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’The Word of God…’

’The Word of God…’

Introduction – John Mason

In February this year the Anglican Connection held an online conference with the theme, ‘The Unchanging God in a World of Change’. As the Bible provides timeless answers to questions about life various speakers brought us reflections on the Scriptures to remind us or to help us learn of God and the world in which we live.

Dr. John Yates, Senior Minister of Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Raleigh, NC, gave us two meditations on Psalm 19. Now, in preparation for the Conference seminars in a little over two week, here with John’s permission, is his second reflection.

Registered yet? In 2-weeks an opportunity to join a 75minute Seminar about an effective way every church member can introduce others to Jesus through reading the Gospel of John.

Reflection: Psalm 19 (#2) – John Yates III

This morning we listened in to the silent song of heaven in the opening verses of Psalm 19.  Bruce Waltke and Jim Houston wonderfully summarize the impact of that song when they write that, “The firmament’s uninterrupted proclamation of God’s glory is copious, extravagant, powerful, and inescapable.”  (Houston & Waltke, p.360).  It’s an apt description, isn’t it?

But the testimony of the heavens takes up only the first 6 verses of this Psalm.  From v.7 on, no longer is it the sun, moon and stars singing God’s praise.  Now it is David’s turn, and in taking up the song he shifts his attention to another source of divine knowledge: God’s law.

With this new focus David changes his language.  In vv.1-6, the term he used for God was the Hebrew word El, which is a general term affirming that God is supreme and all-powerful.  But from v.7 on David uses Yahweh, a personal and particular name given by God himself and shared with his people.  Yahweh is the name of the covenant-maker, the God who reaches down into creation in order to make himself known by direct revelation to his people.  And David carefully uses this name 7 times – the number of completion and perfection.

While the grandeur of the heavens elicits awe in the opening lines, the intimacy of direct and personal revelation draws forth devotion in the verses that follow.  David writes,

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;

the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;

8 the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;

the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;

9 the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;

the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.

In vv.7-9 David uses 6 different terms for God’s revealed word.  He speaks of law, testimony, precepts, commandments, and rules or decrees – covering every aspect of God’s self-revelation.  He also speaks of the purifying fear of the Lord, which is the attitude of every heart that rightly encounters God’s word.

What does this polyvalent word from God accomplish?  David explains in rapid-fire succession.  First it revives – it gives new life.  Second, it takes the simple, the ill-equipped, the ignorant and makes them wise.  Third, it brings forth deep-seated joy.  Fourth, it makes the eyes of those who read and obey it sparkle with righteousness.  Fifth, it produces pure, single-hearted, fearful devotion to God himself.  Finally, it sets all who hear it on a firm and unalterable foundation – the eternal and unchanging character of God.

While the heavens declare the glory of God, it is the law of Yahweh that reveals his love and goodness.  The heavens tell us that there is a sovereign, powerful God who created all things in a precise and orderly manner.  But only God’s law can convince us that this God is good and loving and so concerned for the people he created that he invites them to call on him by name.

In vv.10-11 David’s exploration of the goodness of God’s word continues as he offers insight into the value, desirability and effectiveness of this word.

More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;

sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.

11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

 God’s word is more valuable than even the most well-refined gold.  In other words, there is nothing on earth that surpasses it in value.  God’s word is also desirable, sweeter even than the sweetest honey left trapped in the honeycomb.  There is nothing that tastes as good as God’s word or is as deeply satisfying to consume.  As Thomas Cranmer wrote in his preface to the Great Bible, “in the Scriptures are the fat pastures of the soul.”

Finally, the one who heeds God’s word and obeys it is warned of dangers and rewarded by faithfulness.  God’s revelation to us accomplishes something.  It is powerfully effective to rescue and to bless those who keep it.

Back in v. 4 David invited us to consider the sun: 1.3 million times the size of earth, containing 98% of the mass in our solar system, and burning at a temperature of 27 million degrees Fahrenheit at its core.  This blazing sphere cries out “glory” like no other star in the sky.  But the power of it’s testimony pales in comparison to the words of God himself.  This is what David is trying to show us in vv.7-11.

No wonder Spurgeon once said of God’s word: “it is a crime to add to it, treason to alter it, and felony to take from it.” (See Houston & Waltke, p.365).

With this torrent of praise for the goodness of God’s word we might expect the psalm to end.  But it doesn’t.  There is one more section, one more change in focus – this time it is a shift inward.  Verse 12,

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.

 The shift is abrupt and superficially surprising. We want David’s poem to end on a high. Instead it concludes with a plea rooted in the humility of one who has stood beneath the glories of heaven and reveled in the love of God’s revealed law. For David, this is the natural and necessary conclusion to his reflections.

He knows that his wanderings, his errors, his hidden faults and flaws make no sense at all in light of what he has seen and said.  But he knows they are there and that he is ultimately powerless in the face of them.  So he pleads not just for mercy but for protection and purification.  He asks the all-powerful God who made the heavens, and the loving Lord who revealed his law, to reign in his life and strengthen him for obedience.

The whole psalm progresses with the logic of grace, and comes to its quiet climax in v.14 when David refers to God as his redeemer.  The term is pregnant with meaning in the context of God’s law.  It comes from the verb that describes the work of a near relative whose obligation is to rescue, protect, and restore life and liberty when a family member has strayed or been enslaved or abused.

The God whose glory fills the skies is David’s kinsman redeemer.  How?  David likely doesn’t fully understand himself.  But we do.  We know that the ultimate revelation of God’s glory and God’s love is not the stars that dazzle or the word that reveals.  It is the only-begotten Son, slain from the foundation of the world.  For Jesus came as our kinsman redeemer and laid down his own life that we might be restored to God our father.

Though the song of glory sung by the heavens echoes over us, and the revelation of divine love pours forth from God’s word, we cannot comprehend him until we meet his Son.  Only in Jesus, our kinsman redeemer, do we see the full extent of God’s glory and love.  And it is only through Jesus that we can hear the song of heaven and rightly read his word.

So we pray with David: Let the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer.  Amen.

© Dr. John Yates III

’The Word of God…’

’The Glory of God…’

Introduction – John Mason

In February this year the Anglican Connection held an online conference addressing the theme, ‘The Unchanging God in a World of Change’. As the Bible provides timeless answers to questions about life various speakers brought us reflections on the Scriptures to help us learn of God and the world in which we live.

Dr. John Yates, Senior Minister of Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Raleigh, NC, gave us two meditations on Psalm 19. Now, in preparation for the Conference follow-up October seminars here, with John’s permission, is his first reflection.

PS. 3 weeks away! Have you registered for a 75minute Seminar re an effective way every church member can introduce others to Jesus.

Psalm 19 (1) Reflection – John Yates III

Psalm 19 is well-known to all of us, and for good reason.  As CS Lewis unabashedly wrote, “I take this to be the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.”  (Reflections on the Psalms, London 1958, p.63).

This psalm of David begins with an emphatic declaration of the glory of God in the heavens in vv.1-6, pivots to a profound proclamation of the gifts of God in scripture in vv.7-11, and then concludes with a heartfelt confession and plea in vv.12-14.

As we focus on the first 6 verses this morning I want to ask two rather simple questions.  The first is this: What exactly are the heavens doing?  Verse 1,

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

2 Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.

3 There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.

4 Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

To put it simply, the heavens are praising God.  But this is no normal song of praise.

The first thing to notice about it is that it is continuous.  “Day to day” and “night to night” signify that the song is unending.  The heavens never pause for breath.  They never take a rest, which means that a melody of praise has played in the heavens since God first separated the firmaments and named them.  Every age, epoch and season has been serenaded by it.

The second thing to notice about the heavens’ praise is that it is inaudible.  It is nonetheless intelligible.  It reveals the vast storehouses of God’s knowledge, which unlike human knowledge cannot be taught but is simply possessed by God.  His knowledge and understanding is so vast it can only be displayed in the infinitude of space.

The third thing to notice is that this song is totally unconstrained.  It knows no national borders or physical barriers.  It covers every nook and cranny of the earth, and is therefore inescapable.  It is everywhere all at once.

These are the first things we notice about the song of the heavens as the poem begins.  In the second half of v.4, then, a shift takes place. David narrows the focus of his reflection, moving from the broad expanse of the cosmos to the more familiar track of the sun.  David writes,

In them [the heavens] he has set a tent for the sun, 5 which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,  and like a strong man, runs its course with joy.

6 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.

In that last phrase, the unconstrained and inescapable nature of heaven’s witness is illustrated by the searching heat of the sun – something every Jew living in the land of Israel would have experienced first-hand on the long, hot days of a Mediterranean summer.

But David is doing more than repeating his opening theme here.  By likening the sun to a happy bridegroom he is painting a more complete picture of the character of heaven’s praise.

The sun is like a man in the fullness of life who strides across the heavens in a demonstration of strength, full of the joy of his exertion.  The sun is doing what it was made to do and loving every minute of it.  We get a hint here of the profound truth that the praise of the heavens is not an accident; it is essential to the vocation of creation.

Not to be lost in this wonderful imagery is the fact that the sun is simply part of God’s creation.  In David’s world the pagans worshiped the sun as a god.  The Babylonians even referred to the sun-god as a bridegroom.  For David, however, the sun gives worship rather than receiving it.  It is a powerful witness – but only a witness – to the far greater glory of its creator.

The subtle polemic of this portrayal is reinforced in the second half of the psalm when Yahweh is named as the one who gives the law and establishes righteousness.  Among the pagans that was the work of the sun-god.  We know this from the stele that contains Hammurabi’s law code, where the sun-god, Shamash, is portrayed as giving the law to the king.  As David will soon explain, however, the sun only heralds the one true God who alone reveals his law directly to Moses.

What are the heavens doing?  They are bearing incessant and unconstrained witness to the glory of God over every inch of creation.  In doing so they are joyfully manifesting part of their very purpose in creation.

But what is the content of their revelation?  What knowledge, exactly, do the heavens reveal?  This, our second question, needs to be addressed briefly before we conclude.

There is a noticeable lack of content in the proclamation of the heavens.  We are told of the vastness of God’s knowledge and his incomparable glory, but little is actually said about God.  Quite a bit, however, is implied in David’s description.

First we see order and intent.  The heavens are well organized; the sun skillfully sent on its daily circuit.  The “handiwork” of God is evident across the expanse of the firmament.  The God whose glory the heavens’ proclaim is orderly and intentional in all that he creates.

Second, we see engagement and accessibility.  God is involved in his creation.  He has not simply wound the spring and walked away.  He sets a tent for the sun, and daily guides its course.  He is also accessible – meaning that he has chosen to make himself known and to reveal his glory.  The extent to which he can be known, and by whom he can be known, is left a mystery at this point, but will soon be revealed in the latter half of the psalm.

Finally, we see distance.  Even though he is active and engaged, the God of David still stands apart from his creation.  He is un-created, and he alone.  The song of the heavens is a declaration of his unique glory – his weightiness, dignity and authority.

The content of heaven’s declaration may be limited, but it is still substantial.  This is a god unlike any other known to the ancient world.

As we conclude I want to leave you with a brief thought about David himself.

A psalm like this requires a lot of staring up into space: head high, shoulders back, mouth agape, mind spinning.  It is the fruit of observing the glories of the heavenly spheres, attending to their silent speech and contemplating divine intent.  Only a man looking up and outside of himself could pen a poem like this.  Only a man keen to see God’s glory and to name it could explore creation in this way.

In asking us to consider the glory of the heavens David invites us to do the same.  He invites us to stop looking at our feet or gazing at our navels, to straighten our backs, and to throw back our heads in wonder.  He invites us to see the heavens from a fresh perspective, to seek out and name God’s glory wherever we see it.

In David’s delightful description the heavens fulfill their vocation by proclaiming the glory of God – by giving him praise.  This vocation is not unique to the sun, moon and stars.  It is ours as well.  And while we may never write a poem like this, we are right to seek out God’s glory and to proclaim it boldly to the world around us.

© Dr. John Yates III