Psalm 19 Study Notes


19:1 Although the heavens can refer to God’s dwelling place, here it is clarified by expanse, which is what can be seen from the perspective of those who live on the earth. This is the same Hebrew word as the expanse that separated water from water in Gn 1:6-8. Creation is sometimes personified as a witness to God’s work among his people, particularly in the covenant relationship he has with them (Dt 4:26; 30:19; Is 1:2). In this context one specific part of creation is personified as declaring and proclaiming a message. The parallelism between the glory of God and the work of his hands indicates that the objects of creation are demonstrations (or evidence) of God’s glory (50:6; 89:5-8; 97:6; Rm 1:19-20).

19:2-3 Pour out is literally “gush” or “bubble up.” This phrase is most often used for springs or fountains of water. The significance of the term here seems to be that speech never ceases. The concept is intensified by the doubling of the terms day and night. The message goes out all the time without ceasing. The paradox is that there is speech in v. 2, but there is no speech in v. 3. Although the same Hebrew term (’omer) appears in both verses, it is used differently. In the first instance it is equivalent to the message in v. 1; in the second instance it means words. Therefore, it is a message with clearly defined content, but it is not communicated with the words of human language.

19:4-6 While v. 2 says that the message comes at all times, v. 4 adds that it also comes to all places. The word for world (Hb tevel) is not the usual word for earth (’eretz in the first line), but it denotes dry land capable of sustaining life (9:8; 24:1)—in other words, the inhabited world. No one can escape the message either in time or in space, and everyone is accountable for the message (Rm 1:20). The focus turns from the more general heavens to the most obvious and spectacular object in them: the sun. It is also personified and compared to a bridegroom and an athlete. These images are used together to convey the idea of youthful strength, a concept that is elsewhere associated with the sun, especially when it rises (Jdg 5:31). The fact that nothing is hidden from the sun reinforces the idea that the message of God’s glory is as obvious as the most visible and powerful object in God’s creation.

19:7-9 The shift of subject between vv. 1-6 and vv. 7-14 seems abrupt. However, the common element in both cases is God’s revelation of himself and his purposes to mankind. In the first part of the psalm, it is God’s creation (general revelation), whereas in the second part, it is the words that God specifically communicated to his people (special revelation). On the Hebrew word torah as instruction, see note at 1:2. Perfect is a term that is often used in relation to sacrifices that are acceptable to God because they are “unblemished” (Lv 1:3,10) and without defect, but it can also refer to the perfect work of God (Dt 32:4). Renewing one’s life means the restoration of strength or vitality (1Kg 17:22; Lm 1:11). Making the eyes light up seems like an unusual idiom, but it makes a connection between light and truth, or more specifically knowledge and understanding of the truth (119:105,130; Pr 6:23). The fear of the Lord is the only subject in this list that involves human response to God’s instruction rather than a synonym for it. The concept involves obedience to God with an attitude of humility and reverence (see notes at 76:7; 103:17-18). Its inclusion further demonstrates the relationship between fearing the Lord and the knowledge and understanding of his truth (Pr 1:7; 9:10).

19:10-11 Gold and honey were valuable commodities in the ancient world, but God’s words are even more valuable (119:103,127). The warning and reward are both positive benefits of knowing God’s instruction because they keep God’s servants from straying off the path of righteousness and provide them with blessings (119:35; Pr 4:18).

19:12-13 Unintentional or hidden sins can represent those that occur with or without proper instruction. The question is rhetorical and assumes a negative answer. For this reason, continual cleansing is required for these sins. Willful sins are different in that they must be avoided or else they lead to being “cut off” from God and his people (Nm 15:30-31).

19:14 The final plea is that the psalmist’s speech and thinking (meditation, from the Hb root hgh; see note at 1:2) reflect what is acceptable to God. The language of sacrifice is used to show that life should be lived as a sacrifice to God (Rm 12:1).