyle. In verse 11, the law offers a warning to God’s servants to avoid destructive behaviors and attitudes. The law also promises a great reward for God’s servants who choose to obey it.
Verses 12-14: The Psalmist’s Prayer Reveals Our Forgiving Father
Richard Niell Donovan begins his excellent study of Psalm 19 by pointing out how the author has crafted this poem in three concentric circles. The outer circle is the entire universe revealing God’s glory. The middle circle highlights the Torah revealing God’s will for his people. The inner circle is the psalmist revealing a God who is able to forgive his child. And at the center of these three circles is Yahweh God, our Creator, Lawgiver, and Forgiving Father, who is willing to hear our confession and forgive our sin.[ix] Kidner terms this a “person-to-Person” response.[x]
The psalmist has told us about God the Creator and Yahweh the Lawgiver. Now the psalmist directs his prayer to his‘rock’ and his ‘redeemer.’ David Thompson explains, “As his Rock, Yahweh will provide him a place to stand while the torrent rushes by. As his Redeemer, Yahweh will liberate him from bondage to sin from which he could never extricate himself.”[xi]
In verse 14 the psalmist actually tells us what this psalm is and what it is for: “the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart.”[xii] Our ‘words’ and ‘meditations’ are to be ‘pleasing’ and ‘acceptable’ to our ‘Rock’ and ‘Redeemer.’ ‘Acceptable’ is what animal sacrifices were to be. We learn from Cain that offerings given with the wrong attitude will not be accepted by God. Now that Christ has given himself as the perfectly acceptable sacrifice, we no longer need to take animals to worship and offer them as our sacrifice. Our lives are what we offer to God. May we offer lives of obedience to God. Lives that consist of acceptable words and meditations which result in acceptable behaviors offered to our Creator, Lawgiver and Forgiving Father.
[i] Lewis, P. 59
[ii] Limburg, Pp. 59-61
[iii] Thompson, Pp. 122-127
[iv] Kidner, Pp. 97-100
[v] Craigie, Pp. 179-184
[vi] NASA, Web
[vii] Wiederkehr, P. 17
[viii] Craigie, Pp. 183-184
[ix] Donovan, Web
[x] Kidner, P. 99
[xi] Thompson, P. 126
[xii] Mays, P. 100