Background Scripture Psalm 19. Devotional Reading: Genesis 1 Chronicles 22:7-13.
Like last week’s Psalm 8, Psalm 19 begins with the glorification of God as Creator: “The heavens are telling
the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his
(19:1). Do not be confused by the seeming contradictions of 19:2-4: “Day to day pours forth
speech…There is no speech…their voice is not heard.”
Remember, this is Hebrew poetry, and it expresses the paradoxical contrast in God’s creation: the eloquence and silence of nature. God’s created nature speaks to us without words.
Psalm 19 is probably two psalms – an ancient one, 19:1-6, and 19:7-14, written some time after the Jews returned from exile in 538 B.C. While the linking of God’s creation and law may seem strange, it was an inspired choice on the part of the Psalmist.
In Psalm 8, the glory of creation inspired the question: “What is man…?”
In Psalms 19, God’s creation leads naturally, if unexpectedly, to the question: How are these humans, these greatest of God’s creation, to live in this world? So the transition from creation to “the law of the Lord”
is not at all inappropriate, and Kant the philosopher was led to contemplate both “the
starry heavens above…and the moral law within.”
If this is a wonderful world in which God has placed us, what are the rules? THE TEACHER
There are multiple definitions of Law, but they all lead in the same direction: the revealed will of God for his creation and creatures. The word is generally defined as “instruction” and “to teach.” The Law for Israel began with the Ten Commandments, the core of Hebrew law given to Moses. The first code of this law, the Covenant Code, is found in Exodus 20:22-23:19 and 23:20-33. The concept of Law or Torah, however, was eventually extended to the first five books of the Old Testament. The Law, both oral and written, structured the life of God’s people in community.
In Psalm 19:7-9, the psalmist uses five different nouns for Law: God’s testimony, statutes, precepts, commandments, and ordinances. Each of these produces a benefit for those who treasure and follow them: “making wise the simple,” “rejoicing the heart,” “enlightening
the eyes,” “cleansing,” “enduring forever,” “true and
– all of these much more valuable than the material riches we seek instead. SPI RI T
This is an attitude quite different from that commonly held today. We may think of law as restriction, not blessing, a burden and barrier to what society regards as “the good life,” when in fact, Law is the means to life’s greatest rewards. God gives us the Law, not to take the fun out of life, but to put the joy into it. The Shorter Catechism tells us that “Man’s chief end is to glorify
And how do we “glorify God”? – by living a life governed by his will, a joy which the ungoverned life cannot possibly provide! NOT THE LAST WORD
Law, however, is not the last word: it must be followed by gospel, the grace of God, for as John Milton recognized, “Law can discover sin, but not remove it.”
Recently a politician proudly boasted that he lived strictly by the Ten Commandments. But Law is only the starting point, the kindergarten, and it is gospel that leads us to the law’s true intention. Exulting in the law, the Psalmist realizes that all sin is not evident. We can live by the commonly accepted morals and still not escape the deeper sins within: “But who can discern his
(19:12) – not God’s “errors,” but of the Psalmist and of all of us.
One of the great traps of religious life is the sense of having “arrived,” when in fact we still have far to go. “Clear thou me from hidden faults. Keep back thy servant
from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion
(vs. 12,13). As soon as we arrive at a smug sense of accomplishment, or even perfection, we are certain to suppress our hidden sins. Complacency is the breeding ground of self-praise, pride, and presumption. All of us probably entertain these at some time; the true danger is giving them permanent, if secret, tenancy. Like the Psalmist, we all need to pray: “Keep back
thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not
have dominion over me”
Commenting on this passage, William R. Taylor observed that ordinary people generally do not violate red traffic lights. “But we are constantly taking chances
with the yellow light.”
In traffic and life, let us not take the chance of running the yellow light.