1.The heavens declare the glory of God. I have already said, that this psalm consists of two parts, in the first of which David celebrates the glory of God as manifested in his works; and, in the other, exalts and magnifies the knowledge of God which shines forth more clearly in his word. He only makes mention of the heavens; but, under this part of creation, which is the noblest, and the excellency of which is more conspicuous, he doubtless includes by synecdoche the whole fabric of the world. There is certainly nothing so obscure or contemptible, even in the smallest corners of the earth, in which some marks of the power and wisdom of God may not be seen; but as a more distinct image of him is engraven on the heavens, David has particularly selected them for contemplation, that their splendor might lead us to contemplate all parts of the world. When a man, from beholding and contemplating the heavens, has been brought to acknowledge God, he will learn also to reflect upon and to admire his wisdom and power as displayed on the face of the earth, not only in general, but even in the minutest plants. In the first verse, the Psalmist repeats one thing twice, according to his usual manner. He introduces the heavens as witnesses and preachers of the glory of God, attributing to the dumb creature a quality which, strictly speaking, does not belong to it, in order the more severely to upbraid men for their ingratitude, if they should pass over so clear a testimony with unheeding ears. This manner of speaking more powerfully moves and affects us than if he had said, The heavens show or manifest the glory of God. It is indeed a great thing, that in the splendor of the heavens there is presented to our view a lively image of God; but, as the living voice has a greater effect in exciting our attention, or at least teaches us more surely and with greater profit than simple beholding, to which no oral instruction is added, we ought to mark the force of the figure which the Psalmist uses when he says, that the heavens by their preaching declare the glory of God.
The repetition which he makes in the second clause is merely an explanation of the first. David shows how it is that the heavens proclaim to us the glory of God, namely, by openly bearing testimony that they have not been put together by chance, but were wonderfully created by the supreme Architect. When we behold the heavens, we cannot but be elevated, by the contemplation of them, to Him who is their great Creator; and the beautiful arrangement and wonderful variety which distinguish the courses and station of the heavenly bodies, together with the beauty and splendor which are manifest in them, cannot but furnish us with an evident proof of his providence. Scripture, indeed, makes known to us the time and manner of the creation; but the heavens themselves, although God should say nothing on the subject, proclaim loudly and distinctly enough that they have been fashioned by his hands: and this of itself abundantly suffices to bear testimony to men of his glory. As soon as we acknowledge God to be the supreme Architect, who has erected the beauteous fabric of the universe, our minds must necessarily be ravished with wonder at his infinite goodness, wisdom, and power.
Psa 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God,…. By which we are to understand not the heavens literally taken, though these with the firmament are the handiworks of God, and do declare the glory of his perfections, especially his wisdom and power; these show that there is a God, and that he is a glorious one: but either Gospel churches, often signified by the kingdom of heaven, in the New Testament; the members of them being heaven-born souls, and the doctrines and ordinances ministered among them being from heaven; and there being a very great resemblance between them and heaven, in the company and communion enjoyed in them; and who declare the glory of the divine perfections, which is very great in the handiwork of their redemption; and who ascribe the glory of their whole salvation to God: or rather the apostles and first preachers of the word, as appears from Rom_10:18; who were set in the highest place in the church; had their commission, doctrine, and success from heaven; and who may be called by this name, because of the purity and solidity of their ministry, and their constancy and steadfastness in it, and because of their heavenly lives and conversations: these declared the glory of the divine perfections; such as those particularly of grace, goodness, and mercy, which are not discoverable by the light of nature or law of Moses, as, they are displayed in the salvation of men by Christ, in the forgiveness of their sins, the justification of their persons, and the gift of eternal life unto them: they taught men to ascribe the glory of salvation to God alone, Father, Son, and Spirit; they set forth in their ministry the glory of Christ, of his person, and of his offices and grace; and they showed that redemption was his handiwork, as follows:
and the firmament showeth his handiwork; for the same persons may be called the firmament, since they that are wise are said to shine as the brightness of it, Dan_12:3. These were like to stars in it, and were the light of the world, and declared that redemption is the work which Christ undertook, and came into this world to perform, and which he has finished; his hands have wrought it, and his own arm has brought salvation to him. The Targum interprets the heavens and the firmament, of such persons as contemplate the heavens, and look upon the firmament or air; and so do some other Jewish writers (w).
Jarchi & Kimchi in loc.
The heavens declare the glory of God – They announce, proclaim, make known his glory. The word heavens here refers to the material heavens as they appear to the eye – the region of the sun, moon, and stars. The Hebrew word is used in the Scriptures uniformly in the plural number, though in our common translation the singular number is often used. Gen_1:1, Gen_1:8-9, Gen_1:14, Gen_1:17, Gen_1:20; Gen_6:17; Gen_7:11, Gen_7:19, Gen_7:23; et soepe. The plural, however, is often retained, but without any special reason why it should be retained in one place rather than in another. Gen_2:1, Gen_2:4; Deu_10:14; Ezr_9:6; Psa_2:4; Psa_8:1, Psa_8:3; Psa_18:13. The original idea may have been that there was one heaven above another – one in which the sun was placed, another in which the moon was placed, then the planets, the fixed stars, etc. Above all was supposed to be the place where God dwells. The word glory here means that which constitutes the glory or honor of God – his wisdom, power, skill, faithfulness, benevolence, as seen in the starry worlds above us, the silent, but solemn movements by day and by night. The idea is, that these convey to the mind a true impression of the greatness and majesty of God. The reference here is to these heavens as they appear to the naked eye, and as they are observed by all men. It may be added that the impression is far more solemn and grand when we take into the estimate the disclosures of the modern astronomy, and when we look at the heavens, not merely by the naked eye, but through the revelations of the telescope.
And the firmament – See the note at Dan_12:3. The word rendered firmament – רקיע râqîya‛, means properly “an expanse” – that which is spread out – and is applied to the heavens as they appear to be spread out or expanded above us. The word occurs elsewhere in the following places, and is always rendered “firmament” in our common version, Gen_1:6, Gen_1:7 (twice), Gen_1:8, Gen_1:14, Gen_1:15, Gen_1:17, Gen_1:20; Psa_150:1; Eze_1:22-23, Eze_1:25-26; Eze_10:1; Dan_12:3. The word “firmament” – that which is firm or fixed – is taken from the word used by the translators of the Septuagint, στερέωμα stereōma, from the idea that the heavens above us are a solid concave. In the Scriptures the stars are represented as placed in that expanse, so that if it should be rolled together as a tent is rolled up, they would fall down to the earth. See the note at Isa_34:4. The reference in the passage before us is to the heavens as they appear to be spread out over our heads, and in which the stars are fixed.
Showeth his handywork – The heavens make known the work of his hands. The idea is that God had made those heavens by his own hands, and that the firmament, thus adorned with sun, and moon, and stars, showed the wisdom and skill with which it was done. Compare Psa_8:3.
2.Day unto day uttereth speech.Philosophers, who have more penetration into those matters than others, understand how the stars are arranged in such beautiful order, that notwithstanding their immense number there is no confusion; but to the ignorant and unlettered, the continual succession of days is a more undoubted proof of the providence of God. David, therefore, having spoken of the heavens, does not here descend from them to other parts of the world; but, from an effect more sensible and nearer our apprehension, he confirms what he has just now said, namely, that the glory of God not only shines, but also resounds in the heavens. The words may be variously expounded, but the different expositions which have been given of them make little difference as to the sense. Some explain them thus, that no day passes in which God does not show some signal evidence of his power. Others are of opinion that they denote the augmentations of instruction and knowledge, – that every succeeding day contributes something new in proof of the existence and perfections of God. Others view them as meaning that the days and nights talk together, and reason concerning the glory of their Creator’, but this is a somewhat forced interpretation. David, I have no doubt, here teaches, from the established alternations of days and nights, that the course and revolutions of the sun, and moon, and stars, are regulated by the marvellous wisdom of God. Whether we translate the words Day after day, or one day to another day, is of little consequence; for all that David means is the beautiful arrangement of time which the succession of days and nights effects. If, indeed, we were as attentive as we ought to be, even one day would suffice to bear testimony to us of the glory of God, and even one night would be sufficient to perform to us the same office. But when we see the sun and the moon performing their daily revolutions, — the sun by day appearing over our heads, and the moon succeeding in its turns — the sun ascending by degrees, while at the same time he approaches nearer us, — and afterwards bending his course so as to depart from us by little and little; — and when we see that by this means the length of the days and nights is regulated, and that the variation of their length is arranged according to a law so uniform, as invariably to recur at the same points of time in every successive year, we have in this a much brighter testimony to the glory of God. David, therefore, with the highest reason, declares, that although God should not speak a single word to men, yet the orderly and useful succession of days and nights eloquently proclaims the glory of God, and that there is now left to men no pretext for ignorance; for since the days and nights perform towards us so well and so carefully the office of teachers, we may acquire, if we are duly attentive, a sufficient amount of knowledge under their tuition.
Psa 19:2 Day untoday uttereth speech,…. This, with the following clause,
and night untonight showeth knowledge, some understand of the constant and continued succession of day and night; which declares the glory of God, and shows him to be possessed of infinite knowledge and wisdom; and which brings a new accession of knowledge to men; others, of the continual declaration of the glory of God, and of the knowledge of him made by the heavens and the firmament, the ordinances of which always continue; the sun for a light by day, and the moon and stars for a light by night; and so night and day constantly and successively proclaim the glory and wisdom of God: but rather this is to be understood of the constancy of the Gospel ministry, and the continuance of the evangelic revelation. The apostles of Christ persevered in their work, and laboured in the word and doctrine night and day: they were in it at all seasons; yea, were instant in season and out of season; and though they are dead, the Gospel continues, and will do as long as day and night remain: and these, like overflowing fountains, sent forth in great abundance, as the word (x) rendered “uttereth” signifies, the streams of divine light and knowledge; they were full of matter, and their tongues were as the pen of a ready writer; they diffused the savour of the knowledge of Christ, in great plenty, in every place where they came. These words express the continuance of the Gospel revelation, as the next do the extent of it.
(x) יביע “eructat”, Musculus, Munster, Vatablus, Junius & Tremellius, Piscator; so Ainsworth; “scaturit”, Muis; “scaturiendo effundit”, Cocceius; “copiose ac constanter instar foecundae cujusdam scaturiginis protrudit, emittit”, Gejerus; so Michaelis.
Day unto day – One day to another; or, each successive day. The day that is passing away proclaims the lesson which it had to convey from the movements of the heavens, about God; and thus the knowledge of God is accumulating as the time moves on. Each day has its own lesson in regard to the wisdom, the power, and the goodness of God, and that lesson is conveyed from one day to another. There is a perpetual testimony thus given to the wisdom and power of the Great Creator.
Uttereth speech – The word here rendered uttereth means properly to pour forth; to pour forth copiously as a fountain. Compare Pro_18:4; Pro_1:23; Pro_15:2, Pro_15:28. Hence, the word means to utter; to declare. The word “speech” means properly “a word;” and then, “a lesson;” or “that which speech conveys.” The idea is, that the successive days thus impart instruction, or convey lessons about God. The day does this by the returning light, and by the steady and sublime movement of the sun in the heavens, and by all the disclosures which are made by the light of the sun in his journeyings.
And night unto night showeth knowledge – Knowledge respecting God. Each successive night does this. It is done by the stars in their courses; in their order; their numbers; their ranks; their changes of position; their rising and their setting. There are as many lessons conveyed to man about the greatness and majesty of God by the silent movements of each night as there are by the light of the successive days – just as there may be as many lessons conveyed to the soul about God in the dark night of affliction and adversity, as there are when the sun of prosperity shines upon us.
3.There is no language nor speech [where] their voice is not heard.This verse receives two almost contrary interpretations, each of which, however, has the appearance of probability. As the words, when rendered literally, read thus — No language, and no words, their voice is not heard— some connect the third and fourth verses together, as if this sentence were incomplete without the clause which follows in the beginning of the fourth verse, Their writing has gone forth through all the earth, etc. According to them, the meaning is this:— The heavens, it is true, are mute and are not endued with the faculty of speech; but still they proclaim the glory of God with a voice sufficiently loud and distinct. But if this was David’s meaning, what need was there to repeat three times that they have not articulate speech? It would certainly be spiritless and superfluous to insist so much upon a thing so universally known. The other exposition, therefore, as it is more generally received, seems also to be more suitable. In the Hebrew tongue, which is concise, it is often necessary to supply some word; and it is particularly a common thing in that language for the relatives to be omitted, that is to say, the words which, in which, etc., as here, There is no language, there is no speech, [where]their voice is not heard. Besides, the third negation, בלי, beli, rather denotes an exception to what is stated in the preceding members of the sentence, as if it had been said, The difference and variety of languages does not prevent the preaching of the heavens and their language from being heard and understood in every quarter of the world. The difference of languages is a barrier which prevents different nations from maintaining mutual intercourse, and it makes him who in his own country is distinguished for his eloquence, when he comes into a foreign country either dumb or, if he attempt to speak, barbarous. And even although a man could speak all languages, he could not speak to a Grecian and a Roman at the same time; for as soon as he began to direct his discourse to the one, the other would cease to understand him. David, therefore, by making a tacit comparison, enhances the efficacy of the testimony which the heavens bear to their Creator. The import of his language is, Different nations differ from each other as to language; but the heavens have a common language to teach all men without distinction, nor is there any thing but their own carelessness to hinder even those who are most strange to each other, and who live in the most distant parts of the world, from profiting, as it were, at the mouth of the same teacher.
Psa 19:3 There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard,…. Not the voice of the day and night; as if the sense was, that there is no people, of any speech or language under the sun, but there is something said every day and night of the weather, what it is, or will be, as the face of the heavens appears morning and evening: but of the heavens and firmament; the meaning of which some take to be this; either that though they have no proper speech nor language, yet there is a voice in them which is heard, declaring the glory of God and his handiworks; and the words may very well be rendered, “they have no speech nor words, without these their voice is heard”; or that there is no people, nation, or language under the heavens; see Dan_3:4; though they are ever so different one from another, so as not to be able to understand each other; yet the voice of the heavens, uttering and proclaiming the glory of their Maker, is heard and understood by them all: but rather this is to be interpreted of the extent of the Gospel ministry by the apostles; who, according to their commission, went everywhere preaching the word, to men of all nations, of every speech and language; for which they were qualified, by having the gift of various tongues bestowed upon them; so that there were no nations, of ever so barbarous a speech and language, but they were capable of speaking to and of being understood by them; and though they could not understand one another, they all heard the apostles speak in their own tongues the wonderful works of God, Act_2:4. Their voice, in the ministration of the Gospel, was heard in every nation externally, and by many internally: faith came by hearing; and they received the word with gladness and readiness. This gives the Gospel revelation a superiority to the legal one; that was only made to one nation, to the nation of the Jews; the voice of that was not heard elsewhere; but the voice of the Gospel is heard in all nations; this revelation is published throughout the world: and this shows that these words belong to the times of the apostles, after they had received a commission from Christ, to go into, all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature; which was done before the destruction of Jerusalem, Mat_24:14; and which is further confirmed by what follows.
There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard – Leave out the expletives here, which pervert the sense; and what remains is a tolerable translation of the original: –
Ein omer veein debarim, beli nishma kolam.
“No speech, and no words; their voice without hearing.”
Bechol haarets yatsa kavvam: Ubiktsey thebel milleyhem.
“Into all the earth hath gone out their sound; and to the extremity of the habitable world, their eloquence.”
The word קו kau, which we translate line, is rendered sonus, by the Vulgate, and φθαγγος, sound, by the Septuagint; and St. Paul, Rom_10:18, uses the same term. Perhaps the idea here is taken from a stretched cord, that emits a sound on being struck; and hence both ideas may be included in the same word; and קום kavvam may be either their line, or cord, or their sound. But I rather think that the Hebrew word originally meant sound or noise; for in Arabic the verb kavaha signifies he called out, cried, clamavit. The sense of the whole is this, as Bishop Horne has well expressed it: –
“Although the heavens are thus appointed to teach, yet it is not by articulate sounds that they do it. They are not endowed, like man, with the faculty of speech; but they address themselves to the mind of the intelligent beholder in another way, and that, when understood, a no less forcible way, the way of picture or representation. The instruction which the heavens spread abroad is as universal as their substance, which extends itself in lines, or rays. By this means their words, or rather their significant actions or operations, מליהם, are everywhere present; and thereby they preach to all the nations the power and wisdom, the mercy and lovingkindness, of the Lord.”
There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard – Margin, Without these their voice is heard. Hebrew, “without their voice heard.” The idea in the margin, which is adopted by Prof. Alexander, is, that when the heavens give expression to the majesty and glory of God, it is not by words – by the use of language such as is employed among men. That is, there is a silent but real testimony to the power and glory of their great Author. The same idea is adopted substantially by DeWette. So Rosenmuller renders it, “There is no speech to them, and no words, neither is their voice heard.” High as these authorities are, yet it seems to me that the idea conveyed by our common version is probably the correct one. This is the idea in the Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate. According to this interpretation the meaning is, “There is no nation, there are no men, whatever may be their language, to whom the heavens do not speak, declaring the greatness and glory of God. The language which they speak is universal; and however various the languages spoken by men, however impossible it may be for them to understand each other, yet all can understand the language of the heavens, proclaiming the perfections of the Great Creator. That is a universal language which does not need to be expressed in the forms of human speech, but which conveys great truths alike to all mankind.”
That the passage cannot mean that there is no speech, that there are no words, or that there is no language in the lessons conveyed by the heavens, seems to me to be clear from the fact that alike in the previous verse Psa_19:2, and in the following verse Psa_19:4, the psalmist says that they do use speech or language, “Day unto day uttereth speech;” “their words unto the end of the world.” The phrase “their voice” refers to the heavens Psa_19:1. They utter a clear and distinct voice to mankind; that is, they convey to people true and just notions of the greatness of the Creator. The meaning, then, it seems to me, is that the same great lessons about God are conveyed by the heavens, in their glory and their revolutions, to all nations; that these lessons are conveyed to them day by day, and night by night; that however great may be the diversities of Speech among men, these convey lessons in a universal language understood by all mankind; and that thus God is making himself constantly known to all the dwellers on the earth. All people can understand the language of the heavens, though they may not be able to understand the language of each other. Of the truth of this no one can doubt; and its beauty is equal to its truth.
Psalms 19:4.Their writing has gone forth, etc.Here the inspired writer declares how the heavens preach to all nations indiscriminately, namely, because men, in all countries and in all parts of the earth, may understand that the heavens are set before their eyes as witnesses to bear testimony to the glory of God. As the Hebrew word קו, kav signifies sometimes a line, and sometimes a building, some deduce from it this meaning, that the fabric of the heavens being framed in a regular manner, and as it were by line, proclaims the glory of God in all parts of the world. But as David here metaphorically introduces the splendor and magnificence of the heavenly bodies, as preaching the glory of God like a teacher in a seminary of learning, it would be a meagre and unsuitable manner of speaking to say, that the line of the heavens goes forth to the uttermost ends of the earth. Besides, he immediately adds, in the following clause, that their words are every where heard; but what relation is there between words and the beauty of a building? If, however, we render קו, kav, writing, these two things will very well agree, first, that the glory of God is written and imprinted in the heavens, as in an open volume which all men may read; and, secondly, that, at the same time, they give forth a loud and distinct voice, which reaches the ears of all men, and causes itself to be heard in all places. Thus we are taught, that the language of which mention has been made before is, as I may term it, a visible language, in other words, language which addresses itself to the sight; for it is to the eyes of men that the heavens speak, not to their ears; and thus David justly compares the beautiful order and arrangement, by which the heavenly bodies are distinguished, to a writing. That the Hebrew word קו, kav, signifies a line in writing, is sufficiently evident from Isa_28:10, where God, comparing the Jews to children who are not yet of sufficient age to make great proficiency, speaks thus: “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little.”
In my judgment, therefore, the meaning is, that the glory of God is not written in small obscure letters, but richly engraven in large and bright characters, which all men may read, and read with the greatest ease. Hitherto I have explained the true and proper meaning of the inspired writer. Some have wrested this part of the psalm by putting upon it an allegorical interpretation; but my readers will easily perceive that this has been done without reason. I have shown in the commencement, and it is also evident from the scope of the whole discourse, that David, before coming to the law, sets before us the fabric of the world, that in it we might behold the glory of God. Now, if we understand the heavens as meaning the apostles, and the sun Christ, there will be no longer place for the division of which we have spoken; and, besides, it would be an improper arrangement to place the gospel first and then the law. It is very evident that the inspired poet here treats of the knowledge of God, which is naturally presented to all men in this world as in a mirror; and, therefore, I forbear discoursing longer on that point. As, however, these allegorical interpreters have supported their views from the words of Paul, this difficulty must be removed. Paul, in discoursing upon the calling of the Gentiles, lays down this as an established principle, that, “Whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved;” and then he adds, that it is impossible for any to call upon him until they know him by the teaching of the gospel. But as it seemed to the Jews to be a kind of sacrilege that Paul published the promise of salvation to the Gentiles, he asks whether the Gentiles themselves had not heard? And he answers, by quoting this passage, that there was a school open and accessible to them, in which they might learn to fear God, and serve him, inasmuch as “the writing of the heavens has gone forth through all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world,” (Rom_10:18.) But Paul could not at that time have said with truth, that the voice of the gospel had been heard through the whole world from the mouth of the apostles, since it had scarcely as yet reached even a few countries. The preaching of the other apostles certainly had not then extended to far distant parts of the world, but was confined within the boundaries of Judea. The design of the apostle it is not difficult to comprehend. He intended to say that God, from ancient times, had manifested his glory to the Gentiles, and that this was a prelude to the more ample instruction which was one day to be published to them. And although God’s chosen people for a time had been in a condition distinct and separate from that of the Gentiles, it ought not to be thought strange that God at length made himself known indiscriminately to both, seeing he had hitherto united them to himself by certain means which addressed themselves in common to both; as Paul says in another passage, that when God,
“in times past, suffered all nations to walk in their own ways, he nevertheless left not himself without a witness,” (Act_14:16.)
Whence we conclude, that those who have imagined that Paul departed from the genuine and proper sense of David’s words are grossly mistaken. The reader will understand this still more clearly by reading my commentaries on the above passage of St. Paul.
He hath set in them a tabernacle [or pavilion] for the sun. As David, out of the whole fabric of the world, has especially chosen the heavens, in which he might exhibit to our view an image of God, because there it is more distinctly to be seen, even as a man is better seen when set on an elevated stage; so now he shows us the sun as placed in the highest rank, because in his wonderful brightness the majesty of God displays itself more magnificently than in all the rest. The other planets, it is true, have also their motions, and as it were the appointed places within which they run their race, and the firmament, by its own revolution, draws with it all the fixed stars, but it would have been lost time for David to have attempted to teach the secrets of astronomy to the rude and unlearned; and therefore he reckoned it sufficient to speak in a homely style, that he might reprove the whole world of ingratitude, if, in beholding the sun, they are not taught the fear and the knowledge of God. This, then, is the reason why he says that a tent or pavilion has been erected for the sun, and also why he says, that he goes forth from one end of the heaven, and quickly passes to the other and opposite end. He does not here discourse scientifically (as he might have done, had he spoken among philosophers) concerning the entire revolution which the sun performs, but, accommodating himself to the rudest and dullest, he confines himself to the ordinary appearances presented to the eye, and, for this reason, he does not speak of the other half of the sun’s course, which does not appear in our hemisphere. He proposes to us three things to be considered in the sun, — the splendor and excellency of his forms — the swiftness with which he runs his course, — and the astonishing power of his heat. The more forcibly to express and magnify his surpassing beauty and, as it were, magnificent attire, he employs the similitude of a bridegroom. He then adds another similitude, that of a valiant man who enters the lists as a racer to carry off the prize of the course. The swiftness of those who in ancient times contended in the stadium, whether on chariots or on foot, was wonderful; and although it was nothing when compared with the velocity with which the sun moves in his orbit, yet David, among all that he saw coming under the ordinary notice of men, could find nothing which approached nearer to it. Some think that the third clause, where he speaks of the heat of the sun, is to be understood of his vegetative heat, as it is called; in other words, that by which the vegetating bodies which are in the earth have their vigor, support, and growth. But I do not think that this sense suits the passage. It is, indeed, a wonderful work of God, and a signal evidence of his goodness, that the powerful influence of the sun penetrating the earth renders it fruitful. But as the Psalmist says, that no man or nothing is hidden from his heat, I am rather inclined to understand it of the violent heat which scorches men and other living creatures as well as plants and trees. With respect to the enlivening heat of the sun, by which we feel ourselves to be invigorated, no man desires to avoid it.
Psa 19:4 Their line is gone out through all the earth,…. Not the line or writings in the book of the creatures, the heavens, and the earth, which lie open, and are legible, and to be seen and read of all men; nor the line and writings in the book of the Scriptures, called line upon line, and precept upon precept, Isa_28:13, which, though first given to the Jews, were written for the instruction of others, and have been communicated to them; but the line of the apostles: everyone had his line or measure; or the course he was to steer was measured out and directed to him; the line of one, where he was to go and preach the Gospel, reached so far one way, and the line of another reached so far another way; and what with one and another, their line reached throughout all the earth; see 2Co_10:13; the apostle citing these words in Rom_10:18; renders them, “their sound went”, &c. the sound of the Gospel, as published by them; which agrees with the next clause;
and their words to the end of the world; to the isles afar off, even to these northern and distant ones of England, Scotland, and Ireland, which were reached and visited with the Gospel, either by the apostles, or at least by some of the first ministers of the word;
in them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun; that is, in the heavens and firmament, where the natural sun is placed; and its habitation is fitly called a tabernacle, because it is always in motion and never stops: or this may have some respect to its setting, when, according to the common appearance, and to common understandings, it seems to be hid as in a tent or tabernacle; to be as it were gone to bed, and at rest; when in the morning it rises gay and cheerful, and comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber, as is said in Psa_19:5, but this is all to be understood, spiritually and mystically, of Christ the sun of righteousness, who has his tabernacle among his people, his churches; and particularly has a place, and the chief place, in the ministry of the Gospel, being the sum and substance of it; and this is of God’s putting there, who committed to his apostles the word of reconciliation, the sum of which is Christ; and this is what makes the Gospel so glorious a light, so clear a revelation as it is: the nature, continuance, and extent of this revelation, are described in the foregoing verses; the perspicuity and clearness of it is set forth in this clause, and in what follows.
St. Paul applies this as a prophecy relative to the universal spread of the Gospel of Christ, Rom_10:18; for God designed that the light of the Gospel should be diffused wheresoever the light of the celestial luminaries shone; and be as useful and beneficent, in a moral point of view, as that is in a natural. All the inhabitants of the earth shall benefit by the Gospel of Christ, as they all benefit by the solar, lunar, and stellar light. And, indeed, all have thus benefited, even where the words are not yet come. “Jesus is the true Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” His light, and the voice of his Spirit, have already gone through the earth; and his words, and the words of his apostles, are by means of the Bible and missionaries going out to all the extremities of the habitable globe.
All the versions, except the Chaldee, render the last clause of the fourth verse thus: “In the sun he hath placed his tabernacle;” as the old Psalter likewise does. They supposed that if the Supreme Being had a local dwelling, this must be it; as it was to all human appearances the fittest place. But the Hebrew is, “Among them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun.” He is the center of the universe; all the other heavenly bodies appear to serve him. He is like a general in his pavilion, surrounded by his troops, to whom he gives his orders, and by whom he is obeyed. So, the solar influence gives motion, activity, light, and heat to all the planets. To none of the other heavenly bodies does the psalmist assign a tabernacle, none is said to have a fixed dwelling, but the sun.
Their line – That is, of the heavens. The word used here – קו qav – means properly a cord, or line:
(a) a measuring line, Eze_47:3; Job_38:5; Isa_44:13; and then
(b) a cord or string as of a lyre or other instrument of music; and hence, a sound.
So it is rendered here by the Septuagint, φθόγγος phthongos. By Symmachus, ηχος echos. By the Vulgate, sonus. DeWette renders it Klang, sound. Prof. Alexander dogmatically says that this is “entirely at variance with the Hebrew usage.” That this sense, however, is demanded in the passage seems to be plain, not only from the sense given to it by the ancient versions, but by the parallelism, where the term “words” corresponds to it:
“Their line is gone out through all the earth; Their words to the end of the world.”
Besides, what could be the sense of saying that their line, in the sense of a measuring line, or cord, had gone through all the earth? The plain meaning is, that sounds conveying instruction, and here connected with the idea of sweet or musical sounds, had gone out from the heavens to all parts of the world, conveying the knowledge of God. There is no allusion to the notion of the “music of the spheres,” for this conception was not known to the Hebrews; but the idea is that of sweet or musical sounds, not harsh or grating, as proceeding from the movements of the heavens, and conveying these lessons to man.
And their words – The lessons or truths which they convey.
To the end of the world – To the uttermost parts of the earth. The language here is derived from the idea that the earth was a plane, and had limits. But even with our correct knowledge of the figure of the earth, we use similar language when we speak of the “uttermost parts of the earth.”
In them – That is, in the heavens, Psa_19:1. The meaning is, that the sun has his abode or dwelling-place, as it were, in the heavens. The sun is particularly mentioned, doubtless, as being the most prominent object among the heavenly bodies, as illustrating in an eminent manner the glory of God. The sense of the whole passage is, that the heavens in general proclaim the glory of God, and that this is shown in a particular and special manner by the light, the splendor, and the journeyings of the sun.
Hath he set a tabernacle for the sun – A tent; that is, a dwelling-place. He has made a dwelling-place there for the sun. Compare Hab_3:11, “The sun and moon stood still in their habitation.”
Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber – That is, when he rises in the morning. He rises from the darkness of the night, and comes forth as the bridegroom comes out of the chamber where he has slept. The allusion is to the bright, and joyful, and cheerful aspect of the rising sun. The image of the bridegroom is employed because we associate with a bridegroom the idea of hilarity, cheerfulness, joy. The essential image is that the sun seems to rise from a night of repose, as man does in the morning, and that after such a night of repose he goes forth with cheerfulness and alacrity to the employments of the day. The figure is an obvious but a very beautiful one, though there is a transition from the image employed in the previous verse, where the sun is represented as dwelling in a tent or tabernacle fitted up for it in the heavens. In the next member of the sentence the figure is again changed, by his being represented as a man prepared to run a race.
And rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race – As a man who is vigorous and powerful, when he enters on a race. He is girded for it; he summons all his strength; he seems to exult in the idea of putting his strength to the test, and starting off on his career. Compare the note at 1Co_9:24-27. The same comparison which is employed here occurs in the Zendavesta, ii. 106. DeWette. The idea is that the sun seems to have a long journey before him, and puts forth all his vigour, exulting in the opportunity of manifesting that vigour, and confident of triumphing in the race.
Psa 19:6 His going forth is from the end of the heaven,…. From the east, where it rises:
and his circuit to the ends of it; to the west, where it sets; which is expressive of the large compass the Gospel administration took in the times of the apostles; whereby the grace of God appeared to all men, shone out in a very illustrious manner, and Christ became, what the sun is to the earth, the light of the world;
and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof; though things may be hid from the light of it, yet not from its heat, so forcible and penetrating it is Christ, in the administration of the Gospel to all to whom it comes with power, not only enlightens their minds, but quickens their souls, warms their hearts, causes them to burn within them, arises with healing in his wings upon them, and makes his Gospel the savour of life unto life unto them. The psalmist goes on to say more and excellent things of the Gospel, its nature and usefulness.
7.The law of the Lord.Here the second part of the psalm commences. After having shown that the creatures, although they do not speak, nevertheless serve as instructors to all mankind, and teach all men so clearly that there is a God, as to render them inexcusable, the Psalmist now turns towards the Jews, to whom God had communicated a fuller knowledge of himself by means of his word. While the heavens bear witness concerning God, their testimony does not lead men so far as that thereby they learn truly to fear him, and acquire a well-grounded knowledge of him; it serves only to render them inexcusable. It is doubtless true, that if we were not very dull and stupid, the signatures and proofs of Deity which are to be found on the theater of the world, are abundant enough to incite us to acknowledge and reverence God; but as, although surrounded with so clear a light, we are nevertheless blind, this splendid representation of the glory of God, without the aid of the word, would profit us nothing, although it should be to us as a loud and distinct proclamation sounding in our ears. Accordingly, God vouchsafes to those whom he has determined to call to salvation special grace, just as in ancient times, while he gave to all men without exception evidences of his existence in his works, he communicated to the children of Abraham alone his Law, thereby to furnish them with a more certain and intimate knowledge of his majesty. Whence it follows, that the Jews are bound by a double tie to serve God. As the Gentiles, to whom God has spoken only by the dumb creatures, have no excuse for their ignorance, how much less is their stupidity to be endured who neglect to hear the voice which proceeds from his own sacred mouth? The end, therefore, which David here has in view, is to excite the Jews, whom God had bound to himself by a more sacred bond, to yield obedience to him with a more prompt and cheerful affection. Farther, under the term law, he not only means the rule of living righteously, or the Ten Commandments, but he also comprehends the covenant by which God had distinguished that people from the rest of the world, and the whole doctrine of Moses, the parts of which he afterwards enumerates under the terms testimonies, statutes, and other names. These titles and commendations by which he exalts the dignity and excellence of the Law would not agree with the Ten Commandments alone, unless there were, at the same time, joined to them a free adoption and the promises which depend upon it; and, in short, the whole body of doctrine of which true religion and godliness consists. As to the Hebrew words which are here used, I will not spend much time in endeavoring very exactly to give the particular signification of each of them, because it is easy to gather from other passages, that they are sometimes confounded or used indifferently. עדות, eduth, which we render testimony, is generally taken for the covenant, in which God, on the one hand, promised to the children of Abraham that he would be their God, and on the other required faith and obedience on their part. It, therefore, denotes the mutual covenant entered into between God and his ancient people. The word פקודים, pikkudim, which I have followed others in translating statutes, is restricted by some to ceremonies, but improperly in my judgment: for I find that it is every where taken generally for ordinances and edicts. The word מצוה, mitsvah, which follows immediately after, and which we translate commandment, has almost the same signification. As to the other words, we shall consider them in their respective places.
The first commendation of the law of God is, that it is perfect. By this word David means, that if a man is duly instructed in the law of God, he wants nothing which is requisite to perfect wisdom. In the writings of heathen authors there are no doubt to be found true and useful sentences scattered here and there; and it is also true, that God has put into the minds of men some knowledge of justice and uprightness; but in consequence of the corruption of our nature, the true light of truth is not to be found among men where revelation is not enjoyed, but only certain mutilated principles which are involved in much obscurity and doubt. David, therefore, justly claims this praise for the law of God, that it contains in it perfect and absolute wisdom. As the conversion of the soul, of which he speaks immediately after, is doubtless to be understood of its restoration, I have felt no difficulty in so rendering it. There are some who reason with too much subtilty on this expression, by explaining it as referring to the repentance and regeneration of man. I admit that the soul cannot be restored by the law of God, without being at the same time renewed unto righteousness; but we must consider what is David’s proper meaning, which is this, that as the soul gives vigor and strength to the body, so the law in like manner is the life of the soul. In saying that the soul is restored, he has an allusion to the miserable state in which we are all born. There, no doubt, still survive in us some small remains of the first creation; but as no part of our constitution is free from defilement and impurity, the condition of the soul thus corrupted and depraved differs little from death, and tends altogether to death. It is, therefore, necessary that God should employ the law as a remedy for restoring us to purity; not that the letter of the law can do this of itself, as shall be afterwards shown more at length, but because God employs his word as an instrument for restoring our souls.
When the Psalmist declares, The testimony of Jehovah is faithful,it is a repetition of the preceding sentence, so that the integrity or perfection of the law and the faithfulness or truth of his testimony, signify the same thing; namely, that when we give ourselves up to be guided and governed by the word of God, we are in no danger of going astray, since this is the path by which he securely guides his own people to salvation. Instruction in wisdomseems here to be added as the commencement of the restoration of the soul. Understanding is the most excellent endowment of the soul; and David teaches us that it is to be derived from the law, for we are naturally destitute of it. By the word babes, he is not to be understood as meaning any particular class of persons, as if others were sufficiently wise of themselves; but by it he teaches us, in the first place, that none are endued with right understanding until they have made progress in the study of the law. In the second place, he shows by it what kind of scholars God requires, namely, those who are fools in their own estimation, (1Co_3:18,) and who come down to the rank of children, that the loftiness of their own understanding may not prevent them from giving themselves up, with a spirit of entire docility, to the teaching of the word of God.
Psa 19:7 The law of the Lord is perfect,…. By which is meant, not the law of Moses, or the ten commandments, but the “doctrine” of the Lord; as the word תורה, “torah”, signifies, even the whole word of God, as in Isa_8:20. All the Scriptures of truth, which are profitable for doctrine; for setting doctrine in a clear light, and for the vindication and establishment of it, and are the rule of doctrine both to preachers and hearers; and which are “perfect”, contain the whole mind and will of God, both with respect to faith and practice; whereby the man of God is made perfect, and thoroughly furnished to all good works, 2Ti_3:16; and especially the Gospel part of the word of God may be designed, which both in the Old and New Testament is called “a law” or “doctrine”, being eminently so; the doctrine of the Messiah, and of justification by faith in his righteousness, Isa_2:3, Rom_3:27. The Gospel is a perfect plan and scheme of spiritual and saving truths: it gives an account of perfect things; as of the perfect righteousness of Christ, and complete justification by it; of the full as well as free pardon of sins by the blood of Christ; and of redemption and salvation from all sin and evils by him: and it also shows where true perfection is; namely, in Christ, in whom the saints are complete, be being made to them wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption; see Jam_1:25. This character, therefore, suits better with the Gospel than with the moral law; though that, as it is to be gathered out of the whole word of God, contains the good and perfect will of God, with respect to what is to be done or avoided; nor is anything to be added to it; nor did our Lord come to add unto it, or to make it more perfect, but to fulfil it, which men could not do; nor could the law make any man or anything perfect, either perfectly sanctify, or justify, or save; whereas the bringing in of the better hope in the Gospel does, Heb_9:7. The effect, under a divine influence and blessing ascribed to it, is,
converting the soul; which is a further proof that the law of Moses is not intended: for though by it is the knowledge of sin, or conviction of sin, which often falls short of conversion; yet the Spirit of God, as a spirit of regeneration, conversion, and sanctification, is not received through the doctrine or preaching of the law, but through the ministration of the Gospel; which is designed to turn men from darkness to light, and from the powers of Satan to God; and which use it has when it is attended with the demonstration of the Spirit and of power; see Rom_3:20, though the words may be rendered “relieving”, that is, refreshing and comforting the “soul” (z) as in Lam_1:11; Through want of bodily food, which is the case in the passage retorted to, the spirits faint and sink, the soul is almost gone, when, by the ministration of proper food, it is as it were brought back again, as the word (a) here used signifies, and the animal spirits are cheered and revived: and of like use is the Gospel; it is the food of the soul, by which it is refreshed and exhilarated, when ready to sink and faint away; hereby it is restored and revived, comforted and nourished;
the testimony of the Lord is sure; this is another name for the word of God, or the Holy Scriptures; so called because they testify of Christ, of his person, office, and grace; of what he is, was to do, and suffer, and perform for his people, and of his glory that should follow thereon, Joh_5:39; and particularly the doctrine of the Gospel is the testimony of our Lord Jesus Christ, both which he himself testified, and which is a testimony concerning him, 2Ti_1:8. And this is “sure”, or “to be believed” (b); the whole of Scripture is true, coming from the God of truth; having for its principal subject Christ, who is truth itself, and being dictated by the Spirit of truth; and particularly the Gospel part of it, and all the truths therein contained, especially the doctrine of salvation by Christ, which is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation: the Gospel is a testimony of record which God himself has bore concerning his Son, and eternal life by him, and therefore sure and to be depended upon; for if the witness of men is received, the witness of God is greater, 1Jo_5:9. The effect ascribed to the word of God, Or to the Gospel under this character, is,
making wise the simple. The Septuagint, Vulgate Latin, Syriac, Arabic, and Ethiopic versions, render it “babes” or “children”; and so Apollinarius; and the word פתי, here used in the Arabic language, is said to (c) signify such; and here it intends babes and children not in years, but in understanding, to whom God is pleased to reveal the truths of his Gospel, when he hides them from the wise and prudent: these simple ones are such who are sensible of their simplicity and folly, and of their want of understanding; who, with Agur, think themselves more foolish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man; and these, by the word of God, are made wise to know themselves, their folly, sinfulness, imperfections, and impotence; and are made wise unto salvation, to know the right way of salvation by Christ; see 2Ti_3:15; where the same phrase is used as here, and seems to be borrowed from hence, and is used of the Scriptures; which also make men wise in the knowledge of Gospel doctrines, the wisdom of God in a mystery, which to know is the greatest wisdom and understanding, and much more so than to be acquainted with the law only, Deu_4:6.
(z) משיבת נפש “recreans animam”, Vatablus, Schmidt; “refocillat”, Piscator. (a) “Restituens animam”, Junius & Tremellius, Cocceius; “reducens”, Gejerus, Montanus; so Ainsworth. (b) נאמנה “fidele”, V. L. Musculus, Pagninus; “fide dignum”, Piscator, Michaelis. (c) Shemot Rabba, s. 3. fol. 93. 2.
The law of the Lord – And here are two books of Divine Revelation:
1. The visible Heavens, and the works of creation in general.
2. The Bible, or Divinely inspired writings contained in the Old and New Testaments.
These may all be called the Law of the Lord; תורה torah, from ירה yarah, to instruct, direct, put straight, guide. It is God’s system of instruction, by which men are taught the knowledge of God and themselves, directed how to walk so as to please God, redeemed from crooked paths, and guided in the way everlasting. Some think that תורה torah means the preceptive part of Revelation. Some of the primitive fathers have mentioned three Laws given by God to man:
1. The law of nature, which teaches the knowledge of God, as to his eternal power and Deity, by the visible creation.
2. The law given to Moses and the prophets, which teaches more perfectly the knowledge of God, his nature, his will and our duty.
3. The law of grace given by Christ Jesus, which shows the doctrine of the atonement, of purification, and of the resurrection of the body.
The first is written in hieroglyphics in the heavens and the earth. The second was written on tables of stone, and in many rites and ceremonies. The third is to be written on the heart by the power of the Holy Ghost.
Is perfect – תמימה temimah, it is perfection, it is perfect in itself as a law, and requires perfection in the hearts and lives of men. This is Its character.
Converting the soul – Turning it back to God. Restoring it to right reason, or to a sound mind; teaching it its own interest in reference to both worlds. This is Its use.
The testimony of the Lord – עדות eduth, from עד ad, beyond, forward. The various types and appointments of the law, which refer to something beyond themselves, and point forward to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Some understand, the doctrinal parts of the law.
Is sure – נאמנה neemanah, are faithful; they point out the things beyond them fairly, truly, and fully, and make no vain or false report. They all bear testimony to the great atonement. This is Their character.
Making wise the simple – The simple is he who has but one end in view: who is concerned about his soul, and earnestly inquires, “What shall I do to be saved?” These testimonies point to the atonement, and thus the simple-hearted is made wise unto salvation. This is Their use.
The law of the Lord – Margin, doctrine. The word used here – תורה tôrâh – is that which is commonly employed in the Old Testament with reference to the law of God, and is usually rendered “law.” The word properly means “instruction,” “precept,” from a verb signifying “to teach.” It is then used with reference to instruction or teaching in regard to conduct, and is thus applied to all that God has communicated to guide mankind. It does not here, nor does it commonly, refer exclusively to the commands of God, but it includes all that God has revealed to teach and guide us. It refers here to revealed truth as contradistinguished from the truth made known by the works of creation. Compare the note at Psa_1:2. There are six epithets used in these verses Psa_19:7-9 to describe the revealed truth of God, all referring to the same truths, but with reference to some distinct view of the truths themselves, or of their effect on the soul: to wit, law, testimony, statutes, commandment, fear, and judgments. Of the revealed truth of God, thus characterized by distinct epithets, a particular statement is first made in each case in regard to the truth itself as viewed in that special aspect, and then the effects of that revealed truth on the soul are described corresponding with that truth as so viewed. Thus, of the “law of the Lord” it is said:
(a) that it is perfect,
(b) that it converts the soul;
Of the “testimony of the Lord”:
(a) that it is sure,
(b) that it makes the simple wise;
Of the “statutes of the Lord”:
(a) that they are right,
(b) that they rejoice the heart;
Of the “commandment of the Lord”:
(a) that it is pure,
(b) that it enlightens the eyes;
Of the “fear of the Lord”:
(a) that it is clean,
(b) that it endures forever;
Of the “judgments of the Lord”:
(a) that they are true and righteous,
(b) that they are more to be desired than gold, and that they are sweeter than honey and the honeycomb; that people are warned by them, and that in keeping them there is great reward.
Is perfect – On the meaning of the word used here, see the note at Job_1:1. The meaning is that it lacks nothing in order to its completeness; nothing in order that it might be what it should be. It is complete as a revelation of divine truth; it is complete as a rule of conduct. As explained above, this refers not only to the law of God as the word is commonly employed now, but to the whole of divine truth as revealed. It is absolutely true; it is adapted with consummate wisdom to the wants of man; it is an unerring guide of conduct. There is nothing there which would lead men into error or sin; there is nothing essential for man to know which may not be found there.
Converting the soul – The particular illustration of the perfection of the law is seen in the fact that it “converts the soul;” that is, that it turns it from the ways of sin to holiness. The glory of the works of God – the heavens, the firmament, the sun, as described in the previous verses – is, that they convey the knowledge of God around the world, and that the world is filled with light and life under the genial warmth of the sun; the glory of the law, or the revealed truth of God, is, that it bears directly on the soul of man, turning him from the error of his ways. and leading him to pursue a life of holiness. It is not said of the “law” of God that it does this by its own power, nor can there be any design here to exclude the doctrine of the divine agency on the soul; but the statement is, that when the “law” of God is applied to the heart, or when the truth of God is made to bear on that heart, the legitimate effect is seen in turning the sinner from the error of his ways. This effect of truth is seen everywhere, where it is brought into contact with the heart of man. By placing this first, also, the psalmist may perhaps have intended to intimate that this is the primary design of the revelation which God has given to mankind; that while great and important effects are produced by the knowledge which goes forth from the works of God, converting power goes forth only from the “law” of God, or from revealed truth. It is observable that none of the effects here Psa_19:7-12 ascribed to the revealed truth of God, under the various forms in which it is contemplated, are ascribed to the knowledge which goes forth from the contemplation of his works, Psa_19:1-6. It is not scientific truth which converts men, but revealed truth.
The testimony of the Lord – The word used here – עדות ‛êdûth – means properly that which is borne witness to, and is applied to revealed truth as that which God bears witness to. In reference to the truth of what is stated he is the witness or the voucher; it is that which he declares to be true. Hence, the term is applicable to all that is revealed as being that which he affirms to be true, and the word may be applied to historical truths; or to precepts or laws; or to statements respecting himself, respecting man, respecting the way of salvation, respecting the fallen world. On all these subjects he has borne witness in his word, pledging his veracity as to the correctness of the statements which are thus made. The word, therefore, refers to the whole of what is revealed in his word, considered as that to the truth of which he bears witness. The word is often used in this sense: Psa_81:5; Psa_119:14, Psa_119:31, Psa_119:36, Psa_119:88, Psa_119:99,Psa_119:111, Psa_119:129, Psa_119:144, Psa_119:157; Jer_44:23. It is often also applied to the two tables of the law laid up in the ark, which is hence called “the ark of the testimony:” Exo_16:34; Exo_25:16, Exo_25:21-22; Exo_26:33; Exo_30:26, et saepe.
Is sure – Established, firm. That “testimony,” or that revealed truth, is not unsettled, vacillating, uncertain. It is so certain that it may be relied on; so well established, that it cannot be shaken.
Making wise the simple – The word rendered simple – פתי pethîy – means simplicity, folly, Pro_1:22; and then, simple in the sense of being open to persuasion, easily seduced: Pro_7:7; Pro_22:3; Pro_27:12; Psa_116:6. Then it means credulous, Pro_14:15; and inexperienced, Psa_19:7. Gesenius, Lexicon. The meaning here is evidently inexperienced in the sense of being ignorant or untaught. It refers to those who need spiritual guidance and direction, and is applicable to men as they are by nature, as untaught, or needing instruction, but with the idea that their minds are susceptible to impressions, or are open to conviction. Those who are naturally destitute of wisdom, it makes wise. The statement is, that that testimony, or revealed truth, makes them wise in the knowledge of God, or imparts to them real instruction.
8.The statutes of Jehovah are right.The Psalmist at first view may seem to utter a mere common-place sentiment when he calls the statutes of the Lord right. If we, however, more attentively consider the contrast which he no doubt makes between the rectitude of the law and the crooked ways in which men entangle themselves when they follow their own understandings, we will be convinced that this commendation implies more than may at first sight appear. We know how much every man is wedded to himself, and how difficult it is to eradicate from our minds the vain confidence of our own wisdom. It is therefore of great importance to be well convinced of this truth, that a man’s life cannot be ordered aright unless it is framed according to the law of God, and that without this he can only wander in labyrinths and crooked bypaths.
David adds, in the second place, that God’s statutes rejoice the heart. This implies that there is no other joy true and solid but that which proceeds from a good conscience; and of this we become partakers when we are certainly persuaded that our life is pleasing and acceptable to God. No doubt, the source from which true peace of conscience proceeds is faith, which freely reconciles us to God. But to the saints who serve God with true affection of heart there arises unspeakable joy also, from the knowledge that they do not labor in his service in vain, or without hope of recompense, since they have God as the judge and approver of their life. In short, this joy is put in opposition to all the corrupt enticements and pleasures of the world, which are a deadly bait, luring wretched souls to their everlasting destruction. The import of the Psalmist’s language is, Those who take delight in committing sin procure for themselves abundant matter of sorrow; but the observance of the law of God, on the contrary, brings to man true joy.
In the end of the verse, the Psalmist teaches that the commandment of God is pure, enlightening the eyesBy this he gives us tacitly to understand that it is only in the commandments of God that we find the difference between good and evil laid down, and that it is in vain to seek it elsewhere, since whatever men devise of themselves is mere filth and refuse, corrupting the purity of the life. He farther intimates that men, with all their acuteness, are blind, and always wander in darkness, until they turn their eyes to the light of heavenly doctrine. Whence it follows, that none are truly wise but those who take God for their conductor and guide, following the path which he points out to them, and who are diligently seeking after the peace which he offers and presents by his word.
But here a question of no small difficulty arises; for Paul seems entirely to overthrow these commendations of the law which David here recites. How can these things agree together: that the law restores the souls of men, while yet it is a dead and deadly letter? that it rejoices men’s hearts, and yet, by bringing in the spirit of bondage, strikes them with terror? that it enlightens the eyes, and yet, by casting a veil before our minds, excludes the light which ought to penetrate within? But, in the first place, we must remember what I have shown you at the commencement, that David does not speak simply of the precepts of the Moral Law, but comprehends the whole covenant by which God had adopted the descendants of Abraham to be his peculiar people; and, therefore, to the Moral Law, the rule of living well — he joins the free promises of salvation, or rather Christ himself, in whom and upon whom this adoption was founded. But Paul, who had to deal with persons who perverted and abused the law, and separated it from the grace and the Spirit of Christ, refers to the ministry of Moses viewed merely by itself, and according to the letter. It is certain, that if the Spirit of Christ does not quicken the law, the law is not only unprofitable, but also deadly to its disciples. Without Christ there is in the law nothing but inexorable rigour, which adjudges all mankind to the wrath and curse of God. And further, without Christ, there remains within us a rebelliousness of the flesh, which kindles in our hearts a hatred of God and of his law, and from this proceed the distressing bondage and awful terror of which the Apostle speaks. These different ways in which the law may be viewed, easily show us the manner of reconciling these passages of Paul and David, which seem at first view to be at variance. The design of Paul is to show what the law can do for us, taken by itself; that is to say, what it can do for us when, without the promise of grace, it strictly and rigorously exacts from us the duty which we owe to God; but David, in praising it as he here does, speaks of the whole doctrine of the law, which includes also the gospel, and, therefore, under the law he comprehends Christ.
Psa 19:8 The statutes of the Lord are right,…. The word of God may be called “statutes”, or “visitations” (d) because that God will visit, in a way of resentment, such persons as despise its authority, do not act according to it, or add unto it, or detract from it; or the word may be rendered “commissions” (e), things committed to trust, as the Scriptures were to the Jews, Rom_3:1; and as the Gospel is committed to the trust of the ministers of it, who faithfully dispense it, 2Co_5:19. Now these may be said to be right, as the word of the Lord is, Psa_33:4; since they set men right in their principles, and direct them to right practices; they are the means of making them upright in heart, and in conversation: the doctrines of the word of God have nothing crooked, froward, and perverse in them; are without sophism, and the hidden things of dishonesty; they are all in righteousness, and plain and easy in everything respecting salvation, to those who have a spiritual knowledge and understanding of them, Pro_8:8; they lead into right and straight paths of truth and holiness, in which wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err; and particularly the Gospel directs to the right way of salvation and eternal life by Jesus Christ; the effect of which is
rejoicing the heart. This cannot be understood of the law, which is a voice of terror, pronounces guilty, curses and condemns, is the killing letter, and works wrath; but of the Gospel part of the word, which is a joyful sound; publishes good tidings of good things; and, when applied by the Spirit of God, is found to have this effect, see Jer_15:16;
the commandment of the Lord is pure; not only the Scriptures in general may bear this name, because they deliver out the commands of God to men, as those of a moral and ceremonial kind to the Jews under the former dispensation; so the ordinances of Christ, which are his commands under the Gospel dispensation; yea, the Gospel itself may be so called, though, strictly speaking, it has no command in it; because, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, it is made known to all nations for the obedience of faith, Rom_16:25; besides, the commandment is no other than the word or doctrine, see 1Jo_2:7; and as every commandment of the Lord, of what kind soever it is, is pure and holy, so is every word of God, Pro_30:5; being without any mixture of men’s inventions, or the dross of corrupt doctrine, sincere, unadulterated, clear of all chaff and impurity, consistent, uniform, and all of a piece, and which tends to promote purity of heart, life, and conversation;
enlightening the eyes: that is, of the understanding, so as for a man to see his lost state and condition by nature; to see the glory, fulness, and grace of Christ; to behold wondrous things in the doctrine of the Gospel, and to observe the way of duty in which he should walk: this is the eyesalve in Rev_3:18; and so the Jewish doctors (f) explaining this text call the law, using the same word as there.
(d) פקודי “visitationes”, Ainsworth. (e) “Commissiones”, Munster; “deposita”, so some in Rivetus; “depositum”, Gejerus, Michaelis. (f) Vajikra Rabba, s. 12. fol. 155. 3. & Debarim Rabba, s. 8. fol. 243. 3.
The statutes of the Lord – פקודים pikkudim, from פקד pakad, he visited, cared, took notice of, appointed to a charge. The appointments, or charge delivered by God to man for his regard and observance.
Are right – ישרים yesharim, from ישר yashar, to make straight, smooth, right, upright, opposed to crookedness in mind or conduct; showing what the man should be, both within and without. This is Their character.
Rejoicing the heart – As they show a man what he is to observe and keep in charge, and how he is to please God, and the Divine help he is to receive from the visitations of God, they contribute greatly to the happiness of the upright – they rejoice the heart. This is Their use.
The commandment – מצוה mitsvah, from צוה tsavah, to command, give orders, ordain. What God has ordered man to do, or not to do. What he has commanded, and what he has prohibited.
Is pure – From ברה barah, to clear, cleanse, purify. All God’s commandments lead to purity, enjoin purity, and point out that sacrificial offering by which cleansing and purification are acquired. This is Its character.
Enlightening the eyes – Showing men what they should do. and what they should avoid. It is by God’s commandments that we see the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and the necessity of redemption, so that we may love the Lord with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourselves. For this is the end of the commandment, and thus to enlighten the eyes is Its use.
The statutes of the Lord – The word here rendered statutes properly means mandates, precepts – rules given to anyone to guide him, Psa_103:18; Psa_111:7. It refers to the laws of God considered as appointed, or as the result of divine authority. The verb from which this word is derived (Hiphil) means to set over, to give the oversight, to appoint. Hence, the idea of laws, or statutes, as the result of such an appointment, or such an authority.
Are right – Are equal, just, proper. They are such as are founded in wisdom and equity; not such as are the mere result of arbitrary appointment. The idea is that they are not merely appointed, or made binding by authority, but that they are in themselves equitable and just.
Rejoicing the heart – Making the heart glad by the fact that they are equitable and just – and glad as the result of obedience. It is always a source of true happiness when we can feel that we are under just and equal laws; laws in themselves right, and laws administered in righteousness and truth.
The commandment of the Lord – An appellation of the law of God from the idea of setting up, appointing, constituting; hence, of charging, or commanding. The idea here is not so much that the thing is right in itself as that it is appointed or ordered by God; that it is what he requires. The term is one that is often applied to the laws of God, Deu_6:1; Deu_7:11; Lev_4:13; Gen_26:5; Exo_15:26; Exo_16:28; Psa_78:7; Psa_89:31; Psa_119:6, Psa_119:10, Psa_119:19, Psa_119:21, Psa_119:32, Psa_119:35, Psa_119:47-48, Psa_119:60, Psa_119:66, Psa_119:73, Psa_119:86, Psa_119:96, Psa_119:98,Psa_119:115, Psa_119:127, Psa_119:131, Psa_119:143 then I Chapter I then I me me then I out a then I out me day.
Is pure – Free from all stain; from all imperfection; from any corrupt tendency. “Enlightening the eyes.” That is, giving us light and knowledge. The eyes are mentioned, as it is by them that we see where to go. The reference here is undoubtedly to the mind or soul as being enlightened by the truth of God. We are made by these commandments to see what is right and proper; to understand what we should do.
9.The fear of Jehovah is clean.By the fear of God we are here to understand the way in which God is to be served; and therefore it is taken in an active sense for the doctrine which prescribes to us the manner in which we ought to fear God. The way in which men generally manifest their fear of God, is by inventing false religions and a vitiated worship; in doing which they only so much the more provoke his wrath. David, therefore, here indirectly condemns these corrupt inventions, about which men torment themselves in vain, and which often sanction impurity; and in opposition to them he justly affirms, that in the keeping of the law there is an exemption from every thing which defiles.
He adds, that it endures for ever; as if he had said, This is the treasure of everlasting happiness. We see how mankind, without well thinking what they are doing, pursue, with impetuous and ardent affections, the transitory things of this world; but, in thus catching at the empty shadow of a happy life, they lose true happiness itself.
In the second clause, by calling the commandments of God truth, David shows that whatever men undertake to do at the mere suggestion of their own minds, without having a regard to the law of God as a rule, is error and falsehood. And, indeed, he could not have more effectually stirred us up to love, and zealously to live according to the law, than by giving us this warning, that all those who order their life, without having any respect to the law of God, deceive themselves, and follow after mere delusions.
Those who explain the word judgments, as referring only to the commandments of the second table, are, in my opinion, mistaken: for David’s purpose was to commend, under a variety of expressions, the advantages which the faithful receive from the law of God.
When he says, They are justified together, the meaning is, They are all righteous from the greatest to the least, without a single exception. By this commendation he distinguishes the law of God from all the doctrines of men, for no blemish or fault can be found in it, but it is in all points absolutely perfect.
Psa 19:9 The fear of the Lord is clean,…. Still the word of God is intended, which teaches men to fear the Lord; gives a full account of the worship of God, which is often meant by the fear of God; it instructs in the matter and manner of worship; and nothing more powerfully engages to serve the Lord with reverence and godly fear than the Gospel does: and this is “clean”; and the doctrines of it direct to the blood of Christ, which cleanses from all sin, and to the righteousness of Christ, the fine linen, clean and white; the promises of it put the saints on cleansing themselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit; and the whole of it is the word of truth, by which God and Christ sanctify the church and the members of it, Joh_15:2. And this word is
enduring for ever; the law is done away; the ceremonial law entirely, and the moral law, as a covenant of works, and as to the ministration of it by Moses; but the Gospel continues; it is an everlasting one; it endures for ever, notwithstanding all the opposition made to it by open persecution, or false teachers;
the judgments of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether; “the judgments of the Lord” are the same with “the word of God”, as appears from Psa_119:25; and these seem to design that part of the word, which contains rules of God’s judging and governing his people; or the laws, orders, and ordinances of Christ in his house, which his people should observe, and yield a cheerful obedience to, he being their King, Judge, and Lawgiver: and these are “true”, or “truth” (g) itself; being wisely made, according to the truth of things, and agreeable to the holiness and righteousness of God, and so righteous; not at all grievous, but easy, pleasant, and delightful, one and all of them.
(g) אמת “veritas”, Pagninus, Montanus, Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Cocceius, Gejerus, Rivetus.
The fear of the Lord – יראה yirah, from ירא yara, to fear, to venerate; often put for the whole of Divine worship. The reverence we owe to the Supreme Being.
Is clean – טהורה tehorah, from טהר tahar, to be pure, clean; not differing much from ברה barah, (see above), to be clean and bright as the heavens; as purified Silver. Its object is to purge away all defilement, to make a spotless character.
Enduring for ever – עומדת לעד omedeth laad, standing up to Perpetuity. The fear that prevents us from offending God, that causes us to reverence him, and is the beginning as it is the safeguard of wisdom, must be carried all through life. No soul is safe for a moment without it. It prevents departure from God, and keeps that clean which God has purified. This is Its use.
The judgments of the Lord – משפטים mishpatim, from שפת shaphat, he judged, regulated, disposed, All God’s regulations, all his decisions; what he has pronounced to be right and proper.
Are true – אמת emeth, truth, from אם am, to support, confirm, make stable, and certain. This is the character of God’s judgments. They shall all stand. All dispensations in providence and grace confirm them; they are certain, and have a fixed character.
And righteous altogether – They are not only according to truth; but they are righteous, צדקו tsadeku, they give to all their due. They show what belongs to God, to man, and to ourselves. And hence the word altogether, יחדו yachdav, equally, is added; or truth and righteousness united.
The fear of the Lord – The word rendered fear in this place – יראה yir’âh – means properly fear, terror, Jon_1:10; then, reverence, or holy fear, Psa_2:11; Psa_5:7; and hence, reverence toward God, piety, religion – in which sense it is often used. Compare Pro_1:7; Job_28:28; Isa_11:2. Hence, by metonymy, it means the precepts of piety or religion. It is used evidently in this sense here, as referring to revelation, or to revealed truth, in the sense that it promotes proper reverence for God, or secures a proper regard for his name and worship.
Is clean – The word used here – טהור ṭâhôr – means properly clear, pure, in a physical sense, as opposed to filthy, soiled; then, in a ceremonial sense, as opposed to that which is profane or common Lev_13:17, and then, in a moral sense, as a clean heart, etc., Psa_12:6; Psa_51:10. It is also applied to pure gold, Exo_25:11. The sense here is, that there is nothing in it that tends to corrupt the morals, or defile the soul. Everything connected with it is of a pure or holy tendency, adapted to cleanse the soul and to make it holy.
Enduring for ever – Standing to all eternity. Not temporary; not decaying; not destined to pass away. It stands firm now, and it will stand firm for ever. That is, the law of God, considered as adapted to make the heart holy and pure, is eternal. What it is now it will always be. What its teaching is now it will continue to be forever.
The judgments of the Lord – The word here rendered judgments refers also to the revealed truth of God, with the idea that that has been judged or determined by him to be right and to be best. It is the result of the divine adjudication as to what is true, and what is best for man. The word is often used in this sense. Compare Exo_21:1; Lev_18:5; Lev_26:43; compare Psa_9:7, Psa_9:16; Psa_10:5.
Are true – Margin, truth. So the Hebrew. That is, they accord entirely with the truth, or are a correct representation of the reality of things. They are not arbitrary, but are in accordance with what is right. This supposes that there is such a thing as truth in itself, and the divine law conforms to that; not that God determines a thing by mere will, and that it is, therefore, right. God is infinitely perfect, and what he does will be always right, for that is in, accordance with his nature; but still his judgments are right, not because he makes that to be right which is determined by his will, but because his will is always in accordance with what is right.
And righteous altogether – That is, they are, without exception, just; or, they are altogether or wholly righteous. There is no one of them which is not just and proper. All that God determines, whether in giving or in executing his laws – all in his requirements, and all in the administration of his government – is always and wholly righteous. It is precisely what it should be in the case, and is, therefore, worthy of universal confidence.
10. More to be desired are they than gold.The Psalmist now exalts the law of God both on account of its price and sweetness. This commendation depends on the commendations given in the preceding verses; for the many and great advantages which he has just now enumerated, ought justly to make us account heavenly truth the highest and most excellent treasure, and to despise, when compared with it, all the gold and silver of the world. Instead of the word fine gold, which the Latins have called Aurum obryzum, some render the Hebrew word a jewel, or precious stones, but the other translation is more generally received, namely, fine gold, that is, gold which is pure and well refined in the furnace; and there are many passages of Scripture by which this rendering is confirmed. The Hebrew word פז, paz, is derived from פזה, pazah, which signifies to strengthen; from which we may conjecture that the Psalmist does not mean the gold of any particular country, as if one should say the gold of Ophir, but gold completely refined and purified by art. So far is פז, paz, from being derived from the name of a country, that, on the contrary, it appears from Jer_10:9, that the land of Uphaz took its name from this Hebrew word, because it had in it mines of the finest gold. As to the origin of the word obrizum, which the Latins have used, we cannot say any thing with certainty, except that, according to the conjecture of Jerome, it signifies brought from the land of Ophir, as if it had been said, aurum Ophrizum. In short, the sense is, that we do not esteem the law as it deserves, if we do not prefer it to all the riches of the world. If we are once brought thus highly to prize the law, it will serve effectually to deliver our hearts from an immoderate desire of gold and silver. To this esteem of the law there must be added love to it, and delight in it, so that it may not only subdue us to obedience by constraint, but also allure us by its sweetness; a thing which is impossible, unless, at the same time, we have mortified in us the love of carnal pleasures, with which it is not wonderful to see us enticed and ensnared, so long as we reject, through a vitiated taste, the righteousness of God. From this we may again deduce another evidence, that David’s discourse is not to be understood simply of the commandments, and of the dead letter, but that he comprehends, at the same time, the promises by which the grace of God is offered to us. If the law did nothing else but command us, how could it be loved, since in commanding it terrifies us, because we all fail in keeping it? Certainly, if we separate the law from the hope of pardon, and from the Spirit of Christ, so far from tasting it to be sweet as honey, we will rather find in it a bitterness which kills our wretched souls.
More to be desired are they than gold – This is strictly true; but who believes it? By most men gold is preferred both to God and his judgments; and they will barter every heavenly portion for gold and silver!
Sweeter also than honey – To those whose mental taste is rectified, who have a spiritual discernment.
Honey-comb – Honey is sweet; but honey just out of the comb has a sweetness, richness and flavour, far beyond what it has after it becomes exposed to the air. Only those who have eaten of honey from the comb can feel the force of the psalmist’s comparison: it is better than gold, yea, than fine gold in the greatest quantity; it is sweeter than honey, yea, than honey from the comb.
More to be desired are they than gold – That is, his law; or, as in the preceding verse, his judgments. They are more valuable than gold; they are of such a nature that the soul should more desire to be in possession of them than to be in possession of gold, and should value them more. The psalmist here and in the following verses describes his estimate of the worth of revealed truth as he perceived it. In the previous verses he had shown its value in the abstract; he here speaks of his own feelings in regard to it, and shows that he esteems it more than he did the objects most prized and valued among men.
Yea, than much fine gold – The word used here – פז pâz – means properly that which is purified or pure, and thus becomes an epithet of gold, particularly of gold that is purified. It is rendered fine gold here, as in Psa_119:127; Pro_8:19; Son_5:11, Son_5:15; Isa_13:12; Lam_4:2; and pure gold in Psa_21:3. The word does not occur elsewhere. Gold is an article of principal value among men; and the object here is to show that to a pious mind the revealed truth of God is esteemed to be the most valuable of all things – a treasure above all which men can accumulate, and all which men can prize. Every truly pious heart will respond to the sentiment expressed here.
Sweeter also than honey – Honey, the sweetest of all substances, and regarded as an article of luxury, or as most grateful to the taste. It entered largely into the food of the inhabitants of Palestine, as it does now in Switzerland and in some parts of Africa. The idea is that the truth of God, as revealed, is more grateful to the heart, or affords more pleasure to the soul, than that which is esteemed as the highest luxury to the palate. The meaning is, that it is loved; it is pleasant; it is agreeable; it is not regarded merely as necessary, and admitted to the soul because it is needful, as medicine is, but it is received into the soul because it is delighted in, or is more agreeable and pleasant than the most luscious article of food is to the taste. To this, also, the heart of every one who “has tasted the good word of God” will respond.
And the honeycomb – Margin, dropping of honeycombs. So the Hebrew. The allusion is to honey that drops from the combs, and therefore the most pure honey. That which is pressed from the combs will have almost inevitably a mixture of bee-bread and of the combs themselves. That which naturally flows from the comb will be pure.
11. Moreover, by them is thy servant made circumspect.These words may be extended generally to all the people of God; but they are properly to be understood of David himself, and by them he testifies that he knew well, from his own experience, all that he had stated in the preceding verses respecting the law. No man will ever speak truly and in good earnest of heavenly truth, but he who has it deeply fixed in his own heart. David therefore acknowledges, that whatever prudence he had for regulating and framing his life aright, he was indebted for it to the law of God. Although, however, it is properly of himself that he speaks, yet by his own example he sets forth a general rule, namely, that if persons wish to have a proper method for governing the life well, the law of God alone is perfectly sufficient for this purpose; but that, on the contrary, as soon as persons depart from it, they are liable to fall into numerous errors and sins. It is to be observed that David, by all at once turning his discourse to God, appeals to him as a witness of what he had said, the more effectually to convince men that he speaks sincerely and from the bottom of his heart. As the Hebrew word זהר, zahar, which I have translated made circumspect, signifies to teach, as well as to be on one’s guard, some translate it in this place, Thy servant is taught, or warned, by the commandments of the law. But the sentence implies much more, when it is viewed as meaning that he who yields himself to God to be governed by him is made circumspect and cautious, and, therefore, this translation seems to me to be preferable.
In the second clause the Psalmist declares, that whoever yield themselves to God to observe the rule of righteousness which he prescribes, do not lose their labor, seeing he has in reserve for them a great and rich reward: In keeping of them there is great reward. It is no mean commendation of the law when it is said, that in it God enters into covenant with us, and, so to speak, brings himself under obligation to recompense our obedience. In requiring from us whatever is contained in the law, he demands nothing but what he has a right to; yet such is his free and undeserved liberality, that he promises to his servants a reward, which, in point of justice, he does not owe them. The promises of the law, it is true, are made of no effect; but it is through our fault: for even he who is most perfect amongst us comes far short of full and complete righteousness; and men cannot expect any reward for their works until they have perfectly and to the full satisfied the requirements of the law. Thus these two doctrines completely harmonize: first, that eternal life shall be given as the reward of works to him who fulfils the law in all points; and, secondly, that the law notwithstanding denounces a curse against all men, because the whole human family are destitute of the righteousness of works. This will presently appear from the following verse.
Psa 19:11 Moreover, by them is thy servant warned,…. By whom the psalmist means himself, who was the servant of the Lord, not only in common with other saints, but as he was a king and prophet, and as such he received advantage from the word of God; all his instructions as a prophet, and all his rules of government as a king; and the whole of that wisdom, prudence, and knowledge, with which the conducted in both offices, were from the Lord by his word: and it may be applied to any servant of the Lord, and especially in an ecclesiastical office, as an apostle of Christ, and minister of the word; who serve God in the Gospel of his Son, and, by means of the Scriptures, are furnished for every good work; and also to believers in Christ in common; who, of whatsoever rank and quality, in whatsoever state and condition of life, whether high or low, rich or poor, bond or free, are Christ’s servants; and whatsoever is written is for their instruction, and by the word of God they are “warned”; the Scriptures are a way mark to them, to direct them in a right way, and to caution them against turning to the right or left; either to immoral practices, or the errors and heresies of wicked men: it is a lamp to their feet, and a light to their path, and teaches them to walk circumspectly, and warns them of rocks, gins, and snares in the way; or, as the words may be rendered, “by them is thy servant made clear”, or “bright” (k); so the word is used in Dan_12:3; that is, in his understanding: the psalmist confirms, by his own experience, what he had said before of the word, Psa_19:8; that it enlightened the eyes: the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ shining into the heart gives the light of the glory of God in the person of Christ; it illuminates and irradiates the mind, and gives clear ideas of the glory and perfections of God, of his counsels and covenant, of his works of nature and of grace; and makes a bright discovery of the person, offices, and grace of Christ; and of the blessed Spirit, and his operations; and of the blessings of grace, and of eternal glory and happiness;
and in keeping of them there is great reward; which is to be understood, not of keeping the law of Moses, and the precepts of that, which, if a man did keep perfectly and constantly, he should live in them; but of observing the word of God, and by diligent searching into it, reading and learning it, and meditating on it, to get and obtain knowledge of divine things; which carries its own reward with it, and is better than thousands of gold and silver; and of laying up the word of God, and the truths of the Gospel, and keeping them in mind and memory, which is very profitable and serviceable, to promote spiritual peace and comfort, and to preserve from sin, doctrinal and practical; and also of yielding a cheerful obedience to the Gospel, by cordially embracing and professing the doctrines, and submitting to the ordinances of it; from all which arise great profit, and much reward: such come at the knowledge of Jesus Christ, which is preferable to everything else, and is more precious than rubies; and all desirable things; such enjoy the presence of Christ, have much peace and comfort in their souls; they are made wise unto salvation, and are fitted for every good word and work.
(k) נזהר “illustratur”, Pagninus, Montanus, Rivetus.
Moreover by them is thy servant warned – The word used here – זהר zâhar – means, properly, to be bright, to shine; then, to cause to shine, to make light; and then, to admonish, to instruct, to warn. The essential idea here is, to throw light on a subject, so as to show it clearly; that is, to make the duty plain, and the consequences plain. Compare Lev_15:31; Eze_3:18; Eze_33:7. The word is rendered admonished in Ecc_4:13; Ecc_12:12; warn, and warned, in Psa_19:11; 2Ki_6:10; 2Ch_19:10; Eze_3:17-21; Eze_33:3-9; teach, in Exo_18:20; and shine, in Dan_12:3. It does not occur elsewhere.
And in keeping of them there is great reward – Either as the result of keeping them, or in the act of keeping them. In the former sense it would mean that a careful observance of the laws of God will be followed by rewards hereafter; in the other sense, that the act of keeping them will be attended with so much peace and happiness as to constitute of itself an ample reward. In both these senses is the assertion here made a correct one. Both will be found to be true. It is not easy to determine which is the true sense. Perhaps the language implies both. The phrase “thy servant” refers to the author of the psalm, and shows that in this part of the psalm, in speaking of the “sweetness” of the law of God, and of its value as perceived by the soul, and of the effect of keeping that law, he is referring to his own experience.
12. Who can understand his errors?This exclamation shows us what use we should make of the promises of the law, which have a condition annexed to them. It is this: As soon as they come forth, every man should examine his own life, and compare not only his actions, but also his thoughts, with that perfect rule of righteousness which is laid down in the law. Thus it will come to pass, that all, from the least to the greatest, seeing themselves cut off from all hope of reward from the law, will be constrained to flee for refuge to the mercy of God. It is not enough to consider what the doctrine of the law contains; we must also look into ourselves, that we may see how far short we have come in our obedience to the law.
Whenever the Papists hear this promise, “He who doeth these things shall live in them,” (Lev_18:5,) they do not hesitate at once to connect eternal life with the merit of their works, as if it were in their own power to fulfill the law, of which we are all transgressors, not only in one point, but in all its parts. David, therefore, being involved as it were in a labyrinth on all sides, acknowledges with astonishment that he is overwhelmed under a sense of the multitude of his sins. We ought then to remember, in the first place, that as we are personally destitute of the righteousness which the law requires, we are on that account excluded from the hope of the reward which the law has promised; and, in the next place, that we are guilty before God, not of one fault or of two, but of sins innumerable, so that we ought, with the bitterest sorrow, to bewail our depravity, which not only deprives us of the blessing of God, but also turns to us life into death. This David did. There is no doubt that when, after having said that God liberally offers a reward to all who observe his law, he cried out, Who can understand his errors? it was from the terror with which he was stricken in thinking upon his sins.
By the Hebrew word שגיאות, shegioth, which we have translated errors, some think David intends lesser faults; but in my judgment he meant simply to say, that Satan has so many devices by which he deludes and blinds our minds, that there is not a man who knows the hundredth part of his own sins. The saints, it is true, often offend in lesser matters, through ignorance and inadvertence; but it happens also that, being entangled in the snares of Satan, they do not perceive even the grosser faults which they have committed. Accordingly, all the sins to the commission of which men give themselves loose reins, not being duly sensible of the evil which is in them, and being deceived by the allurements of the flesh, are justly included under the Hebrew word here used by David, which signifies faults or ignorances. In summoning himself and others before the judgment-seat of God, he warns himself and them, that although their consciences do not condemn them, they are not on that account absolved; for God sees far more clearly than men’s consciences, since even those who look most attentively into themselves, do not perceive a great part of the sins with which they are chargeable.
After making this confession, David adds a prayer for pardon, Cleanse thou me from my secret sins. The word cleanse is to be referred not to the blessing of regeneration, but to free forgiveness; for the Hebrew verb נקה, nakah, here used, comes from a word which signifies tobe innocent. The Psalmist explains more clearly what he intended by the word errors, in now calling them secret sins; that is to say, those with respect to which men deceive themselves, by thinking that they are no sins, and who thus deceive themselves not only purposely and by expressly aiming at doing so, but because they do not enter into the due consideration of the majesty of the judgment of God. It is in vain to attempt to justify ourselves under the pretext and excuse of ignorance. Nor does it avail any thing to be blind as to our faults, since no man is a competent judge in his own cause. We must, therefore, never account ourselves to be pure and innocent until we are pronounced such by God’s sentence of absolution or acquittal. The faults which we do not perceive must necessarily come under the review of God’s judgment, and entail upon us condemnation, unless he blot them out and pardon them; and if so, how shall he escape and remain unpunished who, besides these, is chargeable with sins of which he knows himself to be guilty, and on account of which his own conscience compels him to judge and condemn himself? Further, we should remember that we are not guilty of one offense only, but are overwhelmed with an immense mass of impurities. The more diligently any one examines himself, the more readily will he acknowledge with David, that if God should discover our secret faults, there would be found in us an abyss of sins so great as to have neither bottom nor shore, as we say; for no man can comprehend in how many ways he is guilty before God.
From this also it appears, that the Papists are bewitched, and chargeable with the grossest hypocrisy, when they pretend that they can easily and speedily gather all their sins once a year into a bundle. The decree of the Lateran Council commands every one to confess all his sins once every year, and at the same time declares that there is no hope of pardon but in complying with that decree. Accordingly, the blinded Papist, by going to the confessional, to mutter his sins into the ear of the priest, thinks he has done all that is required, as if he could count upon his fingers all the sins which he has committed during the course of the whole year; whereas, even the saints, by strictly examining themselves, can scarcely come to the knowledge of the hundredth part of their sins, and, therefore, with one voice unite with David in saying, Who can understand his errors?
Nor will it do to allege that it is enough if each performs the duty of reckoning up his sins to the utmost of his ability. This does not diminish, in any degree, the absurdity of this famous decree. As it is impossible for us to do what the law requires, all whose hearts are really and deeply imbued with the principle of the fear of God must necessarily be overwhelmed with despair, so long as they think themselves bound to enumerate all their sins, in order to their being pardoned; and those who imagine they can disburden themselves of their sins in this way must be persons altogether stupid. I know that some explain these words in a different sense, viewing them as a prayer, in which David beseeches God, by the guidance of his Holy Spirit, to recover him from all his errors. But, in my opinion, they are to be viewed rather as a prayer for forgiveness, and what follows in the next verse is a prayer for the aid of the Holy Spirit, and for success to overcome temptations.
Who can understand his errors? – It is not possible, without much of the Divine light, to understand all our deviations from, not only the letter, but the spirituality, of the Divine law. Frequent self-examination, and walking in the light, are essentially necessary to the requisite degree of spiritual perfection.
Cleanse thou me from secret faults – From those which I have committed, and have forgotten; from those for which I have not repented; from those which have been committed in my heart, but have not been brought to act in my life; from those which I have committed without knowing that they were sins, sins of ignorance; and from those which I have committed in private, for which I should blush and be confounded were they to be made public.
Who can understand his errors? – The word rendered errors is derived from a verb which means to wander, to go astray; then, to do wrong, to transgress. It refers here to wanderings, or departures from the law of God, and the question seems to have been asked in view of the purity, the strictness, and the extent of the law of God. In view of a law so pure, so holy, so strict in its demands, and so extended in its requirements – asserting jurisdiction over the thoughts, the words, and the whole life – who can recall the number of times that he has departed from such a law? A sentiment somewhat similar is found in Psa_119:96, “I have seen an end of all perfection; thy commandment is exceeding broad.” The language is such as every man who has any just sense of the nature and the requirements of the law, and a just view of his own life, must use in reference to himself. The reason why any man is elated with a conviction of his own goodness is that he has no just sense of the requirements of the law of God; and the more anyone studies that law, the more will he be convinced of the extent of his own depravity.
Hence, the importance of preaching the law, that sinners may be brought to conviction of sin; hence the importance of presenting it constantly before the mind of even the believer, that he may be kept from pride, and may walk humbly before God. And who is there that can understand his own errors? Who can number up the sins of a life? Who can make an estimate of the number of impure and unholy thoughts which, in the course of many years, have flitted through, or found a lodgment in the mind? Who can number up the words which have been spoken and should not have been spoken? Who can recall the forgotten sins and follies of a life – the sins of childhood, of youth, of riper years? There is but one Being in the universe that can do this. To Him all this is known. Nothing has escaped His observation; nothing has faded from His memory. Nothing can prevent His making a full disclosure of this if He shall choose to do so. It is in His power at any moment to overwhelm the soul with the recollection of all this guilt; it is in His power to cover us with confusion and shame at the revelation of the judgment-day. Our only hope – our only security – that He will not do this, is in His mercy; and that He may not do it, we should without delay seek His mercy, and pray that our sins may be so blotted out that they shall not be disclosed to us and to assembled worlds when we appear before Him.
Cleanse thou me from secret faults – The word here rendered secret means that which is hidden, covered, concealed. The reference is to those errors and faults which had been hidden from the eye of him who had committed them, as well as from the eye of the world. The sense is, that the law of God is so spiritual, and so pure, and so extended in its claims, that the author of the psalm felt that it must embrace many things which had been hidden even from his own view – errors and faults lying deep in the soul, and which had never been developed or expressed. From these, as well as from those sins which had been manifest to himself and to the world, he prayed that he might be cleansed. These are the things that pollute the soul; from these the soul must be cleansed, or it can never find permanent peace. A man who does not desire to be cleansed from all these “secret faults” cannot be a child of God; he who is a child of God will pray without ceasing that from these pollutions of the soul he may be made pure.
13.Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins.By presumptuous sins he means known and evident transgressions, accompanied with proud contempt and obstinacy. By the word keep back, he intimates, that such is the natural propensity of the flesh to sin, that even the saints themselves would immediately break forth or rush headlong into it, did not God, by his own guardianship and protection, keep them back. It is to be observed, that while he calls himself the servant of God, he nevertheless acknowledges that he had need of the bridle, lest he should arrogantly and rebelliously break forth in transgressing the law of God. Being regenerated by the Spirit of God, he groaned, it is true, under the burden of his sins; but he knew, on the other hand, how great is the rebellion of the flesh, and how much we are inclined to forgetfulness of God, from which proceed contempt of his majesty and all impiety. Now, if David, who had made so much progress in the fear of God, was not beyond the danger of transgressing, how shall the carnal and unrenewed man, in whom innumerable lusts exercise dominion, be able to restrain and govern himself by his own free will? Let us learn, then, even although the unruliness of our wayward flesh has been already subdued by the denial of ourselves, to walk in fear and trembling; for unless God restrain us, our hearts will violently boil with a proud and insolent contempt of God.
This sense is confirmed by the reason added immediately after, that they may not have dominion over me.By these words he expressly declares, that unless God assist him, he will not only be unable to resist, but will be wholly brought under the dominion of the worst vices. This passage, therefore, teaches us not only that all mankind are naturally enslaved to sin, but that the faithful themselves would become the bond-slaves of sin also, if God did not unceasingly watch over them to guide them in the path of holiness, and to strengthen them for persevering in it. There is also another useful lesson which we have here to attend to, namely, that we ought never to pray for pardon, without, at the same time, asking to be strengthened and fortified by the power of God for the time to come, that temptations, in future, may not gain advantage over us. And although we may feel in our hearts the incitements of concupiscence goading and distressing us, we ought not, on that account, to become discouraged. The remedy to which we should have recourse is to pray to God to restrain us. No doubt, David could have wished to feel in his heart no stirrings of corruption; but knowing that he would never be wholly free from the remains of sin, until at death he had put off this corrupt nature, he prays to be armed with the grace of the Holy Spirit for the combat, that iniquity might not reign victorious over him.
In the end of the verse there are two things to be observed. David, in affirming that he shall then be upright and clean from much wickedness,attributes, in the first place, the honor of preserving him innocent to the spiritual assistance of God; and depending upon it, he confidently assures himself of victory over all the armies of Satan. In the second place, he acknowledges, that unless he is assisted by God, he will be overwhelmed with an immense load, and plunged as it were into a boundless abyss of wickedness: for he says, that aided by God, he will be clear not of one fault or of two, but of many. From this it follows, that as soon as we are abandoned by the grace of God, there is no kind of sin in which Satan may not entangle us. Let this confession of David then quicken us to earnestness in prayer; for in the midst of so many and various snares, it does not become us to fall asleep or to be indolent. Again, let the other part of the Psalmist’s exercise predominate in our hearts — let us boast with him, that although Satan may assault us by many and strong armies, we will nevertheless be invincible, provided we have the aid of God, and will continue, in despite of every hostile attempt, to hold fast our integrity.
Psa 19:13 Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins,…. Some understand these words of persons: the Septuagint, and the versions that follow that, render it “from strangers”: such who are strangers to God and godliness; that is, keep from all conversation with them in things sinful, or from others’ sins; from having a fellowship with them, being a partaker of them, lest their plagues and punishments should be shared in: others, as the Targum, “from proud men”, who are haughty, insolent, and conceited of themselves; lest he should be so corrupted and drawn aside by them: but rather the words are to be understood of sins wilfully, contumaciously, and presumptuously committed; and the petition supposes, that these may be committed by good men, if left to themselves; and that there is a proneness in them to them; and that they would rush into them, were they not kept back and restrained by the powerful and efficacious grace of God: and it also supposes that the saints cannot keep themselves; that God only can keep them from evil; and therefore they pray to him that he would, who does keep them by his power, at least from a final and total falling away
let them not have dominion over me: neither presumptuous sins, nor any other, Psa_119:133; as they shall not, Rom_6:14; as sin has over wicked men; and they yield a ready obedience to the laws and lusts of it; it reigns over them as a king and tyrant, even unto death: it is something very powerful in good men; it prevails over them, and carries them captive; wherefore they pray it may not have a continued dominion, as it shall not; because they are in another kingdom, and under grace as a governing principle, which reigns through righteousness unto eternal life;
then shall I be upright; in heart, and walk uprightly in conversation; being cleansed from secret faults, and kept from notorious crimes, and gross enormities; and shall exercise a conscience void of offence, both to God and man; and be “perfect”, as the word is sometimes rendered, at least comparatively; and absolutely so, as washed in Christ’s blood, and justified by his righteousness;
and I shall be innocent from the great transgression; which some understand of pride, others of apostasy; perhaps the sin against the Holy Ghost may be intended; though the words may be rendered, “from much transgression” (k); and the sense is, that he should be cleared and acquitted of a multitude of transgressions he had been guilty of; or be preserved from much sin, which otherwise he should have fallen into.
(k) רב “multa”, Montanus, Rivetus, Gejerus, Cocceius; so Ainsworth.
Keep back thy servant also – Restrain thy servant; or, do not suffer him to commit those sins.
From presumptuous sins – The word used here is manifestly designed to stand in some respects in contrast with the secret faults mentioned in the previous verse. The word – זד zêd – means properly that which is boiling, swelling, inflated; then proud, arrogant; with the accessory notion of shameless wickedness or impiety. Gesenius, Lexicon. The word is rendered proud in Psa_86:14; Psa_119:21, Psa_119:51, Psa_119:69, Psa_119:78, Psa_119:85,Psa_119:122; Pro_21:24; Isa_13:11; Jer_43:2; Mal_3:15; Mal_4:1. It does not occur elsewhere. The prevailing thought is that of pride, and the reference is particularly to sins which proceed from self-confidence; from reliance on one’s own strength. The word does not mean open sins, or flagrant sins, so much as those which spring from self-reliance or pride. The prayer is substantially that he might have a proper distrust of himself, and might not be left by an improper reliance on his own power to the commission of sin. This also is said in view of the extent and spirituality of the law of God – expressing the earnest desire of the author of the psalm that he might not be left to violate a law so pure and holy.
Let them not have dominion over me – Let them not reign over me; that is, let them not get the mastery or the ascendancy over me. Let me not become the slave of sin; so subject to it that it shall domineer over me. Sin often secures that kind of triumph or mastery over the mind, making a slave of him who yields to it. The pious man alone is a true freeman. He is emancipated from the dominion of sin, and walks in true liberty: see Joh_8:32, Joh_8:36; Gal_5:1.
Then shall I be upright – Hebrew: I shall be perfect. On the meaning of the word used here, see the note at Psa_19:7. It means here that he would be truly a servant of God; or, that he would have this evidence that he was a friend of God, that he was kept from the indulgence of secret faults, and from open transgressions – that is, his piety would have completeness of parts; or, it would be shown to be true and genuine. It cannot be demonstrated from the use of the word that he supposed that he would be absolutely perfect or free from all sin. See the note at Job_1:1.
And I shall be innocent – This does not mean that he would be absolutely innocent, or free from all sin; but it means here, as it is explained in the following phrase, that he would be innocent of the great transgression, or would be free from that.
From the great transgression – Margin, as in Hebrew, much. It does not, refer to any one specific offence, but it means that he would be free from the transgression which would exist if he were not cleansed from secret faults, and if he were not kept back from presumptuous sins. He would be saved from the great guilt which would ensue if he should give unchecked indulgence to secret faults, and if he should be allowed to commit the open sins which were the result of pride and over-weening self-confidence.
14. Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart.David asks still more expressly to be fortified by the grace of God, and thus enabled to live an upright and holy life. The substance of the verse is this: I beseech thee, O God, not only to keep me from breaking forth into the external acts of transgression, but also to frame my tongue and my heart to the obedience of thy law. We know how difficult it is, even for the most perfect, so to bridle their words and thoughts, as that nothing may pass through their heart or mouth which is contrary to the will of God; and yet this inward purity is what the law chiefly requires of us. Now, the rarer this virtue — the rarer this strict control of the heart and of the tongue is, let us learn so much the more the necessity of our being governed by the Holy Spirit, in order to regulate our life uprightly and honestly. By the word acceptable, the Psalmist shows that the only rule of living well is for men to endeavor to please God, and to be approved of him. The concluding words, in which he calls God his strength and his redeemer, he employs to confirm himself in the assured confidence of obtaining his requests.
Psa 19:14 Let the words of my mouth,…. Meaning either his speech in common conversation, which should not be filthy and foolish, rotten and corrupt; but such as ministers grace to the hearer: or else his address to God, both in prayer and thanksgiving;
and the meditation of my heart; his inward thoughts continually revolving in his mind; or his meditation on the word of God and divine things; or mental prayer, which is not expressed, only conceived in the mind;
be acceptable in thy sight; as words and thoughts are, when they are according to the word of God; and as the sacrifices of prayer, whether vocal or mental, and of praise, are through Jesus Christ our Lord. The psalmist, in order to strengthen his faith in God, that he should be heard and answered in the petitions he put up, makes use of the following epithets:
O Lord, my strength, or “rock” (l),
and my Redeemer; who had been the strength of his life and of his salvation, the rock on which he was built and established, and the Redeemer who had redeemed his life from destruction, and out of the hands of all his enemies, and from all his iniquities.
(l) צורי “rupes mea”, Musculus, Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Cocceius; “mea petra”, Pagninus, Montanus, Rivetus; so Ainsworth.
Let the words of my mouth – He has prayed against practical sin, the sins of the body; now, against the sins of the mouth and of the heart. Let my mouth speak nothing but what is true, kind, and profitable; and my heart meditate nothing but what is holy, pure, and chaste.
Acceptable in thy sight – Like a sacrifice without spot or blemish, offered up with a perfect heart to God.
O Lord, my strength – צורי tsuri, “my fountain, my origin.”
My redeemer – גאלי goali, my kinsman, he whose right it is to redeem the forfeited inheritance; for so was the word used under the old law. This prayer is properly concluded! he was weak, he felt the need of God’s strength. He had sinned and lost all title to the heavenly inheritance, and therefore needed the interference of the Divine kinsman; of Him who, because the children were partakers of flesh and blood, also partook of the same. No prayer can be acceptable before God which is not offered up in his strength; through Him who took our nature upon him, that he might redeem us unto God, and restore the long-lost inheritance. Lord my helpar and my byer. – Old Psalter. He who is my only help, and he that bought me with his blood. This prayer is often, with great propriety, uttered by pious people when they enter a place of worship.
Let the words of my mouth – The words that I speak; all the words that I speak.
And the meditation of my heart – The thoughts of my heart.
Be acceptable in thy sight – Be such as thou wilt approve; or, be such as will be pleasing to thee; such as will give thee delight or satisfaction; such as will be agreeable to thee. Compare Pro_14:35; Isa_56:7; Isa_60:7; Jer_6:20; Exo_28:38; Lev_22:20-21; Lev_19:5. This supposes:
(a) that God has such control over our thoughts and words, that he can cause us to order them aright;
(b) that it is proper to pray to him to exert such an influence on our minds that our words and thoughts may be right and pure;
(c) that it is one of the sincere desires and wishes of true piety that the thoughts and words may be acceptable or pleasing to God.
The great purpose of the truly pious is, not to please themselves, or to please their fellow-men, (compare Gal_1:10), but to please God. The great object is to secure acceptance with him; to have such thoughts, and to utter such words, that He can look upon them with approbation.
O Lord my strength – Margin, as in Hebrew, rock. Compare the note at Psa_18:2.
And my redeemer – On the word used here, see the note at Job_19:25; compare Isa_41:14; Isa_43:14; Isa_44:6, Isa_44:24; Isa_47:4; Isa_63:16. The two things which the psalmist here refers to in regard to God, as the appellations dear to his heart, are
(a) that God is his Rock, or strength; that is, that he was his defense and refuge; and
(b) that he had rescued or redeemed him from sin; or that he looked to him as alone able to redeem him from sin and death.
It is not necessary to inquire here how far the psalmist was acquainted with the plan of salvation as it would be ultimately disclosed through the great Redeemer of mankind; it is sufficient to know that he had an idea of redemption, and that he looked to God as his Redeemer, and believed that he could rescue him from sin. The psalm, therefore, which begins with a contemplation of God in his works, appropriately closes with a contemplation of God in redemption; or brings before us the great thought that it is not by the knowledge of God as we can gain it from his works of creation that we are to be saved, but that the most endearing character in which he can be manifested to us is in the work of redemption, and that wherever we begin in our contemplation of God, it becomes us to end in the contemplation of his character as our Redeemer.