Psalm 19

Dear Reader,

Last week we studied Psalm 19. I picked this psalm because there are a couple of versions of it that we like to sing.  The Psalter of necessity breaks the psalms up into chunks (can you image singing straight through Psalm 119?). Sometimes this seems artificial, but Psalm 19 breaks up nicely into sections. A little too nicely. Because I believe that even the order of the psalms is divinely ordained (see my post on Psalms 80 and 81), I cannot help but believe that this one is also meant to be one psalm. The parts are not stuck together by accident. So one question we have to ask ourselves as we work through this psalm is what makes it a unity? How do the seemingly different parts relate to one another?

So without further ado, here is my translation of Psalm 19:

1 The heavens recount the glory of God,
2 And the work of his hands the firmament tells.
3 Day to day pours out speech,
4 And night to night declares knowledge.
5 There is no speech and there are no words; their voice is not heard.

6 In all the earth their chord went forth,
7 And to the end of the world their utterances.
8 For the sun he places a tent in them
9 And it like a bride-groom goes forth from its chamber,
10 It rejoices like a warrior to run the path.
11 From the end of the heavens [is] its going forth,
12 And its circuit [is] over their ends.
13 And there is nothing hidden from his heat.
14 The law of the LORD [is] perfect, restoring the soul.
15 The testimony of the LORD [is] faithful, making wise the simple.
16 The statutes of the LORD [are] upright, rejoicing the heart.
17 The commandment of the LORD [is] pure, enlightening the eyes.
18 The fear of the LORD [is] clean, standing forever.
19 The judgments of the LORD [are] truth; they are righteous altogether,
20 They are more desirable than gold, than much fine gold,
21 And sweeter than honey and the drippings of the combs.
22 Also your servant will be warned by them,
23 In hearing them [is] great reward.
24 [His] Errors who can understand?
25 From hidden [sins] cleanse me.
26 Also from presumptuous [sins] restrain your servant;
27 Do not let them rule over me.
28 Then I will be perfect and cleansed from many sins.
29 May the utterances of my mouth be favorable,
30 And the murmurings of my heart [be] before you, LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

A couple of notes on the translation before we begin:

1.  I struggles with the second half of line 5. It is idiomatic Hebrew which does not translate well into English. The Hebrew most literally would read: “There is no utterance and there are no words except (or unless) their voice is heard.” That “except/unless” conjunction is the problem. It could also be translated “without.” The sense seems to be that their voice is not heard so that is how I have taken it.

2. In line 6, I have translated “chord” as in a musical chord. I think this is most literal, and I love the picture it conjures up of creation singing praise to God.

3. There is no possessive pronoun attached to “errors” in line 24. My supplying “His” referring to God  is interpretive here. I really try not to be interpretive in my translations (though I think this is an impossible task). I am following various translations in my understanding of the verse.

So the first big question as we look at this psalm is: what sections does it divide into?

The children and I agreed that lines 1 through 7 form one section having to do with creation telling about God. Lines 8 through 13 make the next section, the topic of which is the sun. Lines 14 through 23 are about the word of the Lord. We didn’t quite no what to do with line 24. Lines 25 through 28 are about the psalmist’s sins, and finally lines 29 and 30 are a conclusion.

The big break seems to be between lines 13 and 14. The first two sections, on creation and the sun, can be lumped together since they are really both about the created world. Lines 14 through 19 form a very tight-knit, parallel section.

With a little prompting, the children were about to see the connection between lines 14-23 on the law and 25-28 on sin. In the word’s of my eldest:

“We need to learn this stuff [God’s law, statutes, etc.] so we know what we are doing wrong and can ask God for forgiveness.”

The key line that shows us this connection is 22: “Also your servant will be warned by them.” It is this meditation on God’s word that prompts the psalmist to see his sin and ask for pardon in the following lines.

Then having declared, “Then I will be perfect and cleansed from many sins” (line 28), the psalmist moves on to make his own utterances in lines 29 and 30. My six-year-old said,

“First the psalmist talks about his sins. In the second part he gets better. In the third part he is rejoicing.”

All of which ties together lines 14 to the end nicely. But what about the first half? How does it relate to what follows? This required more prompting on my part. I think the key is the words “speech”, “knowledge”, “utterance”, and the like. These occur in the first part when creation is “speaking”, in the middle in the form of God’s word, and at the end when the psalmist is uttering. So I asked the children how we know about God. There are two main ways, through His creation which points to and tells us about the Creator, and through His revealed word, the law of God. This psalm has both of these and ends with a third way, the words of others. Having seen God in His creation and heard about Him through His law, the psalmist repents of his sins and then makes his own utterances, telling others about God.

And that’s what we had for Psalm 19. Isn’t is lovely when you see how this seemingly disconnected psalm all fits together?


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