Two quotations help to introduce this psalm. The first is from the German philosopher Immanuel Kant: “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing wonder and awe, the more often and the more seriously reflection concentrates upon them: the starry heaven above me and the moral law within me.” The second is from the well-known Christian writer C. S. Lewis: “I take this [Ps. 19] to be the greatest poem in The Psalms and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.” The church lectionary assigns this psalm to be read on Christmas Day, when the “Sun of Righteousness” came into the world (Mal. 4:2) and the “Living Word” was laid in the manger (John 1:14). The emphasis in the psalm is on God’s revelations of Himself in creation, Scripture, and the human heart.
The Worlds Around Us—God the Creator (vv. 1–6)
David focused on the heavens above him, especially the circuit of the sun; but there are many worlds in God’s creation. They include the earth beneath our feet, the plant and animal worlds on earth, in the skies and in the waters, the human world, the world of rocks and crystals, worlds visible to the human eye, and worlds so small we need special equipment to see them. World famous biologist Edward O. Wilson claims there may be as many as 1.6 million species of fungi in the world today, 10,000 species of ants, 300,000 species of flowering plants, between 4,000 and 5,000 species of mammals, and approximately 10,000 species of birds.16 But these large numbers pale into insignificance when you start examining the heavens, as David did, and begin to calculate distances in light years. David knew none of this modern scientific data, and yet when he pondered the heavens, he was overwhelmed by the glory of the Lord.
The Jewish people were forbidden to worship the objects in the heavens (Ex. 20:4–5; Deut. 4:14–19; 5:8–9), nor were they allowed to practice astrology (Isa. 47:13–14; Jer. 10:1–5). They worshiped the Creator, not the creation (Rom. 1:25). The existence of creation implied the existence of a Creator, and the nature of the creation implied that He was wise enough to plan it and powerful enough to execute His plan and maintain what He had made. So complex a universe demands a Creator who can do anything, who knows everything, and who is present everywhere. But even more, David knew that God was speaking to the inhabitants of the earth by means of His creation. Creation is a “wordless book” that everybody can read because it needs no translation. God speaks through creation day after day and night after night; His speech “pours out” silently, abundantly, universally.
In Romans 10:18, Paul quoted verse 4 as part of his explanation of why Israel rejected the Gospel and what this rejection did to the nation. The Jewish people could never say that they had not heard God’s message, because Psalm 19:4 says that the whole world has heard. Therefore, both Gentiles and Jews stand guilty before God and need to be saved through faith in Jesus Christ, and we must take the salvation message to them (Rom. 10:1–15). Paul quoted from the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, which uses “sound” (voice) instead of “line,” but the sense is the same. Some translators use “influence” instead of “line.” God’s voice of power in creation prepares the way for His voice of grace in the Gospel. When Paul preached to Gentiles, he started with creation and then moved into the Gospel message (Acts 14:14–18; 17:22–31). Phillips Brooks gave the first instructions about God to Helen Keller, who was blind and deaf, and she replied that she had always known there was a God but didn’t know what His name was. Our task is to tell the world that His name is Jesus (Acts 4:12).
David was an outdoors man and often watched the sunrise and sunset, and what he saw day after day reminded him of a bridegroom leaving the marriage pavilion to claim his bride,17 and a vigorous athlete running a race. The first image speaks of glory (the groom was richly attired), love and anticipation, while the second speaks of power and determination.
But in spite of this universal message that pours out day and night to the entire world, most people ignore it and reject God because they want to live as they please (Rom. 1:18–22). The repeated question, “Are people lost who have never heard about Jesus?” has two answers: (1) Yes, they are lost, because God speaks to them all day long, and they refuse to listen; (2) What are you doing about getting the message to these people?
The Word Before Us—God the Instructor (vv. 7–11)
The revelation of God in creation is truly wonderful, but it is limited when it comes to manifesting the attributes of God and His purposes for creation. Following the fall of man, creation has been subjected to futility and bondage (Gen. 3:17–19; Rom. 8:20–22), so we need something that reveals more clearly the character of God. That “something” is the inspired Word of God. When he wrote about creation, David used Elohim (v. 1), the name that speaks of God’s great power; but when he wrote about God’s Word, seven times he used the “covenant” name Jehovah, for the God of creation is also the God of personal revelation to His people. Israel was a very special nation, chosen by God to receive His law, covenants, and promises (Rom. 9:4). “He declares His words to Jacob, His statutes and his ordinances to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any nation” (147:19–20, NASB). The heavens declare God’s glory, but the Scriptures tell us what God did so that we may share in that glory. There is no conflict between what God does in His universe and what He says in His Word. It was by His Word that He created the worlds (33:9), and it is by His Word that He controls the worlds (33:11; 148:8). David recorded six different names for God’s Word, six attributes of the Word, and six ministries of the Word in the lives of those who receive it and obey it.
Law of the Lord (v. 7a). This is the Hebrew word Torah, which means “instruction, direction, teaching.” Jewish people call the scrolls of the Law “The Torah,” but the word refers to all of God’s revelation. It comes from a word that means “to shoot an arrow,” for a teacher aims to hit the target and achieve specific goals in the lives of the students. Unlike the textbooks that we write, God’s Word is perfect, flawless, and complete. Because human language changes, we require new translations of God’s Word; but the Word of God never needs revision or improvement. “Restore” is the same word used in Psalm 23:3 and means “to revive, to give new life.” The Word of the Lord not only has life (Acts 7:3; Heb. 4:12), but it imparts spiritual life to all who receive it (1 Peter 1:23), and it sustains life as well (119:25, 37, 40, 88, 107, 149, 156, 159).
Testimony of the Lord (v. 7). The Ten Commandments were known by this name (Ex. 25:21), and they are the basis for God’s law. But all of the Scriptures are God’s witness to us of who He is, what He has said and done, and what He wants us to be and to do. The witness God bears of Himself in the written Word is sure and reliable. Through the Word, we become wise concerning salvation (2 Tim. 3:15) and the principles of successful living (Prov. 2; 8:33; 10:8). The “simple” are not mentally deficient people or the naive people who believe everything, but the childlike people who humbly receive God’s truth (Matt. 11:25; Luke 10:21–24).
Statutes of the Lord (v. 8). These are the God’s detailed instructions concerning the practical matters of everyday life. For the Old Testament Jew, the statutes related to what they ate, how they dressed, how they kept clean, and so forth. God laid down certain basic laws and commandments, and the statutes applied them to specific situations. The New Testament epistles repeat nine of the Ten Commandments for believers today, omitting the Fourth Commandment, and then give applications of these principles. (See Eph. 4:20–32.) Some of the statutes that legislators have passed are not right and have brought grief, but the statutes of the Lord bring joy.
Commandment of the Lord (v. 8). The word means “that which is appointed.” Because the Lord loves us, He commands us what to do and warns us what not to do, and how we respond is a matter of life or death (Deut. 30:15–20). God’s commands are pure and lead to a pure life, if we obey from the heart. The Bible is the Holy Scriptures (Rom. 1:2; 7:12; 2 Tim. 3:15), and therefore His Word is “very pure” (119:140; Prov. 30:5). We are enlightened and learn God’s truth when we obey what He says (John 7:17) and not just when we read it or study it (James 1:22–25). We are strangers on this earth, and the Word of God is the road map to guide us (119:19). Like a traveler on the highway, if we deliberately make a wrong turn, we go on a detour and fail to reach our destination.
Fear of the Lord (v. 9). This is an unusual name for the Scriptures, but it reminds us that we cannot learn the Word of God unless we show reverence and respect for the God of the Word. To teach the Bible is to teach the fear of the Lord (34:11; Deut. 4:9–10), and the mark of a true Bible student is a burning heart, not a big head (Luke 24:32; 1 Cor. 8:1). While some of the fears people have might be distressing and even defiling, the fear of God is clean and maturing. We do not decay or deteriorate as we walk in the fear of the Lord (2 Cor. 4:16–18).
Judgments of the Lord (v. 9). This can be translated “ordinances” or even “verdicts.” It refers to the decisions of a judge. Throughout the Bible we see the Lord passing judgment on what people and nations do, and His rewards, rebukes, and punishments help us understand what pleases Him. In the nation of Israel, the ordinances instructed the officers and judges in settling problems between individuals and in meting out punishments to guilty offenders. Believers today are not under the Old Testament law, but how those laws were applied helps us understand the righteousness of God and our need for His grace.
The way we treat the Bible is the way we treat the Lord, so it isn’t difficult to determine if we are rightly related to God. Do we desire His Word because it’s precious to us (12), even more than wealth (v. 10; 119:14, 72, 127, 162) or tasty food (119:103; 1 Peter 2:2)? Do we find satisfaction in “feeding on” God’s Word? (See Matt. 4:4; Job 23:12; Jer. 15:16.) Would we skip a meal to spend time meditating on the Scriptures? Do we attend church dinners but not church Bible studies? Furthermore, do we accept the warnings of the Word and act upon them? To know the warning and not heed it is sin (James 4:17). Do we enjoy the blessing of the Lord because we’ve obeyed His will? To have an appetite for God’s Word is a mark of a healthy Christian whose priorities are straight. The Lord has sent the Holy Spirit to teach us His Word, and if we walk in the Spirit, we will learn and live the truth (John 14:26; 16:12–15; 1 Cor. 2:9–10; 1 John 2:20–29).
The Witness Within Us—God the Redeemer (vv. 12–14)
Unless we have a personal relationship with the Lord so that God is our Father and Jesus is our Redeemer, what we see in creation and what we read in the Bible will not do us much good. The Magi in Matthew 2:1–12 started on their journey by following God’s star, a special messenger in the sky to direct them. Then they consulted God’s Word and found that the King was to be born in Bethlehem; so they went to Bethlehem and there found and worshiped the Savior.18 When you study God’s creation with a Bible in your hand, you can’t help but see Jesus! He is seen in the vine (John 15), the sun (John 8:12; Mal. 4:2), the stars (Num. 24:17), the lambs (John 1:29), the apple trees and lilies (Song 2:3, 16; 6:3), the seed planted in the ground (John 12:23–24), and the bread on the table (John 6:35). The Word in the hand is fine; the Word in the head is better; but the Word in the heart is what transforms us and matures us in Christ (119:11; Col. 3:16–17).
The Word is a light (119:105) and a mirror (James 1:22–25) to help us see ourselves, search our hearts (Heb. 4:12), and recognize and acknowledge our sins. “By the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20; 7:7–14). “Secret sins” are those we don’t even see ourselves, “sins of ignorance” we don’t realize we’ve committed. The Old Testament law made provision for their forgiveness (Lev. 4; Num. 15:22–29) because the sinners were guilty even though they were ignorant of what they had done (Lev. 5:17). However, the law provided no atonement for presumptuous sins (Num. 15:30–36; Deut. 17:12–13). When David committed adultery and arranged to have Uriah murdered (2 Sam. 11–12), he sinned insolently with his eyes wide open and therefore could bring no sacrifice (Ps. 51:16–17). When he confessed his sins, God in His grace forgave him (2 Sam. 12:13), but David paid dearly for his transgressions. Unconfessed sins, even if committed ignorantly, can grow within the heart and begin to rule over us, and this can lead to our committing willful disobedience (“great transgression”—there is no article in the Hebrew text).
Creation is God’s “wordless book,” and the Scriptures are God’s holy Word to us, but God wants to hear our words as “sacrifices” that please Him (141:1–2; Hos. 14:2; Heb. 13:15). The word translated “acceptable” refers to the priest’s examination of the sacrifices to make sure they were without blemish. If the sacrifice wasn’t acceptable to the Lord, the worshiper was not accepted by the Lord (Lev. 1:1–9; 22:17–25; Mal. 1:6–8). The words we speak begin with the thoughts in our heart (Matt. 12:33–37), so it’s important that we meditate on God’s Word and God’s works, the first two themes of Psalm 19. If we delight in God’s Word, we will naturally meditate on it and give expression of His truth with our lips, and this will help to keep us from sin (119:9–16, 23–24, 47–48, 77–78, 97–99). The usage here refers to the “kinsman redeemer” (goel = “one who has the right to redeem”) who could rescue a relative from difficult situations (Lev. 25:25–28; Num. 35:11–34; the book of Ruth; Isa. 43:14). Jesus is our Redeemer (Gal. 3:13; 4:5; Titus 2:14; Heb. 9:12; 1 Peter 1:18), and He became our “kinsman” when He came in sinless human flesh to die for us on the cross. He is both Rock and Redeemer, for He not only paid the price to set us free, but He also keeps us safe.