Reflections on Psalm 19 —
The world discounts God because He appears silent. But God is actually an excellent communicator–He is clearly communicating with every one of us through Creation and His Word, if we can only stop and listen.
I marvel at people who are naturally eloquent speakers, whose words roll off their tongue like butter, wonderful speeches, persuasive arguments. I’m not very good at speaking off the top of my head. Ask me to present something to a large group and I’ll spend an hour in preparation for every minute I’ll be up there. I just can’t think very well when I’m addressing people’s faces. Get me alone in a room with a mirror, and I can wax eloquent with the best of them.
I’m not very good at communicating with my kids either. When they were young, they believed every word I said. But somewhere along the line, they learned that there is more knowledge in the world than what’s in dad’s head. I started sounding old-fashioned, repeating the same lines like a broken record. Inside my mind, I have rational, well-thought ideas and advice. But somewhere between there and my mouth, my words get clogged, jumbled, and askew. They don’t come out the way I intended–rashly, tainted with sarcasm, overly dramatic. Sometimes, I swear my kids think I’m an idiot. The less effectively I communicate what I’m thinking, the more frustrated I get, and good intention quickly unravels into babbling. The Apostle James says to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” I do just the opposite.
God, on the other hand, has no problem communicating. In Psalm 19, we see that He’s getting His words out clearly and effectively on a regular basis…every day, in fact. And within each day, He is pouring forth speech all day long.
Spoken Through Creation
“The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.”
There is the written record of God’s words, recorded by select people who were inspired by the Holy Spirit, who wrote in their own language, dialect, and style. In rare moments in history, God has spoken directly to people in familiar language. But there is also the non-written, non-audible record, the telling words spoken by the universe, declarations of God’s creative power. The sun, moon, and stars reveal the creative and scientific mind of God. God speaks in the perfectly timed rotations, the repeatable and predictable characteristics of gravity, the tried and true orbital paths, the infinite expanse of space. God’s voice is loud and clear.
Nature and the universe speak of God in an unspoken, universal language. If you an infinite being, how would you describe yourself to finite minds? God does so through His creation. When we gaze at a clear sky, behold the great peaks of the Colorado Rockies, or take in the grandeur of an ocean, we are amazed. That’s the kind of effect God is looking for, the only kind that’s appropriate. As the psalmist says in Psalm 36, God’s capacity to love and His faithfulness to His people is as high as the heavens are above our heads. As the mountain is immeasurably heavy, so overwhelmingly certain is His righteousness. As the ocean is unfathomably deep and wide, so sure are we that His decrees will come to pass. No written nor audible word comes close to expressing His immensity.
“There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances to the end of the world. In them He has placed a tent for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; it rejoices as a strong man to run his course. Its rising is from one end of the heavens, and its circuit to the other end of them; and there is nothing hidden from its heat.”
Through creation, God speaks in words that cannot be heard, but are as clear as day. His words reach every living soul, no exceptions. As the sun makes it circuitous route around the earth and its light gives warmth to every soul it touches, so God’s word reaches every living soul. The bushman in the remotest jungle has as much opportunity to hear from God as the civilized businessman in New York. I think the bushman has the advantage. His world is silent and still, giving his soul time to observe, consider, listen. The words of God are not heard by those who are too distracted to hear them. They are missed by those who deny someone is speaking at all, having convinced themselves that God doesn’t exist.
Perfect and Inspiring
As for the written form of communication, God has no trouble there either. His written communication is really good. In fact, it’s perfect, and inspiring.
“The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart. The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.”
When he penned these words, David did not have the gospels. They were not written yet. He did not have the poetic wisdom of his future son, Solomon, nor the letters of Paul. He had only the ancient laws and histories–Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy–the books we hardly read today. Yet even these words of God, many of which were simply rules of conduct, held special place in David’s heart. They were familiar to him, they comforted and empowered him. He called God’s words “perfect”, “certain”, “right”, and “pure”. They included moral, relational, and ceremonial laws, many of which demonstrated His compassionate heart. For example, God’s laws elevated the needs of the poor and oppressed, commanding the wealthy landowners to apportion some of their harvest for the destitute. So kind and righteous are God’s laws, it was said that other nations would marvel at the wisdom and goodness of God and consider the people who lived by them blessed (Deuteronomy 4:5-8). Besides laws, the old books contained…
- precepts–a guiding principle to live by (“be careful to listen to all these words which I command you, so that it may be well with you…”)
- commandments–stronger than precepts, these were God’s rules for relating to Him “thou shall have no other gods before Me”) and each other (“thou shall not steal”)
- testimonies–trustworthy declarations God makes about Himself (“I am the Lord…gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness…”)
Today, we have the word of God in full, the complete canon, with all the wisdom of Jesus Christ, the insight of Solomon, the theology of the prophets, and the interpretations of Paul, James, John, and other writers. If we consider God’s written words and honor them, they will help us. His words explain things, like why bad things happen to good people. They warn us, teaching us immutable laws of sin, such as you reap what you sow. They encourage us, reminding us that we are the apple of His eye. They prescribe best practices for relating to one another. They bring joy to the searching soul. They are trustworthy, “as silver refined in a furnace, refined seven times” (Psalm 12:6). God says He watches over His words to perform them (Jeremiah 1:12). He never makes promises He doesn’t intend to keep.
Worthy of Study
“The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”
In these verses, the author shifts focus from praising the goodness of God’s word to encouraging us to revere it. He has already demonstrated it is trustworthy and helpful. Now he highlights the benefits of paying attention to it.
That’s just what fearing the Lord is all about. It’s taking Him seriously, in this case, by paying close attention to what He has to say. There is nothing impure about fearing the Lord. It is the most holy thing we can do. To seek God’s judgments–His rulings on things–is worthwhile as well. What He says goes, so it’s worth our time to understand how He has handled “court cases” in the past to know what He’s looking for in us. God praises Lot for his vigilant adherence to faith in the midst of a corrupt city. That should inspire us to keep going.
It is not just poetic license. This author really loves to consume God’s words more than the sweetest foods, and he prizes it more than the great wealth. That is learned condition. It doesn’t happen overnight.
Most mornings, I look forward to reading God’s word. More than coffee, they have a way of sweetening my morning no matter how foul a mood I find myself in. There is great reward for the one who keeps God’s word. When God promises stuff like that, we should pay attention. A mentor from my college days taught me to not only read God’s word, but analyze it, study it, memorize it. Thirty years later, I reap the benefits. My kids may look at me and say, “where is your great reward?” I still have to work to pay the bills. I still live in a old house requiring regular maintenance. I drive a 15-year-old Suburban with more rust than the Titanic. Where is my reward? My reward is peace of soul. That is a valuable asset I hope to pass on to them someday. Perhaps my encouragement to read God’s word will outlive me and help them find peace of soul long after I’m gone.
God’s words also warn us, and there are rewards for those who heed His warnings. The one who hears the warnings and proceeds anyway is called a “fool”. The wise person is the one who takes corrective action. His reward is a satisfaction that goes beyond wealth and good food.
Two Kinds of Sin
“Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults. Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; Let them not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, and I shall be acquitted of great transgression.”
Here David abruptly shifts from praising the goodness of God’s word to appealing for God’s help in addressing his sins. Perhaps it is the ever-present testimony of creation or the wholesome nature of God’s laws that compel him to be upfront with his Maker. God’s word reaches every soul like the sun’s heat reaches all the earth. It is the wise one who allows the Word’s penetrating nature to have its effect and reveal our need for God’s help.
We need help because we sin in two ways–intentionally and unintentionally. The intentional sins are obvious. These are the things we do even though we know they are wrong. These sins are presumptuous because we presume that the consequences don’t apply to us, or that somehow, God won’t notice them. This is like the man who knows pornography is addictive and degrading, yet clicks on the website anyway. If left unchecked, presumptuous sins can assume mastery over us, making us feel powerless to quit. What we need in this case is God’s restraint. We need His Spirit to “put to death the misdeeds of the body” (Romans 8:13).
The intentional sins are obvious, but the unintentional sins are more dangerous because they are hidden–almost impossible to detect. If I’m honest, I can think of many hidden sins within me, sins I commit without even trying. These are the sins of arrogance, contempt, vanity, coveting, malice, manipulation, selfish ambition, flattery, and many more like them. They are so imperceptible we are not even aware that we’re committing them. Most of us think we’re pretty holy because for the most part, we can keep tabs on the presumptuous sins. This leads to smugness and complacency. It is the one who grasps the depth, the magnitude of the hidden sins, the utter dependence on God’s mercy, that is pleasing to God in the end.
Apples of Gold
It’s October in an important election year. Unlike the self-serving attacks we hear in political ads every day, unlike the political propaganda and feel-good stories broadcast by the major networks under the pretense of “news”, unlike the flippant chatter, we hear around the water coolers at work, God’s words are sincere and trustworthy.
I know I’m a contributor to the clatter, and I want to change. I’m an expert at flattery, using words to get my desired result. I write proposals, so I tilt and color words to present ugly truth in a positive light. If you were to count the mindless words I let fly every day, it would fill a notebook. So many of my words fall meaninglessly on the floor.
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.”
I pray that God’s Spirit would fill me, consuming my mouth, mind, and soul. I pray He would fill me with boldness to speak in the appropriate times, “apples of gold in settings of silver”, as it were (Proverbs 25:11). May the words that I speak fall graciously on the ears of those who receive them. May they be acceptable to you, O God.