New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary

Psa 19:1 For the Chief Musician. A Psalm by David.
The heavens declare the glory of God, the expanse above shows His handiwork-
Psalm 8 records David looking up at the skies after his victory over Goliath, marvelling at God's grace to man. Perhaps this is the same scene. Ps. 19 speaks of how the sun, moon and stars speak to humanity with no voice nor words. And yet that very passage is applied in the New Testament to the preachers of the Gospel. In mankind's meeting with us they should be seeing the same unspoken message which there is in the heavens above. We really can lead them on from their vague sense that there's something else out there in life and existence. They may feel that the answers lie shrouded by some impenetrable fog. But we need the spirit of Paul, when he noticed an altar to an unknown God. "Whom you ignorantly seek / worship, Him I will declare to you". People are fast realizing that advanced technology, social reforms, a rational approach to life... simply isn't the answer to our spiritual needs. People are seeking something beyond. They're asking the right questions, but seeking answers in the wrong places.

 Having spoken of the vital need for preachers, Paul quotes this verse as concerning the preaching of the Gospel: "Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world" (Rom. 10:18). Paul is doubtless alluding to the great commission here. But he says that it is fulfilled by the preachers spoken of in Ps. 19:1-4, which he quotes. This speaks of the "heavens" declaring God's gospel world-wide. In the same way as the sun 'goes forth' all over the world, so will the "heavens" go forth to declare the Gospel. The 'heavens' do not just refer to the twelve in the first century; the New Testament says that all in Christ are the "heavenlies"; we are all part of the "sun of righteousness". The arising of Christ as the sun at His second coming (Mal. 4:2) will be heralded by the church witnessing the Gospel of His coming beforehand. The enthusiast will note a number of other preaching allusions in Ps. 19: "The expanse shows  His handiwork" uses a word (in the Septuagint) which occurs in Lk. 9:60 concerning the publishing of the Gospel. "Their voice is gone out through all the earth" (:4) is picked up by Paul in describing his preaching (2 Cor. 10:13-16 AVmg.). The idea of 'going out' throughout the earth was clearly at the root of Christ's great commission (Mk. 16:15). Yet the "heavens" to which this refers in Ps. 19 are interpreted by the New Testament as referring to all  believers in Christ.

Psa 19:2 Day after day they pour forth speech, and night after night they display knowledge-
As explained on :1, the New Testament interprets this as meaning that the lights of the heavens declare God's glory in the same way as Christian preachers constantly and continually present an unbroken witness to the Gospel. This means that David isn't saying that any amount of stargazing will of itself reveal the truths of the Gospel to men. The New Testament quotations (see on :1) are saying that as the stars and the sun daily pour out their testimony to the whole earth, so do the Christian preachers. This rather deconstructs the idea that God's truth is held only by one small group in some suburb who keep that truth largely to themselves.

Psa 19:3 There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard-
As explained on :1, the New Testament interpretation is that as the stars and the sun daily pour out their testimony to the whole earth, so do the Christian preachers. And that Gospel is to go to all languages and peoples. And yet that witness is in who we are. The heavenly bodies, like the Christian preachers, are simply there, who they are. And this is the witness which will go to the ends of the earth. We can get all too caught up with ‘mission work’ in the sense of taking the message to all the earth through advertising and visits; but the essential witness, which will extend to the very core of this world, is the silent witness of who we are. Hence RV "Unheard is their voice", just as men can be won for Christ "without the word" (1 Pet. 3:1). We have assumed that there are men and women sitting in their homes trying to figure out whether, e.g., God is a trinity or not, just waiting for our preaching to reach them. Yet this just isn’t the case. When men and women saw the result of the Lord’s ministry, they asked: “What new doctrine is this?” (Mk. 1:27). Now this is how we need people to be with us- to ask us, with the implication they are ready and willing to listen, what exactly it is that we believe. But they only get to that point by seeing the effect of our lives and witness.

LXX offers "It is not a speech or words whose voice is unintelligible". The simple message of the Gospel is as clear as the sunlight; it doesn't require any great process of theological interpretation before it is seen for what it is.

Psa 19:4 Their voice has gone out through all the earth, their words to the end of the world-
This is picked up by Paul in describing his preaching (2 Cor. 10:13-16 AVmg.). The idea of 'going out' throughout the earth was clearly at the root of Christ's great commission (Mk. 16:15). See on :1. "Voice" is "line" in some manuscripts. The idea is that the territory of dominion for the message has been defined- and it is the whole world. As explained on :1, this is well interpreted in the New Testament with reference to the universality of the great commission, to take the Gospel to the whole planet and to every language upon it (:3).

And yet that huge work has been split up by God in His providence. We each have our specific area, either of people or the world, in which God intends us to make a witness. Paul thus spoke of how both he and other brethren had their specific "line" or sphere in which they were intended to witness (2 Cor. 10:16 cp. Ps. 19:4 AVmg.; Am. 7:17). We each have ours, whether it be the people who live in our block of flats, an area of our own country or city; or another part of the world.

In them He has set a tent for the sun- The special attention given to the sun is surely because it was a symbol of Messiah (Mal. 3:2). This is singled out as the major witness. Yet the witness of the heavenly bodies is understood as a representation of the witness of God's people to the Gospel (see on :1). They are "the sun" in that their witness is in Christ, they are Him to this world. The sun was a common symbol for a person, and the "tent" in view is the temporary abode at a wedding feast, which is the theme continued in :5.

Psa 19:5 which is as a bridegroom coming out of his room, like a strong man rejoicing to run his course-
As the sun arises and passes across the sky (:6), so the Messianic sun (:4), the bridegroom, comes out. The dawn is therefore symbolic of Messiah's coming out from heaven to marry His bride, the church. This going forth of the bridegroom from his "chamber" clearly looks ahead to the going forth of Messiah when the Davidic kingdom is finally fully established and all Judah's enemies destroyed (s.w. Joel 2:16).

Psa 19:6 His going forth is from the end of the heavens, his circuit to its ends; there is nothing hidden from its heat-
"Heat" is carefully chosen. For men can hide from the light of the sun, but not from its heat; sinners ultimately cannot hide themselves from God's sun (s.w. Job 34:22). The witness of the sun, reaching to every man, is being used as the pattern for all the witness of God's people who preach His word (:1,2). It cannot fail to have its impact and that word preached will not return without achievement and effect. "Circuit" is a poor translation and means simply "end", which is how the Hebrew is usually translated. It would be incorrect to base any argument for circular motion upon this word. 

Psa 19:7 Yahweh’s law is perfect, restoring the soul. Yahweh’s testimony is sure, making wise the simple-
The sudden change of subject to God's word is not at all out of context; for as explained on :1-4, the interpretation is that as the stars and the sun daily pour out their testimony to the whole earth, so will the preachers of God's word. The sureness of the sun's activities and the perfection of its light are therefore seen as reflections of the nature of God's word, especially as it is manifest in the flesh of Messiah (:5). 

Psa 19:8 Yahweh’s precepts are right, rejoicing the heart. Yahweh’s commandment is pure, enlightening the eyes-
See on :7. It is quite likely that Ps. 19:8,10 were written with Jonathan's experience of 1 Sam. 14  in mind: "The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes... sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb". Psalm 19 may well have been written in the Bathsheba period: "Cleanse (s.w. Ps. 51:2) thou me from secret faults". So the memory of Jonathan stayed with David all his life long. "Enlightening" is the word used of lights appearing at creation, on account of Gods spoken word (s.w. Gen. 1:15,17). The idea is that there is a new creation being achieved through the witness of that word, with lights going on in the darkness of previously darkened minds.

Psa 19:9 The fear of Yahweh is clean, enduring forever-
The context is all about God's law and word. So the idea may be that we read n an ellipsis: 'the word which teaches the fear of Yahweh...'.

Yahweh’s ordinances are true, and righteous altogether- See on :7. This may sound axiomatic, but the idea is that those influenced by God's word become "true" themselves. Truthfulness is therefore an essential psychological response in all those influenced by God's truth.

Psa 19:10 More to be desired are they than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the extract of the honeycomb-
The power of transformation in God's word is priceless. No human wealth or enjoyment of the senses [eating of honey] can equal it.

Psa 19:11 Moreover by them is Your servant warned-
"Warned" is "taught". The idea is that the laws and principles of God become teachers of themselves. There is an upward spiral in spirituality. Obedience leads to an experience of God's word as a teacher, obviating the need to rely upon human interpretations; the commandment itself comes to be the teacher of itself. That is the idea here.

In keeping them there is a great reward- It might help if we try to visualize the practical benefits of keeping the Mosaic laws (as in Ex. 15:26). "In keeping of them is great reward", David commented (Ps. 19:11). Moses likewise: "The Lord commanded us to do all these statutes... for our good always" (Dt. 6:24)- not for their irritation, or as a pointless test of obedience. Perhaps this is why the giving of the Law is described as an expression of God's love for Israel (Dt. 33:2-4).

Psa 19:12 Who can discern his own errors? Forgive me from sins of ignorance-
Reflecting upon the power and necessity of God's law and word elicits a natural awareness that we often must have failed to obey. And so David prayed for cleansing from "secret faults" (AV)- things which we do not specifically repent of, and yet which are still sinful in God's sight. All sin is sin- sin is not definable according to our awareness of it (as witness the Mosaic trespass offerings). If we disagree that we are forgiven for sins which we do not specifically repent of and forsake, then we must conclude that we actually know every one of our sins; and that just one sin, unrepented of, will keep us from salvation. None of us has the self knowledge, nor the appreciation of God's  righteousness, to be confident that we do know each of our sins. It is only the self-righteous who claim that they have confessed every one of their sins. So we are driven to rely on salvation by grace- believing that we will be forgiven for sins we commit, which we do not recognize. If we hope for any amount of forgiveness without specific repentance, then we ought not to make it a principle that we will never forgive our brother unless he outwardly shows his repentance. For we all somehow hope for forgiveness without repentance.

Perhaps David went so far down the road of self-examination that the sin with Bathsheba made him realize that it was probably associated with many others which he did not even realize: "Who can understand his own errors? cleanse (s.w. Ps. 51:1,2 re. the Bathsheba affair) thou me from secret faults" (Ps. 19:12 AV). If our own self-examination and repentance is after the pattern of David's, we will appreciate how that each of our sins is associated with so many others. We will be aware how that each spiritual event in our life makes us either weaker or stronger in facing the next one, how that each temptation is intertwined with others, so that in reality we do not commit (say) three or four sins per day. We are constantly failing and winning, and therefore we live in God's mercy; we do not just experience it for the few seconds in which we pray to Him for forgiveness to be granted. David's sin with Bathsheba is a process we each go through in one way or another.

Paul says that although he knows of nothing that would stand against him at the judgment, this doesn't justify him, because the Lord sees differently to us (1 Cor. 4:4 RSV). David likewise knew that his own self-examination was unable to give him an accurate picture of his status before God; "Who can understand his (own) errors?" (Ps. 19:12). All too often one hears it said: 'It's OK in my conscience, so there's nothing wrong with it'. Yet my comment is that our 'conscience', our natural sense of right and wrong, won't jump outside of us at judgment day and stand there and judge us. There is one thing that will judge us: the word of the Lord (Jn. 12:48). Morality isn't relative; there is such a thing as ultimate right and wrong, regardless of what our intuitive sense is.  


Psa 19:13 Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins, let them not have dominion over me. Then I will be upright, I will be blameless and innocent of the great transgression-
A fair case can be made that David's sin with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah was in fact a sin of presumption. David confessed that there was no sacrifice appropriate to his (singular) sin; his many individual sins associated with the matter were perceived as one sin, and that was the sin of presumption. The fact that he is condemned for having "despised the commandment of the Lord" (1 Sam. 12:9) indicates that He knew all along what God's will really was. The fact that the flesh took over does not in any way mitigate his responsibility in this. This is a direct quote from the Law's definition of the sin of presumption: "The soul that does anything presumptuously... because he has despised the word of the Lord... that soul shall utterly be cut off" (Num. 15:30,31). Knowing David’s emotional nature and also the fact that he did not completely turn away from God afterwards, we would have expected a quicker repentance if it had been a passing sin of passion. It would therefore seem reasonable to assume that the sin was of presumption rather than passion.

In this case, we can reflect that God will keep men from sinning, but only if they wish to be kept from sinning. And David didn't wish for this at the time. In this case, 2the great transgression" would refer to the sin of presumption. Or we can read this as meaning that David is writing after the time of his sin, and is asking to be held back from repeating it, lest he become guilty of the "great transgression", the sin with Bathsheba. In this case, he felt as if he was as it were forgiven of that sin conditional upon not repeating it.

Psa 19:14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, Yahweh, my rock and my redeemer
- The request is for God to "let" or allow us certain mental attitudes. Again and again in the psalms, we see David recognizing the direct operation of God upon the human spirit or heart- and that continues to be effected to this day, by His Spirit.