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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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PSALM 19

GOD'S WORKS AND GOD'S WORD DECLARE HIS GLORY THE WORLD BOOK, AND THE WORD BOOK

(FOR THE CHIEF MUSICIAN. A PSALM OF DAVID).

This magnificent psalm naturally falls into two divisions. "Ps. 19:1-6 describe the glory of God as seen in the heavenly bodies, especially the sun ... Ps. 19:7-14 deal with the excellence of the revelation of God in the Law."F1 Spurgeon called this psalm, "The World Book and the Word Book," both of them having been written by The Father.F2

"Ordinarily a hymn begins with a summons to raise a song of praise to the Lord; but here it is omitted; because the hymn began aeons ago when, `The morning stars sang together,' (Job 38:7) at the time of creation";F3 and the praise of God has continued without intermission throughout all ages and to the present time; nor shall it ever cease.

The Authorized Version is here superior to anything that has been offered in its place, as we shall observe in the following notes.

Ps. 19:1-4

The heavens declare the glory of God;

And the firmament showeth his handiwork.

Day unto day uttereth speech,

And night unto night showeth knowledge.

There is no speech nor language;

Their voice is not heard

Their line is gone out through all the earth,

And their words to the end of the world."

We cannot accept this rendition of Ps. 19:3, to the effect, as Rawlinson put it, that, "There is no speech; there are no words; their voice is not heard."F4

The King James Version here has the following:

"There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard." (Note that the word where is added).

What is taught here is not that the heavens are speechless, or that there are no words, or no sound; but that there are no human beings of whatever language which are beyond the reach of the glorious message thundering in the ears of all men from the starry heavens themselves. In other words, "There are no men anywhere on earth, regardless of what language they use, who are beyond the reach of what the heavens are continually saying in the ears of all men."

If this observation is not correct, let someone explain what is meant in Ps. 19:4, "Their line is gone out through all the earth; and their words to the end of the world."


 
Verses 1-3
The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament showeth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, And night unto night showeth knowledge. There is no speech nor language; Their voice is not heard.
(Psalms 19:4). The Anchor Bible renders the word line in this place as call, indicating some kind of a summons or declaration that would necessarily involve sound and words.

Oh yes, this writer is aware that no actual words or sounds are used; but that is simply not what the psalmist is saying here. He is declaring that the heavenly world is indeed delivering a message to mankind, regardless of where they live or what language they speak.

That our analysis here is correct is borne out by the fact that the Septuagint (LXX) renders the word "line" in Ps. 19:4 as "sound," and also agrees with the KJV in using "words" in the second line. The inspired apostle Paul quoted this place; and how did he render it?

"Their sound went out into all the earth,

And their words to the end of the world."

-- Rom. 10:18.

Yes indeed, the message of the sidereal heavens may easily be reduced to words (in whatever language); and what do they say?

The invisible things of Him (God) since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse (Romans 1:20).

The glory, power, and divinity of God are clearly taught by the marvel of Creation itself; and Paul declared that men are without excuse who refuse to see the "power and divinity of God" which is continually being shouted in their ears by the whole glorious Creation.

It must be pointed out, however, that there is no moral, ethical, or soul-saving revelation to be found in the World Book. The Word Book, namely the Bible, is the only source of that type of revelation.

In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun,

Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,

And rejoiceth as a strong man to run his course.

His going forth is from the end of the heavens,

And his circuit unto the ends of it.

And there is nothing hid from the heat thereof."


 
Verses 4-6
Their line is gone out through all the earth, And their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, And rejoiceth as a strong man to run his course. His going forth is from the end of the heavens, And his circuit unto the ends of it; And there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.
This emphasizes the manner in which the sun dominates the entire theater in which the earth is set. Far from worshipping the sun, as many ancients did, the psalmist regards it as an agent of God, who has set up a tent in the vast heavens for the sun's continual use.F5 This, of course, harmonizes with Genesis where it is revealed that the design of the starry host was not that of controlling men's destiny, or of receiving human worship, but of serving mankind by providing light at night for human use.

The status of the sun, not as a god to be worshipped, but as a servant of the purpose of God, is seen in the two beautiful metaphors used to describe it here. These are: (1) as a bride-groom living in a tent which God provided, and (2) as a strong man running a course assigned to him.

And there is nothing hid from the heat thereof…
Here is another remarkable instance of scientific accuracy in the Bible. One might say that nothing is hid from the light thereof; but that is not strictly true. The bottom of the ocean is a place of perpetual darkness, as are the caves of the earth; but all of the heat in the earth has its source in the sun. This is even true of the fossil fuels and of wood that is burned to provide heat.

The great pity is that many human ears do not hear the message of glory, power and divinity of God; but that cannot negate the fact and clarity of the message. It only indicates the inexcusable sin of those who will not hear, as Paul clearly stated in Rom. 1:20-21.

Why do some not hear? Maclaren noted that such deafness could be due to men's having, "Stopped their ears with the clay of earthly appetites and occupations, or stuffed them with scientific wadding of the most modern kind."F6 Regarding those who do not hear, they have missed hearing the only voice that is capable of reassuring and blessing mankind.

We may inquire, in what way do the heavens declare the glory of God? (1) Their vastness, which is beyond all human calculation is surely a witness of the omnipotence and wisdom of God. There are not merely trillions of the heavenly bodies, but trillions of trillions of them; no man, however learned, has ever dared to guess "just how many" there actually may be.

(2) The orderly and systematic behavior of the heavenly host speaks eloquently of a Designer, who could not possibly be anyone other than God Himself. This writer once saw in the principal Library in New York City a tabulation of every single eclipse of the sun during the last 2,500 years, giving the exact duration in minutes and seconds of every one of them, and also disclosing the part of the earth in each case where the eclipse would have been visible. Such order and design cannot possibly be imagined apart from the thundering truth that "There had to be a designer." And just who could that be except Almighty God?

(3) The heavens declare God's glory by their utility in demonstrating the uniqueness of the earth as the residence of mankind, a truth of the most amazing dimensions. A few years ago, Dr. A. Crescy Morrison wrote a little book called, "Man does not stand alone,"F7 in which he cited dozens of very unusual conditions on earth (many of them absolutely unique) that were absolute requirements before human life could possibly exist on our planet, stressing the obvious conclusion that human life existed by Design, not by chance. The existence of water itself was one of the things cited. If our earth was once part of the sun, how did it happen that the water did not all evaporate? Why is there no water anywhere else in the universe?

(4) The very beauty of the heavens is in itself a testimony of the glory of God. As even Solomon expressed it, "What a glory it is for the eyes to behold the sun."

(5) Such things as the speed of light and the incredible distances involved in such expressions as "light years" are totally beyond the power of finite minds fully to comprehend them, leading to a definite conclusion that the heavens themselves are some kind of an infinity, a fact that fairly shouts at mankind the corresponding truth that God is infinite.

(6) Notwithstanding many almost incomprehensible things which men have learned about the universe, one thing is absolutely clear and certain, namely that the entire sidereal Creation, moving at incomprehensible speed through incredibly vast distances, is operating under the most precise, invariable laws. Men have been able to decipher and catalogue many of these laws, such as that of gravity, the mutual attractiveness of bodies in space, the speed of light, etc.; and there cannot be the slightest doubt that Law prevails throughout the universe and to the remotest part of it. It is impossible to accept such a truth apart from the conclusion that there must also be "The Lawgiver!"

THE WORD BOOK

With Ps. 19:7, there is an abrupt change in subject matter to the Law of God; and, of course, critics have seen no connection between the two subjects and have postulated two separate psalms that somehow got melded into one. But there is no necessity whatever to accept such theories.

As Rawlinson expressed it: It is the law and order that pervade the material universe which constitute its main glory; and the analogy between God's physical laws and his moral laws is fully evident.F8

It was most natural, therefore, for the psalmist to include a reference to both laws in the same psalm. Furthermore, he gave a demonstration in this brief psalm of the reason behind two names for God, "[~'Elohiym]," meaning "the Creator," was used in the first division; and "Jehovah," generally used where God's revelation to mankind and/or his dealings with the Covenant people are in view. This name dominates the second section.

Also, it is an undeniable truth that sometimes various names for God are used merely as synonyms, as in the case where Jacob used five names for God in a single paragraph (Genesis 49:25,26).

The law of Jehovah is perfect, restoring the soul.

The testimony of Jehovah is sure, making wise the simple.

The precepts of Jehovah are right, rejoicing the heart:

The commandment of Jehovah is pure, enlightening the eyes.

The fear of Jehovah is clean, enduring forever;

The ordinances of Jehovah are true, and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than fine gold, yea, than much fine gold;

Sweeter also than honey and the droppings of the honeycomb.

Moreover by them is thy servant warned:

In keeping them there is great reward."

There are six synonyms used here for the Word Book, namely, the Old Testament, which was the Bible of that dispensation. These are Law, Testimony, Precepts, Commandment, Fear and Ordinances. These words seem to be merely different references to God's Word; but, as Taylor said, "What is here said about these words is of major significance."F9


 
Verses 7-11
The law of Jehovah is perfect, restoring the soul: The testimony of Jehovah is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of Jehovah are right, rejoicing the heart: The commandment of Jehovah is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of Jehovah is clean, enduring for ever: The ordinances of Jehovah are true, [and] righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the droppings of the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: In keeping them there is great reward.
This statement that God's Word is perfect does not correspond with what critics generally think. In 1 Cor. 13:10, That which is perfect is undoubtedly a reference to the completed Canon of the New Testament; but a critic of that view stated that, Such an interpretation fails to find any support in the Biblical usage of `perfect.'F10

The reason that the law of the Lord is perfect is that it is able to convert the souls of men, as witnessed by countless generations of the faithful. Nothing except God's Word has ever been able to register an achievement as important as that.

The testimony of Jehovah is sure, making wise the simple…
God's Word is dependable. A single sentence of it outweighs the opinions of a thousand of the most learned men who ever lived. The Word of God has withstood the unrelenting attacks of Satan for thousands of years; but every single word of it is not merely intact; it is still believed, trusted, and accepted as truth by millions of devoted people. Men who are ignorant of the Bible can never, in any sense whatever, be truly educated. Only God's Word has any dependable information about who man actually is, where he came from, what his duty is, and what is significant about his life. Only in the Bible can men learn of death, hereafter, the eternal Judgment, and many other subjects of the most urgent importance to all men. Without such a knowledge from the Bible, every man is a simpleton and will continue to be so.

The precepts of Jehovah are right, rejoicing the heart…
Precepts are not caused to be true merely by their being recorded in the Bible; but, because they are true, they are found there. True rejoicing of the heart derives altogether from that peace which passeth understanding, a peace from God Himself; and that is directly connected with respect for and obedience of God's precepts. As John Greenleaf Whittier put it:

"We search the world for truth; we cull

The good, the pure, the beautiful

From all old flower fields of the soul:

And weary seekers of the best,

We come laden from our quest,

To find that all the sages said

Is in the book our mothers' read!"

The commandment of Jehovah is pure, enlightening the eyes…
It is not physical eyesight that is in view here, but the human intellect. Animals are provided by their Creator with instinct to guide them; but men are privileged to be guided by the commandments of the Lord. Refusing or neglecting to obey them can result in the utter debauchery of men, a condition in which they sink even lower than the animals, indulging in shameful practices that instinct forbids even an animal to do.

The fear of Jehovah is clean, enduring forever…
The fear mentioned here is a reference to honoring God's commandments. The fact of its being clean, as Taylor said, It is free from all the abominations of pagan religions.F11

The ordinances of Jehovah are true and righteous altogether…
The only righteousness is that of keeping all the statutes and ordinances of the Lord. All thy commandments are righteousness (Psalms 119:172). The evangelist Luke, commenting upon the righteousness of Zacharias and Elizabeth, said concerning them, They were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, blameless. (Luke 1:6).

Ps. 19:10-11 here speak of the desirability of God's commandments.

More to be desired than gold. much fine gold. Sweeter than honey ... or droppings of the honeycomb…
These two lines are parallel, the droppings of the honeycomb, meaning the very finest of honey, corresponding to the much fine gold in the first line.

Walking in the statutes and ordinances of the Lord makes a noble and beautiful person in the sight of God and man; but gold never had any such ability; but on the other hand has betrayed some who either had it or sought it into the most shameful deeds, disastrous both to its owners and to others.

By them is thy servant warned. If not instructed in the truth of God's Word, men inevitably fall into the snare of the devil, a tragedy which is prevented by the timely warnings against sin to be found in the commandments of God.

In keeping them there is great reward…
What reward is comparable to that of God's approval? As Jesus said, Great is your reward in heaven! Apart from the promised reward of God's faithful servants in Christ, what does human life have to offer? Its pitiful struggle through the uncertainties of childhood, its pitifully brief years of maturity, its constant strivings for earthly success, its constant threat of disease and death, its awful brevity, and the promise of a grave at the end of the struggle -- that is what human life promises without the blessed hope of the resurrection to eternal life in Christ Jesus. The understatement here is amazing, In keeping them, there is great reward!

THE PSALMIST'S PRAYER

Who can discern his errors?

Clear thou me from hidden faults."

We should have expected such a prayer here. The contemplation of God's commandments always results in one's being conscious of the need of prayer.


 
Verse 12
Who can discern [his] errors? Clear thou me from hidden [faults].
This is not a reference to the faults, or sins, that are hidden from others, but from ourselves, as indicated by the first line. As an apostle stated it, I know nothing against myself; but that does not prove that I am justified.

Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins;

Let them not have dominion over me:

Then shall I be upright,

And I shall be clear from great transgression."

Presumptuous sins are the same as willful sins, against which there is a stem warning indeed in Heb. 10:26-31. Willful sins derive their temptation from thoughts that, "Maybe God will not care, just this once," or that, "Oh, we are under grace and not under law," or some other self-deception. The Lord says, "We are under law to Christ" (1 Corinthians 9:21).


 
Verse 13
Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous [sins]; Let them not have dominion over me: Then shall I be upright, And I shall be clear from great transgression.
There is no article in the Hebrew; but evidently some unusually significant transgression is meant. Maclaren explained this as, A designation for casting off the very pretense of worshipping Jehovah.F12

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart

Be acceptable in thy sight.

O Jehovah, my rock, and my redeemer."

This concluding prayer has been a favorite memory verse for thousands through the ages. It is a beautiful gem of spirituality in its own right.

"This last verse echoes the dual themes of the poem: the outward word and the inward meditation (coming from the contemplation of the heavens) of the psalmist."F13

The joining of the two themes of the psalm in this final verse is also, of course, a further witness of the unity of the whole psalm.


Footnotes for Psalms 19
1: J. R. Dummelow's Commentary, p. 336.
2: Charles Haddon Spurgeon, p. 85.
3: W. R. Taylor in The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 4, p. 101.
4: G. Rawlinson in The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 8, p. 129.
5: Leslie McCaw in The New Bible Commentary, Revised p.462.
6: Alexander Maclaren, Vol. 1, p. 190.
7: Fleming H. Revell Company.
8: G. Rawlinson in The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 8, p. 129.
9: W. R. Taylor in The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 4, p. 105.
10: Vol. 8, NTS, p. 215.
11: W. R. Taylor in The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 3, p. 106.
12: Alexander Maclaren, Vol. 1, p. 193.
13: Leslie McCaw in The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 463.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalm 19". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=ps&chapter=019>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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