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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Psalms 19

 

 

Introduction

Note: Throughout this commentary God’s Name is represented as YHWH in accordance with the Hebrew text. LXX represented it as kurios (‘Lord’). It is in fact a name that was seen as so sacred that no one ever pronounced it. Thus how to do so has been forgotten. Yahweh is probably the nearest best guess, although others suggest Yohweh. Jehovah is a corruption of it, which arose from the fact that the Jews put the vowel signs of adonai (Lord) to the consonants YHWH so that (to a Hebraist) the name was unpronounceable. The reader would then read it as adonai.

Psalms 19.

Heading.

‘For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.’

This Psalm is offered to the person responsible for the sacred music, or the choirmaster, and is of the Davidic collection. ‘To (or ‘for’) David’ may indicate that it was dedicated to David, written for the Davidic house, or even written by David himself.

The Psalm falls into two parts indicating a twofold revelation of God. The first part speaks of His revelation in nature. God is revealed in nature in the fullness of His glory and power, and in this connection He is ‘God’ (El), the God of Creation. The second speaks of His revelation through His word, and in this connection He is ‘YHWH’, the God of covenant, the One Who instructs His own and is faithful to them. The first part declares His majestic splendour, and His goodness in His overall provision for man, the second His moral beauty and intimate concern for morality in the giving of His Law, His ‘Instruction’. The first calls for worship, the second for responsive obedience.


Verses 1-6

God Speaks Through Nature (Psalms 19:1-6).

‘The heavens declare the glory of God,’

And the firmament reveals his handiwork.

Day to day utters speech,

And night to night shows knowledge.’

The psalmist tells us that as we behold the glory of the heavens, the sun, the moon and the stars, and the wonder of the expanse above, with its splendid panoply of glistening blue, they declare to us God’s glory. Their beauty, splendour and vastness reveal something of what He is. Their very construction reveals his creativity and skill.

From surveying the heavens, says the Psalmist, we can understand something of God’s greatness, of His orderly power and control, and of the fact that He is the source of all earthly beauty and splendour. And finally we understand the idea that He is far above all.

Here we learn that every day has something new to say to us about God, every starlit night gives us greater knowledge of Him. The daylight, centred on the sun, reveals to us His created beauty, His intricate design, His sense of order, the darkness reveals a sense of mystery and yet through the moon and the stars we enjoy the certainty that all is in its place and that God has not forgotten us.

That is why Paul could say, ‘The invisible things of Him from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even His everlasting power and Godhead.’ (Romans 1:20).

So central to the Psalmist’s revelation is that creation speaks to us constantly, bringing discernment and knowledge about the divine as God applies their lesson to our inward spirit, and that both day and night constantly proclaim Him and make Him known to the responsive heart.

‘Day to day utters (literally ‘pours out’) speech.’ Each day the message of the glory of God flows out abundantly to those who will hear, from every part of creation.

‘And night to night shows knowledge.’ And when the day is over contemplation of the night sky grants to us an awe and reverence as we behold its splendour and teaches us His mighty power, for the moon is steady in it purpose and regulates the months, and each star remains in its place and moves in measurable ways.

Psalms 19:3

‘There is no speech nor language,

Their voice is not heard.’

They do not speak in human tongue, for then they would only have a limited message for some. They are not heard through a human voice. Rather do they speak a universal language, a permanent word that never ceases. Their quiet splendour and silent eloquence ensure that we are never tired of listening to them, and cannot avoid them.

Psalms 19:4

‘Their line is gone out through all the earth,

And their words to the end of the world.

Thus does their message reach out to the whole earth, to the end of the world. ‘Their line’ here refers to the measuring line (Jeremiah 31:39; Zechariah 1:16), going out and measuring the sphere in which God is active through them, and ‘their words’ express their universal influence as they reveal His glory.

The use of the measuring line was always a symbol of God about to act (Ezekiel 40:3; Zechariah 1:16; Zechariah 2:1-2).

Psalms 19:4-6

‘In them has he set a tent for the sun,

Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,

And rejoices as a strong man to run his course.’

His going forth is from the end of the heavens,

And his circuit unto the ends of it,

And there is nothing hidden from its heat.

And central to all this influence and activity is the sun that He has created. No god this, but an instrument of His pleasure, provided with its tent, its chamber, (that is, the place from which it can come forth), like a man emerging from his tent in the morning and a bridegroom appearing in all his splendour and triumph from the bridal chamber (Isaiah 61:10). This is how it appeared to man as he saw it rise and set. Like a man rises at sunrise and leaves his tent so does the sun rise for its day’s labour. Its ‘tent’ refers simply to wherever it comes from, described in picturesque language and in human terms.

And then like a strong man it fulfils its potential, it runs its course, from one end of heaven to the other, and nothing avoids its heat. It warms all that is, with none preventing it. It is God’s gracious provision for man’s welfare.

The whole vivid picture considers things as man sees them every day. Here is the whole panoply of creation, and here the sun rising and appearing in its splendour, making its way across the heavens, warming up the earth, reaching to every corner, and then, having performed its duty, setting in the west. For nothing is more prominent in the work of creation than the sun, set by God to play its part as ‘the greater light’ (Genesis 1:16). And nothing more effective in doing His will for the benefit of man.

So sun, moon and stars and the whole of heaven are a permanent reminder of the glory of God, and of His wondrous handiwork and gracious provision. It is a living work of art, a glorious spectacle of beauty and effectiveness and purpose. And it makes warm the whole earth and fills it with light.

But there is also something else that arises every morning and goes out through all the world and constantly brings to man light and heat and beauty and splendour, and that is ‘the word of YHWH’ as revealed in and taught from the Scriptures. They too declare the glory of God and reveal His handiwork (Psalms 19:1), they too speak and give knowledge (Psalms 19:2), they too warm the earth (Psalms 19:6), they too provide for the deepest needs of man.


Verses 7-11

God Speaks Through His Word And Covenant (Psalms 19:7-11).

Psalms 19:7

‘ The instruction (law) of YHWH is perfect, restoring the soul,

The testimony of YHWH is sure, making wise the simple.

For the Instruction (torah - law) of YHWH is total and complete and fully fitted for its work of daily restoring and warming the soul, and the testimony of YHWH is certain and effective in making the simple wise. The ‘simple’ are not the foolish, rather are they those whose hearts are open, whose minds are not cluttered up with worldly wisdom, and who are therefore ready and fitted to receive His word. (The word is paralleled in Proverbs 1:4 with ‘the young man’). They can be likened to the children whose minds were so unfettered that they were ready to respond to the Kingly Rule of God (Mark 10:15). They are a reminder that God reveals Himself to those who are uncluttered by their own cleverness. Until we stop arguing we will never see Him.

The ‘Instruction of YHWH’ was the name applied to the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, seen as God’s wider covenant. But here it refers not only to the words themselves but to their application through men of God who are faithful to that word, and above all through His Spirit. The Scriptures, however, remain the perfect standard. In the end what is written is written. (Thus the constant refrain, ‘it is written’). The ‘Testimony’ refers to its bearing witness to YHWH, to What He is, and what He requires, and What He will do on man’s behalf, that men may know Him and be enabled to walk in His will.

Note the transition from ‘God’ to ‘YHWH’, the covenant name. These benefits are for those who hear and respond to Him in His covenant, those whose pleasure it is to do His will as their sovereign Lord.

Psalms 19:8

‘The precepts of YHWH are right, rejoicing the heart,

The commandment of YHWH is pure, enlightening the eyes.’

The ‘precepts of YHWH’, the injunctions that YHWH lays down, are fully right, and they bring rejoicing to the heart, for our God-given conscience totally approves of them. Each commandment of YHWH is pure, bringing knowledge and understanding and perception so that man sees what is true. Not a yod or tittle of the Instruction will fail until all is fulfilled (Matthew 5:18). Thus are they beloved of the righteous who desire them above all things (compare Psalms 119:35; Psalms 119:40; Psalms 119:47; Psalms 119:77; Psalms 119:97; Psalms 119:103-104; Psalms 119:127-128).

Psalms 19:9

‘The fear of YHWH is clean, enduring for ever,

‘The ordinances of YHWH are true, and righteous altogether.’

In parallel with instruction, testimony, precepts, commandment and ordinances, the ‘fear of YHWH’ refers to God’s word as that which fills men with awe and reverence, which imparts the fear of YHWH which gives wisdom and understanding (Job 28:28; Psalms 111:10; Proverbs 1:7). The ‘fear of YHWH’ is here the awe-inspiring word (see Deuteronomy 4:10). It is clean and pure, free of all that would taint it, and thus itself cleanses and purifies, and it goes on for ever. There is nothing of corruption in it. It is of the other world, not of this one.

The ‘ordinances of YHWH’, the requirements that God lays down, are altogether true and righteous in their totality.

So God’s word as given to His people is here exalted as being of greater benefit than the sun, and as going deeper, for while the sun is an external blessing, God’s word reaches to the very heart of man.

Psalms 19:10

‘More to be desired are they than gold, yes, than much fine gold,

Sweeter also than honey and the droppings of the honeycomb.’

In mind here are all that are spoken of in Psalms 19:7-9. God’s whole word as revealed in His instruction, His testimony, His precepts, His commandments, His fear, and His ordinances is of greater value than much pure gold, and is sweeter than the sweetest honey from the honeycomb. ‘The droppings’ are the honey that exudes naturally, the very sweetest of the honey.

Note the emphasis. God’s teaching is more desirable, not only than gold or even fine gold, but than much fine gold. They are the riches of Heaven. And it is sweeter than anything otherwise known to man.

Psalms 19:11

‘Moreover by them is your servant warned,

In keeping them there is great reward.’

And not only are they desirable, they are also vital to our welfare. For they warn us of what will bring us under God’s displeasure, and by observing them and putting them into practise we will receive great reward, both in this world and that which is to come (1 Timothy 4:8). They will make life fuller and more glorious (Proverbs 22:4), bringing peace and deep satisfaction (1 Timothy 6:6), and the fullness of the blessings of God.


Verse 12

‘Who can discern his errors?

Clear me from hidden faults.’

But the Psalmist admits that although he delights in Yahweh’s Instruction there are still errors and sins in his life that he is not easily aware of. For he is so sinful that even God’s Instruction cannot cover all his sins. So he prays that he may be cleansed from what is hidden, his faults of which he is not aware. He wants God to put him in the right before Him because he himself, as far as he is able, looks to Him and lives according to His word.


Verses 12-14

The Resulting Prayer For Deliverance From Sin And Declaration Of God’s Total Reliability (Psalms 19:12-14).


Verse 13

‘Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;

Let them not have dominion over me,

Then will I be upright,

And I will be clear from great transgression.’

Indeed he prays that God will keep him, as God’s true servant, from sinning presumptuously. In context this surely means from deliberately disobeying His Instruction. That he does not want to do. Although he recognises that he does sin unwittingly, for he longs to be delivered from the dominion of sin, he wants to be delivered from a wayward heart. We can compare here Paul in Romans 7. It is the attitude of heart and mind that must be right, and then the rest will follow, depending on God’s forgiveness and His activity within (12b, 13a).

It should be noted here that the Psalmist makes clear that his only hope is that God will act in His life. Without that he will have no hope of being true. It is in the end to God that he looks for deliverance.

And the result will be that he will be upright, and will be clear from ‘great transgression’, the kind of sin that finally destroys, sin that is deliberate and habitual (see Numbers 15:30-31). Such sin ‘rules over’ men (John 8:34; Romans 6:12-14) and results in judgment.

‘Presumptious’, that is, ‘whatever is presumptious’, whether sins or actions, which result from pride and arrogance, and are a deliberate flouting of God’s law.


Verse 14

‘Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart,

Be acceptable in your sight,

O YHWH, my rock, and my redeemer.

So does he want to be right in mouth and heart so as to behave in a way that is totally acceptable to God. And he finishes with the heartfelt prayer that in both the words of his mouth and the thoughts of his heart he might be acceptable in God’s sight. He recognises that it is what is in the heart that defiles a man (Mark 7:20-23). As a man thinks in his heart, so is he (Proverbs 23:7). And that from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34), so that by our words we will be accounted righteous or condemned (Matthew 12:37).

‘Be acceptable.’ The word connects with acceptability with God achieved through sacrifice (Leviticus 1:3-4). He desires that his words and thoughts be acceptable offerings to God, free from all taint and blemish.

For YHWH is his rock and his redeemer, and his desire is to please Him. The idea of the rock is of a solid and sure foundation (Psalms 18:1; Isaiah 26:4 in context), and includes the idea of protection (Isaiah 32:2). The idea of a ‘redeemer’ is of one who acts on another’s behalf, delivering from bondage and from sin, and ensuring his reinstatement in blessing and favour, by the expenditure of saving effort and/or by the payment of a price.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 19:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/psalms-19.html. 2013.

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