February 19, 2017
A note to readers: Today’s post is part of a Sunday Voice Series by Dr. Timothy C. Tennent, a close friend, mentor and colleague of mine. He serves as the President of Asbury Theological Seminary among other posts he holds across the global church. This Sunday Voice Series will cover the Psalms, beginning to end, by focusing on a Psalm each Sunday. I can’t tell you how excited I am for his interest in contributing here. This will be a huge blessing to us all.
Psalm 19 (NIV)
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth.
The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the LORD are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is pure,
The decrees of the LORD are firm,
and all of them are righteous.
They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the honeycomb.
By them your servant is warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can discern their own errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.
This psalm is a celebration of God’s revelation. The first part of the psalm celebrates God’s universal revelation to the entire human race. We sometimes call this general or natural revelation. This general revelation is mostly observed in the external witness of creation and the internal witness of our consciences. This psalm outlines the great sermon of the created order: The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (vs. 1). We don’t often think of creation as proclaiming, but the psalmist reminds us that “day after day” the creation “pours forth speech” and “night after night” displays knowledge (vs. 2). What is this sermon of nature? Nature is a daily declaration of the beauty, order, dependability, and power of God. We can learn much about the Creator by observing his creation. The fact that the sun comes up every day and shines down on the world is a picture of God’s power and order shining down on the whole of humanity.
The latter part of the psalm moves from general revelation to special revelation. This refers to revelation which is not known universally, but has been revealed by God in specific acts in history. God revealed himself through prophets and through Holy Scripture: “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statues of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.” The psalm reverberates with praise for God revealing his mighty acts through law, statutes, precepts, commands and ordinances. This part of the psalm is a mini summary of that grand and majestic Psalm 119 which celebrates God’s law using eight distinctive words over and over in an intricate and nuanced act of praise.
It is also fascinating to notice how the psalmist interweaves the images of general and special revelation. When speaking of general revelation (vv. 1-6), he uses images which we normally associate with special revelation, such as speaking and the tent of meeting, which in these verses is now the proclaiming creation and the entire canopy of sky. When speaking of special revelation (vv. 7-14), the psalmist uses language we normally associate with the general revelation of nature such as universal access and the radiance of the sun’s light (vs. 8). This is a way of telling us not to separate out the beauty and majesty of nature from the revelation and self-disclosure of God. He has given both to us for our benefit and insight.
On a deeper level, this psalm ultimately points us to the Triune God. This psalm is captivated by the singularity of God’s ineffable presence. This is the first psalm in the psalter which contains no reference to enemies or the wicked (only 25 of the 150 can claim this). For Christians, this psalm draws us into the presence of the Triune God. The Father is the creator, and the voice of creation reflects His power, order and majesty. The Son is the redeemer, and he alone embodies the law of God so we could see first-hand what the righteous life actually looks like in real space and time. The Holy Spirit is the one who not only teaches us God’s truth, but empowers us to conform our lives to it (verse 14). Paul teaches in Romans that “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Rom. 2:20). The Triune God has spoken. He has spoken in creation. He has spoken in the law. He has spoken in Jesus Christ. His Holy Spirit now actively speaks in our lives, convicts us of sin, and whispers the truth of God’s revelations to all of humanity.