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Psalms Series Two

The Heavens Declare

Psalm  19

Lesson audio

One of the most neglected areas of Christian thought today is that of the glory of God. Our present thinkers are far too busy revising God’s words to fit the world in which they find themselves to be bothered with such an obsolete concept. Reality, however, has not changed – and we shall see how that affects us.

Glory of God in Nature

Psalms 19:1-6 NIV For the director of music. A psalm of David.

The heavens declare the glory of God;

the skies proclaim the work of his hands. (2) Day after day they pour forth speech;

night after night they display knowledge. (3) There is no speech or language

where their voice is not heard. [1] (4) Their voice [2] goes out into all the earth,

their words to the ends of the world.

In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, (5) which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion,

like a champion rejoicing to run his course. (6) It rises at one end of the heavens

and makes its circuit to the other;

nothing is hidden from its heat.

The concept of glory

The story is told (so far unconfirmed) that when the Voyager probes were being prepared for launch the scientists asked a music professor at Cal Tech (perhaps the music professor at Cal Tech) what he thought ought to be on the records included with man’s first expedition beyond the solar system. “Bach – nothing but Bach. We can apologize for the rest later.” To anyone who loves classical music the expression is understandable. Bach’s music is glorious.

Glory – what style is to the artist, glory is to God. If your ear is only attuned to the latest recordings, then consider another view. Bach’s motto was always sola Deo Gloria, “To God alone be the glory.” You can see the glory of God as well in the physical world as well. If you have ever camped overnight in the Mojave desert, you have seen it. First there are the stars; then at dawn the long shadows the magnificence of the mountains combined with the subtlety of the colors. God’s style – magnificent, as it should be.

Nature shows the glory of God

As we shall see in the next section, nature’s revelation of the glory of God parallels the revelation of the Scripture itself. The poem gives us its thought rhymes.

  • Heavens and skies. The phrase here accounts both for the atmospheric sky and the spatial heavens above that. They show us the glory of God – this is how God does things, not sparingly but lavishly, in power. The Christian will find them a source of knowledge – a remarkable statement in a time 2500 years before modern science. But it is so; in the orderly movement of the stars we can see the utter consistency to God; he is true to himself, and his works reflect this.
  • Day and night. It does not matter when you are looking; nor, for that matter, where. The physical and natural universe show the character of God at all times – a reflection of the constancy of God. There is no “shadow of turning” with God.
  • Pour forth speech. It’s plain and evident – anyone who wants to look will see the glory of God. But in no sense can you say it’s forced on you; God does not yell at you in nature. You have to listen, for nature has no words – only signs of triumph. You must learn to listen.
Dominating element – the sun

To an observer in Palestine one physical fact would be most obvious: everything feels the heat of the sun. David will shortly match this up against God’s law, in particular the Ten Commandments. If you’ve ever been in the Mojave in August, you know the feeling. Even indoors, under the air conditioner, lemonade in hand you know it’s hot. The sun is the dominant fact of life; its effects are felt everywhere. It is the one agent from whom nothing can hide. As such, it is the symbol of the Ten Commandments and a forerunner of the Christ.

A note about poetry

You should note that David makes a sharp transition in verse seven. He’s expecting the listener to make the connection. This description of the glory of God revealed in nature will now have its echo in the glory of God revealed in the Scripture, particularly the commandments. (I told you to watch out for the thought rhymes; this one in particular is perhaps subtle at first, but once you see it, the parallel is powerful indeed).

The Glory of God in His Law

Psalms 19:7-11 NIV The law of the LORD is perfect,

reviving the soul.

The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,

making wise the simple. (8) The precepts of the LORD are right,

giving joy to the heart.

The commands of the LORD are radiant,

giving light to the eyes. (9) The fear of the LORD is pure,

enduring forever.

The ordinances of the LORD are sure

and altogether righteous. (10) They are more precious than gold,

than much pure gold;

they are sweeter than honey,

than honey from the comb. (11) By them is your servant warned;

in keeping them there is great reward.

(The reader will note that there is not a verse-by-verse thought parallel. Verses were added much later, and they do not always reflect the real structure of the Psalm).

Glory of God in His Word

David now takes us through the glory of God as shown in the Scriptures:

  • Law and Testimony. David starts with something that would have been a very present fact to him: the Ark of the Covenant, or as it is sometimes referred to, the Ark of the Testimony.[1] In doing this he reminds his hearers of the giving of the Ten Commandments – a list so profound that three thousand years later it still stands as the definition of Judeo-Christian morality. It also reminds the Israelites of the way God delivered them from Egypt – with a mighty hand. But God’s glory is shown not only in his might and power, but also in his forgiveness and forbearance. The Ark contained not only the tablets of the Law, but also manna – a reminder of God’s providence for his people. It had Aaron’s rod, the reminder of the power of God used to rescue his people. Commandment, mercy and power – still reminders of God’s glory to us today.
  • Statutes and commandments. It’s easy for us to focus on concise statements like the Ten Commandments. But we must also remember that God gave far more instruction than that, both in the time of the Israelites and in our own. The sign of God’s glory is this: unlike man’s laws, God’s laws always fit together. If you’ve ever done your taxes by hand, you’ll understand this one.
  • Fear and judgments. We are reminded here that God is still awesome; what he did to Pharaoh and Egypt he can do to anyone. He is not the kindly grandfather who wants you to be blessed; he is the Father who wants you to be like him. To that purpose he tells you to fear him (as Pharaoh didn’t) and beware of his judgments.

The parallel to the desert sun is fairly obvious. The sun scorches everything in the desert – but is also the source of life and energy. The Word of God searches us out:

Hebrews 4:12 NIV For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

As the sun seems to seek out every living thing in the desert, so the word of God seeks out every living human being.

Carrot and stick

You cannot train a man without penalties for failure, nor without rewards for success. The striking thing about the word of God is how desirable is the study thereof. This author has been teaching the Scripture for over thirty years as of this writing, and it is clear: reading the word, studying it and taking it into the heart, these things are actions of joy. I read through the Bible each year; each year I discover new things, new insights that bring light to my mind.

This is not to say there is no negative to it. The stick is there with the carrot; you need to know that there is such a thing as sin, and that it has consequences which are not pleasant over all. It is much better to be guided away from trouble than to be able to say that you went through it.

Ultimately, though, the study of the Scripture reveals the glory of God – and thus provides its own reward. Most of those who complain of how hard the Scriptures are to read are those who have never tried it.

Man’s Response

Psalms 19:12-14 NIV Who can discern his errors?

Forgive my hidden faults. (13) Keep your servant also from willful sins;

may they not rule over me.

Then will I be blameless,

innocent of great transgression. (14) May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart

be pleasing in your sight,

O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

David points out something here that we have almost forgotten. We are so used to the “good buddy Jesus” religion of our day that we don’t like to deal with the awesome God. He asks us a question: if God made a mistake, how would you know it? It is the definition of futility itself. You can’t know it. It’s like saying gravity should have been weaker – it might help with your weight loss program, but it’s completely absurd even to make such a judgment. Let’s remember just who is God – and who is not.

Cleanse and keep

What then is the proper reaction of man to the glory of God?

  • First, as the sun seeks out all the living in the desert, so we should ask God to seek out all the secret faults we have – the ones we won’t share with anyone else. We should ask him to cleanse us from them – and keep us that way.
  • Next, we must ask him to keep us from the dominion of presumptuous sin. Presumptuous? “Me and Jesus in the phone booth” is presumptuous. Do we treat God like our good buddy? If we do, that sin will soon gain dominion over us; we will come to enjoy treating God as our equal. That is so hard to break.
  • Finally, we ask him to keep us from the “great transgression” – the unforgivable sin. What is that? The sin which you deny as being sin – is unforgivable. For first you must admit your sin – and if you will not take that first step, you will not be forgiven.

David ends with his prayer for himself.

  • He summons up both word and thought – “words of my mouth” and “meditations of my heart” so that his plea will not be words only and hypocritical.
  • He asks that these be acceptable to God. Note, he does not ask that they be perfect, for perfection belongs to God alone. It is a note of humility in a great king.
  • Finally, he acknowledges God for who he is. He is my redeemer, the one who forgives my sins and snatches me away from the penalty of hell. He is also my strength, ready to sustain me in the temptations and trials of life.

[1] See, for example, Exodus 25:16

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