Monthly Archives: June 2016

Ecclesiastes 2- The Quest for Meaning

Edward Poynter, The Visit of the Queen of Shebe to King Solomon (1890)

Edward Poynter, The Visit of the Queen of Shebe to King Solomon (1890)

Ecclesiastes 2: 1-11 The Quest for Meaning Begins

1 I said to myself, “Come now, I will make a test of pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But again, this also was vanity. 2 I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” 3 I searched with my mind how to cheer my body with wine– my mind still guiding me with wisdom– and how to lay hold on folly, until I might see what was good for mortals to do under heaven during the few days of their life. 4 I made great works; I built houses and planted vineyards for myself; 5 I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. 6 I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house; I also had great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. 8 I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and of the provinces; I got singers, both men and women, and delights of the flesh, and many concubines.

 9 So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem; also my wisdom remained with me. 10 Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. 11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.

Qohelet, a common way of referring to the author of Ecclesiastes, begins his quest for meaning in the meaninglessness and begins to apply his wisdom to the things that might bring pleasure and joy. While the author of Genesis 1 can from God’s perspective call everything ‘indeed, very good’ for the teacher in Ecclesiastes everything is vanity and empty. For other wisdom writers, wisdom itself is something that comes from a parent, a scribe or teacher, and ultimately can be personified (as in Proverbs 8) as a woman who is to be sought. Wisdom for many seekers in the Hebrew Scriptures was something that was primarily revealed but in Ecclesiastes, like many post-moderns, the only foundation for wisdom is their own experience. The teacher is in the privileged space to be able to experience and examine the fullness of their life and experience and draw conclusions based upon that experience. Although Qohelet continues to expand those conclusions to a universal perspective, in many respects not unlike Sigmund Freud developing many of his psychoanalytical theories based on his limited clinical experience at the time, his insights continue to provide a fertile ground for reflection.

Ecclesiastes grand experiment in experiential wisdom attempts to enter the pleasure of life fully: laughter, wine, great works, places for enjoyment, people to serve him, power, wealth and sex. All of these individual things, although the eyes and the appetite desired all these things, they ultimately don’t satisfy the author for long. When wisdom gets turned to the goal of acquisition it quickly meets with the reality of insatiability. Although Qohelet can accumulate more property, wealth, power, stature, as well as physical objects of desire than anyone before him (and here he seems to be modeling his story on Solomon who would turn his wisdom towards accumulation to his eventual peril) he doesn’t find more pleasure, joy or contentment than others. In some respects, many celebrities and rock-stars have taken on Ecclesiastes quest for meaning to the point of even putting their lives in jeopardy in their pleasure seeking. For example, Nicki Sixx from the bands Motley Crue and Sixx A.M. can relate in an interview, “What are you going to write songs about now? You’ve won everything that you can win. You’ve proven everybody wrong. You guys have money beyond any money you could ever spend in your life. You’re all driving Ferraris and seeing girls in bikinis and living in mansions” at a time where Sixx was dealing with a heroin (and alcohol and multiple other drug) addiction that nearly cost him his life. The quest for meaning in pleasure has been tried many times over and many have found that it is indeed meaningless at some point, or that it fails at some point to quench the insatiability of the seeker’s appetite. There are never enough accolades, never enough wealth, never enough cars or relationships or a big enough house or thrill.

Yet, in the midst of all of the things that ultimately fail to satisfy, Qohelet ultimately finds something. In the toil, which the seeker normally refers to as a negative thing, he finds pleasure. In the moments, in the present time the seeker finds the thing that they are seeking. It is transient and evanescent moments and as Ecclesiastes states they may indeed be ‘hebel’ or ‘vanity.’ It is in the quest or the work itself that the joy was found, in the moments and not in the acquisition and end.

Ecclesiastes 2: 12-26 The Unfairness of Death

 12 So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly; for what can the one do who comes after the king? Only what has already been done. 13 Then I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness.

                14 The wise have eyes in their head, but fools walk in darkness.

Yet I perceived that the same fate befalls all of them.15 Then I said to myself, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also; why then have I been so very wise?” And I said to myself that this also is vanity. 16 For there is no enduring remembrance of the wise or of fools, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How can the wise die just like fools? 17 So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me; for all is vanity and a chasing after wind.

 18 I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me 19 — and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. 20 So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21 because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22 What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? 23 For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.

 24 There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God; 25 for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? 26 For to the one who pleases him God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy; but to the sinner he gives the work of gathering and heaping, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a chasing after wind.

The teacher found pleasure, even if only in transitory moments, in the present, in the toil. Yet, as the Teacher reaches into the future his joy dissipates and he continues to dwell on the meaningless of life in its transitory nature. Mortality comes as the great aggravator of the insatiability of the seeker. He seeks the end of his wisdom and toil, end in the sense of the goal or meaning. The more he projects his quest into an unknown future the more he moves from the pleasure of the moment to the hatred of a transitory life with an uncertain future and legacy. Mortality is the great equalizer in all its unfairness. Both the wise and the foolish, even though wisdom excels folly, all die and are forgotten. In the world of Qohelet’s desire there would be some reward for the wise in their life and legacy and yet all of these may be handed over to those who may not appreciate their labor.

For me one of the gifts of Ecclesiastes is its challenge to the ways I, and I am sure many others, have lived my life for the future. I have projected my happiness into some future time as I toiled towards that next degree, next promotion, a time when I am debt free, or have earned a certain amount of wealth, comfort, security or rewards. Yet, the reality of these are that the completion of these goals never satisfies the insatiable nature within me. I frequently have missed moments of joy in the present by being focused on the future. In a work oriented culture, where we pride ourselves on how busy we are and how hard we work Ecclesiastes encourages us to slow down, to notice the moments of pleasure. To find enjoyment in the work itself, not merely in the end. The toil, or work itself may be the end. The quest may be the apex of enjoyment. And ultimately for Qohelet it is God who enables a person to enjoy and perceive the gifts of the day. As Psalm 118 can state, “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118: 24)

Perhaps in the quest of Ecclesiastes we can learn the peril of a life that is completely oriented on the future. Ultimately death places its verdict on all of us and if we are living our lives in search of some immortal legacy then we are likely to be disappointed. Lives can be too hard or too short, they can be a burden and a toil. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts the Teacher can give us is to learn to pay attention to the joys of bodily life: a good meal with friends, a vacation, the process of learning and growing, the development of a relationship and countless other moments with the potential for joy and happiness. By orienting his life to the future, Qohelet finds only that life is vanity and great evil. Nicki Sixx, mentioned above in his own quest for pleasure which almost cost him his life, could write later in a song that would come out of his Heroin Diaries at the end of his quest for pleasure that ‘Life is Beautiful’ but it took being at the point of death for Sixx, as well as the death of several of his friends, for him to realize the beauty in it.


Ecclesiastes 1- Chasing After the Wind

Ecclesiastes 1: 1-11: All the Vanity and Toil of Life

1 The words of the Teacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
2 Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
3 What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?
4 A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south, and goes around to the north;
   round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns.
7 All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full;
   to the place where the streams flow, there they continue to flow.
8 All things are wearisome; more than one can express;
   the eye is not satisfied with seeing, or the ear filled with hearing.
9 What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done;
   there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”?
    It has already been, in the ages before us.
11 The people of long ago are not remembered,
    nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come by those who come after them.

Ecclesiastes is probably one of the latest books written in the Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament as many Christians known the first portion of their scriptures, and was also one of the books that many ancient and modern people have wondered how it fits in the Bible. Ecclesiastes wanders boldly into the absurdity and senselessness of the world of the Teacher, Qohelet (the word that is translated the Teacher or in other translations the preacher and how I will refer to the author throughout these reflections). It is not only in our time where disillusionment can creep in and mocks any sentimental religiosity or easy answers. Perhaps the entirety of this short work is vanity, perhaps it is wisdom or foolishness, for many it will be unsatisfying and for others it will be a voice singing in the choir of those willing to peer honestly into the unresolved questions of a world that often seems devoid of any cosmic wisdom or justice.

Here in this initial section we encounter three of Qohelet’s favorite words: “All,” “Vanity,” and “Toil.” Since these words are so important to the Teacher it is probably worth spending a moment with them at the beginning. As a philosopher looking at the universal perspective of the human experience “All” (Hebrew kōl) becomes one of the tools to reflect on the universality of the experience of toil, death, disappointment and meaninglessness. Qohelet’s perspective in this universal search is not primarily religious but experiential and by taking his or her reflection on a variety of topics and universalizing them to the shared human experience. Perhaps in a postmodern age we may be skeptical of a universalizing perspective even if it is grounded in the universality of “vanity.” “Vanity” (Hebrew hebel) initially appears in the Bible in Genesis as the name of Cain’s younger brother ‘Abel.’ Just as Abel’s life is short and appears to be meaningless so the word hebel can mean ‘vapor, mist, or emptiness.’ It is an evanescent word that refuses to be grasped hold of and the traditional translation of ‘vanity’ reflects the grasping not only at the meaning of the word but also grasping at meaning in the meaninglessness. ‘Toil’ (Hebrew āmāl) has nothing to do with goal oriented work and more to do with pain and struggle. As W. Sibley Towner, who I am indebted to for the above discussion of the meaning of words, can connect:

Like the writer of the story of Genesis 3, he places human beings in a world from which both the presence and the friendship of God are withdrawn and people are left to fend for themselves on an accursed ground in lives of toil that only end in death. (NIB V: 280)

As we enter into the vanity of vanities, the senselessness in the unending rhythms of the world that surrounds the mortal who will inevitably cease to be, we enter into the insatiability of not only the cosmos but apparently the human appetite as well. The repeating patterns of streams that flow to the sea, winds that blow from the south, sunrise and sunset, and the passing of the generations bring on the steady reinvention of that which has come before. Perhaps in the midst of the mundane the eye and ear search for something new and novel, but all that fills them is the things that have come before. Perhaps there is some irony in reflecting upon a person of long ago whose personage is not remembered and yet their words endure and come to us calling us into their questions. Willing to enter into the search for answers in the toil and in the recurring patterns of life, the Teacher invites us to search with him or her for what may satisfy our insatiability.

Miroslav Volf can identify from Ecclesiastes the central themes of insatiability and mortality. In Ecclesiastes there is no transcendent goal, no heaven to escape to and so Qohelt enters into a very earthly discussion of what life is about. As Volf can say, “We are finite, but our desires are infinite. Our insatiability gives the ever-flowing river of our work and play not just an insuppressible dynamism but also an aura of futility.” (Volf, 2015, p. 51) Just as literature can reflect the way repetition, boredom and meaninglessness can squeeze the joy out of modern life, Ecclesiastes can point back to the same experience among those of our ancestors who were willing to engage their experience without resorting to pious sentimentality. As Herman Melville can state in Moby Dick:

That mortal man who hath more joy than sorrow in him, that mortal man cannot be true—not true or underdeveloped. With books, the same. The truest of all men was the Man of Sorrows, and the truest of all books is Solomon’s and Ecclesiastes is the fine hammered steel of woe. “ALL is vanity.” ALL. This willful world has not got hold of un-christian Solomon’s wisdom yet. But he who dodges hospitals and jails, and walks fast crossing grave-yards, and would rather talk of operas then hell…not that man is fitted to sit down on tomb-stones, and break the green damp mould with unfathomably wondrous Solomon. (NIB V: 291)

If one is willing to enter into the insatiability and mortality and wonder what the toil means, to be at the place where one can honestly engage the brokenness and pain of the human experience then perhaps one can find joy. In foolishness or wisdom the joy may come anyways, but the mind of Qohelet the philosopher and seeker refuses to pull away from his difficult quest for which there are no easy answers. Perhaps in a world where many in the United States have access to more options and luxuries than at any previous point in history and we still are not satisfied we can learn from Ellen Davis’ insight into the one of the issues Ecclesiastes highlights: “the perpetual desire for more does not derive from the enjoyment of what we already have….the fact of the matter is that we are often bored by the good things of this world.” (Davis, 2000, p. 172)


Ecclesiastes 1: 12-18: The Vexation of Wisdom

                12 I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem,13 applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with.14 I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.15 What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted.16 I said to myself, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.”17 And I applied my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a chasing after wind.
 18 For in much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow.

The books of Ecclesiastes and Proverbs present two very different approaches to wisdom. The practical wisdom of Proverbs is to be a guide for one’s thoughts and actions and protects one from being entangled in the ways of evil. For Proverbs, “for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.” (Proverbs 2: 10) Yet, for Qohelet, the wisdom becomes a vexation and the increase of knowledge has brought the seeker sorrow and not happiness. Qohelet seeks to take the universal perspective and to know all of the human experience in its toil and trouble, its wisdom and its folly, its crookedness and brokenness. The Teacher takes on the mantle of Solomon (most scholars would say Ecclesiastes due to its language is written many hundreds of years after the time of Solomon) and applies this wisdom and knowledge that they have acquired to know everything. Their thirst for knowledge was insatiable and the more they grasped the more it escaped like the wind they felt they were chasing. Yet, Qohelet for all his universal perspective cannot claim to know the mind of God. The questions that are raised about God are unanswered and probably unanswerable. Perhaps the folly of this quest for wisdom and knowledge rests in the reality that one never masters “all” for the streams of knowledge flow into larger and larger bodies and perhaps at last to the unreachable and uncontainable sea. Yet, it would be too easy to perhaps makes this about harnessing the uncatchable winds in a sail to blow us down to the sea without being honest about the vexation, struggle and toil that often comes in the journey. Perhaps Qohelet is able to see well before the disillusionment of humanity with modernity’s quest for absolute answers that often the increase of knowledge may indeed bring about sorrow and how, for example, sciences that can be used to save lives often become utilized to wage war. Qohelet’s painful wisdom may not be something that is comfortable to most people, but for those who feel intensely in their lives a sense of brokenness or alienation they may find comfort in hearing within their scripture their own toil and questions and doubts. The vexation of wisdom and the sorrow of knowledge may not be alleviated by hearing Qohelet’s impious words but perhaps in there is empathy found in the presence of a fellow questioner whose questions go unanswered.

Psalm 20 – In the Day of Trouble

Bible paintings in the Castra center, Haifa-Samuel Annointing David and David and Goliath

Bible paintings in the Castra center, Haifa-Samuel Annointing David and David and Goliath

 Psalm 20

<To the leader. A Psalm of David.>
1 The LORD answer you in the day of trouble! The name of the God of Jacob protect you!
2 May he send you help from the sanctuary, and give you support from Zion.
3 May he remember all your offerings, and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices. Selah
4 May he grant you your heart’s desire, and fulfill all your plans.
5 May we shout for joy over your victory, and in the name of our God set up our banners.
  May the LORD fulfill all your petitions.
6 Now I know that the LORD will help his anointed;
  he will answer him from his holy heaven with mighty victories by his right hand.
7 Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the LORD our God.
8 They will collapse and fall, but we shall rise and stand upright.
9 Give victory to the king, O LORD; answer us when we call.

Psalm 20 probably has its origins in a military crisis where the king comes to receive a blessing prior to the upcoming conflict. While we may use the day of crisis to adopt this Psalm to our times in any number of circumstances the militaristic language of the Psalm reflects the very conflict heavy history of the Hebrew people. As a people at the crossroads between several ancient empires they constantly found themselves encountering armies marching to or through their nations. Under David and Solomon, they had a brief period of military strength, but for most of their history they were a small nation surrounded by powerful and ambitious neighbors. As in Deuteronomy 20:1 they will go out to battle with armies that are larger and better equipped, having more horses and chariots (the strongest weapons of the day). Just as the priest in Deuteronomy 20 blesses the troops before their upcoming conflict, here the Psalm begins with a similar pronouncement, “The LORD answer you in the day of trouble! The name of God of Jacob protect you!”

In our time we are very suspicious of an alliance between the church and state. For example, Miroslav Volf can state: “On many occasions throughout their history religions have betrayed their original visions by making themselves instruments of secular causes: they became primarily markers of ethnic, cultural, or national identities, supporters of political rulers and consecrators of wars, or transcendent reflections of economic interests.” (Volf, 2015, p. 58) While there is a real and present danger of religions who become intertwined with the political system betraying central parts of their identity to obtain the blessings of a political party or nation we also need to set aside this concern with the Psalm for a moment to enter the non-secular place that it comes from. If the nation of Israel is going to put its trust in the LORD and not invest in its military might in the same way that the nations around them do, then they need to trust that the LORD will act on their behalf. If the king is living in the way they are supposed to live, modeled on Deuteronomy 17: 14-20 then the priest is expected to give their blessing and the LORD is supposed to intervene in the time of crisis. This is the other side of the covenant they were expecting to live within, if they as a people lived according to the commandments, laws and ordinances of the LORD then the LORD was to intervene and protect them.

The first four verses the speaker is praying for the petitioner who is coming forward with the crisis. May God protect you, send you help, give you support, remember your offerings, regard your sacrifices with favor, grant your heart’s desire and fulfill your plans. Yet, beginning in verse five now the speaker and the petitioner become joined together in the first person plural pronouns (we and us): May we shout for joy, our pride is in the name of the LORD, we shall rise and stand upright, answer us when we call. The day of your distress has become the day of our calling, the priest and the petitioner once stood apart but now stand together before God. In that standing together the king can trust that victory is coming and that the LORD will help the anointed one.

As Walter Brueggemann and William Bellinger highlight, this Psalm as well as numerous other places in the Old Testament are a critique of military self-sufficiency.(Brueggeman, 2014, p. 106) Although the kings of Israel and Judah would frequently attempt to rely upon military strength or alliances to protect them if they were going to live in faithfulness to their calling they should be able to call upon their God to assist. Often the rulers and nations want both, the divine blessing of their wars and the horses and chariots (or weapons of the era) that will ensure military supremacy. Perhaps the lure of self-sufficiency is too great for any nation to be able to subjugate itself to the LORD. Israel struggled mightily with this calling. Yet, for the Psalm to find meaning today we don’t need to restrict it only to the king or leader preparing to enter into armed conflict and seeking God’s blessing. Days of trouble are a regular part of life and we do want to believe that our prayers are heard and that God will act. In those times where the odds seem stacked against us we want to know that our God can be relied upon and that our pride can be in the action of the LORD in the midst of our own weakness.

Fostering Creativity        


I brought you into my home after years of neglect
You had moved from one dysfunctional home to another
Desiring more than just a roof over your head and food
Wanting beyond measure to be seen, heard, valued and loved
So many times your voice had been overshadowed and unheard
Noise from speakers or computer screens or the raised voices of anger
Drown out your soft voice that timidly awaited a guardian’s response
And you came into my life nervous, wanting to trust but unwilling at first
You pushed me away, tried to keep your distance not daring to believe
Your love had been shunned too many times, they looked through you
How many times were you moved late at night leaving all you had behind
How can you feel safe here in a new house when you never had a home?
Creativity, I know there are times you are scared to speak or to sing
And while I do not know how long you are mine to foster, my home is yours
I see you, I hear you, you are important to me and I love you
I will sit in silence away from the noise of the world if you let me
And I know it will take time for you to heal from the brokenness
But I see joy in you and I hope one day to see you dance
I want to be there to record your voice as you sing your song
Or to frame the pictures that your delicate fingers lay down
I will be patient while you lash out in fear or upend the furniture
I will be watching admiringly as you grow into whatever you become
For to me you are a gift beyond price and a treasure to be nurtured
A child to be loved and spoiled, supported and set free

Psalm 19- Creation, the Law and a Faithful Life

James Tissot, The Creation (between 1896 and 1902)

James Tissot, The Creation (between 1896 and 1902)

Psalm 19

 <To the leader. A Psalm of David.>
1 The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;
4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
  In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
  and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them;
  and nothing is hid from its heat.
7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul;
  the decrees of the LORD are sure, making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
  the commandment of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever;
  the ordinances of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;
  sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
12 But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me.
  Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you,
   O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

Psalm 19 as a psalm of praise brings together the wonder and mysterious natural knowledge of God uttered in the unheard speech of creation and the revealed wisdom of the LORD in the gift of the Torah (the law). Like Psalm 8, the other psalm of praise we have encountered at this point in the book of Psalms, it reflects upon the majesty of creation from a sense of wonder and awe. It can look at the heavens above, the earth below and the seas in their vastness and be amazed at the creator God who has done all of these things. Here in the first verse the word for God is the generic El which can be either God, a god, or in plural gods, but it is not a name like will be used beginning in verse seven. Yet, the heavens and day and night and sun are all poetically personified in the psalm, speaking in words that are unheard and voices that human ears cannot perceive. Perhaps the psalmist, just straining, can barely hear the silent resonance of the Creator echoing through the creation. Perhaps they can perceive the God that stands behind the creation where others have taken the created parts of creation and deified them. In verses four and five, it is possible that the Psalmist makes use of an existing Akkadian/Summerian bilingual hymn that refers to the sun as a hero, warrior and bridegroom (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 208) yet instead of leaving the sun as a deity in its right (like the surrounding cultures) now the sun becomes a rejoicing servant reveling in the course that the creator God has set for it.  The first half of the Psalm revels with the song of creation in the artistry and majesty of the creator and the Psalmist lifts up in their own way an audible voice for the unheard creation’s song.

It may seem unusual to bring together creation and the law in a poem, and perhaps these originated in two different places, but bringing these two together makes sense of the broader understanding of how God works with the Hebrew people. Creation is a gift of God for all the world, but the law (the Torah) is the special revealed gift for God’s chosen people. The God referred to initially only with the generic El now receives the revealed name YHWH (frequently pronounced Yahweh, anytime you see LORD in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) the proper name of God revealed to Moses is behind that, it is typically pronounced Adonai when read (translates to Lord) to not take the LORD’s name in vain). Together with Psalm 1 and the much longer Psalm 119, Psalm 19 praises the law of the LORD. The revealed will of God in the law becomes the nourishment, which revives the faithful, brings wisdom and purity and clarity and are a rich gift fit for a king. The ideal leader was to have the law always before them and to diligently observe and follow it all the days of their life. (see Deuteronomy 17: 18-20) If the king is the one lifting up this prayer the wonder of the cosmos is combined with the revealed wisdom of the Torah to keep them in obedience to God’s will for their life and God’s people.

The Psalm ends with a petition to be kept in this way revealed by the LORD in the midst of all the temptations that life brings forward. There is a humility in realizing that even though the law may reveal the human may conceal from themselves the faults of their hands and hearts. Even with the wisdom of Solomon one may fail to see the divergence in one’s life from the way of the covenant which coheres with God’s law. The Psalmist petitions their LORD to clear them of hidden faults, to keep them away from the insolent and foolish and to allow them to be blameless. God is their rock and their redeemer, the word for redeemer is go’el the kinsman redeemer who is able to, and is expected to, purchase their enslaved kin from slavery. Here the LORD is the one who is able to set the Psalmist free to live the life they are called to live: a life that can revel in God’s creation and delight in God’s law.