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.
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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