Notes for a house group meeting on Psalm 19:
The Psalms I was allocated to cover this evening were from 19 to 31. I’m going to focus on Psalm 19, but I want us to see where that fits into the context of the book of Psalms. We already did an overview of the whole book of Psalms back in January, so I’m not going to repeat all of that, but hopefully just enough to help us understand Psalm 19 a bit better than if we just looked at it in isolation.
So the 150 Psalms are divided into 5 books. Books 1 to 4 all conclude with something like “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! Amen and Amen.” Then at the end of book 5, Psalms 146 to 150, the last 5 Psalms all begin and end with the words “Praise the LORD”.
So that’s the conclusion: “praise the LORD”. Now if we go back to the beginning of the book, Psalms 1 & 2 introduce two major themes of the Psalms.
Psalm 1: Blessed is the one who meditates on the Torah – the 5 books of Moses teaching about God’s covenant with his people – it’s been suggested that the 5 books of the Psalms are like another Torah teaching us about prayer.
Then Psalm 2 is about the messianic king that God will set on his holy hill of Zion. He says to his Son: “I will make the nations your heritage” and the conclusion is “Blessed is the one who takes refuge in him”.
Now beginning to zoom in on Psalm 19, we’re in Book 1, and in the middle of Book 1, Psalms 15 to 24 form a kind of sandwich.
Psalm 15 and Psalm 24 (the bread) call for covenant faithfulness. Psalm 15: “O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right…” Psalm 24: “Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart…”
Then in the filling of the sandwich, in Psalms 16-18 David is presented as a model of covenant faithfulness. David calls out to God and God delivers him and elevates him as King, and then in Psalms 20-23 David provides an image of the future messianic king who would also call out to God (“my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”), and God would deliver him and give him a kingdom over the nations. So that’s the theme that was introduced in Psalm 2: the messianic king.
Then in the middle of the sandwich Psalm 19 brings in the theme that was introduced in Psalm 1 with a celebration of the Torah.
(This introduction was heavily influenced by The Bible Project’s overview of The Psalms)
There are three sections to Psalm 19: v1-6: General Revelation (creation tells us about God), v7-11: Specific Revelation (God’s written word), v12-14: David’s response to God’s revelation.
With regard to general revelation, the references to “the heavens” (v1) and “the earth” (v4) recall Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”.
I think we’re all familiar with Romans 1v20 where Paul says: “[God’s] invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
David says in Psalm 19 that “day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge”. Every day, creation tells us about God.
And then in Romans chapter 10 Paul quotes Psalm 19: “”everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?… But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.”“
So the general revelation of God’s glory in the heavens means unbelievers are without excuse.
But general revelation isn’t only for unbelievers. In its introduction to the Psalms, the ESV Study Bible says:
“[The Psalms] cover a wide range of experiences and emotions, and give God’s people the words to express these emotions and to bring these experiences before God. At the same time, the psalms do not simply express emotions: when sung in faith, they actually shape the emotions of the godly. The emotions are therefore not a problem to be solved but are part of the raw material of now-fallen humanity that can be shaped to good and noble ends. The psalms, as songs, act deeply on the emotions, for the good of God’s people. It is not “natural” to trust God in hardship, and yet the Psalms provide a way of doing just that, and enable the singers to trust better as a result of singing them. A person staring at the night sky might not know quite what to do with the mixed fear and wonder he finds in himself, and singing Psalm 8 will enrich his ability to respond.”
I think the point of the first section of Psalm 19 is to enrich our ability to respond to the heavens that God has created, remembering that they are his handiwork, and paying attention to what they’re declaring about his glory.
And it’s interesting when David then focuses on the Sun in v4-6. My first thought about God when I think about the Sun is “power” – the size of the Sun and the amount of heat it’s generating makes me think the God who created it is powerful. And David says it is like a strong man, but there’s more to it than that. The Sun isn’t just declaring “God is immensely powerful, bow before him in fear”. The Sun is “running its course with joy”; it’s “like a bridegroom leaving his chamber” – a bridegroom leaves his chamber on the happiest day of his life, so the Sun is declaring that God’s glory is a joyful thing.
Now moving onto God’s specific revelation in his written word in v7-11… One thing to look out for in order to work out what a passage of Scripture is about is repetition. There are three words repeated 6 times in v7-9: “of the LORD”. Being in a church like ours, it seems silly that we would ever need reminding that the contents of this book is God’s word, but I think if the significance of that fact would sink in more I would surely be more driven to read what God has to say and study it and try to live it out.
David lists 6 aspects of God’s word: there’s the law (the “Torah”), the testimony, the precepts, the commandment, the fear (the revealed way by which one properly reveres God), and the rules (just decrees). I’m sure we all have parts of God’s word that we enjoy more than others. We’d probably all prefer to read testimonies of God’s grace rather than the rules in Leviticus. But David agrees with Paul that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable”.
Then each of those aspects of God’s word has an adjective attributed to it. God’s word is: perfect (or blameless), it’s sure (trustworthy), it’s right, it’s pure (unmixed with evil), it’s clean, it’s true (a reliable transcript of God’s will), and it’s righteous. We could probably spend hours considering each of those points in turn, but just looking at the list as a whole reminded me of the list of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, and I think the point is we all find these to be attractive qualities. We all want to display the fruit of the Spirit, so walk by the Spirit. We like perfection, trustworthiness, rightness, purity, cleanliness and truth, so read God’s word. And also, the reason God’s word is all those things is because God himself is all those things, so read his word to get to know him.
And then David lists things that God’s word does: it revives the soul (giving refreshment), it makes wise the simple, it rejoices the heart, it enlightens the eyes (meaning the person is alert and active), it endures forever, and it warns. Again we could spend ages considering each of these in turn, but I think just looking at this list of benefits should prevent our Bible reading from being just a religious ritual that we tick off each day. I want my soul reviving. I want to be made wise. I want my heart rejoicing. So clearly I want to be digging into God’s word.
Response to Revelation
Finally we’ll look at David’s response to God’s revelation in v12-14. Although David has spent the last few verses celebrating God’s law, he’s not claiming to have done well at obeying it. In v14 he calls God his “redeemer”; you only need God to redeem you if you’ve broken his law and deserve to pay a penalty.
Someone might look at the law and say “I’m doing pretty well – at least better than those people out there” while someone else might look at the law and think “I need to do this, this and this to get into God’s good books”, but David’s response to the law is to rely on God for his justification (“declare me innocent”) and also for his sanctification (“keep your servant back from presumptuous sins”).
David is concerned about two different kinds of sin: hidden faults and presumptuous sins.
The hidden faults aren’t sins that we hide from other people; they’re things we can’t even discern as sinful in ourselves. “Who can discern his errors?” There are things we do that we only realise later were sinful. At the time we didn’t see anything wrong, but then we look back and we can see how sinful our motives were and perhaps how much harm we caused. It’s painful, and it makes us wonder what other things we’ve done that we didn’t realise were so sinful. Hence David focuses his plea for forgiveness on this kind of sin.
Then there are “presumptuous sins”; sins we commit in arrogant disregard of God’s commands. We know full well that God says we shouldn’t do this, but perhaps we think we know better than God in this situation, or we think this kind of sin is not a big deal compared to the kinds of things that other people get forgiven of, so surely God will let us off. Of course we need to ask for forgiveness for these sins too, but David focuses here on asking God for the power to overcome this kind of sin. We’re not going to become perfect in this life, but with God’s help we can grow in holiness so that the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts are acceptable in his sight.