Psalm 19 – Cosmos and Torah

Bible opened to Psalm 19 with Green and Black's organic 85 percent cacao dark chocolate

Today’s passage: Psalm 19

Today’s chocolate: Green & Black’s 85% Cacao Dark Chocolate

We can easily divide Psalm 19 into two separate passages, each with its own theme. Verses 1-6 consider the universe and personify it as “telling of the glory of God” (1). Verses 7-14 consider the goodness of God’s law and teaching as given in scripture, as well as David’s personal response to God’s word. The two sections correspond roughly to the categories of general and special revelation–but this is a psalm here, not a theology textbook. Let’s dig in.

The first half of the psalm paints a picture of the cosmos as constantly praising God. According to David, the universe isn’t merely a set of objects in motion. It’s a message to anyone who will hear it, and it means something: specifically, it means that the God who created it is great enough to bring something so incredible into being. I’d hope that even the most dyed-in-the-wool materialistic atheists would be able to recognize this psalm’s beauty, even if they disagree factually with its premise. I can’t help but be reminded of Switchfoot’s song, “Stars,” in which frontman Jon Foreman sings, “When I look at the stars, I see Someone Else.” So, it seems, does David the Psalmist.

I expect that Paul had this idea from the Hebrew Bible in mind, perhaps even this particular psalm, when he began writing his letter to the Romans. The opening line of the psalm, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God, and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands” (1), calls to mind Paul’s words, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). Granted, Paul phrases it less poetically and more didactically, but he’s writing a letter to a church, not a song, so we’ll give him a pass.

The second half of the psalm extols God’s word. It repeats the form “The X of the Lord is Y, doing Z,” considering God’s law, testimony, precepts, commandment, fear, and judgments, and concluding that they are more desirable than gold and sweeter than honey (10). According to David, God shows his goodness to us by speaking to us in ways that benefit us, whether through commandments for our guidance, wisdom for our instruction, or rebuking for our discipline.

After surveying all the things God has spoken in his word, David writes:

Who can discern [Your servant’s] errors? Acquit me of hidden faults. Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not rule over me; then I will be blameless, and I shall be acquitted of great transgression. (12-13)

When David considers God’s standard, he realizes his own failure to measure up, and his own capacity for self-deception. We are not good people, and we want to believe we are good people more badly than we want to be good people. Recognizing sin in himself, all the ways he’s missed the mark, David realizes that whatever goodness he might possess is not enough. He’s counting on God for forgiveness, correction, and protection from falling into further sin.

I’m not entirely sure what the connection between the two sections of the psalm are; thematically, it could almost form two separate psalms. Perhaps it’s natural to move from contemplation of God’s created world to God’s word and one’s own moral smallness, but that’s a consideration for another time.

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