2 Reasons for Worship (Psalm 19)

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving 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;
the fear of the LORD is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the LORD are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

Who can discern his errors?
Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

Psalm 19 ESV

Last week, we initiated our study of worship with Psalm 1. We saw there that worship is a lifestyle and that true worship must come from who we are. We read about to ways of life: the righteous and the wicked (meaning, those who follow God and those who do not). The righteous are known for their delight in the law of the LORD and for being like deeply rooted trees. The wicked, on the other hand, are like chaff that is blown away with the wind and destined for destruction.

We now turn to a psalm of David, which could be described as celebrating God’s communication with us. At its essence, the psalm looks at two reasons for why we ought to worship God, followed by a prayer to God. The first part discusses the heavens above and how they reveal to us the glory of God. The second section celebrates the law of the LORD and all of its benefits. Finally, the poem concludes with David’s prayer to the LORD.

Both the world (God’s creation) and the law (God’s Word) reveal to us the character of the LORD. By the two forms of revelation, we are therefore able to know God more fully, which makes them prime reasons for worshiping God. Of course, the more we understand of God’s nature, the more we begin to understand of our nature. This is why David’s concluding prayer is so focused upon his sin. After pondering the holiness and glorious might of God, David pleads with the LORD to keep him from committing sins that God despises. Fortunately, in Christ, we are blameless before God, and we can continue to let the words of our mouth and the meditations of our heart be acceptable to Him.

THE HEAVENS DECLARE THE GLORY OF GOD // VERSES 1-6

The psalm opens with one of my favorite statements throughout the entire Bible. The heavens preach the glory of God and proclaim His handiwork. There is much to consider within those words, so let us first define our terminologies. The ancient Hebrew concept of heaven consisted of three tiers, or a three-leveled heaven. The first tier of heaven is, what we would call in English, the sky. We now call the second level of heaven the cosmos, or outer space. Finally, the third heaven is what we might think of conceptually as being Heaven, the spiritual plane in which God dwells. Thus, the psalmist is not merely speaking of the spiritual realm that we would call Heaven; rather, he is much more referring to the physically viewable heavens above us.

Next, we must understand what is meant by the word “glory.” Glory, as the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it, is “public praise, honor, and fame” or something that brings praise or fame to someone or something.” Thus, giving glory to God is about giving to Him honor, praise, and distinction that we believe is owed to Him, or is worthy of Him. Our worship of God brings glory to Him because we are acknowledging that He is entirely worthy of our adoration and devotion. It makes sense then how a person might glorify God through worship, but how do the heavens declare and proclaim the glory of God?

Consider stars. They emit light, in part, because they are centers for thermonuclear fusion, and they only remain spherical because of gravitational confinement. The previous sentence is a fancy way of saying that stars (including our sun) are constantly exploding outward with unimaginable bursting of thousands upon thousands of nuclear blasts and are held together only by the sheer strength of gravity. That is, by far, the craziest game of tug-o-war ever!

Each star must then be nothing less than a miracle, but then let us think upon the number of stars in the universe. Obviously, this is a dive into scientists providing their best guesses, as no one is able to truly count the number of stars. Nevertheless, it is thought that most galaxies contain anywhere from 100 to 400 billion stars and that there are certainly more than 100 billion galaxies in the universe. This would leave us with anywhere from 10 to 200 sextillion stars in the universe. Just for effect, here is what 200 sextillion looks like written numerically: 200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. In his very awesome YouTube video[1], Fraser Cain estimates that there are anywhere from 2.5 to 10 sextillion grains of sand in the entire world. This makes it highly likely that there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on the earth. Furthermore, he points out at the end of the video that there are still more atoms in a single grain of sand than stars in the universe.

This is not even to consider the amazing things upon the earth or the beautiful terrors within the sky. For instance, there is a special type of shrimp called the pistol shrimp. It has one greatly enlarged claw that makes the whole creature look lopsided. However, the giant claw has a very specific function. When the shrimp is hungry, it will open its claw and wait for a fish to swim in front of it. The claw will then snap shut with such force and speed that it creates a loud bubble of sound that stuns or even kills the fish. In fact, the snap of its claw actually causes an effect known as sonoluminescence, which is when sounds emit a short burst of light.[2]

The apostle Paul wrote in Romans, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”[3] The apostle makes the same point there as David: God’s creation proclaims His glory, “namely, His eternal power and divine nature.” We are meant, as creatures, to look upon the glories of God’s creation and understand that God must be infinitely more glorious since He created everything.

We ponder the vastness of the universe and then how much more immeasurable is our God. We marvel at the miracle that is our sun and every star but also at the power of the God that spoke each of them into existence. We struggle against the complexities of quantum physics, only to take joy in understanding that nothing is too small for God’s care and guidance. Creation screams the enormity, supremacy, grandeur, meticulousness, and excellence of God’s glory.

Are you listening?

The Voice Ever Heard (vv. 2-4b)

Verses 2 through the majority of 4 here describe the declaration and proclamation that the heavens are making. In each of the three verses, David makes the same point but in a slightly different manner. This triple repetition is important to note. In Hebrew, the Old Testament writers did not have many of the literary devices at their disposal that we have presently. For example, they had no italics, underlining, or bolding of words for added emphasis. Of course, this did not stop them from emphasizing particular points. One of the more common forms of adding emphasis was repetition. Throughout Old Testament poetry, one will notice that many things are said then repeated in another way. This was all to accentuate the point stated. If regular repetition was common, triple repetition was like italicizing and underlining the same words. A repetition of three highlights even further the importance was what is being said.

What then is the point that David is making here? He is stating the same case that Paul made in Romans 1:18-20. The metaphorical voice of the heavens declaring the glory of God “goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” As creatures that dwell within, and are ourselves, God’s creation, we cannot run from creation’s proclamation of God’s handiwork. In fact, David states in verse 3 that not hearing the voice of creation is an impossibility. The best we can do is to ignore the sky’s preaching, but we are too steeped in God’s designs to claim ignorance. In fact, David claims that day and night are pouring out knowledge of our God’s greatness.

At first, I read verse 2 as being a direct continuation of verse 1, meaning that day to day and night to night the heavens were declaring the glory of God. However, that is not how the verse reads; it reads that day to day and night to night pours out speech and reveals knowledge. Day and night happening at all declares to us the greatness of God. We understand this even more today than David did then. We know that the earth is at the exact point in our solar system where life is sustainable. If our planet’s orbit were to shift toward the sun, we collapse under the unbearable heat. If it drifted away from the sun, the earth would perish under a sheet of ice. Each day is miracle and a testament to the supremacy of Him who “upholds the universe by the word of his power.”[4]

The Illuminating Sun (vv. 4c-6)

Finally, David ends this first stanza by turning toward the sun. The poet-king apparently views the sun as the crowning achievement of the heavens, since he describes the heavens as its tent. He provides wondrously poetic imagery of the sun’s rising being like a grooming coming down the aisle on his wedding day. There is here a picture of rapturous joy and triumph to the sun’s rotation. Perhaps, we can glean from the David’s writings a challenge for us to revisit our appreciation for the daily and the ordinary. Because the sun has given us light throughout our days (both as individuals and as humanity in general), we can take its beauty for granted.

Furthermore, just as the sun provides heat to all the earth, so to does its proclamation of God’s glory cover the whole earth. No one is entirely hidden from the effects of the sun, and likewise, no one can outrun creation’s declaration of God. Once more, it is from this idea that Paul draws his thought in Romans 1. The apostle essentially declares that there is no such thing as an atheist. We see this thought when Paul claims that God’s invisible attributes “have been clearly perceived.” This leaves all men without excuse. On the day of judgment, no one will have the plea of ignorance, as God has clearly made “His eternal power and divine nature” known to all men. In case we try to argue that God did not give humanity a sufficient about of time to listen to creation, note that Paul says God’s glory is perceived “ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” Or to say it another way, there has never been a moment or circumstance in which a person was not able to perceive something about the character of God from His creation. It “is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.”

This also fulfills Paul’s words in Romans 10. We might look at Romans 10:13-17 and wonder how God can condemn people without them ever hearing the gospel preached. However, this psalm and Paul’s words in Romans 1 show that nature preaches the glory of God. The LORD has woven into the fabric of existence itself a begging for us to look beyond creation and its beauty toward the God of all beauty. Nevertheless, for all the glory that God reveals in nature, they still give only a partial revelation of God. Creation only reveals enough concerning God to condemn us before Him; we need further revelation for salvation. That special revelation comes in the form of God’s Word.

THE LAW OF THE LORD // VERSES 7-11

David’s psalm now leaves the wonders of God’s natural revelation to focus upon the beauties of the LORD’s special revelation. Take note also the shift in how David refers to God. Throughout the Bible, God is called by many names, each emphasizing an aspect of His character, but the two main ones are Elohim (God the omnipotent Creator) and Yahweh (God the loving Covenant-Maker). Previously, David referred to the glory of El (God), which is the base form of the more commonly used, Elohim. El (or Elohim) is one of the two most used names for God throughout the Old Testament, and it primarily denotes the might, strength, and power of God as Creator. Thus, for David to use El in conjunction with God’s glory as revealed through the heavens makes complete sense. Yet now he begins calling God Yahweh (or the LORD, in our English Bibles). Yahweh, which is more appropriately spelling YHWH, is the holy name of God. This is the name that is typically seen as tied to God’s declaration of His name to Moses in Exodus 3:14 as “I AM WHO I AM.”[5] Yahweh is often used in the Old Testament along with God’s covenants and promises to His people. Thus, it can be seen as reflecting the grace, mercy, and steadfast love of the LORD as our Covenant-Maker. As the conversation turns to God’s special revelation to His people, it is appropriate to use this name.

Within verses 7-9, the psalmist uses six different synonyms, provides seven descriptive words, and lists five effects for the law of the LORD. Let us first then address the law itself and the synonyms used. My tendency is to view the law of the LORD, as discussed here, as a mere synonym for the Bible. While it is certainly true that these verses speak of all Scripture, we do David a disservice by not considering what he specifically meant. The Israelite king considered the laws and commandments of God to be perfect, right, and true. He delighted and desired God’s rules.

Now let us turn to how David describes the LORD’s law. First, he claims that it is perfect, reviving the soul. Perfect, of course, means blameless or without fault; however, it also is able to signify completeness or sufficiency. The soul here refers to the inner man or the core of a person. Reviving could also be seen as repenting or restoring. It means to turn things around, to give new life. Thus, when we place these concepts together, we get very much an image that it like the New Testament idea of regeneration. The law of the LORD is sufficient to give new life to the very core of our personhood. Paul’s words on the matter may be more familiar to us: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”[6]

Next, he declares that “the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.” We may understand sure here to be a synonym for trustworthy or faithful. They then are able to give wisdom to the person without wisdom. We do not need to be wise in order to follow God; rather, as we follow Christ, His Word is reliable for making us wise.

“The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart.” There is a moral correctness to the commandments of God. Because He has placed His law within our hearts,[7] we all know instinctively that murder, theft, and adultery are wrong. Our hearts then ache when we hear of a senseless crime that devastates another person because it shows us that things are not right, that things are broken. But God’s precepts place joy within our heart since we know that life works best when following them.

“The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.” Purity refers to the how free something is from contamination. God’s commandments are altogether pure. There is nothing false within them. By following them, our daily walk is illuminated. They enlighten our eyes by presenting to us the best path for life, namely, the way through Christ.

“The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever.” Fear is the holy terror of God. In some sense, it is right to hold an awestruck fear of God in His infinite might. But notice that such fear of the LORD is clean. It is correct to be afraid of the glorious nature of the LORD, for it reminds us that we are merely men. His reverential fear proceeds throughout eternity.

“The rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether.” This is quite interesting. Grammatically, rules are not able to be true. For example, saying the room is clean is either true or false, but commanding someone to clean the room can be neither. Lewis suggests that the psalmist is actually referring to how the rules of God give us glimpses of truth. Because they are altogether righteous, God’s rules point us toward truth.

Richer Than Gold; Sweeter Than Honey (v. 10)

Obviously, verse 10 shows us that David delighted in the law of the LORD. He considered God’s word more valuable than any amount of gold. If our minds are like David’s mind, this means that if someone were to offer us a staggering amount of wealth under the condition that we never read the Bible again, we would without flinching cling to our Bibles. He held God’s teachings as more desirable than anything else in this life.

Further, he says that they were sweeter to him than honey. With the prevalence of sugar in the modern diet, it may be difficult for us to understand David’s meaning. For ancient societies, sugar was an uncommon commodity; thus, tasting something sweet gave a particular form of delight that is difficult for us to imagine since we have so much available to us at all times. For a deeper understanding of this verse, commit yourself to go without sugar for a set period of time and see whether you find yourself longing for sweetness. We should desire the Word of God with similar fervor.

Consider two factors as to why David would delight in God’s commandments. First, the nations surrounding Israel were notoriously brutal, as were their gods. The god, Ashtoreth, was notable for having prostitution and orgies as worship. Moloch was noted from demanding child sacrifice. Thus, after seeing the commands of these gods, David must have run to the good and sensible commands us God “like fresh air after a dungeon, like sanity after a nightmare.”[8] Second, after noting that the heavens declare God’s glory but knowing that they do not reveal God’s love or mercy, he must have rejoiced in the clarity of God’s precepts. There is a peace in knowing exactly what to expect and what is expected of us; God’s commands give us precisely that. We need not wonder whether God will love us one moment and hate us the next. We are told exactly what to expect of the LORD and what He also demands of us.

The Benefits of God’s Law (v. 11)

Turn now toward the final verse of this section, verse 11. Here David provides for us two benefits of knowing God’s law. First, he states that by them God’s servant is warned. Our first question ought to be: warned of what? I believe warned of danger and errors. By knowing that God has commanded us not to steal, we are warned of the peril that might come from wronging another person. For example, if we know not to break into someone’s house, we will not need to fear of being killed from wrongfully entering their home.

Second, David claims that there is great reward in keeping God’s laws. It is a fairly common saying that obedience is its own reward. Certainly there is an element of that form of reward here; however, we can also easily imagine the glories of heaven and being with God as the great reward in mind. God is faithful to reward the obedience of His people.

KEEP ME // VERSES 12-14

Our final section of the psalm is radically different from the first two. We can venture the connection between the first part’s description of natural revelation and the second’s special revelation of God. However, where did this question of David come from? Why is he now asking who can discern one’s errors? I believe that this question is actually tying David’s closing prayers with the first two sections of the psalm. It accomplishes this connection because the answer to the question in within the first eleven verses. Who can discern his errors? No one is able to do this entirely of themselves, but like nothing can hide from the sun’s heat, the law of the LORD warns us of errors, makes us wise to avoid them, and enlightens our eyes to see them that we might repent. Who can discern his errors? Only the one who is guided by the law of the LORD.

For the remainder of verses 12 and 13, David makes two prayers and hopeful declaration. First, David prays for God to declare him innocent from hidden sins. This does to mean that David is asking God to merely look away from his unknown faults as if they never existed. Rather, he is placing his hope and confidence in God to be able to deal with his sin. I doubt that David has in mind here a clear Old Testament statement of Christology, even though we know that only Christ is able to make us innocent of sin; rather, I believe that this is simply the prayer of a faithful child of God. He does not know how God will cleanse him of sin, only that God will be faithful to do it.

Next, the psalmist prays for God to keep him from presumptuous sins. It is important to first understand, of course, that all sins are grievous sins. Any sin, no matter how small, is a rebellion against the plan and ways of God. However, David draws a distinction between hidden sins and presumptuous ones. He obviously recognizes both as evil, but he has a certain revulsion to the idea of presumptuous sins. First we must ask: what does he mean by presumptuous sins? Unlike the hidden or unknown sins, these are sins that are done willfully. They are sins that presume upon the grace of God. When we commit willful sins, we are answering “yes” to Paul’s question in Romans 6:1, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” These sins come from a heart that says, “God will still forgive me, even if I do this.” There is great danger is presuming upon God’s grace and mercy. The author of Hebrews warns us: “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.”[9]

David seems to understand this danger because he apparently cries out, “let them not have dominion over me!” There seems to be a great sense of desperation to the king’s plea. He knows that alone he cannot overcome the effects of sin; rather, he needs the grace of God. Fortunately, in Christ, we are able to have dominion over sin: “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under the law but under grace.”[10]

He then concludes his prayer to be kept from sin with a hopeful declaration: “Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.” David’s only hope to overcome the damaging effects of sin in his life is the power of God. That is why he prays this prayer. As godly as David was, we was still powerless to defeat sin. Only in Christ are we able to truly mortify our sin.

It is interesting that this psalm would begin with imagery of God’s glory only to end with humble prayers for living righteously. However, if we considered the times that people encountered the glory of God, it might not surprise us as much. Upon meeting God in a whirlwind as God pronounces His glorious nature, Job repents “in dust and ashes” before the LORD.[11] As Isaiah stands in the throne room of God the Father, he immediately cries out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”[12] There seems then to be correlation between encountering the glory of God and understanding the weight of our sins. Upon viewing the holiness of God, we finally begin to realize how far we have fallen short of His standards.

David, therefore, concludes this beautiful psalm with a worshipful prayer. In light of all that he knows of and about God, he longs for his words and his heart to be pleasing to the LORD. This too should be the prayer of every believer. We ought to desire to speak acceptable words and to have acceptable thoughts before God. God’s revelation to us should always lead us into this form of worship.


[1] Cain, Fraser. Are There More Stars Or Grains of Sand?

[2] Read all about the pistol shrimp on Wikipedia.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpheidae

[3] Romans 1:18-20

[4] Hebrews 1:3

[6] 2 Corinthians 5:17

[7] Romans 2:15

[8] Lewis, 63.

[9] Hebrews 10:26

[10] Romans 6:13-14

[11] Job 42:6

[12] Isaiah 6:5

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