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Psalm 19

THIS psalm consists of three parts. The subject of the first is God’s revelation of himself in his material works, ver. 2–7 (1–6). That of the second is the still more glorious revelation of himself in his law, ver. 8–11 (7–10). The third shews the bearing of these truths upon the personal character and interest of the writer, and of all who are partakers of his faith, ver. 12–15 (11–14).

The object of the psalm is not to contrast the moral and material revelations, but rather to identify their author and their subject. The doctrinal sum of the whole composition is, that the same God who reared the frame of nature is the giver of a law, and that this law is in all respects worthy of its author.

1. To the Chief Musician, a Psalm by David. The form of this inscription is the same as that of Ps. 13. Its historical correctness is attested by its position in the Psalter, its resemblance to Ps. 8, and its peculiar style and spirit.

2 (1). The heavens (are) telling the glory of God, and the work of his hands (is) the firmament declaring. The participles are expressive of continued action. The glory of God is the sum of his revealed perfections (compare Ps. 24:7–10, 29:3, Rom. 1:20. The expanse or firmament is used as an equivalent to heaven, even in the history of the creation, Gen. 1:8. To declare the work of his hands is to shew what he can do and has actually done. The common version handywork means nothing more than handwork; to take handy as an epithet of praise is a vulgar error.

3 (2). Day to day shall pour out speech, and night to night shall utter knowledge. Both verbs are peculiar to the poetical dialect and books of the Old Testament. Pour out, in a copious ever-gushing stream. As the participles of ver. 2 (1) express constant action, so the futures here imply continuance in all time to come. Speech means the declaration of God’s glory, and knowledge the knowledge of the same great object. The idea of perpetual testimony is conveyed by the figure of one day and night following another as witnesses in unbroken succession.

4 (3). There is no speech, and there are no words; not at all is their voice heard. As the first clause might have seemed to contradict the first clause of ver. 3 (2), the Psalmist adds no words, to shew that he here uses speech in the strict sense of articulate language.—The first word of the last clause is properly a noun, meaning cessation or defect, non-entity, and here used as a more emphatic negative, expressed in the translation by the phrase not at all.—Their voice might either be referred exclusively to the heaven and firmament of ver. 2 (1), or extended to the day and night of ver. 3 (2). But the first is the true construction, as appears from the next verse. The absence of articulate language, far from weakening the testimony, makes it stronger. Even without speech or words, the heavens testify of God to all men. This construction of the sentence is much simpler, as well as more exact, than the ancient one, retained in the common version, “there is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard,” or that preferred by others, “it is not a speech or language whose voice is not heard.” The true sense is given in the margin of the English Bible.

5 (4.) In all the earth has gone out their line, and in the end of the world (are) their words. For the sun he has pitched a tent in them. The word rendered line always means a measuring line, and in Jer. 31:39 is combined in that sense with the same verb as here. The idea is, that their province or domain is co-extensive with the earth, and that they speak with authority even in its remotest parts.—Words may also be construed with the verb of the first clause, but it will then be necessary to translate the preposition to. The explanation of line as meaning the string of a musical instrument, and then the sound which it produces, although favoured by the ancient versions, is entirely at variance with Hebrew usage. The subject of the verb in the last clause is the name of God expressed in ver. 2 (1) above.—Pitched a tent, provided a dwelling, or without a figure, assigned a place. In them must refer to the heavens mentioned in ver. 2 (1), which makes it probable that all the plural pronouns in the intervening clauses have the same antecedent. The sun is introduced in this sentence probably because his apparent course is a measure of the wide domain described in the first clause. It must be co-extensive with the earth, because the sun which visits the whole earth has his habitation in the sky. The boundless extension of the heavens and their testimony is used by Paul (Rom. 10:18) to signify the general diffusion of the gospel, and the same thing might have taught the earlier Jews that their exclusive privileges were granted only for a time, and as a means to a more glorious end.

6 (5). And he (is) as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; he rejoices as a mighty man to run a race. The second simile has reference to the sun’s daily course, the first to his vigorous and cheerful reappearance after the darkness of the night. By a fine transition, the general idea of a tent or dwelling is here exchanged for the specific one of a nuptial couch or chamber. Rejoices, literally will rejoice, forever as he now does.

7 (6). From the end of the heavens (is) his outgoing, and his circuit even to the ends of them, and there is none (or nothing) hidden from his heat. What is said in ver. 5 (4) of the heavens is here said of the sun, to wit, that his domain is coextensive with the earth or habitable world. The last clause is added to shew that it is not an ineffective presence, but one to be felt as well as seen. The sun’s heat is mentioned, not in contrast with his light, but as its inseparable adjunct.—The plural ends seems to be added to the singular in order to exhaust the meaning, or at least to strengthen the expression. The word translated circuit includes the idea of return to a starting-point. The Hebrew preposition properly means up to (or down to) their very extremity.

8 (7). The law of Jehovah is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of Jehovah is sure, making wise the simple. The God, whose glory is thus shewn forth by the material creation, is the author of a spiritual law, which the Psalmist now describes in the next three verses, by six characteristic names, six qualifying epithets, and six moral effects produced by it. In the verse before us, besides the usual term law, it is called God’s testimony, i.e. the testimony which he bears for truth and against iniquity. It is described as perfect, i.e. free from all defect or blemish, and as sure, i.e. definite, decided, and infallible. Its two effects, mentioned in this verse. are, first, that of restoring the soul, i.e. the life and spirits exhausted by calamity. See below, on Ps. 23:3, and compare Ruth. 4:15, Lam. 1:11, 16. The effect of converting the soul would not have been attributed to the law in this connection, where the writer is describing the affections cherished towards the law by men already converted, which removes all apparent inconsistency with Paul’s representation of the law as working death, and at the same time the necessity of making the law mean the gospel, or in any other way departing from the obvious and usual import of the Hebrew word. The other effect ascribed to the law is that of making wise the simple, not the foolish, in the strong sense in which that term is applied to the ungodly—see above, on Ps. 14:1—but those imperfectly enlightened and still needing spiritual guidance, a description applicable, more or less, to all believers. It is a singular fact, that while this usage of the Hebrew word is peculiar to David, Solomon constantly applies it to the culpable simplicity of unconverted men. (See Ps. 116:6, 119:130, Prov. 1:22, 7:7, 9:4, 14:15, &c.)—In like manner Paul describes the “sacred scriptures” as able to make wise unto salvation, 2 Tim. 3:15.

9 (8). The statutes of Jehovah (are) right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of Jehovah is pure, enlightening the eyes. The words translated statute and commandment differ very slightly from each other, the one expressing more distinctly the idea of a charge or commission, the other that of a prescription or direction. There is also no great difference between the epithets applied in this verse to the law of God, which is right, as being an exact expression of his rectitude, and pure, as being free from all taint of injustice or iniquity. The first effect described is that of rejoicing the heart, to wit, the heart loving righteousness, and consequently desirous of knowing what is right by knowing what is acceptable to God, and what required by him. The other effect, enlightening the eyes, is understood by some of intellectual illumination with respect to spiritual things. But it is more agreeable to Hebrew usage to suppose an allusion to the dimness of the eyes produced by extreme weakness and approaching death, recovery from which is figuratively represented as an enlightening of the eyes. See above, on Ps. 13:4 (3), and compare Ps. 34:6 (5). The figure, thus explained, bears a strong resemblance to restoring the soul in the preceding verse, the one referring rather to the sense, and the other to the life itself.

10 (9). The fear of Jehovah is clean, standing for ever; the judgments of Jehovah are truth, they are righteous altogether. As the fear of Jehovah, in its proper sense, would here be out of place, and as the law was designed to teach men how to fear the Lord (Deut. 17:19), the phrase may here be understood as a description of the law viewed in reference to this peculiar purpose, the fear of the Lord being put for that which leads or teaches men to fear him, a sense which the expression is supposed to have in several other places. See Ps. 34:12 (11), Prov. 1:29, 2:5, 15:33.—Standing forever, of perpetual obligation. Even Christ came not to destroy, but to fulfil. See Mat. 5:17, 18. With the form of expression here compare Ps. 33:11, 112:3.—Judgments are properly judicial decisions, but are here put, as in Ps. 18:23 (22), for all God’s requisitions. They are truth (itself) may be a strong expression, meaning they are perfectly and absolutely true; but as this would make the last clause little more than a tautology, the first phrase may be understood to mean that they are really that which they purport and claim to be, and therefore must be righteous altogether, i.e. all, without exception, righteous, which is tantamount, in fact, though not in form, to wholly or completely righteous.

11 (10). (Judgments) to be desired more than gold, and much fine gold; and sweeter than honey and the dropping of the combs. The description of the law of God is wound up by comparing it to the costliest and sweetest substance in common use. The sense of the passive participle is like that in Ps. 18:4 (3). Its plural form, and the article prefixed to it in Hebrew, shew that it is to be construed with judgments, and that the sentence is continued from the foregoing verse, as in Ps. 18:31 (30), 33 (32), 34 (33), 35 (34), 48 (47), 51 (50).—The Hebrew answering to fine gold is a single word (פָּז), not used in prose, and by some supposed to mean solid or massive gold, but according to a more probable etymology denoting purified or fine gold. The combination here used is found also in Ps. 119:127. See also Prov. 8:19, and compare Ps. 21:4 (3), below. To make the resemblance of the clauses perfect, the usual word for honey is followed by a beautiful periphrasis, denoting that kind which was most highly valued, The ideas expressed by both comparisons are those of value and delightfulness.—As the preceding verses describe what the law is in itself and in its general effects, so this seems to express what it is to the Psalmist’s apprehensions and affections, thus affording a transition from the comprehensive doctrines of the foregoing context to the practical and personal approbation of those doctrines, which now follows and concludes the psalm.

12 (11). Moreover, thy servant is enlightened by them; in keeping them there is much reward. The verb in the first clause is used with special reference to admonition and warning against danger. See Eccles. 4:13, Exod. 33:4, 5, 6, Eccles. 12:12. The plural suffixes have reference to judgments in ver. 10 (9) above.—Reward is here used not to signify a recompence earned in strict justice, but a gratuity bestowed. The spirit of the passage is the same as in 1 Cor. 15:19, 1 Tim. 4:8. The phrase thy servant brings the general doctrines of the foregoing context into personal application to the writer.

13 (12). Errors who shall understand? Clear thou me from hidden ones! The word translated errors is akin to one sometimes used in the Law to denote sins of inadvertence, error, or infirmity, as distinguished from deliberate, wilful, and high-handed sins, such as are deprecated in the next verse. See Lev. 4:2–27, Num. 15:27. Against such sins no wisdom or vigilance can wholly guard.—The word translated clear is also borrowed from the Law, and means not so much to cleanse by renovation of the heart, as to acquit by a judicial sentence. See Exod. 34:7, Num. 14:18. Such an acquittal, in the case of sinners against God, involves the idea of a free forgiveness.

14 (13). Also from presumptuous (ones) withhold thy servant; then shall I be perfect and be clear from much transgression. As he prays for the forgiveness of his inadvertent sins, so he prays for the prevention of deliberate ones. The Hebrew word (זֵדִים) properly denotes proud men, but seems to be here applied to sins by a strong personification. The use of the verbal root and its derivatives in the Old Testament may be seen by comparing Exod. 21:14, Deut. 17:12, 18:22, 1 Sam. 17:28.—To be perfect has the same sense as in Ps. 18:24–26 (23–25). That it does not there mean sinless perfection is confirmed by the language of the verse before us.—The great transgression, as if referring to some one particular offence, is not the true sense of the Hebrew phrase, which is indefinite and perfectly analogous to that rendered much (or great) reward in ver. 12 (11) above.

15 (14). (Then) shall be for acceptance (or acceptable) the sayings of my mouth, and the thought of my heart before thee, Jehovah, my rock and my redeemer. The simplest and most obvious construction of the Hebrew sentence makes it a direct continuation of the last clause of ver. 14 (13), and like it an anticipation of the happy effects to be expected from an answer to the foregoing prayers. If his sins of ignorance could be forgiven, and the deliberate sins, to which his natural corruption prompts him, hindered by divine grace, he might hope not only to avoid much guilt but to be the object of God’s favor. As this confident anticipation really involves a wish that it may be fulfilled, there is little real difference between the construction above given and the common version: let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable, &c. It is much more natural, however, to connect the words before thee with my meditation, which immediately precedes, than with the first words of the verse as in the English Bible. What I think in thy presence is then joined with the words of my mouth, to express all prayer, whether clothed in words or not. See above, on Ps. 5:2 (1). The prayer or expectation of acceptance in this clause derives peculiar beauty from the obvious allusion to the frequent use of the same Hebrew phrase (לְרָצוֹן) in the law of Moses, to denote the acceptance of the sacrificial offerings, or rather the acceptance of the offerer on account of them. See Exod. 28:38, Lev. 19:5, 7, 22:19, 20, 29, 23:11, Isa. 56:7, 60:7, Rom. 12:1. This allusion also serves to suggest the idea, not conveyed by a translation, of atonement, expiation, as the ground of the acceptance which the Psalmist hopes or prays for.

Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 87–91). Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

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