I’m writing here at length so that I don’t turn a brief Scripture reflection on Sunday night into a seminary class. But one must at least grant my indulgence or my temptation to run long when I speak about Psalm 19; it’s simply profound.
Psalm 19 is one of the best places in the Bible to discover God’s intention for creation and for man.
In summary, the firmament and the sun speak to the world about God’s glory – His knowledge and His mighty works. The law further speaks to man so that he can further understand God and himself, and so that he can be pleasing to God.
The Sun – The Jewel of God’s Creation and the First Herald
The chapter starts in typical Hebrew fashion with a general statement – “The heavens declare the glory of God” – that is substantiated in the following statements. Specifically, the firmament and the sun proclaim God’s knowledge and show His great works – the product of His knowledge – to everyone on the earth. They can be seen, heard (v. 3), and felt (v. 6), and they are God’s first and constant message to His creation. They don’t just shout, “Mine!”, they scream, “Look at us and look at how awesome our God is!” They boast about God.
The progression in the Bible, in history, and in this chapter is: God first spoke to creation, creation speaks to the world, the law speaks to God’s people, (God’s people speak to themselves), and God’s people speak back to Him. Creation began with God’s speech as He spoke what would be to what was not. The light banished the darkness and emptiness. I see the sun as the jewel of God’s creation because it’s His great light, and it’s clearly the object of the heavens since the expanse of the heavens are its playground tent (v. 5). The sun frolics about over the earth every day, with the eager joy of a bridegroom and strong man before their moments of glory. Not to be overlooked, the moon (the lesser light, Gen. 1:16) also “reveals knowledge.” As such, the sun is God’s first messenger, an angel of sorts that prefigured and prefigures man, the law, Jesus, and the new creation.
Wake Up Call
The sun is literally man’s first awakening, his wake up call time zone by time zone.
While man is sleeping, God’s heralds are speaking and heating up the earth. The sun is the first great evangelist, and like all of God’s great evangelists, its main concern is to communicate God’s glory. God’s message, or inner thoughts, are certainly deeper than what the heavens declare, but He first gets man’s attention every day in the sky and sun. Man is intended to open his eyes by the sun’s light. In fact, sleep can be comparable to death, and our rising by the sun each day is a sort of resurrection – God’s ultimate wake up call.
I’m not trying to be strictly playful here, but man must first see the sun’s light before he sees the Son’s light. I think it’s fairly simple to say that if man rejects the awakening message of the sun, he will remain blind to Jesus Christ. Conversion does not have to begin with an apprehension of the heavens’ message, but eventually it must include it.
I think Jesus had special compassion on blind people because they could not see the sun’s light. Conversely, He had special rage toward the ones who were supposed to be declaring His glory, but instead they were “blind leaders of the blind.”
The Sun as John the Baptist
As a prefiguring herald, the sun is also like John the Baptist since it “utters speech” that prepares the world for something and someone greater. The sun is also a temporary and lesser light itself because it will give way to the glory of God’s eternal light in the new heavens. To wit, the sun is also not worthy to loosen the sandles of Jesus.
The Sun Speaks to Satan
As I mentioned above, the sun is God’s speech to what was not, or to the tohu vavohu – the formlessness and void of the primeval world. Among other things, it announced to Satan that God’s reign was beginning in time and space. In effect, Satan’s creation produced nothingness, it said nothing but the silence of blackness. In contrast, God’s vocal creation illumines and speaks simultaneously (Ps. 19:2-6). The sun listens to God, it only does His bidding. If we could say such a thing, if God were to be absent from His creation for a day, the sun wouldn’t come out because it only listens to His voice in the same way that Jesus’ sheep only hear Him. The Prince of the Power of the Air has no power over the heavens.
David was not concerned with abstractions, and despite using headings that make it appear that I’m viewing this chapter topically, neither am I. The meaning of the chapter is clearest in natural sequence, and the final description of the sun that David used was inescapable heat. This especially pulls the chapter away from abstraction because he described something that we all feel. But why, what is heat declaring?
I think heat conveys proximity while frigid cold speaks of isolation. The sun’s heat is God’s closeness and genius – or His knowledge and handiwork (vv. 1-2). I think the sun’s heat is also warning and judgment. Everyone knows that too much sun burns and kills, and God keeps the sun in perfect chemical proximity to the earth so that it mostly warms, revives, grows, and illumines. The sun is evangelistic and eschatological herald. When the heat of the sun is no longer constant in the new earth, the most prominent heat will be from the lake of fire. God’s judgement for good or ill is inescapable, nothing will be hidden from it (v. 6).
The Law is the Second Light
The law is not only the second light, but the second command or law system. The first is for the heavens and the second, Torah, is for man. The heavens speak to all of creation and to all men what God has commanded it to say. The sun goes out proudly every day across the earth because it has been commanded to do so. It is taking pleasure in obeying God like Jesus did. Fittingly, a heavenly voice declared God’s pleasure in Jesus’ obedience.
The heavens’ daily speech is about God’s creation rule, His law for everything He created in six days. The sun speaks about God’s order, reminding all things animate and inanimate that what God originally spoke is still in effect. The sun conveys God’s will out of the firmament so that it might still be “very good” on earth as it is in heaven. More than this, the heavens show a pattern for man, as if to say, “We obey God and it goes well with us, so should you.” It’s simply reasoning from the lesser to the greater – i.e., from the jewel of God’s creation to the crown of it, from the heavens to the earth, from the sun to man, from the heavens to the law. (Made in the image of God, man is quite obviously the crown of God’s creation (Ps. 8)).
A brief aside on good news. The day four creation – sun, moon, and stars – conveys good news. Although electronic media seems to reach every coffee shop and personal device on the planet, the sun will always reach farther with its good news of God. Though Al Gore and Satan may be behind the internet, as it spreads news of all kinds and tends to spread discouragement as it uncovers the world’s evil secrets. The sun’s scope and circuit are brighter and farther.
The easiest way to explain the transition in this chapter, is to say that the law begins where the sun leaves off. Or better, the law “perfects” (v. 7) or completes the suns illumination. Or even better, the law does to the inside what the sun does to the outside. It is so because the sun literally shows us our face and skin – all things superficial – while the law shows us our hearts – all things spiritual.
The sun shows us our faces, but the law shows us our hearts.
David’s first mention of the Torah comes abruptly in verse 7, but the parallel with his poetry about the heavens is obvious yet subtle. God’s law is the second light because it’s man’s second illumination. The sun’s light first hits man’s eyes, compelling him to know more about God and His greater revelation in the law. The law progresses beyond the heavens’ speech because it not only shows us our hearts, but God’s as well.
The firmament and the sun make a loud, indiscriminate, and perpetual speech (vv. 3-4), but the law is a precise whisper or conversation. The law was revealed indirectly to a single people at a certain time and place. However, it should be noted that the law can span the day and night (Ps. 1:2); in fact, the profound insights in this song are a result of David’s deep and constant meditation on the law.
The Law is the Second Wake Up Call
In verses 7-11, the law is extolled for what it is and what it does. It is perfect, sure, right and pure, and as a result, it revives, makes wise, rejoices and enlightens. Here also is the subtle continuity with the previous section, the law is also a progressive wake up call as it first brings man to life, teaches him wisdom, gives him gladness and new vision. Interestingly, the most superficial description of the eyes is saved for last, and I think it’s because God’s law gives us new eyes with which to see the world, God, ourselves, and our neighbors. This happens when the law is fully internalized and kept (v. 11). As a secondary light, we could also say of verses 7 and 8 that the law dispels the darkness of sin, simplicity, sadness, and blindness.
God’s law/testimony/precepts/commandment/fear/rules is beautifully diverse and synonymous with His nature, and as such, much more depth is attributed to the law’s properties and value than the heavens’. God uses His law to speak to the soul, the simple, the heart, and the eyes – to the entire inner man.
This is the point again, God’s law is the revelation of His inmost being, and it’s intended to transform our inward beings the same way the sun transforms everything that it shines on.
Jesus’ new commandment and the Holy Spirit are the ultimate tools for the same purpose – to make us like Him.
Verse 9 is a break from the participles of verses 7 and 8. Instead, it shows the result of the previous verses. The fear of the Lord is the beginning and the end of wisdom. A man gains a guiding reverence and fear of God after being revived, made wise, encouraged and enlightened. The final clause of the verse is simply a summary of the superlatives above – the rules or totality of God’s commands are completely true and just. They are an exhaustive light for the outside world and for the inside of man – there is nothing hidden from its heat (v. 10).
Gold, Honey, Great Reward
David commended God’s law as more desirable than the greatest treasure and the sweetest food. The commandments of the Lord warn of evil outside and in, and they grant great reward to the one who follows them. This is the pattern of Psalm 23 and of David’s life, and gold or honey couldn’t compare to the bounty that he received from the Lord. David was warned and protected from beasts, kings, foreign enemies, and traitors. He was rewarded for his devotion to the Lord and His law with a crown, wives, a kingdom, wealth, longevity, and a dynasty. David always exemplified what he commended; he spoke of the glories of God and His word from his experience and gratefulness.
The Light Inside
In the final three verses, David is compelled by the outward and inward light of God to think of his “hidden faults” and “presumptuous sins” (vv. 12-13). I think verses 12 and 13 also substantiate verse 11 because God’s word warned David of the danger of his errors, faults, and sins. Especially as a king, David knew the “great transgression” (v. 13) that an entire nation could commit if their king did not have “dominion” over his heart. He took careful notice of Saul’s progressive corruption, and he was first summoned by Saul to lighten the darkness of his disposition. Sadly, David’s hidden pride led to some of the greatest tragedies of his reign – the death of Uriah and his own child, as well as the death of thousands of Israelites after the census.
But the “great reward” of verse 11 was the innocence, dominion, and blamelessness of verses 12 and 13. In the same way that God valued a contrite heart over sacrifices, David valued inward cleansing as the richest reward, the source of his confident prayers, and the source of light. He knew that his inner light must match God’s light if he was to commune with Him. It must also be so for us (1 John 1:7). The law was of supreme value to David because it was the means for him to be close to his God. The sun was of special value to David because it showed the world God’s radiance.
As we should come to expect by now, the Hebrew Scriptures progressively clarify themselves – like the progressive enlightenment of the sun and law. The final verse summarizes and applies the preceding verses. David’s final supplication was to be pure and bright inside and out (v. 14). The laws properties and benefits (vv. 7-11) could make David acceptable in God’s sight. David tenderly called YAHWEH, “my Rock and my Redeemer” – my protection from evil inside and out, and the One who revives my soul. David prayed finally for illumination of mind and mouth, of thought and expression. This progression corresponds back to the speech of the heavens and the transformation of the law as the expression of God’s perfect meditations.
Final Note on Introspection
We can certainly be mysteries to ourselves, such that it is hard even to discern the source and nature of our errors. But let this chapter teach us how to examine ourselves. David called on God to absolve him. As for his part, he was going to keep the law’s prescription, which meant that he was going to put evil away from him (Ps. 101:3), he would not congregate with the unrighteous (Ps. 1:1), and he would delight in Torah by meditating on it steadfastly (Ps. 1:2).
Excessive introspection or misinformed self-examination can be dark because the light of our own wisdom, or even our friends’, is limited. It can’t compare to God’s perfect light. Psalm 19 reminds us beautifully of Jesus and 1 John 1, so let us do exactly what it says for the sake of dominion over sin and communion with God.