Psalms 19

PSALM XIX

The heavens and their host proclaim the majesty of God, 1-6;

the excellence and perfection of the Divine law, 7-10;

its usefulness, 11.

The psalmist prays for pardon and preservation from sin, 12, 13;

and thy his Words and thoughts may be holy, 14.

NOTES ON PSALM XIX

The title of this Psalm has nothing particular in it; but it is

not very clear that it was written by David, to whom it is

attributed; though some think that he composed it in the

wilderness, while persecuted by Saul. For this opinion, however,

there is no solid ground. There is no note in the Psalm itself to

lead us to know when, where, or by whom it was written. It is a

highly finished and beautiful ode.

Verse 1. The heavens declare the glory of God] Literally, The

heavens number out the glory of the strong God. A first view of

the starry heavens strikes every beholder with astonishment at the

power by which they were made, and by which they are supported. To

find out the wisdom and skill displayed in their contrivance

requires a measure of science: but when the vast magnitude of the

celestial bodies is considered, we feel increasing astonishment at

these works of the strong God.

The firmament] The whole visible expanse; not only containing

the celestial bodies above referred to, but also the air, light,

rains, dews, &c., &c. And when the composition of these principles

is examined, and their great utility to the earth and its

inhabitants properly understood, they afford matter of

astonishment to the wisest mind, and of adoration and gratitude

even to the most unfeeling heart.

Verse 2. Day unto day uttereth speech] Each day is represented

as teaching another relative to some new excellence discovered in

these manifold works of God. The nights also, by the same figure,

are represented as giving information to each other of the

increase of knowledge already gained.

"The labours of these our instructers know no intermission; but

they continue incessantly to lecture us in the science of Divine

wisdom. There is one glory of the sun, which shines forth by day;

and there are other glories of the moon and of the stars, which

become visible by night. And because day and night interchangeably

divide the world between them, they are therefore represented as

transmitting, in succession, each to other, the task enjoined

them, like the two parts of a choir, chanting forth alternately

the praises of God."-Bishop Horne.

Verse 3. There is no speech nor language where their voice is

not heard.] Leave out the expletives here, which pervert the

sense; and what remains is a tolerable translation of the

original:-

Ein omer veein debarim, beli nishma kolam.

"No speech, and no words; their voice without hearing."

Bechol haarets yatsa kavvam: Ubiktsey thebel milleyhem.

"Into all the earth hath gone out their sound; and to the

extremity of the habitable world, their eloquence."

The word kau, which we translate line, is rendered sonus,

by the Vulgate, and φθαγγος, sound, by the Septuagint; and

St. Paul, Ro 10:18, uses the same term. Perhaps the idea here is

taken from a stretched cord, that emits a sound on being struck;

and hence both ideas may be included in the same word; and

kavvam may be either their line, or cord, or their sound.

But I rather think that the Hebrew word originally meant sound or

noise; for in Arabic the verb [Arabic] kavaha signifies he

called out, cried, clamavit. The sense of the whole is this, as

Bishop Horne has well expressed it:-

"Although the heavens are thus appointed to teach, yet it is not

by articulate sounds that they do it. They are not endowed, like

man, with the faculty of speech; but they address themselves to

the mind of the intelligent beholder in another way, and that,

when understood, a no less forcible way, the way of picture or

representation. The instruction which the heavens spread abroad is

as universal as their substance, which extends itself in lines, or

rays. By this means their words, or rather their significant

actions or operations, , are everywhere present; and thereby

they preach to all the nations the power and wisdom, the mercy and

lovingkindness, of the Lord."

St. Paul applies this as a prophecy relative to the universal

spread of the Gospel of Christ, Ro 10:18; for God designed that

the light of the Gospel should be diffused wheresoever the light

of the celestial luminaries shone; and be as useful and

beneficent, in a moral point of view, as that is in a natural. All

the inhabitants of the earth shall benefit by the Gospel of

Christ, as they all benefit by the solar, lunar, and stellar

light. And, indeed, all have thus benefited, even where the

words are not yet come. "Jesus is the true Light that lighteth

every man that cometh into the world." His light, and the voice of

his Spirit, have already gone through the earth; and his words,

and the words of his apostles, are by means of the Bible and

missionaries going out to all the extremities of the habitable

globe.

On these words I shall conclude with the translation of my old

Psalter:-

Ver. 1. Hevens telles the joy of God; and the werkes of his

handes schewis the firmament.

Ver. 2. Day til day riftes word; and nyght til nyght schewes

conyng.

Ver. 3. Na speches er, ne na wordes, of the qwilk the voyces of

thaim be noght herd.

Ver. 4. In al the land yede the soune of tham; and in endes of

the wereld thair wordes.

Ver. 5. In the Soun he sett his tabernacle; and he as a spouse

comand forth of his chaumber: he joyed als geaunt at ryn the way.

Ver. 6. Fra heest heven the gangyng of hym: and his gayne rase

til the heest of hym: nane es that hym may hyde fra his hete.

All the versions, except the Chaldee, render the last clause of

the fourth verse thus: "In the sun he hath placed his tabernacle;"

as the old Psalter likewise does. They supposed that if the

Supreme Being had a local dwelling, this must be it; as it was to

all human appearances the fittest place. But the Hebrew is, "Among

them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun." He is the centre of

the universe; all the other heavenly bodies appear to serve him.

He is like a general in his pavilion, surrounded by his troops, to

whom he gives his orders, and by whom he is obeyed. So, the solar

influence gives motion, activity, light, and heat to all the

planets. To none of the other heavenly bodies does the psalmist

assign a tabernacle, none is said to have a fixed dwelling, but

the sun.

Verse 5. Which is as a bridegroom, &c.] This is a reference to

the rising of the sun, as the following verse is to the setting.

He makes his appearance above the horizon with splendour and

majesty; every creature seems to rejoice at his approach; and

during the whole of his course, through his whole circuit, his

apparent revolution from east to west, and from one tropic to the

same again, no part of the earth is deprived of its proper

proportion of light and heat. The sun is compared to a bridegroom

in his ornaments, because of the glory and splendour of his

rays; and to a giant or strong man running a race, because of

the power of his light and heat. The apparent motion of the sun,

in his diurnal and annual progress, are here both referred to. Yet

both of these have been demonstrated to be mere appearances. The

sun's diurnal motion arises from the earth's rotation on its axis

from west to east in twenty-three hours, fifty-six minutes, and

four seconds, the mean or equal time which elapses between the

two consecutive meridian-transits of the same fixed star. But on

account of the sun's apparent ecliptic motion in the same

direction, the earth must make about the three hundred and

sixty-fifth part of a second revolution on its axis before any

given point of the earth's surface can be again brought into the

same direction with the sun as before: so that the length of a

natural day is twenty-four hours at a mean rate. The apparent

revolution of the sun through the twelve constellations of the

zodiac in a sidereal year, is caused by the earth's making one

complete revolution in its orbit in the same time. And as the

earth's axis makes an angle with the axis of the ecliptic of about

twenty-three degrees and twenty eight minutes, and always

maintains its parallelism, i.e., is always directed to the same

point of the starry firmament; from these circumstances are

produced the regular change of the seasons, and continually

differing lengths of the days and nights in all parts of the

terraqueous globe, except at the poles and on the equator. When we

say that the earth's axis is always directed to the same point of

the heavens, we mean to be understood only in a general sense;

for, owing to a very slow deviation of the terrestrial axis from

its parallelism, named the precession of the equinoctial points,

which becomes sensible in the lapse of some years, and which did

not escape the observation of the ancient astronomers, who clearly

perceived that it was occasioned by a slow revolution of the

celestial poles around the poles of the ecliptic, the complete

revolution of the earth in its orbit is longer than the natural

year, or the earth's tropical revolution, by a little more than

twenty minutes; so that in twenty-five thousand seven hundred

and sixty-three entire terrestrial revolutions round the sun, the

seasons will be renewed twenty-five thousand seven hundred and

sixty-four times. And in half this period of twelve thousand eight

hundred and eighty-two natural years, the points which are now the

north and south poles of the heavens, around which the whole

starry firmament appears to revolve, will describe circles about

the then north and south poles of the heavens, the semi-diameters

of which will be upwards of forty-seven degrees.

Coming out of his chamber] mechuppatho, from under his

veil. It was a sort of canopy erected on four poles, which four

Jews held over the bridegroom's head.

Verse 7. The law of the Lord] And here are two books of Divine

Revelation: 1. The visible HEAVENS, and the works of creation in

general. 2. The BIBLE, or Divinely inspired writings contained in

the Old and New Testaments. These may all be called the LAW of

the Lord; torah, from yarah, to instruct,

direct, put straight, guide. It is God's system of instruction,

by which men are taught the knowledge of God and themselves,

directed how to walk so as to please GOD, redeemed from crooked

paths, and guided in the way everlasting. Some think that

torah means the preceptive part of Revelation. Some of the

primitive fathers have mentioned three LAWS given by God to man:

1. The law of nature, which teaches the knowledge of God, as to

his eternal power and Deity, by the visible creation. 2. The law

given to Moses and the prophets, which teaches more perfectly the

knowledge of God, his nature, his will and our duty. 3. The law

of grace given by Christ Jesus, which shows the doctrine of the

atonement, of purification, and of the resurrection of the body.

The first is written in hieroglyphics in the heavens and the

earth. The second was written on tables of stone, and in many

rites and ceremonies. The third is to be written on the heart

by the power of the Holy Ghost.

Is perfect] temimah, it is perfection, it is perfect in

itself as a law, and requires perfection in the hearts and lives

of men. This is ITS character.

Converting the soul] Turning it back to God. Restoring it to

right reason, or to a sound mind; teaching it its own interest in

reference to both worlds. This is ITS use.

The testimony of the Lord] eduth, from ad,

beyond, forward. The various types and appointments of the law,

which refer to something beyond themselves, and point forward to

the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Some

understand, the doctrinal parts of the law.

Is sure] neemanah, are faithful; they point out the

things beyond them fairly, truly, and fully, and make no vain or

false report. They all bear testimony to the great atonement. This

is THEIR character.

Making wise the simple.] The simple is he who has but one end in

view: who is concerned about his soul, and earnestly inquires,

"What shall I do to be saved?" These testimonies point to the

atonement, and thus the simple-hearted is made wise unto

salvation. This is THEIR use.

Verse 8. The statutes of the Lord] pikkudim, from

pakad, he visited, cared, took notice of, appointed to a charge.

The appointments, or charge delivered by God to man for his regard

and observance.

Are right] yesharim, from yashar, to make

straight, smooth, right, upright, opposed to crookedness in mind

or conduct; showing what the man should be, both within and

without. This is THEIR character.

Rejoicing the heart] As they show a man what he is to observe

and keep in charge, and how he is to please God, and the Divine

help he is to receive from the visitations of God, they contribute

greatly to the happiness of the upright-they rejoice the heart.

This is THEIR use.

The commandment] mitsvah, from tsavah, to

command, give orders, ordain. What God has ordered man to do, or

not to do. What he has commanded, and what he has prohibited.

Is pure] From barah, to clear, cleanse, purify. All

God's commandments lead to purity, enjoin purity, and point out

that sacrificial offering by which cleansing and purification

are acquired. This is ITS character.

Enlightening the eyes.] Showing men what they should do, and

what they should avoid. It is by God's commandments that we see

the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and the necessity of redemption,

so that we may love the Lord with all our heart, and our neighbour

as ourselves. For this is the end of the commandment, and thus to

enlighten the eyes is ITS use.

Verse 9. The fear of the Lord] yirah, from yara,

to fear, to venerate; often put for the whole of Divine worship.

The reverence we owe to the Supreme Being.

Is clean] tehorah, from tahar, to be pure,

clean; not differing much from barah, (see above,) to be

clean and bright as the heavens; as purified SILVER. Its object

is to purge away all defilement, to make a spotless character.

Enduring for ever] omedeth laad, standing up to

PERPETUITY. The fear that prevents us from offending God, that

causes us to reverence him, and is the beginning as it is the

safeguard of wisdom, must be carried all through life. No soul is

safe for a moment without it. It prevents departure from God, and

keeps that clean which God has purified. This is ITS use.

The judgments of the Lord] mishpatim, from

shaphat, he judged, regulated, disposed, All God's regulations,

all his decisions; what he has pronounced to be right and

proper.

Are true] emeth, truth, from am, to support,

confirm, make stable, and certain. This is the character of God's

judgments. They shall all stand. All dispensations in providence

and grace confirm them; they are certain, and have a fixed

character.

And righteous altogether.] They are not only according to truth;

but they are righteous, tsadeku, they give to all their

due. They show what belongs to God, to man, and to ourselves.

And hence the word altogether, yachdav, equally, is added;

or truth and righteousness united.

Verse 10. More to be desired are they than gold] This is

strictly true; but who believes it? By most men gold is preferred

both to God and his judgments; and they will barter every heavenly

portion for gold and silver!

Sweeter also than honey] To those whose mental taste is

rectified, who have a spiritual discernment.

Honey-comb.] Honey is sweet; but honey just out of the comb

has a sweetness, richness and flavour, far beyond what it has

after it becomes exposed to the air. Only those who have eaten of

honey from the comb can feel the force of the psalmist's

comparison: it is better than gold, yea, than fine gold in the

greatest quantity; it is sweeter than honey, yea, than honey

from the comb.

Verse 11. By them is thy servant warned] nizhar, from

zahar, to be clear, pellucid. By these laws, testimonies, &c., thy

servant is fully instructed; he sees all clearly; and he discerns

that in keeping of them there is great reward: every man is wise,

holy, and happy, who observes them. All Christian experience

confirms this truth. Reader, what says thine?

Verse 12. Who can understand his errors?] It is not possible,

without much of the Divine light, to understand all our deviations

from, not only the letter, but the spirituality, of the Divine

law. Frequent self-examination, and walking in the light, are

essentially necessary to the requisite degree of spiritual

perfection.

Cleanse thou me from secret faults.] From those which I have

committed, and have forgotten; from those for which I have not

repented; from those which have been committed in my heart, but

have not been brought to act in my life; from those which I have

committed without knowing that they were sins, sins of ignorance;

and from those which I have committed in private, for which I

should blush and be confounded were they to be made public.

Verse 13. From presumptuous sins] Sins committed not through

frailty or surprise, but those which are the offspring of

thought, purpose, and deliberation. Sins against judgment,

light, and conscience. The words might be translated, Preserve thy

servant also from the proud; from tyrannical governors, i.e., from

evil spirits.-Bishop Horsley. So most of the versions understand

the place.

Let them not have dominion over me] Let me never be brought into

a habit of sinning. He who sins presumptuously will soon be

hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.

Then shall I be upright] Let me be preserved from all the evil

that the craft and malice of the devil or man work against me,

then shall I continue to walk uprightly, and shall be innocent

from the great transgression-from habitual sinning, from apostasy,

from my easily-besetting sin. He who would be innocent from the

great transgression, must take care that he indulge not himself in

any. See Bishop Horne. Most men have committed some particular sin

which they ought to deplore as long as they breathe, and on

account of the enormity of which they should for ever be humbled.

Verse 14. Let the words of my mouth] He has prayed against

practical sin, the sins of the body; now, against the sins of the

mouth and of the heart. Let my mouth speak nothing but what is

true, kind, and profitable; and my heart meditate nothing but

what is holy, pure, and chaste.

Acceptable in thy sight] Like a sacrifice without spot or

blemish, offered up with a perfect heart to God.

O Lord, my strength] tsuri, "my fountain, my origin."

My redeemer.] goali, my kinsman, he whose right it is

to redeem the forfeited inheritance; for so was the word used

under the old law. This prayer is properly concluded! he was weak,

he felt the need of God's strength. He had sinned and lost all

title to the heavenly inheritance, and therefore needed the

interference of the Divine kinsman; of HIM who, because the

children were partakers of flesh and blood, also partook of the

same. No prayer can be acceptable before God which is not offered

up in his strength; through HIM who took our nature upon him, that

he might redeem us unto God, and restore the long-lost

inheritance. Lord my helpar and my byer.-Old Psalter. He who is my

only help, and he that bought me with his blood. This prayer is

often, with great propriety, uttered by pious people when they

enter a place of worship.

ANALYSIS OF THE NINETEENTH PSALM

I. There are TWO parts in this Psalm. The first is doctrinal;

the second, penitential. The doctrinal part has two members:-

1. The first teaches us to know God by natural reason, from the

book of creation, Ps 19:1-7.

2. But because this way is insufficient to save a soul,

therefore in the second part we have a better way prescribed,

which is the book of the Scriptures; the excellences of which are

described, Ps 19:7-11.

II. The penitential part begins at the twelfth verse, for since

the reward to be expected proceeds from the keeping of God's law,

and David's heart told him he had not kept it, therefore, he begs

pardon and grace, Ps 19:12-14.

I. "The heavens declare," &c. By the glory of God we are to

understand his goodness, wisdom, power; in a word, all his

attributes, of which we have a double declaration:-

1. A testimony from the creatures, but especially the heavens,

whose magnitude, beauty, order, variety, perpetual motion, light,

influences, &c., declare that there is an omnipotent, wise, good,

and gracious God, who is their Creator; with this David begins:

"The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth

forth," &c.

2. The vicissitude of day and night, proceeding from their

motions, declares this also: "Day unto day uttereth speech," &c.

1. The heavens are diligent preachers; for they preach all day and

all night, without intermission. 2. They are learned preachers,

for they preach in all tongues: "There is no speech-where their

voice is not heard." 3. They are universal preachers, for they

preach to the whole world: "Their sound is gone through all the

earth," &c.

3. But among all these creatures the SUN, for which God in

heaven has set a throne, makes the fairest and clearest evidence,

and that in the three following ways:-

1. By his splendour, light, and beauty; he riseth as gloriously

as a bridegroom coming from under his canopy.

2. By his wonderful celerity, not only in revolving round his

own axis, which revolution, although he is one million three

hundred and eighty-four thousand four hundred and sixty-two times

bigger than the earth, he performs in twenty-five days fourteen

hours of our time, but also in the swiftness with which his light

comes to the earth. It travels at the rate of one hundred and

ninety-four thousand one hundred and eighty-eight miles in a

second of time; and reaches our earth in eight minutes and about

twelve seconds, a distance of ninety-five millions five hundred

and thirteen thousand seven hundred and ninety-four English miles,

at a mean rate.

3. His strange and miraculous heat, from which nothing is

hidden, and by which every thing is benefited.

II. But as the declaration, even from the most glorious of

creatures, is not sufficient to make men wise and happy, he has

been pleased to declare himself by his WRITTEN WORD, called here

the LAW generally; and is commended to us by the following

reasons:-

1. From the author: It is the "law of Jehovah."

2. From its sufficiency: It is "perfect."

3. From its utility: "It converts the soul:-gives wisdom to the

simple."

4. From its infallibility: "The testimony of the Lord is sure."

5. From its perspicuity: "The statutes of the Lord are right."

6. From the effects it works on the soul: "They rejoice the

heart." They quiet the troubled conscience; "being justified by

faith, we have peace with God."

7. From its purity: "The commandment of the Lord is pure." It is

opposed to all bad opinions and evil practices.

8. From its effects in the understanding: "It enlightens the

eyes." It dispels all darkness and ignorance, all doubts and

fears, diffidence, carnal security, false worship, &c., and gives

us to see our own deformities.

9. From its uncorruptness: "The fear of the Lord is clean."

Other religions are polluted with human inventions, strange

ceremonies, uncommanded sacrifices, false gods, &c.

10. From its perpetuity: "It endureth for ever." It is an

endless law, and an everlasting Gospel.

11. From its truth and equity: "It is altogether true and

righteous."

From all which David concludes, that it is both precious and

delightful.

1. The price of it is beyond the best gold: "More to be desired

than gold; yea, than much fine gold."

2. It is delightful: "Sweeter than honey and the honey-comb."

3. This he knew by his own experience: "Moreover, by them is thy

servant illuminated."

4. It is profitable to observe them: "For in keeping of them

there is, 1. A reward. 2. A great reward."

III. But this last consideration sent David to the throne of

mercy. What! a reward, a great reward! and only to those who keep

God's law? My conscience tells me that the reward is not for me; I

cannot plead this observance. David had public sins, secret faults

and errors, to deplore. But he had at hand three means of help: 1.

Confession of sin. 2. Petition for grace. 3. Faith in the

Divine mercy, through the great Redeemer.

1. He knew he was an offender, but he knew not how greatly he

had offended. He saw that he was guilty, and asked pardon. He

felt that he was impure, and asked cleansing: "Who can understand

his errors? cleanse thou me from my secret faults."

2. He prays that he may be preserved from presumptuous sins;

that he might not be hardened in transgression: "Keep back also

thy servant from presumptuous sins." For which he gives two

reasons: 1. If he were not kept back from them, sin would get the

dominion over him. Sin would become a king, who would command,

rule, and enslave him. 2. If thus kept back, he would be innocent

from the great transgression; for he that gets under the strong

habit of sin may at last deny God himself, renounce the blood of

the covenant, and become a castaway.

3. Lastly, that his prayer may be heard, he prays for his

prayer: "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart

be acceptable in thy sight." This is pleading, or supplication.

That prayer and supplication may be successful he acts faith in

God, whom he,

1. Claims as his strength; literally, his rock, by whom alone he

could resist and overcome.

2. His redeemer, through whom alone he could get pardon for the

past, and grace to help him in time of need. To this word he adds

nothing, as it includes every thing necessary to saint and sinner.

See the notes.

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