David Davis, Wrexham, Wales [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Read the psalm through first, and then keep your Bible open so that you can refer to it as you read this article. The Scripture references are given so that you may read them for yourself. This will help you get the most out of it.
This wonderful psalm is in three distinct sections, firstly:
- the silent word of God, in verses 1-6, then
- the written word of God, in verses 7-9,
- and finally, David’s response to these things in verses 10-14.
David commences by telling us that the heavens and the firmament, the sphere of the sun, moon and stars, are a compelling testimony to the glory of God, that is, His eternal power and Godhead. This leaves man without excuse, Rom. 1. 19, 20, on the basis of this silent testimony alone. All creation testifies to God’s power and wisdom. The fact that so many today do not accept the divine record of creation, but are only too willing to believe man’s theory of evolution instead, makes not an iota of difference to the truth and power of this testimony. Evolution has now become a religion, a religion that dispenses with God. But God declares that those who choose to deny His existence as well as His creation are fools, ‘The fool hath said in his heart, ”There is no God”‘, or, as it can be translated, ‘. . . hath said . . . ”no God for me”‘, Ps. 14. 1.
In verses 2-4a David tells us that this testimony to God needs no translation or even communication on the part of man; it speaks directly to all men everywhere, purely on its own merits. Both by day and by night God speaks, and manifests His knowledge of all things, a knowledge which is so superior to that of man that Paul is able to declare, ‘the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God’, 1 Cor. 3. 19.
The psalmist speaks of the heavens as being a dwelling place for the sun, the source of heat and light. What a wonder, that although 93 million miles away, the sun’s heat and light are so admirably suited to the needs of our lives upon the earth! In like manner, we may reflect, is God’s perfect gift of His own Son admirably suited to our spiritual need. Without the one, we would die physically, without the other, we would be spiritually dead.
We are able to do what David was not, that is, to interpret this second section of the psalm from a New Testament perspective, and understand it as applying to the whole word of God. We must never look upon the Bible as consisting of different parts, which don’t have very much to do with each other. Every book plays its role in helping to give us a complete picture of God’s dealings with mankind, past, present and future. It is good when we get a practical grasp of this unity.
‘The law of the Lord is perfect’, v. 7. It is perfect, in the sense of flawless, containing no inconsist-encies or contradictions. It is perfect in the sense of com-pleteness and wholeness, being all-sufficient for man’s need, both to know about God and all His ways, and also, how to know Him in a personal relationship, as David did, and as we do now in greater measure through the full revelation of God in our Lord Jesus Christ. The Scriptures don’t tell us everything, as Deuteronomy 29. 29 makes clear, ‘The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever’. In other words, they do tell us all we need to know. The law of the Lord is also perfect, in the sense that it is the revelation of a God who is perfect in all His character and all His ways.
‘It converts, or restores (AV margin), the soul’. The word of God, when applied to our hearts and minds by its Author, the Holy Spirit, is able to both bring us to God initially, and to restore us when we have gone astray. Both these things together comprise our salvation, so that both positionally and practically our souls are united with the Lord. Notice how David uses different words in this section to describe the word of God – law, testimony, statutes, command-ment, and judgements. It is the same in Psalm 119, where almost every one of the 176 verses contains one of these words, or another word such as precepts, ordinances, ways, or word. D. Kidner, in his commentary on Psalm 119 (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries), has written, ‘This giant among the psalms shows the full flowering of that “delight . . . in the law of the Lord” which is described in Psalm 1, and gives its personal witness to the many-sided qualities of Scripture praised in Psalm 19. 7ff’. I cannot do better than to quote his explanation of the several terms used here. Law – its parent verb means ‘teach’ or ‘direct’; therefore coming from God it means both ‘law’ and ‘revelation’. It reminds us that Scripture is not simply for interest, or even knowledge, but for obedience. Testimony – the outspokenness of Scripture, with its high standards and frank warnings, is implied in this expression, but so too is its dependability. Statutes – these speak of the binding force and permanence of Scripture. Commandment - this word empha-sizes the straight authority of what is said; not merely the power to convince or persuade, but the right to give orders. Judgements - the decisions of the all-wise Judge about common human relations, and hence the revealed rights and duties appropriate to them. (It is) the standard given for fair dealing between man and man’.
So, returning to our psalm, we see in verse 7 that the dependability of Scripture as ‘testimony’ makes even a simple person wise; in verse 8 that we can rejoice in the rightness of God’s ‘statutes’, as both binding and permanent, and that the purity of the word of God gives us spiritual understanding; in verse 9 that God’s ’judgements’, even regarding the mundane things of our lives, will lead us to walk in truth and righteousness. Interposed at the beginning of verse 9 is a statement which sums up what our attitude of heart should be in the light of Scripture, a reverent fear of the One who gave it to us. It will have a cleansing effect on us as we bow to its demands, and this effect will be eternal in its consequences.
David was not able to include a further section to his psalm, concerning the Person of Christ and His work, we can dwell on the merits of His person and work in passages like John 1. 1-14; Col. 1. 12-20; and Heb. 1. 1-4. But he still concludes in a fitting and appropriate way, by speaking further of the great value of the Scriptures in his own experience, and his delight in them. How many of us are able to say that verse 10 expresses our own feelings, evidenced by our ‘meditating in his law day and night’, Ps. 1. 2, and ‘esteeming the words of his mouth more than our necessary food’, Job 23. 12? Not only is he aware of the warnings that they constitute, but of the rewards that come from obedience to them, v. 11. Verse 12 would remind us that sometimes the discernment of some sins is beyond us, but we know that walking in the wisdom of His word will show us even these and move us to be cleansed from them, John 1. 7.
What are ‘presumptuous sins’, and what is ‘the great transgression’, v 13? Let me make some suggestions. The dictionary defines presumption as arrogance, and all arrogant thinking and doing is an affront to the character of God. The example of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, and the judgement that fell upon them, is a salutary reminder of how God views such sin - see Numbers chapter 16. The ‘great transgression’ could either be pride (and this includes spiritual pride), which God especially hates, Prov. 6. 16-17, or hypocrisy, which the Lord Jesus so repeatedly con-demned in the Pharisees and others (see His eight woes on them in Matthew 23), or unbelief - see Hebrews chapters 3 and 4, which is the exact opposite of faith, a virtue so greatly valued by God. Let us see to it that none of these sins characterize us in our attitudes or behaviour.
Finally, the psalmist concludes in verse 14 with a humble prayer. I have heard this quoted at the breaking of bread, as if it had relevence only to this occasion. But David is asking that it might be true of him at all times. How we need to keep both our minds and hearts pure every moment of the day, for from them come the issues of life, Prov. 4. 23; Mark 7. 20-23. And God is the One who discerns the very thoughts and intents of our hearts by the probing of His word, Heb. 4. 12-13. As we repeatedly give ourselves to Him, through our love of, and obedience to, that word, may we indeed know Him as our Strength and our Redeemer.