Singing with Jesus – Psalm 19: What the Artist Means

 

19 To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

1 The heavens declare the glory of God, / and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. / Day to day pours out speech, / and night to night reveals knowledge. / There is no speech, nor are there words, / whose voice is not heard. / Their voice goes out through all the earth, / and their words to the end of the world. / In them he has set a tent for the sun, / which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, / and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. / Its rising is from the end of the heavens, / and its circuit to the end of them, / and there is nothing hidden from its heat. / The law of the Lord is perfect, / reviving the soul; / the testimony of the Lord is sure, / making wise the simple; / the precepts of the Lord are right, / rejoicing the heart; / the commandment of the Lord is pure, / enlightening the eyes; / the fear of the Lord is clean, / enduring forever; / the rules of the Lord are true, / and righteous altogether. /  10 More to be desired are they than gold, / even much fine gold; / sweeter also than honey / and drippings of the honeycomb. / 11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned; / in keeping them there is great reward. / 12 Who can discern his errors? / Declare me innocent from hidden faults. / 13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; / let them not have dominion over me! / Then I shall be blameless, / and innocent of great transgression. / 14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart / be acceptable in your sight, / O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.[1]

Many decades ago, I was in a wind ensemble playing a modern composition based on the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Our director had his own interpretation of the work, explaining how the repetition of a certain chord in a rhythmic pattern represented Morse code sending out the news of the invasion on telegraph wires. Fascinating – until the composer came to conduct the piece for us. And when our director began to share his insights into the meaning of the Morse code rhythms, the composer shot down the interpretation. “No,” he said, “it has nothing to do with telegraphs.” He explained it was simply a feature of modern musical composition.

Who knows better about the meaning of a symphony than its composer? Who knows better about the meaning of life, the universe, and everything than the one who composed and arraigned it? An artistic composition can have many interpretations and numerous speculations, but without the artist’s explanation, we are all left to our own imaginations. What can we know about God from observing his creation?

I enjoy watching nature shows on television – everything from birds to bugs, elephants to echinoderms. But if all I could know about God came only from the book of creation, I could just as easily conclude that God was at least dispassionate – if not downright malevolent. Just watch one scene of a Cheetah stalking and killing a baby gazelle. Or, turn on the daily news and watch the latest string of robberies and murders and military aggressions played out at home and across the world. Not all of creation is sweetness and light.

The point of Psalm 19 is that as amazing as the created universe may be, it isn’t alone sufficient to tell us about God. It can tell those who observe that there IS a Creator. But it can’t tell us what the artist intended. Two books are required to tell us about knowing God. The book of Torah puts the true meaning into the book of creation. This psalm, as you may have guessed from verse 14, is a meditation on knowing God.

BOOK OF CREATION (19:1-6)

You will notice the psalm breaks down into three major sections. Verses 1-6 deal with the natural world. Verses 7-11 deal with God’s direct revelation of himself in scripture. Verses 12-14 deal with sin and innocence. So, we could break it down into three sections: creation, scripture, and conscience. Those are the three volumes into which God writes his revelation. One book is visible and sings without words. One book is verbal and specific. And both must be written into the human conscience.

Range

In verses 1-6, David sings about how God writes in the book of creation. He begins, “The heavens are telling the glory of ‘El….” [2] You may know the word “glory” carries the idea of weight or heaviness. In David’s era, you could measure someone’s significance by the weight of his possessions. Wherever gold or silver are mentioned in the OT (and sometimes the NT), it is measured by its weight. So, the universe is crying out about the very “Godness” of God, his utter transcendence (‘El being God’s name transcendent creator) revealed in the thing he has made.

David sings of the range, or scope, of God’s book of creation. It is perpetual, “Day to day … night to night….” The picture is of the universe as a great temple with two choirs chanting antiphonal praises back and forth (like the seraphim of Isaiah 6). The day choir sings back and forth: “God is glorious!” The night choir calls and answers: “God is glorious!” And these choirs chant in a language that knows no barrier of words. Everyone, regardless of their tribe, or tongue, or nation can not only hear the singing but also understand the simple lyrics: God is glorious. God’s existence is not hidden from mankind. As Paul wrote in Romans 1:

19 For what can be known about God is plain to [mankind], because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.[3]

Beauty

The range of God’s revelation is the entire universe. But David also sings of its beauty. He illustrates the beauty in two ways. First, in verse 5, he sings that the sun comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber. I love to perform weddings. As the preacher, my job is usually to enter with the groom. So, I know a little bit about the excitement of a groom about to walk down the aisle. There is always a great deal of nervous excitement and anticipation as the groom begins his walk down front to wait for his bride. There is excitement and anticipation of great joy as he sees his bride adorned for her husband (Rev. 21:2).

Second, David says the sun “like a strong man, runs its course with joy.”[4] “The sun has the speed of a sprinter and the endurance and strength of a marathon runner.”[5] It takes joy in doing what it was created to do. It’s a picture of the unexhaustive revelation God has given. It never quits singing as it runs its course, “The hand that made me is divine.[6]

BOOK OF TORAH (19:7-11)

Near Eastern religions associated the sun with righteousness and law. That’s reflected in many Old Testament passages (e.g., Job 38:12–15); it gives us insight into the link between the celebration of the sun in the conclusion of the first stanza and of the celebration of God’s law in the second stanza. The physical light of the sun that exposes the hideaways of the wicked corresponds to the spiritual light of the law that exposes hidden sins.[7]

Because the Creator of all things knows comprehensively, he knows absolutely and certainly. The heavens declare that God’s knowledge is vast. So, his special revelation is based on his comprehensive knowledge as Creator; God alone sees the whole of what actually is. God alone knows exactly and completely how things work and why he designed everything and everyone exactly as he did.[8] God alone sees the faults I hide from myself (19:12).

The book of creation declares God’s glory. But that is all it can do. It is mediated revelation. Only Torah (God’s special direct revelation, his teaching about himself), “is perfect, / reviving the soul….”[9] ‘El (the transcendent creation name) is now replaced with I AM (covenant-making God of Israel) in the second part of this psalm. The transcendent God has become personal and present in this second stanza (Ex. 6:7, I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God).

In verses 7-10, David gives Torah several names: Law, statutes, precepts, commands, fear of I AM, and court verdicts (or judgments). He describes the Law’s quality: perfect, reliable, right, clean, pure, firm. And he lists its results: renewing, making wise, rejoicing, and enlightening.

The sunrise may be beautiful but it cannot transform your wicked heart. You need something more than the book of nature; it cannot produce humility, love, joy, peace, or patience. You need the composer to tell you what it truly means. You cannot know from the sun’s joyful running that you were created to glorify God in thought, word, and deed, and to enjoy him forever (8b, rejoicing the heart … 8d, enlightening the eyes).

You might find it deeply disturbing to hear of another gunman going on a killing spree or to read about yet another nation threatening to annihilate its neighbor. But unless you truly hear Torah, you will never know WHY such things happen. You will never be forced to deal in any meaningful way with the problem of sin. You will never begin to see the wickedness of your own self-worshipping heart and all the ways it strives to build its own personal “kingdom of me” at the expense of everyone and everything that stands in its way (Rom. 3:20).

Paul wrote of the work of Torah in Romans 7:

…if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. …For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. …12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. [10]

THAT doesn’t sound very sweet, does it? And yet David sings Torah is “sweeter also than honey / and drippings of the honeycomb.” [11] David finds great delight in all the teachings of Torah. He doesn’t sing, “Sweet are the history stories Moses wrote” – as if the accounts of Adam, Eve and the Patriarchs are a happy read but all those rules and regulations are kind of stifling and dull. Forget the rules and regulations for a minute and focus on how the story of Adam’s rebellion could be sweet. How sweet was it for Abraham to tie up his promised seed, Isaac, on an altar and raise a knife to kill him as a sacrifice? How sweet was the destruction of the entire world save for Noah and his family?

Paul wrote to Timothy (2 Tim. 3:15-17):

…from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.[12]

The scriptures of Torah, even in David’s day well before the major prophetic books were written, were constantly pointing to Messiah Jesus. In 1 Chronicles 25, we read how messiah David set up three hymn writing teams, each with a writer and several chief musicians to oversee music writers (288 musicians in 24 teams of 12).[13] David and his “factory” of psalm writers wrote about the Messiah to come. Hundreds of years later editors arranged all the psalms of Israel’s temple into this collection we’re studying with the intent of pointing to the promised Davidic King to come so that worshippers could be (as Paul said) made wise for salvation.

Paul comments in Romans: “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed: ‘Their sound has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world’” (10:18). Paul is saying that the Gospel is as cosmic as the cosmos.[14]

THAT is what makes Torah sweeter … than honey. Torah isn’t sweet because it reveals that Adam was good, or Abraham was good, or Moses was good, or David was good. It isn’t sweet because it contains keep-able rules that will help me be a better me in the “kingdom of me.” It is sweet because the perfection Adam lost by breaking God’s Torah, Messiah earns and offers freely, apart from human attempts at merit, to all who will repent of their false righteousness and humbly, gratefully take the perfection he alone offers and the sacrificial payment he alone had made.

Torah shows the promise of the Seed of the Woman given to Adam and Eve and restated to Abraham, sung about by David and Jerusalem’s Music Row, and revealed fully and finally in Messiah Jesus who is the sum total of God’s Torah, his self-revelation. Our resident Psalm scholar, St Author of Hebrews wrote:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. [15]

BOOK OF CONSCIENCE (19:12-14)

God has revealed his glory in the book of nature. God has revealed his saving grace in the book of Torah. But there is another place God must write for us to find joy in his two books of revelation. As you left for church this morning perhaps you passed some of your neighbors jogging, or you saw the guy across the street packing his golf clubs into his trunk or his fishing rods into his boat.

Many of them who still acknowledge the existence of some higher power might tell you they can worship God by being out on the lake, or the golf course. My guess is that when your neighbor has taken his third swing from the depths of a sand trap or has spent 5 minutes struggling with the snarled bird’s nest of line on his fishing reel that he is definitely NOT worshipping God at that moment for afflicting him.[16]

You can stare at the night sky every night of your life; you can bathe in the warmth of the sun running its joyful course across the sky your entire life. But being out in nature cannot and will not soften your heart and bring you to delight in God. God must write in our consciences, in our hearts. The most brilliant scientific minds of our age have fascinating theories of how the universe was formed and how it works. But few, if any of them, have any idea of what it all means. They cannot know; they will not know unless God writes his Torah on their hearts. [17]

David used quite a few words to describe Scripture in verses 7-11. Now he describes sin: errors, hidden faults, presumptuous sins, and that which can have dominion. The psalmist sings that he cannot know his own sins. By definition, if his faults are hidden, he cannot know them. By definition, no person can discern their hidden errors.[18] David is begging for a declaration of innocence from crimes he cannot even know he has committed because he is blinded by his own self-focus! There are sins he cannot even confess and renounce, sins for which he cannot offer a sacrifice.

You see what messiah David is singing in these lyrics. The problem is NOT in the cosmos. The problem is not in the scriptures. The problem is in his own deceitful heart that refuses to see all the sins of thought, word, and deed it does every day the sun runs its course and every night the stars sing out to the glory of God! Where is the honey sweetness of that? Where is the joy?

The sweetness of Torah is that there is good news to cancel the bad news. The sweetness of Torah is that it shines a light on the depths of my self-deceit and self-love AND it offers a cure. God has written into David’s conscience; David prays for a declaration of innocence even from the sins he cannot see. Then he prays for a change of heart to begin to live out of the truth of that one-way love only I AM can offer so that his thoughts and words are accepted by the redeemer God.

What was sweetness and joy to messiah David can be even sweeter and more joyous to you this morning. David could only look forward to that perfect sacrifice for all his hidden sins, but he could not know when his greater Son would come and how Messiah would bring it about.

But you can know that one-way love has come through Messiah Jesus.  You can sing with Paul, “There is therefore now no condemnation of sin for those that are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). You have this from Torah to claim this morning:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.[19]

“The rising of the sun, which the high poetry of the Bible regards as an exultant bridegroom and a racing giant, is itself a law and a Gospel, announcing the godly order of the one and the godly promise of the other. From the beginning of His Word to us, when His hands spread out the heavens above us, until that end when He will roll them up as a scroll, God’s message is a unified poetic text of order, promise, and hope.”[20]

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ps 19.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ps 19:1.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ro 1:19–20.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ps 19:5.

[5] Waltke, et. al., 363.

[6] Sinclair Ferguson, The Gospel of God in the Psalms of David: Knowing God. Ps. 19:1-24. Accessed 4/22/17 at: http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=229121128291

[7] Waltke, et. al., 355.

[8] Id., 356–357.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ps 19:7.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ro 7:7–12.

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ps 19:10.

[12] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), 2 Ti 3:15–17. Emphasis added.

[13] Michael Lefebvre, Singing the Songs of Jesus: Revisiting the Psalms (Ross-shire, Christian Focus Publications, 2010), 34-35.

[14] Reardon, Patrick Henry. Christ in the Psalms (Kindle Locations 1097-1099). Conciliar Press / Ancient Faith Publishing. Kindle Edition.

[15] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Heb 1:1–4.

[16] Ferguson, op. cit.

[17] Id.

[18] Waltke, et. al., 371.

[19] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Eph 1:3–6.

[20] Reardon, (Kindle Locations 1104-1107).