What is the background of Psalm 19?
According to the title, David is the author of Psalm 19. The theme of the Psalm is God’s revelation of Himself to mankind. Verses 1-6 speak of God’s revelation through nature and verses 7-11 speak of God’s revelation through the Law. Verses 12-14 speak of what should be man’s response to the revelation of God. The Psalm is considered to be a masterpiece of poetic literature. C.S. Lewis wrote, “I take this [Psalm 19] to be the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.”
19:1 The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.
Verses 1-6 speak of God’s general revelation of Himself through nature. There are numerous terms that have to do with the matter of communication: “telling,” “declaring,” “speech,” “words,” “voice,” and “utterances.” In these verses, David represents the universe as a cathedral in which the sun is the preacher bearing witness to the existence and glory of God.
According to verse 1, the “heavens” continually (as per the tense of the words “telling” and “declaring”) witness to God’s existence.
19:2 Day to day pours forth speech,
And night to night reveals knowledge.
Verse 2 continues the thought of verse 1 by emphasizing that nature witnesses to the existence of God both day and night. The sun by day and the moon and stars by night constantly declare, “There is a God!” The words “pour forth” emphasize that there is abundant evidence of God’s power and glory.
19:3 There is no speech, nor are there words;
Their voice is not heard.
The testimony of the heavens is silent, yet can be “heard” by men of any nation and understood in any language.
19:4 Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their utterances to the end of the world.
In them He has placed a tent for the sun,
19:5 Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber;
It rejoices as a strong man to run his course.
19:6 Its rising is from one end of the heavens,
And its circuit to the other end of them;
And there is nothing hidden from its heat.
The testimony of the created order is universal. Its witness “has gone out through all the earth,” even as the sun’s circuit covers all the earth.
Practical Considerations: God has not left Himself without a witness. The evidence for the existence of God is abundant. It is everywhere to be seen in the universe around us. Biblical scholar John Phillips comments, “It is significant that the Bible makes no attempt to prove that there is a God … The fact of God’s existence is self evident and taken for granted. The person who says differently is bluntly called a fool (Psalm 14:1 and 53:1). The root cause of atheism is traced in both these psalms to moral rather than to intellectual sources. It is not that a man cannot believe so much as that he will not.”
19:7 The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
David turned his attention from general to special revelation in verses 7-11. We need God’s special revelation. While nature can reveal the fact of God, it cannot reveal the way to God. While nature can reveal the glory of God, it cannot reveal the will of God. In each of the following verses he characterized God’s Word and its many benefits. This section of the Psalm has been called Psalm 119 in miniature.
The term “law” refers to all of God’s written revelation. Notice that the origin of Scripture is divine, for it is the law “of the Lord.” This law is described as being “perfect,” which means complete, whole, entire, and without flaw or defect. It is directed towards the well-being of man. It is able to “restore the soul,” or lead men to salvation and strengthen them in their walk with God. The “testimony of the Lord is sure,” or always true. It can make men wise. Only those who are open to God’s truth can ever hope to become wise.
19:8 The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
God’s “precepts,” or moral rules, are “right,” or straight. Joy results in the hearts of those who keep God’s moral law (see Psalm 1:1-3). God’s Word is also able to enlighten men, opening their eyes to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong (see Psalm 119:104).
19:9 The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.
The Scriptures are here referred to as “the fear of the Lord,” which is the impact they should have upon the heart of men. Mark Twain reportedly said, “It is not what I don’t understand about the Bible that frightens me; it is what I do understand.” God’s Word is “clean,” that is, without error or unrighteousness. God’s Word also endures forever (see Isaiah 40:8). It is stable, changeless, and everlasting. God’s “judgments,” or decisions, are always accurate and just.
19:10 They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
God’s Word is better than the purest gold or the sweetest honey (see Psalm 119:103). There is nothing that compares to it. God’s Word can do more for man than fine gold.
19:11 Moreover, by them Thy servant is warned;
In keeping them there is great reward.
2 Timothy 3:16 states, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching [God’s Word tells us the path to walk], for reproof [God’s Word shows us where we take wrong turns and stray from the path], for correction [God’s Word tells us how to get back on the path], for training in righteousness [God’s Word tells us how to stay on the path].” Proverbs 13:13 offers excellent commentary on Psalm 19:11. It states, “The one who despises the word will be in debt to it, But the one who fears the commandment will be rewarded.” One scholar has written, “The whole Bible is an exposition of this text.”
Practical Considerations: God’s Word can change people’s lives. God’s Word can lead men to salvation, can make men wise, can fill the heart with joy, can give men discernment, can warn men of danger, and can help them live meaningful and rewarding lives. We should commit ourselves to a consistent study of the Word of God. We should purpose to live our lives according to the truths of God’s Word. Those who fail to study and obey God’s Word miss out on the many benefits of so doing.
19:12 Who can discern his errors?
Acquit me of hidden faults.
Verses 12-14 set forth the appropriate response to the revelation of God in both nature and His Word. In verse 12 David asked to be forgiven of “errors” and “hidden faults,” or those sins committed in ignorance.
19:13 Also keep back Thy servant from presumptuous sins;
Let them not rule over me;
Then I shall be blameless,
And I shall be acquitted of great transgression.
David also asked that God keep him from “presumptuous sins,” those deliberate acts of rebellion against God. He did not want to be mastered by these sins. He did not want to become sin’s slave.
Practical Considerations: We should take sin seriously. David took sin seriously. He asked God to cleanse him of every sin committed in ignorance and to keep him from presumptuous sin (deliberate acts of rebellion against God). David understood the destructive power of sin. He did not want to harbor any sin lest he be destroyed from the inside out.
19:14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Thy sight,
O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
David concluded the Psalm, which began with the universal glory and revelation of God, on a very personal note. His desire was to remain in a right relationship with God and live a life pleasing to God.