July 28, 2019
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 16:05 in the audio file.
Or, The Exacting Nature of God’s Revelation
Series: The Soundtrack of the Righteous
A part of me has had more trouble preparing to pring (preach-sing) this psalm than any of the first eighteen. A number of you have told me that God uses the Psalms to give you encouragement, and a number of you have told me that you were really hoping that I would get to Psalm 19. Here were are.
Psalm 1 is unlike all the rest because it’s rare that someone can’t read the first chapter in a book. Psalm 51 might be the next well known because of David’s repentance, and Psalm 22 because Jesus quoted it from the cross. Psalm 23, of course, is the Lord as our shepherd, and Psalm 42 is as a deer pants for water. But Psalm 119, for its length, and Psalm 19, for its brief brilliance, are two songs about revelation that Bible people really take note of.
Psalm 19 celebrates God’s obvious, joyful, clear, and life-giving communication. We use the term “natural revelation” for the first part of the psalm and “special revelation” for the second part. While I like those names, as descriptions they may give a different impression than what David intended. I say that based on his written response in the final three verses, and even in light of his evaluation in verses 10-11. This is not an apologetics text, not first, and it is not a lesson on Bibliology or Torah, not primarily. It is a celebration that the LORD God is not hidden from us and a humble acknowledgment that we, down to our souls, cannot be hidden from him.
This is a song, hence To the Choirmaster, written by the Shepherd-Poet-King David, that is about the loud and sweet communication of God to men so that they can be blameless and acceptable in His sight. It is a psalm about the exacting, demanding nature of God’s revelation, a revelation that requires attentiveness, obedience, dependence, and joy.
There are three movements to the song. We’ll see God’s glorious handiwork in the heavens (verses 1-6), God’s perfect word to His people (verses 7-11), and God’s gracious sanctification in His servants (verses 12-14). We’ll see the skies-speaking and scorching, the Scriptures-which are sure and sweet, and the Spirit-who searches and sanctifies.
More than a scientific observation, Psalm 19 opens with a supernatural big bang. An exclamation point would not be out of order.
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
The heavens and the sky above (or “expanse” NAS, “firmament” KJV) refer to the same thing, to the earth’s atmosphere and to the solar system beyond. They are loud and sustained, they declare and proclaim God’s mass of significance and His creative power. He “signs His work” (Donald Williams).
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
The communication that God gives rolls ever on; it does not quit, not that we need more than one day to get the point. As day fades to dusk gives way to dark and is overcome by light again in the morning, every hour of the day says something about Him. And it happens day to day, or day after day after week after century. Day taps Night on the should and says, “Your turn.” Sol and Luna rule for seasons and days and years (Genesis 1:14-19). Though the daylight gets emphasis starting in verse 4, there is an expanse visible through the dark.
The knowledge does not come audibly, not acoustically.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
This means that no matter what language a man speaks, he can hear and know the brilliance, and therefore by implication the existence, of God. There is immediate and ubiquitous translation. “Although a man could speak all languages, he could not speak to a Grecian and a Roman at the same time; for as soon as he began to direct his discourse to the one, the other would cease to understand him” (Calvin).
The heavens are like a measuring line that goes out through all the earth. Like a coast never runs out of water, so the earth never runs out of heavens. And their words to the end of the world. Wherever there is sky there is supernatural speaking.
Such communication is no drag to God.
In them (the heavens) 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. (verses 4c-5)
Two similes for the sun focus on glorious gladness to do it again. A bridegroom is one who is about to get married. A strong man is a warrior, pumped up for battle. Neither can wait. Both illustrate the sun that 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.
There is a tent that opens on both sides where the sun comes out and goes in, east to west, and “tyrannous rays hammering the hills” (C. S. Lewis).
In pagan mythology there was the sun-god, Helios, who rode his chariot on a circuit each day. His son, Phaethon, lived with a mortal woman, Clymene, and wanting proof of paternity asked to drive his dad’s chariot. But he was too young and the chariot crashed. David gives the sun personal purpose and emotion and vocation. He has a route to run, he loves to run it, and it is inescapable. David doesn’t depersonalize the sun, he says that the sun runs out of God’s tent as part of God’s handiwork that declares God’s glory.
This next section celebrates the active and audible words of God. David was writing down his lyrics, and Moses wrote the law, the Torah, but most of the Israelites singing this song knew the work of the word by listening.
There are six names for the Word, eleven characteristics, and four effects.
Six times of the LORD (Yahweh) is used with a noun in front, all synonyms for Scripture: law, testimony, precepts, commandment, fear, and rules. These have different nuances, especially fear, but they overlap enough.
The eleven characteristics extend into verses 10 and 11, but attached to the lines that include the six names, the Word is perfect (or blameless, which is used in verse 13), sure, right, pure, clean, and true. We can add enduring forever and righteous altogether as attributes in the second and fourth lines in verse 9. The other three characteristics get separate and extended attention in verses 10-11.
Before that, consider the four effects of the word. First, the law does the work of reviving the soul. Though we usually think about the law as telling us what we’re doing wrong, which it does, it also turns us in the right direction. The word reviving could be understood as “turning,” and so the law turns our hearts in the direction of life. It pulls your life together (MSG). The law hoists your soul flag up the pole again.
Second, the testimony does the work of making wise the simple. When we receive what the Lord says we are made mature, and learn to be wise, to have a skill for living. It lifts our souls, and it directs our paths (see also verse 11).
Third, the precepts do the work of rejoicing the heart. Turned to the Lord, following in His ways, we get joy. The sun runs with joy, and so we run our circuit according to the Lord’s directions and we have delight. The opposite of this is also true.
And fourth, the commandment of the LORD does the work of enlightening the eyes. The Word illuminates so that we can see. It enables us to establish connections and understand how things work, whether in the sky or in our souls, or in the souls of those around us.
With those descriptions and those effects, no wonder that the special communication of the Lord to His people is so valuable. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold. The precepts are more gooder than precious metal, refined seven times (Psalm 12:6). Money can open certain doors, but money can also blind a man, especially if he looks to money to rejoice his heart.
The rules are also sweeter than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Sweet has a definition, and you can see what honey looks like, but nothing is more potent than to put some on your tongue. Taste and see.
The eleventh characteristic is that the rules are rewarding.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
Not only do they keep us off the wrong path, they put us on the path to good. Can you imagine the contrast between David’s fearful certainty and the pagan’s fearful ignorance? They had superstitions, they didn’t have any sure word from their gods. All they knew was that the gods had enough power to hurt them, and no dependable way to keep the gods from hurting them.
There are encouraging, enlightening, “true and useful sentences” outside of the Bible, even written by unbelieving men. But they don’t compare to the Word.
The response to all of this is not to write a systematic theology book about natural and special revelation. The response to this is not even to sing a glorious, resounding song of worship. The response to this is the right sort of fearful, humble, prayer for forgiveness and cleansing. When we hear and taste we know that we are unworthy.
Even with the sun that cannot be escaped, and with the law that gets down deep, David still asks, Who can discern his errors? The answer is expected: no one. Whether it is because we can’t see, or we don’t want to see, we don’t see all of our sins. So he prays, Declare me innocent from hidden faults. He seeks forgiveness for how he has deceived himself from his own disobedience.
He also prays for help when it comes to obstinate and obvious sins that everyone knows about. Keep back your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me. He knows that he needs God’s help to follow God’s law. Though David doesn’t mention the Spirit by name, he’s looking for an inside job, for the invisible Spirit to do the work.
Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. His concern is a holy concern.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. (Verse 14)
This is a great prayer, one that applies any time we speak, any time we think. The LORD is the one with whom we have to do. He is the One with the perfect standards, and He is the One with the perfect sight of our souls. He knows. He knows what we need, what we’re made for, what kind of protection we require, what sorts of things please Him. Get humble and get His help.
Two inescapable words, in the created heavens and in the inspired Scripture.
Open your eyes and listen. Open your ears and taste.
There is a glorious God, and He knows the way of life.
His revelation is often seen but unheard, heard but untasted.
What is the most amazing part in this song? Isn’t it the final part? God is great, God’s Word is definitive, and God relates to us. His revelation is exacting; it demands our eyes, ears, tongues, and hearts. And it is our life.
When Solomon dedicated the temple he prayed a benediction, blessing the assembly of worshippers. Though our situation is not exactly the same as his, by God’s Word you are being built as the Lord’s temple (Ephesians 2:21), and it is so that all the people of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no other. He rules the skies, He revives souls, He goes with you.
The LORD our God be with us, as he was with our fathers. May he not leave us or forsake us, that he may incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his rules, which he commanded our fathers. (1 Kings 8:57–58, ESV)