The careful contemplation of the revelation of the LORD in creation and scripture will inspire the greater adoration and renewed spiritual commitment of the believer.
Psalm 19 is a classic presentation of divine revelation and its intended effects. The psalm falls into three distinct parts, the contemplation of divine revelation in nature, the reflection on the value and benefits of written revelation in the word of the LORD, and a prayer for cleansing and preservation from sin – the designed effect of all revelation.
Natural Revelation: The heavens under the dominating influence of the sun constantly reveal the glory of God (1-6).
All creation is a clear witness to the glory of God (1-4a).
The first few verses of the psalm describe God’s wordless revelation in the universe: creation clearly reveals the glory of God. For many the observation of the sun, moon, stars and planets is a scientific study; for others it might serve the purposes of divination, but the believer will be filled with praise and adoration for such a God who created all things. In fact, the poetry of this psalm is so elegant and the theme so lofty that it has inspired some of the greatest musical praise in the history of the faith.
The first verse introduces the revelation with a summary statement: “The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament declares the work of His hand.”
The verse begins with “the heavens,” which probably indicates everything in the heavens – primarily the sun, moon, clouds, stars, and planets. Parallel to this is the word “firmament,” the “expanse” of space beyond the immediate skies. In Genesis 1:8 the “firmament is called “heavens,” so the word can mean the same thing.
All the heavenly hosts “are telling” the glory of God. Here we have personifications to indicate that these parts of creation are actually revealing something about God. It is as if all the contents of the heavens are glorifying God in His heavenly sanctuary – just by their actual existence. Everything in the heavens reveals the work of God’s hand, i.e., that there is a creator who has made everything.
At the heart of the verse is the theological description of what the heavens declare – “the glory of God.” The title used for God (El) signifies the sovereignty and power of the creator and supreme being in the universe. The term “glory” speaks of God’s intrinsic value, what gives Him importance. Anyone looking at the universe and understanding that God created all by His powerful word could come to no other conclusion that that He is the most important person in existence – ever – no one else could even come close. Everything that exists in the heavens reveals the work of a Creator and all creation tells us that there is no one as important as He.
The personification continues in verse 2 with day and night continually making God known, pouring forth speech and proclaiming knowledge. The message goes out all the time. The evidence of the majesty and power of God pours out constantly. The vast expanse of the universe in all its complexities reveals God’s infinity and sovereignty. The perfect functioning of all aspects of creation reveals His wisdom. The beauty of all creation reveals the beauty of God.
Natural revelation may not communicate with specific words, but its message is clear nonetheless. Verse 3 makes the point that there is no speech, and there are no words to this revelation, and their voice is not heard. The heavenly witnesses may seem to be silent, but their testimony is heard continuously.
Verse 4 adds the extent of this revelation: it goes throughout the inhabited world. It is as if the heavenly revelation continues as a line of text throughout the whole earth, the “words” reaching to the end of the inhabited world. Wherever people live on this planet, natural revelation communicates the truth to them that there is a sovereign Creator.
The sun on its vigorous and powerful course dominates the heavenly proclamation (4b-6).
In the middle of verse 4 there is a change of focus from the whole creation to the dominating part of creation as we see it – the sun. During the day the sun is so bright it is impossible to see the stars and planets in the heavens; and the sun is so powerful that it changes the weather from night to day, warms the earth so people can live, and causes everything to grow on the earth for the benefit of mankind.
The poetry refers to the sun’s night-place in the heavens as a tent God made for it. The psalmist represents the sun as a vigorous bridegroom: at night he goes into his tent, and darkness falls; in the morning he comes out of his chamber filled with happiness and enthusiasm and runs his course for the day.
This course is from one end of the heavens where the sun rises to the other end where it sets. The language is written from our perspective on earth.
Under its dominant presence nothing is hidden from its light or heat. By observation anyone can see that the sun is the dominant part of our universe., but with further understanding we can observe how light, heat, and energy come from the sun, giving life to this planet. This too reveals the knowledge and understanding of the Creator, for He so ordered the universe that the sun and the earth are in the exact relationship for the right time to sustain life on earth.
There is more to this section than a poetic description of the appearance and importance of the sun in God’s creation. In the ancient world the pagans worshiped the sun god, called Shamash. The Babylonian god Shamash is even called “bridegroom,” in reference to the myth of the sun resting in the arms of his beloved sea at night. The psalmist was drawing on some of the expression from the pagan world to form a polemic. The sun may be compared to a mighty man rising in the morning from a bridal chamber; but contrary to pagan myth it is still the sun, and the language is poetic. The sun is just a part of God’s creation.
Moreover, the sun god in Mesopotamia was also considered to be the upholder of justice and righteousness. For example, on the stele that has Hammurabi’s law code, Shamash is portrayed as giving the law to the king and guiding him in writing it. The Psalmist counters this and attributes law to Yahweh instead.
The first two parts of the Psalm deliberately counter pagan ideas for the purpose of undermining them and replacing them with the truth. Creation is not to be worshiped. It is a witness to the Creator who is to be worshiped. Creation does not give the law or champion justice, but Yahweh, the God of creation does.
Specific Revelation: The word of the LORD is most desirable because it not only reveals God’s will but also transforms the lives of people (7-11).
The word of the LORD reveals God’s will and transforms the lives of people (7-9).
In verse 7 there is a abrupt change in language, style, and content. The attention shifts from the splendor of God’s creation to the value of the word of the LORD. Natural revelation declares a good deal about the power and majesty of God, but it cannot communicate the details specific revelation reveals. All the heavenly hosts and especially the sun have a great impact on life on this planet, but they cannot match the impact of specific revelation.
Lives are transformed and enriched as people follow the instructions and principles of the word of the LORD. The material in verses 7-11 comes close to wisdom or torah (“law”) literature with its emphasis on Scripture. The first part, verses 7-9, extols different aspects of the word of the LORD and describes the effect of each on the believer. The second part, verses 10-11, proclaims how desirable and beneficial the teaching of Scripture are for the believer.
The psalmist extols six aspects of the word of the LORD. The first is the general heading, “the law of the LORD.” The word translated “law” can refer to an individual teaching, the law given at Sinai, all the books of the law in general, or all of Scripture. Here it seems to refer to the law given at Sinai, but it can easily be applied to any biblical revelation.
With the shift to specific revelation the psalmist uses the covenant name “Yahweh” instead of “God.” Natural revelation can tell us about a sovereign, powerful God who created all things, specific revelation can tell us about the personal, covenant God Yahweh who revealed His will and His plans to His people.
This law, David says, is perfect. It is flawless. It is without error. There is no misleading or unnecessary instruction. It is sound, consistent, unimpaired, and genuine. In other words, the law of the LORD has divine integrity, and its effect on people is that it restores life. No matter what spiritual condition people might be in, or what physical location or event might have brought about their waywardness, the law of the LORD shows them how they may be restored to a right relation with God. Many people hear the word “law” and think only of rules with condemnations, but the law also included all the ritual of the sacrifices – God’s gracious provision for forgiveness and restoration.
The second topic listed (v. 7b) is “the testimony of the LORD.” It is a general reference to the laws and commandments that make up the covenant God made with Israel. This testimony is “sure.” This means that it is reliable or trustworthy, and the effect is that it makes wise the simple. The “simple” is the naïve person, often young, who has had no training and is therefore without knowledge or discipline, and who wanders into all kinds of danger. The simpleton desperately needs wisdom, which is the skill to live a life that is disciplined and productive, bringing honor to the community, the family, and to God. By entering into the covenant with the LORD and living according to its stipulations, the simple may become wise; but without Scripture, there can be no godly wisdom.
The third topic is “the statutes of the LORD.” The LORD’s statutes are like divine appointments to higher service with additional responsibilities and duties. They are “upright;” they are exactly right, appropriately clear and direct. The effect of these statutes, should one receive them and live on this level, is that they cause the heart to rejoice. Living out the plan of God revealed in the covenant will bring joy.
The fourth topic is “the commandment of the LORD.” Th singular use of “commandment” is a reference to the entire law with all its commandments and provisions. This covenant program is “pure,” without any imperfection or pollution. Because God’s command is pure, it “enlightens the eyes” – it gives people spiritual understanding and guides them in the right choices. Spiritual perception is essential for survival in a corrupt world.
The fifth topic does not seem to fit the pattern: “The fear of the LORD is clean.” Since all the other topics are terms for the law of God, the intended meaning here is the law as well. The psalmist has put the effect of the law, fear, for the law. The law properly understood and received will prompt reverential awe in the believer. The law, which prompts such fear is “clean,” a term that used in the Levitical ritual of the sanctuary. Its antonym “unclean,” described anything that was contaminated or corrupted through defilement in the world outside the sanctuary and was therefore not permitted in the presence of God. “Clean” in Psalm 19 describes the law that produced reverential awe as being acceptable in the presence of God because it was not polluted or perverted in any way; and the effect is that it lasts forever, it stands forever. God’s holy word will endure forever because it is truth. Heaven and earth will pass away, but not the word of the LORD (Matt 24:35).
Finally, we have the sixth topic, “the decisions of the LORD.” The word “decisions” refers to the rulings in the law that decided cases. In deciding a legal case, the purpose is to get to the truth. All God’s decision will do just that, and so the conclusion is that “they are righteous altogether.” Only in the decisions of God will anyone ever find true justice.
The word of the LORD is desirable and enjoyable because it enables people to be pleasing to the LORD (10-11).
After the survey of the value and effect of the word of the LORD in the lives of people, the psalmist announces his delight in and benefit from the word of the LORD. For believers the laws of God were not a burden; they were desirable. The psalmist knew that the laws of the LORD were more to be desired than fine gold, and they were sweeter than honey from the honeycomb. God’s word is sweet in the enrichment and satisfaction of life that it brings to the faithful believer, and its sweetness increases its desirability day by day.
As David reflected on the enjoyment the word of the LORD gave him in life, he also reflected on its impact in his life (v. 11). First, he, God’s servant is warned by them. The law not only told people what they should not do, but also warned them of the consequences if they violated the law. On the other hand, by keeping the laws of God there was “reward,” good results.
The laws of God were sweet and desirable – they prevented people from ruining their lives and the lives of those around them, and they promised a good outcome for abiding by the law. Based on the first part of this psalm, we can conclude that this is so because the sovereign Creator knows what is best for His creation.
Response to Divine Revelation: The proper response to divine revelation is the confession of sin and the desire to be accepted by God (12-14).
After rehearsing natural revelation, the revelation that all the heavenly host provides about the majesty and glory of God, and after delineating the different aspects of the word of the LORD, the specific revelation that transforms and enhances the lives of believers, David responds with an acknowledgement of his waywardness and a prayer for cleansing from sins and preservation from the sinfulness so that he might lead a life that is acceptable to God. All who believe in divine revelation can share this concluding prayer.
Believers should pray for cleansing from hidden faults (12).
Verse 12 begins with the rhetorical question, “Errors – who can discern them?” The type of sins he is talking about are “sins of ignorance.” The term can describe waywardness in general, but in the cultic laws it describes sins that were unintentional, hidden or inadvertent. Leviticus prescribed the sin offering for these sins when the guilty found out about them or was made aware of them (4:28). The word could refer to any sin that was committed out of ignorance of the law, or any sin that was committed inadvertently, or any sin that was rationalized.
These were not premeditated violations of the Law; but even though may have been committed unwittingly, they were nevertheless sins. David knows he cannot detect them, and so he prays for God to clear him of secret or hidden sins. The verb “clear me” is from the verb “acquit; he wants to be declared innocent or free of any sins that are hidden to him at the moment. If he meditated on the Law, he would discover them; his prayer is that they be removed so that he would be free.
Believers should pray for preservation from presumptuous sins (13).
David also prays for God to preserve him or hold him back from presumptuous sins. The reference is pre-meditated sins, sin of the high hand (Num 15:27-31). The one guilty of presumptuous sin was a willful sinner; the presumption came in the idea that he could sin knowingly and willfully against God. David’s prayer is that such arrogant sins not have dominion over him.
If the psalmist was cleared of secret sins and prevented from presumptuous sins then he would be blameless and innocent of great transgression. The word for “blameless” describes animals without blemish that could be brought into the sanctuary. In a similar sense David is saying that when he is free of sin, he will be blameless before God and therefore welcome to His presence. The other word “innocent” is the word “free, clear, acquitted” – he will be acquitted of great transgression. He wants to be free of any serious sin.
Thus it is the case with all the people of God, that when they are cleansed of secret sins, and protected from committing presumptuous sins, they are blameless and innocent in the eyes of God; but it takes a constant vigil to maintain such spiritual integrity.
Believers should always pray that their words and thoughts be acceptable to the LORD (14).
The concluding prayer is one of the best-known prayers from the Psalter. The prayer is that the words and meditations be acceptable to the LORD. The psalmist has dwelt on the words of natural revelation that reflect the glory of God and the words of special revelation that come from God and guide and direct his life in obedience to God; now he prays that his words to God would also be acceptable to God. But the concern is not for words only, but meditations as well. The prayer is that everything he says and everything he thinks be acceptable to God.
The psalmist addresses God in this prayer as “my rock and my redeemer.” The figure of the rock represents God as the solid foundation of is life, his place of security and safety, and his strength. The epithet “my redeemer” on the human level refers to the kinsman redeemer who protects and provides for the family, as in paying off debs or marrying a widow; but on the divine level the word refers to God’s protection and deliverance of his covenant people. Calling God his redeemer means God is his loyal protector, the one who will make things right.
Message and Application
The careful contemplation of the revelation of the LORD in creation and scripture will inspire the greater adoration and renewed spiritual commitment of the believer.
The different strands of the psalm connect to the teachings of the New Testament. Natural revelation is the starting point for Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, and in the Book Paul cites Psalm 19:18 to make the point that Israel cannot say they never heard the word (Rom 10:18). The revelation of God has been constant: natural revelation displays His power and majesty, but the word of the LORD reveals His will. According to Paul the Law is holy, righteous and good (Rom 7:12); it reveals the will of God, but most importantly it reveals sin (Rom 7:13). Because it is God-breathed, Scripture is able to make people wise and is profitable for instruction in righteousness (2 Tim 3:15, 16). Divine revelation leads believers to praise God, to confess their sins, and to renew their commitment to obey.
Christians will also attest that with the coming of Christ revelation is complete. He is the Creator, and so the heavens declare the glory of Christ (John 1:1-10; Col 1:15-20); and He is the Word, the complete revelation of God, and so faith in Him brings life and joy and spiritual understanding (John 1:1-18; Heb 1:1-3). As we learn of Him through the Word, our secret sins and rebellious acts will be uncovered so that we might find forgiveness and gain the spiritual strength to resist great sin (1 John 1:7).
 Much of the material for this message is adapted from A commentary on the Psalms by Allen P. Ross.