Glory of God
Psalms 19! : the Glory of God
Psalm 19 was considered by C.S. Lewis to be “the greatest poem in the Book of Psalms and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.”
The theme of the Psalm is the glory of God: It begins with the words: The heavens declare the glory of God.
When we speak of God’s glory, we mean the sum effect of all of his attributes.
Let me explain: God’s attributes include: Grace, truth, goodness, mercy, justice, knowledge, power, eternality, compassion, truth, omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, love, power--all that God is.
When you take everything God is, the sum of it, is the glory of God. The totality of all that is good about God.
That is what creation declares, according to the Psalm.
The heavens declare the glory of God.
The Psalmist paints a magnificent picture for us. All of creation, he says, is singing a hymn of praise to God. We cannot actually hear the words of the hymn: it is silent praise. But it is praise indeed.
A day calls aside another day and says to him: the glory of God. One night tells the next night: the glory of God. Day to day, night to night, creation is praising the glory of God: that is the sum total of God’s goodness.
Now in order to describe something as majestic as God’s glory, the Psalmist turns to the most majestic thing in our human experience: the sun.
He speaks of the sun because it is the only thing we know that in any real sense compares with God’s glory.
In ancient times, people did not know of the existence of other universes. They never had rockets that could show them the splendour of the planets or of the galaxies. The greatest thing to their minds was the sun. In fact, in ancient times the sun was worshipped as a god by many peoples.
Now the Psalmist is not calling the sun a god. Not at all. He in fact says: God put the sun, set the sun, in the heavens.
I am not sure how many of you have seen the film brave heart, with Mel Gibson. It is a film about the battles between the Scots and the English. Gibson plays a Scotsman, William Wallace, who fights in the good old fashioned way: man to man hand combat. At one point there is this scene of Wallace, about to go into a decisive battle and he is rallying his troops. He says: “they may take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom!” and then he charges onto the battle field to fight: shield in one hand and sword in the other. The slow motion frames add to the drama of the imagery as Wallace runs directly towards the enemy.
The Hebrews called such a man: a mighty man of valour.
That is the image we find right here in Psalm 19, where the Psalmist likens the sun to a warrior that runs across the battlefield:
“like a strong man, runs its course with joy.”
As a child I was always told never look at the sun. Its glaring heat blinds those who looks at it. But out of the corner of my eye I have caught a glimpse of its power. I have also seen pictures taken from Nasa space flights of this mass of fire.
Our sun is 109 times the diameter of the earth. The temperature on the surface of the sun is about 11,000° Fahrenheit. It takes this light from the sun about 8–13 minutes to reach the earth… some 93 million miles away. Every day the sun lights up every corner of our dark plant. Without the sun, we would be in total darkness, and of course, without warmth necessary to survive.
Nothing I suppose is as perfect as a perfect day. When the sun is just right, and when it surrounds our bodies and warms them and gives us that sense that life is brilliant and wonderful and good.
What an image of the sun in this Psalm running across the sky like a mighty warrior running his course.
And yet—and this is the whole point of the Psalmist -in all its power, the sun is merely a servant of the most high God.
God put it there to rise every morning to declare like the day and like the night, the glory of God.
The second part of the Psalm moves from the theme of creation, to the theme of the Law of God. The shift seems so abrupt that it has led some scholars to think that Psalm 19 is actually composed of two different Psalms sandwiched into one. The first Psalm being vv. 1-6 about creation, and the second from verse 7 ff. about God’s Law.
In fact, there is only ONE Psalm here and the two parts go perfectly together.
Take note: In verses 7-9 the Psalmist uses six different words used for God’s Law, starting in verse 7:
Law, testimony, precepts, commandment, fear, rules. One for each day of the week. Sabbath is a day of rest.
All six words point to the same thing: the Law of God.
Alongside these six words for God’s Law, we have six words that describe God’s Law, that tell us what it is like. We are told by the Psalmist that it is perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, true. Six words for each day of the week. Sabbath is a day of rest.
Now how does this tie in to the first part of the Psalm which is about the creation and the sun?
Well just as the sun declares God’s glory and gives light to the world, so the Law also declares his glory and gives light to God’s people.
As the sun brings light and warmth and radiance to the earth, so the Law of God is a light that brings warmth and radiance to us.
Like the order of creation, the Law of God is full of God’s glory: it is perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, true.
The third and last part of the Psalm is found in verses 12-14.
Reflecting on the perfect law of God causes the Psalmist to think about his own life. This last part of the Psalm is extremely personal and intimate.
Having reflected on the glory of God in creation (1-6), and in the Law (7-11), the Psalmist is brought face to face with his own human limitation and with his own sinfulness.
The Psalmist comes face to face with his need for redemption.
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.
The prayer here is twofold. David asks God to cleanse him from sins he has committed which he is not himself aware of. He calls these hidden faults. They are hidden because he himself is not even aware of them. In other words, he prays for forgiveness for those sins he has committed without wanting to sin.
All of us can identify at this point. We all do and say things that hurt others, and often we didn’t even mean to do it. It just happened that way. Or we did something, and only later realized the consequences. I have often hurt people without intending to do it. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t sinful. We still need forgiveness for these sins.
But the Psalmist goes on to ask for something far more difficult. He asks for forgiveness for sins that he has willfully committed. He calls these: presumptuous sins (13). They are the worst kind, sins that are called in Hebrew sins with a high hand. You can picture such a sin: a man intentionally wanting to kill and having the knife in the air ready to strike! Or the man possessed with lust who pursues the girl he has decided he is going to rape. David, who wrote this Psalm knew all about such sins. He had committed them. He had raped Bathsheba, wife of Uriah and he had killed her husband: presumptuous sins.
Now you have to bear in mind something extremely important: the Old Testament made NO provision for forgiveness of sins that were willful. Not many people know this, but it is a fact. All the sacrifices of the OT covered sins of the first type: hidden faults. But there was no forgiveness from presumptuous sins.
So something extraordinary is taking place in this Psalm. David boldly turns to God and asks for something he has no right to ask for: redemption for all sin.
If the Psalm began with God’s immense power, it ends on the same note. The same God who created the universe, David reckons, MUST have the power also to wipe out sins that are willful.
A great preacher came to the end of his days. When asked, supposing he could have his time over again, would he preach any differently from what he had done, he replied: “I would keep coming back much more often to the forgiveness of sins.”
We forget just how powerful one must be to acquit the murder and adulterer.
The Psalms ends with one of the greatest prays in the Bible:
Psalm 19.14 Psalm 19:14 (ESV)
14 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 want in closing for you to take in that last word there: the word is redeemer. This word “redeemer” is a very intimate word in Hebrew. It was a word derived from the realm of family relationships, where it was the responsibility of family members to buy back or “redeem” relatives who have fallen into some kind of slavery. If that were the case, the redeemer, who was always the next of kin would come in and redeem. It is a very intimate picture. David uses that word of God as the last word of the Psalm.
The implications are astounding. Considering the way the Psalm began: with the immense power and glory of God as seen in the heavens. The God who set the sun on its course, is the selfsame God that the Psalmist turns to as “my next of kin”, my redeemer, who buys my freedom.
The glory of God: seen in the heavens, in the Law, but most importantly seen at our side.