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Bible Commentaries

Ernst Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 19

 

 

Introduction

Psalms 19

God manifests Himself in creation, and His works in the heavens attest His glory, unceasingly, mightily, over the whole earth, especially the most glorious object in them, the sun, which majestically performs his long course, and fills everything with his warmth, Psalms 19:1-6. The law, which has been given by this world-God, possesses all the advantages which are inseparable from its originating in such a source; it gives to man sure and unerring instruction how to order his life, and fills his heart with joy, by bringing his painful uncertainty in this respect to an end, Psalms 19:7-10. With sincere gratitude the Psalmist acknowledges the enlightenment which he has received from this law, which, as surely as it is the pure expression of the will of the Almighty, so surely promises a rich reward to those who keep it. But that he may actually attain to this reward, he stands in need of two things,—the grace of forgiveness for the manifold sins of imperfection, which spring from corruption of nature even in the servant of the Lord, and the grace of preservation from the heinous transgressions, which would cause him to forfeit his place as a servant of God; and therefore he begs that the Lord, as his true Redeemer, would grant such tokens of kindness to him, Psalms 19:11-14.

According to this representation of the subject, the description of the glory of God in creation is only an introduction to the praise of the glory of the law; and this again serves the Psalmist only as a ladder to reach his proper aim, the prayer for pardon and for moral preservation.

The relation between Psalms 19:1-6 and Psalms 19:7-10 is, by some of those who recognise the introductory character of the first section, construed thus: God has manifested Himself indeed in creation, but He has done so far more gloriously in the law. But if it were intended to set forth this relation, the pre-eminence of the law above nature, as a manifestation of God, would have been brought out far more emphatically than is done by the employment of Jehovah in the second part, instead of the general name, God, in the first. If the introduction were intended to exalt the higher by comparison with the lower, in the manner of Deuteronomy 4:19-20, the latter must have been marked more decidedly as such. The design of the introduction must rather be only to point out the glory of the lawgiver, to give to Jehovah, the God of Israel, who made known His will through the law, the basis of Godhead; and so, to bring the mind from the very first into a right position toward the law. The thought, that He who gave the law is He whose praise the heavens declare, whose greatness as the Creator is manifested by the sun, must fill the mind with holy reverence before Him, and with internal love toward Him. The first part, therefore, serves the same design as is elsewhere served by placing together the names Jehovah Elohim, which is always done in opposition to particularistic ideas of Jehovah, for the purpose of uprooting the fancy, that Jehovah was only the God of Israel (comp. my Beitr. Th. II. p. 311 ss.). To serve the very same purpose, David was led to the use of Jehovah Elohim and Sabaoth in his discourse in 2 Samuel 7:22, 2 Samuel 7:25-27; 2 Samuel 7:27 : there he constantly recurs to the thought, that Jehovah, who had given him so glorious a promise, was no other than very God, the Lord of heaven and of earth, in order to strengthen his faith in this promise. Especially instructive for the relation of our two sections to each other is 2 Samuel 7:28 there. "And now, O Lord Jehovah, Thou art God, and Thy words are truth." There, as here, the consideration of Jehovah's being God is the groundwork on which rests the conviction of the truth and infinite preciousness of the Divine word; even as we also, if we would obtain the right blessing from reading the holy word, must keep vividly before our eye, that He who speaks in it is no other than the Creator of heaven and of earth.

The plan of the Psalm is quite mistaken by those who, as lately Hitzig and Maurer, make it fall into two loosely-connected halves, the first containing the praise of God from nature, the second from the law, or generally from revelation. The practical conclusion of the Psalm, which refers only to the law, is decisive against this. If the first part possessed an independent, significance, the manifestation of God in creation must necessarily also have been placed in an ethical light toward man, and reference have been made to the feelings it should awaken in him, the obligations it lays upon him. The only aim, the proper kernel of the Psalm, comes out so pointedly in the concluding verses, that it is inconceivable how it could be overlooked.

This, misapprehension as to the plan of the Psalm has given rise also to the hypothesis of De Wette, Koester, and others, that it is made up of two originally distinct songs; against which Hitzig remarks, that Psalms 19:6 forms no proper conclusion; that the discourse would terminate when at its climax; that the conclusion is for the second half alone too extended and solemn; and shortly and ably sets aside the only plausible ground for this hypothesis, as follows: "The more quiet tone, the more equal movement in the second part, is to be explained from the less arousing nature of the object, which does not fall within the sphere of perception." What is besides advanced by De Wette, that the poet, who began with such an elevated contemplation of nature, could scarcely close with the feelings of a bruised heart, falls at once to the ground, since the conclusion is just as full of joy as the beginning—what can be more joyful than for one to be able to name the Lord his Rock and his Redeemer!—and since even in the middle there is no trace of a bruised heart; the mind rises in face of human weakness, easily and without a struggle, to the blessed hope of Divine forgiveness, and sustaining grace.

It is also matter of surprise that Ewald was not superior to the common mutilation, although he feels himself obliged to recognise that the two halves are not in themselves complete: the first not, because, if viewed as independent, the song would be without all doctrine and application, without any intimation as to how man should praise God, or receive that praise of the heavens; it has thus the appearance of a torso, unsatisfactory and unanimating: the second not; for Psalms 19:7 begins too coldly for a prayer. We might still further add, that the commencement would be an awkward one, the Psalmist would stumble at the gate into the house. So that the strange supposition must be resorted to, that the conclusion of the first half has been lost, and that a later poet has added to the fragment a new, unsuitable conclusion.

For the integrity of the Psalm, there is also to be mentioned the evident system which prevails in the use of the names of God throughout the whole. In the first part, which treats of the general manifestation of God in nature, the general name of God is employed, El; coincident with the transition to Revelation begins the use of the name Jehovah, the occurrence of which just seven times shows how much of design there is in the use made of the names of God. As a further proof of integrity, is to be noticed the peculiar prominence given to the sun in the first part, and indeed particularly toward the close. Corresponding to it in the second part, the law is held up as the spiritual sun; comp. the predicates, clear, pure, heart-quickening, eye-enlightening, also נזהר in Psalms 19:11. Finally, in Psalms 8 , as here, the heaven appears as the proclaimer of the praise of God; and there also this representation has no independent meaning, but serves merely as a stepping-stone to the second part.

Of the Davidic authorship there can be no doubt, after the superscription, and the relation, already noticed, in which it stands to Psalms 8 , and 2 Samuel 7. An indication has been sought, though without foundation, of the Psalmist's circumstances in Psalms 19:13. The designation, "Thy servant," is meant to be appropriated by every one who recognises in the Psalm the expression of his own feelings. The Psalmist speaks from the soul of every pious man, and we have before us a truly congregational song.


Verse 1

Ver. 1. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows forth His handiwork. Calvin: "There is nothing certainly in the smallest corners of the earth so dark and despicable that some traces of Divine power and wisdom are not discernible therein; but because a more expressive image is imprinted in the heavens, David made principal choice of these, in order that their glory might lead us to the contemplation of the whole world. For if any one has recognised God from the contemplation of the heavens, he cannot fail also to recognise and admire His wisdom in the smallest plants." In the East, the consideration of the heavens is peculiarly adapted to give a deep impression of the greatness of God as Creator. When C. Niebuhr, many years after his return from the East, lay in bed under the blindness and exhaustion of old age, "the glittering splendour of the nocturnal Asiatic sky, on which he had so often gazed, imaged itself to his mind in the hours of stillness, or its lofty vault and azure by day, and in this he found his sweetest enjoyment." The heavens and the firmament are personified, and the announcement of the glory of the Creator is attributed to them, which is apprehended in them by the pious mind. This personification is chosen with reference to the actual manifestation of God in the words contained in Psalms 19:7-10. Instead of "the glory of God," Paul, in the passage Romans 1:20, which is based on this here, has "eternal power and Godhead." That the firmament is identical with the heavens, appears from Genesis 1:8. It is the vault of heaven, in which are sun, moon, and stars, Genesis 1:14 ss., the shining witnesses of God's glory; in reference to which He bears the name of Sabaoth, God of hosts. The word, which occurs only once again in the Psalms, Psalms 150:1, points back to the history of creation. Many, as De Wette, render הגיד by, "to praise, to extol," and the expression, מעשה ידיו, "what He can make and do by means of His almightiness and wisdom." Both, however, are inadmissible. The former can only signify announce, show forth, as both the usage and the paral. with ספר, "to relate," show, and מעשה ידיו, only, "the work of His hands." The firmament, whose very existence is a factual announcement of what God has made, testifies, at the same time (since doing proceeds from being), of the Creator, what He is, concerning His glory. It was justly remarked by Venema, that in substance the two members are to be regarded as supplementing one another, q.d., "the heavens make known the work of God's hands, and thereby His glory;" or, "the heavens, as the work of God's hands, make known His glory." So also already Paul, in Romans 1:20, "For the invisible things of God, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead."


Verse 2

Ver. 2. Day unto day pours forth speech, and night unto night shows knowledge. The naked thought is this, that the heavens, with their starry host, unceasingly testify of God's glory, since by day the sun constantly shines, and by night the moon and stars. The Psalmist expresses the thought in such a manner as to constitute the days and nights heralds of God's glory, communicating to their successors what they had learned from the heavens and from the firmament. The speech of the day can only be the echo of the speech of the heavens, and the knowledge of God's glory ( דעת signifies only knowing, perception, insight, never news) which the night gives, is only such as has been furnished it by the heavens. This is evident from the relation in which אמר stands to מספרים, from the resumption of אמר in Psalms 19:3, and the suffixes in Psalms 19:4, which unquestionably refer back to the heavens, and which exclude all interruption of the reference to the heavens. The connection is destroyed by the remark of Stier: "We are to understand not merely what we see by day and night in the heavens, but, as the expression naturally imports (that is, if viewed without respect to the connection), all that is done by day and night under the heavens." Here, as also in Psalms 8 , the discourse is merely of the testimony of the heavens. הביע, to cause to sputter forth, marks the rich fulness with which the testimony on all hands breaks forth.


Verse 3

Ver. 3. There is not speech, and there are not words; their voice is not heard. נשמע is pointed as partic.: "there is not a heard one," their voice is not among the number of the heard. The suff. in קולם refers to the heavens and the firmament, and these are the very things of which speech and words are denied. The author points to the powerfulness of the testimony which the heavens deliver of God's glory. How strongly must the traces of God's glory be impressed upon them, when they need no speech to make Him known as their Creator, when they need only to be dumb-heralds of the Divine greatness, and notwithstanding declare and show forth! It is commonly supposed by those who follow this exposition, that the sense is first completed by the addition of the following verse: "They are indeed speechless, yet still their preaching is perceived throughout the whole earth," so loudly do they proclaim by their mere existence the glory of God. But this supposition is not necessary; just as well, and even better indeed, we can say, that here the powerfulness of the testimony is represented, and there the wide compass of its sphere. The more definite דברים is added to אמר, which admits of a more general construction, in order to signify, that we have here a discourse in the strict sense. Luther, Calvin, and others expound, "There is no speech and discourse where their voice is not heard." Calvin: "He extends through a silent contrast the efficacy of this testimony which the heavens give to their Creator; as if he said: Although the nations are very different in language, yet the heavens have a common speech for instructing all in like manner, and nothing but carelessness prevents all from being taught at the mouth of this one teacher." But it is to be objected to this exposition, that it takes אמר and דברים in the sense of dialect, language, in which the first certainly never occurs; nor is Genesis 11:1 sufficient to establish it as properly belonging to the latter; that speech and language would not be very fitly connected with hearing; that it requires אמר to be taken in another sense than it was in Psalms 19:2, and forcibly separates it from מספרים and מגיד in Psalms 19:1; and, finally, that it destroys the parallelism which manifestly exists between the expressions, "there is not speech, and there are not words," and, "their voice is not heard."

Others expound, after Vitringa: "There is, what day and night announce, no speech, and no words, whose voice one may not perceive," supplying אמר before בלי. But this gives a very tame sense; it destroys, like the other, the parallelism, and draws the whole into a single protracted period; to which it may also be added, that, according to it, the suffix in קולם must be referred to "speech" and "words," while the analogy of the suffixes in the following verse decides for the reference to the heavens and the firmament, from which also the discourse and the knowledge proceed, which day and night deliver to each other.


Verse 4

Ver. 4. Their line goes out over the whole earth, and the words even to the farthest bounds of the earth; He has made for the sun a tent in them. The first clause has occasioned great trouble to expositors. But the difficulty is less an inherent than a derived one. It immediately vanishes, if we simply and faithfully abide by the established usage, and then only consider how the meaning thus acquired suits the context. The suffix in קום refers, as that in בהם unquestionably shows, to the heavens and the firmament. קו signifies a measuring-line. Such a line is used for determining the limits, the compass of the territory which any one has to receive; comp. for ex. Isaiah 34:17, "His hand has divided it (Idumea) to them (the wild beasts), with the measuring-line; they shall possess it for ever; from generation to generation shall they dwell therein:" Ezekiel 47:3; Zechariah 1:16. The measuring-line extends as far as the territory is to reach; comp. יצא, in Isaiah 15:3 ss., and especially as connected with קו, Jeremiah 31:39. Accordingly, the only legitimate translation is, "their measuring-line goes out over the whole earth;" and the only legitimate exposition, "the whole earth is their portion and territory." In what respect, is evident from the whole context, according to which the heavens can come into consideration merely as heralds of the Divine glory; and all doubt is removed by the second clause, which serves to explain the first, expressly pointing to this reference: their proclamation of the Divine glory limits itself not to some one region, but extends as far as the earth itself

How untenable the current expositions are, is obvious from this, that Olshausen and Gesenius, finding no satisfaction in them, would read קולם for קום, their voice. The sense, sound, speech, which many ascribe to קו, never has; nor can they with certainty appeal for it to the authority of the old translators, as it is doubtful whether these did not merely give a free rendering according to the sense. The signification, string, by which some would transfer it from the established meaning to what the context is here supposed to require, is inadmissible, as קו never signifies string, but always specially measuring-line. Consequently the exposition of Hitzig is also to be rejected, which imagines an uninterrupted chain of hymns of praise, with which day and night, or more properly the heavens and firmament, span the earth, "as we speak of the thread of a discourse." Ewald commits himself to still greater arbitrariness in the explanation of קו. Those who, as Stier, abide by the received signification of קו explain, "as their extent reaches over the whole earth, so also, in like manner, their words." But this exposition destroys the parallelism, and understands the outgoing of the measuring-line of mere extent, whereas it must be regarded as designating the compass of the territory.

In the third clause the Psalmist makes special mention, among the heavenly works of God, of the sun, because it is the most glorious of them, and also from a special reference to the law as the spiritual sun. The suf. in בהם, which unquestionably refers to the heavens and the earth, shows that we must consider the speech and knowledge, which, according to Psalms 19:2, day and night proclaim, as communicated to them by the heavens; and that the suf. in קולם in Psalms 19:3 must be referred, not, with many, to day and night, nor, with others, to the discourse and the words, but to the heavens; that not to day and night, but to the heavens is אמר, in its more restricted sense, as far as it is synonymous with דברים, denied, and that also in the two first members of our verse the suffixes can only refer to the heavens. In a perfectly unreliable manner has De Wette sought to remove the invincible difficulty, arising from the reference of the suf. to a distant noun, by remarking, that the sun, as to thought, is comprehended in the preceding words, "to the end of the world." For this is equivalent to, "to the end of the heavens," where the sun had been mentioned. But תבל, according to its derivation (prop. the bearing, fruit-bearing), signifies earth, not world, and is synonymous with the parallel ארץ. Then one does not see how there should have been a plural suf. De Wette's supposition, that it is used indeterminately, is a mere shift; Psalms 39:6 cannot be compared, as there what is to be supplied is clearly given in the context. But to suppose, with Maurer, that here the tent of the sun must be placed in the extremity of the earth, is much less allowable, since the end of the earth, in common speech, and according to the parallel in the preceding context, is still a part of itself; but no one has ever apportioned the sun to the earth, and here, in particular, it is represented as the most glorious object in the heavenly regions. The tent of the sun is not to be considered as the place of his nightly repose: against this Stier justly remarks, that it is not fitting, on a first mention of the sun in the heavens, to consider it as absent and concealed: it is rather his dwelling-tent. [Note: Quite correctly already Ven.: singulis sideribus dantur tentoria tensa cum apparent, et detensa cum disparent, quae tentoria eorum stationem in campis aethereis designant.] The expression, "He has set a tent for it," substantially the same as, "He has prescribed a place for it." With the words of the two first members of this verse, Paul describes, in Romans 10:18, the spread of the Gospel over the whole earth. This led many of the older expositors into the quite false supposition, that Psalms 19:1-6 contained a direct prophecy of Christ and the Gospel. But not less objectionable is the supposition, that the Apostle used the words of our verse merely as an accidental reminiscence. The reference has a deep ground. The universality of God's manifestation of Himself in nature, is a prophecy in fact of the universality of the proclamation of the Gospel. If the former is not accidental, if it is grounded in the Divine nature, so must the latter also spring from the same Divine nature. The revelation of God in nature is for all His creatures; to them as such it is given; and it is a pledge that they shall also one day be made to share in the higher and more glorious revelation. It was a surety for the heathen, that the temporal limitation salvation to Israel was not a hindrance, but a means towards the removal of the limitation.


Verse 5

Ver. 5. And he is as a bridegroom who comes out of his chamber, rejoices as a hero to run a race. The point of comparison in the first member, is neither the delight beaming from the countenance of the bridegroom, nor his ornaments (Isaiah 61:10), but his vigour, power, or feeling of strength. This appears from the words, "he comes forth from his chamber," prop. e thoro, or, thalamo suo (falsely, therefore, Michaelis: ad sponsam v. excipiendam, v. domum ducendam), and likewise from the second clause, which gives equal prominence to the energetic power of the sun. In German the comparison loses in both members, from the sun being a feminine noun.


Verse 6

Ver. 6. He goes forth from the end of the heavens, and runs about even to their end, and nothing is concealed from his heat. On מוצא comp. Christol. P. III. p. 300. על is to be explained from the fact, that the going round at last touches, reaches the ends of the heavens. The אין נסתר prop. "not is concealed," "there is not anything which can be concealed." Heat is not to be considered as the opposite to light, as Venema and others think, according to whom what precedes refers only to the light; but as its inseparable accompaniment, equivalent to, "before its warming light." These last words also have respect to the mighty power of the sun, so that the Psalmist has this, through the whole representation, before his eyes.

There follows now, in Psalms 19:7-10, the praise of the law which has been given by this God, whose glory the heavens proclaim, and from whom, on this territory also, nothing but what is glorious and perfect can proceed. An artistic arrangement in this praise is not to be overlooked. In the three verses, Psalms 19:7-9, the law is praised in twelve sayings. These fall into six pairs, in which the second always stands to the first in the relation of effect to cause—a relation which is intimated through the regular want of the copula in the second, and the occurrence of Jehovah only in the first clause. So, for example, in Psalms 19:7, "The law of the Lord is perfect, (and hence) it quickens the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, (and hence) makes the simple wise." In Psalms 19:7 and Psalms 19:8, the result is uniformly some effect which the law produces in the mind of man, according to the quality indicated in the preceding clause. In the concluding verse, Psalms 19:10, the glory and preciousness of the law thus constituted, is celebrated as a whole. To the sixfold mention of the name Jehovah here, there is added a seventh at the close in Psalms 19:14.


Verse 7

Ver. 7. The law of the Lord is perfect, quickens the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, makes wise the simple. To silence those who, after the example of Cocceius, would understand by תורה the Gospel, many expositors maintain that it stands here in its original meaning of "doctrine," and comprehends the whole sum of religion. But this notion is altogether untenable. תורה, although certainly it originally meant instruction in general, always occurs, in the whole of the existing usage, which was formed under the influence of the Pentateuch, in that of doctrine embodied in commands; it always mean's law, not excepting Isaiah 1:10, Isaiah 8:16. But even if its meaning were doubtful, the following synonyms would be sufficient to remove all doubt. Occasion was given to this false view by the consideration that such high terms of praise could not be employed of the law by itself, after the declarations of the Apostle, and the testimony of experience. This consideration, however, is set aside in a legitimate way by the remark, that David only speaks of what the law is for those who, like himself, are in a state of grace, and in whom, consequently, the inmost disposition of the heart coincides with the law,—of that, therefore, which theologians call "the third use of the law," or, "its use to the regenerate" (comp. Melancthon at the close of his Loc. de usu legis; Calvin, Inst. L. ii. c. 7 , § 12; Nitzsch, System. § 155). Such a man is inwardly rejoiced that he has in the law a pure mirror of Divine holiness, a sure standard for his actions. But Paul, on the other hand, has to do with the relation of the law to the fleshly, to those who are sold under sin. That here the Psalm treats only of what the law is to believers, is manifest from the fact of its composition by David, who speaks, in the first instance, in his own name; also from the expression, "Thy servant," in Psalms 19:11, which implies that the speaker was already in a gracious relation to God; from his naming the Lord "his Rock and his Redeemer," in Psalms 19:14; and from Psalms 19:12 and Psalms 19:13, where he indeed claims Divine forgiveness for many sins of imperfection, but confesses himself to be free from presumptuous and daring violations of God's commands, and prays that, through God's grace, he may be able to remain free from such. All these are marks of a state of grace. The right view was already taken by Luther, who says: "The prophet represents to his view those, who through the word of faith have received the Spirit, are joyful thereat, and have conceived a desire to do that which is according to the law. Thereupon he proceeds to teach how holy, how righteous and good the law is, which appears grievous and hard to those who have not the Spirit,—the blame, however, being not in the law, but in the inclination. Moses was, in fact, the meekest man upon earth, Numbers 12:3, though they did not know it. And so also is the law of the Lord very full of love; only the wickedness of our heart understands it not, till the voice of the Bridegroom takes away its wickedness, and gives the Spirit, and then the law is understood and loved. The law does nothing of this sort by itself, but it becomes such a law through the heat of the sun, which breaks forth through faith in the word." The law is named perfect, as being a pure expression of the will of God, and in contrast to the imperfect results of human thought in this sphere, even on the part of the well-disposed. Because it is in itself perfect, it makes those also perfect who follow it; Comp. 2 Timothy 3:15-16. The consequence of the law's being perfect is, that it quickens the heart, namely, by its putting an end to painful uncertainty in reference to the will of God and the means of pleasing Him, which but for the law would still in some measure continue even with believers, and such as are brought to partake of the gifts of the Spirit, and by opening up a perfectly secure way, by which one may attain to righteousness before God, and the peace of a good conscience, and consequently to a joyful hope of salvation. That the perfectness of the law is in so far the cause of the quickening, appears from the following words, "makes wise the simple," which more definitely point out the way and manner in which the law produces quickening. Many, and recently Stier, expound, "converts the soul." But this is inadmissible, as to matter,—conversion has nothing to do here, for the law cannot work it; the subject of discourse at present is simply what the law is for believers, those who have already been converted,—and so it is also in a philological point of view. The expression, placed so absolutely, as here without a terminus ad quem, uniformly denotes quickening, refreshment: the soul is as it were escaped from the pain and misery in which it was imbedded; comp. Lamentations 1:11, Lamentations 1:16; Ruth 4:15; Psalms 23:3. Testimony, עדות, the law is named, not as being a kind of solemn declaration of the Divine will, but because it testifies against sin; comp. my Beitr. Part III. p. 640. Sure, reliable the testimony is named, in contrast to the uncertain, vacillating, unreliable knowledge of reason in matters of this nature. By reason of this very sureness the law is fitted to make the simple wise ( σοφίσαι, 2 Timothy 3:15). The expression simple, does not denote a particular class among believers, as if there were others wise enough of themselves; but it is a common predicate of all believers viewed apart from the Divine Believers are also simple still; for even at their best estate, they lack a sufficient knowledge of the Divine will; but they are only simple, while others are blinded fools, נבלים. The exposition of Stier and others, "the susceptible, open," is refuted by the contrast with wise; comp. also מבין פתיים in Psalms 119:130. On the other hand, Luther's silly is too strong. פתי denotes only a deficiency, a want, not a positively perverted character; an ignorance, which has its root in the region of the understanding, not such as springs from an ethical ground. Gesen. in his Thes.: dicitur de ea stoliditate, cujus fons est in inopia consilii, prudentim, disciplinae et rerum usus, qualis puerorum et adolescentulorum est pellectu facilium, licet non malorum et noxiorum.


Verse 8

Ver. 8. The commandments of the Lord are right, rejoice the heart; the statute of the Lard is clear, enlightens the eyes. The law receives the name of פקודים, in so far as it delivers to man charges, which he has to execute; the name of מצוה, in so far as it prescribes to him what he has to do. That the law of the Lord rejoices the heart, appears as the effect of its rectitude, just as its quickening the soul was represented as the effect of its perfectness. The believer acknowledges with heart-felt joy and gratitude that he knows the will of God from the revelation He has given, and that he is thereby delivered from the deceit of his own fancy, and of his own heart, and has obtained a sure guide through life. The enlightening of the eyes is referred by many to the communication of the light of Divine knowledge. In that case, "enlightening the eyes," would stand related to, "rejoicing the heart," just as in Psalms 19:7, "making wise the simple," is related to, "quickening the soul." There, "it is perfect and sure," and therefore quickens the soul, in that it makes wise the simple. Here, "it is right and clear," and therefore rejoices the heart, in that it enlightens the eyes. However, as the expression, "enlightens the eyes," so commonly occurs in the sense of making brisk and joyful,—pain and misery make the eyes dim, heavy, and dull, comp. on Psalms 3 ,—it will be well for us also to adopt this signification here. Accordingly the words, "enlightening the eyes," correspond precisely to, "rejoicing the heart," and in the preceding verse, not to, "making wise the simple," but rather to, "quickening the soul."


Verse 9

Ver. 9. The fear of the Lord is pure, continues for ever; judgments of the Lord are truth, righteous altogether. The fear of the Lord here marks the instruction afforded by God for fearing Him, Psalms 34:11; Proverbs 1:29, Proverbs 2:5, Proverbs 15:33; the law, which, according to Deuteronomy 17:19, should serve the purpose of leading men "to fear the Lord their God." That the word, "fear of God," is thus transferred directly to its norm or standard in the law, shows how close is the connection between the two; directs attention to the circumstance, that all seeming fear of God, which fashions its substance according to men's own notions, is rather a dishonouring of God. The consequence of the purity of the law, which renders absurd any attempt to make it purer, or to reform it in any measure, is its perpetual continuance. This is naturally to be referred to the substance of the Old Testament law, and indeed to the whole of it—for the limitation to the so-called moral law is an arbitrary one—in reference to which the Lord also says, that He came, not to destroy the law, but to fulfil it, Matthew 5:17. The destruction as it has taken place under the New Testament, respects only the form. In regard to its substance, the law is so unconditionally eternal, that, according to another saying of our Lord, not one jot or tittle of it shall perish, Matthew 5:18. The truth of the Lord's judgments consists in this, that they do not profess to be judgments of the Lord, but really are judgments of the Lord; and since nothing can proceed from the Lord but what is righteous, they are righteous altogether, without any exception. The truth stands opposed to lies, to deceit. If by truth is understood, not the formal, but the material, then the expression, "they are righteous altogether," passes from the relation of effect to cause, and is merely co-ordinate with the other, "they are truth."


Verse 10

Ver. 10. They, more precious than gold, and much fine gold, and sweeter than honey and the honey-comb. Calvin: "Here again it is clear, that he speaks not of the naked precept and the mere dead letter (more correctly: of the relation of the law to the faithful and spiritual, not of its relation to the fleshly and such as are destitute of faith). For if the law when merely commanding terrified, how then could it be deserving of love? Certainly, if it is separated from the hope of forgiveness, and from the Spirit of Christ, it is so far from the sweetness of honey, that it rather by its bitterness kills the poor soul." Luther: "This is a great wonder of the Holy Spirit and of the judgments of the Most High, that they change everything, rendering that most acceptable, which before was most distasteful. For what do men seek more eagerly than riches and pleasures? and yet the spirit has far greater delight in the law of God, than the flesh can have in its goods and pleasures."

The third strophe, Psalms 19:11-14 : the law in relation to the Psalmist, as to every individual who finds in the Psalm the fitting expression of his feelings.


Verse 11

Ver. 11. Also thy servant is enlightened by them: whosoever keeps them has great reward. The participle נִזְהָר indicates that the enlightening, or reminding, through the law is one that is continually proceeding, abiding; comp. Ew. § 349. The expression, "Whosoever keeps them," is, when viewed in regard to the context, equivalent to, "the keeping of them, as to all, so also to me, brings great reward:" I also receive enlightenment from Thy law, as to how my life should be directed; and if I keep it, acting agreeably to this knowledge, great reward. How the Psalmist recognised the truth of this principle from his own experience, is shown by Psalms 18:20-27. This declaration at the same time paves the way to the following prayers for the removal of the hindrances which threatened to deprive him, in whole or in part, of the reward which attends the keeping of the law. He, also, who stands in the faith needs pardon for the sins which are the offspring of infirmity, if he is to come to the full enjoyment of this reward, Psalms 19:12. He needs, moreover, the constant preservation of God, through His Spirit, from presumptuous transgressions of the law, from prevailing sin, which threatens wholly to deprive him of the reward. We are not to conclude from the Psalmist's expectation of the reward, that he was a hireling, We should otherwise have to reproach also the New Testament on account of 1 Timothy 4:8, and many other passages, which enjoin a seeking of the reward. The principle which really impelled the Psalmist to keep the law, was the love of God; the reward he takes with a grateful heart as an agreeable addition, as a declaration of God, that the service rendered was well pleasing to Him. Luther: "This is said for the consolation of those who take pains, not to have their desire for reward strengthened, as is wont to be the case with hirelings and servants; I mean those who, by their little bits of work, would make God I know not what sort of merchant, because they take no pains in doing the judgments of the Lord. Therefore does Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:58, console those who labour in the service of God, exhorting them to be stedfast, immovable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as they know that their labour shall not be in vain in the Lord. For the servants of the Lord must, know that they please God in their work, so that they may not languish, nor sink into despair; since God desires to have willing and cheerful labourers. But if they please God, there will infallibly come a great reward, though they do not seek it, because God cannot deny Himself, who said to Abraham, I am thy exceeding great reward."


Verse 12

Ver. 12. Errors, who can mark them? From those which are secret, acquit me. The first clause discloses the depth of human depravity, which draws even believers into many failings. Berleb. Bible: "Who can mark them? Who knows them all, and is able to number them? Who can keep so sharp a watch, as to mark how often something of the old proud disposition springs up against the new nature of the spirit of faith?"

The second clause grounds upon this the prayer for forgiveness; the necessity for which rests upon the fact, that sin everywhere cleaves to us, appearing in the subtlest forms, scarcely discernible by the human eye, in many ways disguises itself, and assumes the appearance of good. Did sin possess only a gross character, we might satisfy ourselves with a simple "Lead us not into temptation;" but as it is able also to assume a refined shape, and become invisible, we need besides to pray, "Forgive us our transgressions."

It is not sins generally, but a special kind of sins, for which David begs the Divine forgiveness,—those which cleave even to believers, and consequently persons well-inclined,—sins of infirmity. שגיאה is= שְׁגָגָה of the law,—for ex. Leviticus 4:2, error, peccatum per imprudentiam commissum,—and נסתרית, concealed sins, are such as have no gross corpus delicti connected with them, belong mainly to the sphere of the spirit, to thought or feeling, and withdraw themselves from the observation of others, and more or less also from one's own. That these are mainly to be thought of, is evident from the relation in which נסתרית stands to מי יבין,—equivalent to, "since the failings are so numerous and delicate that no one can mark them all, do Thou acquit me of those concealed sins, which, by their very subtlety, render their entire extirpation impossible." נקני, according to Stier and others, must signify not only forgiveness, but also internal purification. But it was justly remarked even by S. Schmidt, that "it is a judicial term, and means acquittal. For original sin is not extirpated in this world, but forgiven." נִקָּה always signifies, "to declare innocent, to acquit," never, "to make innocent;" nor can it possibly do so, for one may well indeed be blameless (Psalms 19:13), but cannot be made so otherwise, than in the sense of being acquitted.


Verse 13

Ver. 13. Also from presumptuous ones keep Thy servant, let them not have dominion over me; so shall I be blameless, and remain innocent of great iniquity. From sins of infirmity the Psalmist passes on to sins of deliberation. As for the first he entreats the Divine pardon, so in regard to these he asks the Divine preservation. To the preceding verse the petition, "Forgive us our sins," corresponds; and to this verse, the petition, "Lead us not into temptation." Our Psalm shows us, what a close internal connection subsists between the decalogue and the Lord's prayer. That the verb זוב, with its derived nouns, conveys the idea of intentional, presumptuous, and daring sins, in opposition to such as spring from infirmity, is clear from Exodus 21:14; Deuteronomy 22 , Deuteronomy 17:12; 1 Samuel 17:28. זֵדִים is the standing designation of those who raise themselves proudly and rashly against God, despise His word, and break His law. The contrast between זדים and שגיאות here, is precisely the same as the contrast between בשגגה and ביד רמה, sinning with a high hand, i.e. openly, freely, and boldly, in Numbers 15:27-31, a passage which forms the basis of the New Testament doctrine of the sin against the Holy Ghost; comp. Hebrews 10:26-28. Just as here, the sphere of forgiveness is confined to the שגיאות, while the Psalmist prays to be kept from the זדים, which would have the effect of putting him out of the state of grace, so there, sacrifices are to be offered only for those who had sinned בשגגה; he, on the contrary, who had sinned ביד רמה, was cut off from his people, "because he hath despised the word of the Lord, and broken His commandment." An example of a sin בזדון, or ביד רמה, is the transgression of him who gathered wood on the Sabbath-day, Numbers 15:32 ss. He was without mercy punished with death. But the sin which, under the Old Testament dispensation, bore so frightful a character, that whosoever committed it forfeited his earthly life, unless he received mercy from God, attained first under the New Testament to its proper completion, in which it inevitably draws after it eternal death. For the greatness of the punishment is determined by the greatness of the internally and externally offered grace.

Presumptuous sin: are here personified as tyrants who strive to bring the servant of God into unworthy bondage to them. That the Lord alone can keep from this servitude, discovers the depth of human corruption. That we are not, with many, to take זדים at once in the sense of insolence, or of wilful sinning, appears from usage, according to which, the word constantly denotes persons; as also from the words, "Let them not have dominion over me," which point to real or imaginary persons. But just as little may we, with others, understand by זדים, real persons. Palpably false is this exposition, when such persons are supposed to be national enemies, and the dominion an external supremacy. In that case, too, the following words, "then shall I be perfect," etc., yield no sense, and the idea in this connection is quite foreign. The interpretation is more tolerable, which takes the dominion in a moral point of view, "keep me from the influence and seduction of daring sinners." But though by this exposition the contrast, so pointedly indicated through גם and the double מן, between sins of infirmity and presumptuous sins, is not entirely destroyed, yet it is made less direct, and is cast into the shade; the having dominion would be something strange (comp. what is said of sin in Romans 6:14); and חשך at least nowhere else is used of preservation from bad company, whereas it is certainly twice used of keeping from sinning, Genesis 20:6, and 1 Samuel 25:39, "and hath kept His servant from evil." To the then there is commonly added, "When I obtain these two." But this is opposed by the פשע, which exclusively refers to the sins described in our verse. It denotes the greatest sin, prop. "apostasy, revolt," such as זדים, bold despisers of God, commit; compare Job 34:37. This exposition is also opposed by תםם, which is properly used only of inherent innocence. The איתם Isaiah 1 pers. Fut. of תםם: comp. on the י, Ewald, p. 466 , Small Gr. § 270. An innocent, blameless person is the Psalmist, notwithstanding his sins of infirmity. נקיתי points back to נקני, in the preceding verse: to be made blameless, and to remain blameless, are the two conditions of salvation. But the realization of the latter, also, can only proceed from God. The expression, "from much or great iniquity," must be supplemented in thought by, "into which I shall otherwise inevitably fall." פשע stands in contrast to the unavoidable smaller transgressions spoken of in the preceding context.


Verse 14

Ver. 14. Let the words of my mouth be acceptable to Thee, and the meditations of my heart before Thee, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. The Psalmist prays for the favourable reception of his song, not as a production of sacred art, but in its substance and matter, in reference to the two petitions with which it is occupied; or, it is not as a poet, but as a suppliant, that the Psalmist claims the Divine acceptance. This clearly appears from the two predicates of God, on which the Psalmist grounds his prayer, and which led him confidently to hope for the granting of it. In saying, "let it be acceptable," the Psalmist seems to use a sacrificial term, perhaps the very words which were spoken by the priests at, the presentation of the sacrifice. At least the expression is regularly used in respect to offerings: comp. Leviticus 19:5, Leviticus 19:7, Leviticus 22:19-20, Leviticus 22:29, Leviticus 23:11; Isaiah 56:7, Isaiah 60:7; Romans 12:1. Such a transference of language was the more natural, as sacrifice itself was an embodied prayer. It is better to connect the words, "before Thee," with the words, "the meditation of my heart," than with the expression, "acceptable," from which they are too far separated. The expression "acceptable" occurs elsewhere without any further addition to it, and is only once found connected with the words, "before the Lord," namely, in Exodus 28:38. The expression, "my Rock," denotes here also that faithfulness, certainty, which do not permit the Lord to desert His people; see on Psalms 18:2. He would deny His rock-nature, if He should not pardon their infirmities, and keep them from flagrant misdeeds.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 19:4". Ernst Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/heg/psalms-19.html.

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