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.

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