This very beautiful psalm is designed to illustrate the superiority of revealed truth above the light of nature in showing the character and perfections of God. In doing this, there is no attempt in the psalm, as there should be none on our part in explaining it, to undervalue or disparage the truths about God revealed by nature. All that could now be said in regard to the works of creation, as illustrating the divine perfections, is really admitted by the psalmist Psalm 19:1-6; and yet this is placed in strong contrast with the revelations disclosed in the “law of the Lord,” that is, in his revealed word Psalm 19:7-11. The revelations of nature, and the higher revelation by inspiration, belong to the same system of religion, and are alike designed to illustrate the being, the perfections, and the government of God. The friend of religion should claim the one as well as the other; the defense of the Bible as a revelation from God should not lead us to disparage or undervalue the disclosures respecting God as made by nature. He who asserts that a revelation is necessary to mankind, and who maintains that the light of nature is not sufficient for the wants of man, should nevertheless concede all that can be known from the works of God about the Creator; should rejoice in all that truth; and should be willing that all should be learned that can be learned about God from his works. When all this is admitted, and all this learned, there will be still an ample field for the higher disclosures which revelation claims to make.
Nor did the psalmist apprehend that the revelations about God which are made in his works would be in conflict with those which are made in his word. He evidently felt, in looking at these works of creation, that he was learning truths which would in no manner contradict the higher truths communicated by revelation; that the investigation of the one might be pursued to any extent without showing that the other was needless, or bringing the truth of the other into peril.
This psalm consists properly of three parts:
I. The revelation of God in his works, Psalm 19:1-6.
II. The higher and more glorious revelation of himself in his law, Psalm 19:7-10.
III. The bearing of these truths on the present character and conduct of the author, and consequently their adaptedness to produce the same effect on others, Psalm 19:11-14.
(a) in warning men of the nature of sin, and thus keeping them from transgression, Psalm 19:11;
(b) in making them aware of the extent and depth of sin, and especially of secret faults, Psalm 19:12;
(c) in leading them to pray earnestly that they may be cleansed from secret faults, and be kept back or restrained from presumptuous sins, Psalm 19:12-13;
(d) in leading them to pray earnestly that their words and thoughts may be made acceptable to God, Psalm 19:14.
The psalm is said in the title to be “A Psalm of David;” and there is nothing in the psalm itself to create a doubt in regard to the correctness of this statement. It is impossible, however, to determine when, or in what circumstances, it was composed, for there are no internal marks which will fix it at any particular period of the life of the author. There is no allusion either to persecution or to triumph; to private, domestic, or public life - or to any of the known circumstances of the history of David. If a conjecture may be allowed, it would seem not improbable that it was composed in those calm periods of his history when he led a shepherd-life; when he had abundant time to contemplate the movements of the heavenly bodies by day and by night, and to meditate on them in contrast with the higher truths which God had made known in his law.
Rosenmuller conjectured at one time that the psalm was originally two, and that the two were afterward united into one. DeWette also looked favorably on this supposition. Rosenmuller, however, subsequently saw occasion to retract this, and to adopt the opinion that it was originally one composition. This is undoubtedly the correct idea, as appears not only from the fact that there is no evidence that these were two psalms, and from the general character and construction of the psalm, but from the fact that the conclusion Psalm 19:12-14 seems to be based on the contemplation of all the truth which God in any way makes known to the soul. On the supposition that the psalm is one, this is a proper termination of the whole composition. On the other supposition, no small part of the beauty of the psalm would be lost.
In respect to the meaning of the title, “To the chief Musician,” see the introduction to Psalm 4:1-8.
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. Genesis 1:1, Genesis 1:8-9, Genesis 1:14, Genesis 1:17, Genesis 1:20; Genesis 6:17; Genesis 7:11, Genesis 7:19, Genesis 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. Genesis 2:1, Genesis 2:4; Deuteronomy 10:14; Ezra 9:6; Psalm 2:4; Psalm 8:1, Psalm 8:3; Psalm 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 Daniel 12:3. The word rendered firmament - רקיע râqı̂ya‛ 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, Genesis 1:6, Genesis 1:7 (twice), Genesis 1:8, Genesis 1:14, Genesis 1:15, Genesis 1:17, Genesis 1:20; Psalm 150:1; Ezekiel 1:22-23, Ezekiel 1:25-26; Ezekiel 10:1; Daniel 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 Isaiah 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 Psalm 8:3.
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 Proverbs 18:4; Proverbs 1:23; Proverbs 15:2, Proverbs 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.
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 Psalm 19:2, and in the following verse Psalm 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 Psalm 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.
Their line - That is, of the heavens. The word used here - קו qav - means properly a cord, or line:
(a) a measuring line, Ezekiel 47:3; Job 38:5; Isaiah 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, ἦχος ēchos 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, Psalm 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 Habakkuk 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 1 Corinthians 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.
His going forth - The psalmist now describes that race which he has to run, as borne over the entire circuit of the heavens, from one end of it to another - sweeping the whole space across the firmament.
Is from the end of the heaven - From one end of the heaven; that is, from the East, where he starts.
And his circuit - The word used here - תקופה teqûphâh - means properly a coming about, or a return, as of the seasons, or of the year. It is found only in Exodus 34:22, “At the year‘s end;” 1 Samuel 1:20, “When the time was come about” (Margin, in revolution of days); 2 Chronicles 24:23, “At the end of the year” (Margin, in the revolution of the year). The word here does not refer to the fact that the sun comes round to the starting-point on the following day, but to the sweep or circuit which he makes in the heavens from one end of it to the other - traveling over the entire heavens.
Unto the ends of it - That is, to the other side of the heavens. The plural term is used here perhaps from the idea of completeness, or to denote that there was nothing beyond. The complete journey was made.
And there is nothing hid from the heat thereof - The rays of the sun penetrate everywhere. Nothing escapes it. It is not a mere march for show and splendor; it is not an idle and useless journey in the heavens; but all things - vegetables, birds, beasts, men - all that lives - feel the effect of his vital warmth, and are animated by his quickening influence. Thus the sun in his goings illustrates the glory of God. The psalmist was fully alive to the splendor, the glory, and the value of this daily march over the heavens, and shows that while, as in the remainder of the psalm, he dwells on the law of the Lord as having another sphere, and in its place more fully illustrating the divine glory, he is not by any means insensible to the grandeur and beauty of the works of God as showing forth the divine perfections.
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 Psalm 1:2. There are six epithets used in these verses Psalm 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 Psalm 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, Psalm 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: Psalm 81:5; Psalm 119:14, Psalm 119:31, Psalm 119:36, Psalm 119:88, Psalm 119:99, Psalm 119:111, Psalm 119:129, Psalm 119:144, Psalm 119:157; Jeremiah 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:” Exodus 16:34; Exodus 25:16, Exodus 25:21-22; Exodus 26:33; Exodus 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 pethı̂y - means simplicity, folly, Proverbs 1:22; and then, simple in the sense of being open to persuasion, easily seduced: Proverbs 7:7; Proverbs 22:3; Proverbs 27:12; Psalm 116:6. Then it means credulous, Proverbs 14:15; and inexperienced, Psalm 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.
The statutes of the Lord - The word here rendered statutes properly means mandates, precepts - rules given to anyone to guide him, Psalm 103:18; Psalm 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, Deuteronomy 6:1; Deuteronomy 7:11; Leviticus 4:13; Genesis 26:5; Exodus 15:26; Exodus 16:28; Psalm 78:7; Psalm 89:31; Psalm 119:6, Psalm 119:10, Psalm 119:19, Psalm 119:21, Psalm 119:32, Psalm 119:35, Psalm 119:47-48, Psalm 119:60, Psalm 119:66, Psalm 119:73, Psalm 119:86, Psalm 119:96, Psalm 119:98, Psalm 119:115, Psalm 119:127, Psalm 119:131, Psalm 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.
The fear of the Lord - The word rendered fear in this place - יראה yir'âh - means properly fear, terror, Jonah 1:10; then, reverence, or holy fear, Psalm 2:11; Psalm 5:7; and hence, reverence toward God, piety, religion - in which sense it is often used. Compare Proverbs 1:7; Job 28:28; Isaiah 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 Leviticus 13:17, and then, in a moral sense, as a clean heart, etc., Psalm 12:6; Psalm 51:10. It is also applied to pure gold, Exodus 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 Exodus 21:1; Leviticus 18:5; Leviticus 26:43; compare Psalm 9:7, Psalm 9:16; Psalm 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.
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 Psalm 119:127; Proverbs 8:19; Isaiah 13:12; Lamentations 4:2; and pure gold in Psalm 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.
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 Leviticus 15:31; Ezekiel 3:18; Ezekiel 33:7. The word is rendered admonished in Ecclesiastes 4:13; Ecclesiastes 12:12; warn, and warned, in Psalm 19:11; 2 Kings 6:10; 2 Chronicles 19:10; Ezekiel 3:17-21; Ezekiel 33:3-9; teach, in Exodus 18:20; and shine, in Daniel 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.
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 Psalm 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.
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 Psalm 86:14; Psalm 119:21, Psalm 119:51, Psalm 119:69, Psalm 119:78, Psalm 119:85, Psalm 119:122; Proverbs 21:24; Isaiah 13:11; Jeremiah 43:2; Malachi 3:15; Malachi 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 John 8:32, John 8:36; Galatians 5:1.
Then shall I be upright - Hebrew: I shall be perfect. On the meaning of the word used here, see the note at Psalm 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.
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 Proverbs 14:35; Isaiah 56:7; Isaiah 60:7; Jeremiah 6:20; Exodus 28:38; Leviticus 22:20-21; Leviticus 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 Galatians 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 Psalm 18:2.
And my redeemer - On the word used here, see the note at Job 19:25; compare Isaiah 41:14; Isaiah 43:14; Isaiah 44:6, Isaiah 44:24; Isaiah 47:4; Isaiah 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.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Psalms 19". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany