Heschel

Heschel

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Psalm 19: The Greatest Poem Ever Penned

I take this to be the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world. C.S. Lewis

The Works and the Word of God. For the choir director. A Psalm of David.

The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. (v.1)


I love nature. I love the sky; the splendor of the sunrise and sunset. Those who know me will tell you I am always watching the sky. I love the majesty of the moon and the glory of the stars. Summer storms hold my attention; my eyes to the skies for the likely funnel cloud. Thunderstorms are one of my favorite things. There is something about the sky that entices my mind—so this verse is one of my favorites. The poetry of this verse comes to mind often as I witness God’s glory displayed in the heavens. I can’t watch a thunderstorm or a sunset over the Rocky Mountains where I live, without the prose of this verse invading my thoughts. Elohim created the world in Wisdom and by His Power.
“The vast heavenly bodies orbiting with flawless precision in the skies are a clear manifestation of the infinite wisdom and power of the Creator.”[1]

It is He who made the earth by His power, Who established the world by His wisdom; And by His understanding He has stretched out the heavens (Jeremiah 10:12).

By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible (Heb. 11:3).

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-- all things have been created through Him and for Him ( Col. 1:16).

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being (Jn. 1:1-3).

Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard.  Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their utterances to the end of the world. In them He has placed a tent for the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; It rejoices as a strong man to run his course.  Its rising is from one end of the heavens, And its circuit to the other end of them; And there is nothing hidden from its heat. (vv. 2-6).

Do the heavens have a voice? Can they speak? No, the heavens cannot communicate with man, but they do move man to speak and give praise to the One that created them.

“The heavens possess no means of verbal communication. Yet, the inner soul of man, through the perception of his spirit and intellect, can discern their message clearly.”[2]

There is an order to this universe; set by the only Wise God, and displayed in the heavens. Every day the sun will rise, and each evening it will find its home beyond the horizon; beckoning from slumber the other side of the planet that slept while we were awake. Night after night the sun will set and the moon will take its place; a constant display of the order of creation, and the Glory and Wisdom of God.  
God spoke and it was good.  He created the world by His Word; so David is able to make the correlation between the sun and the Torah. Its rising is from one end of the heavens, And its circuit to the other end of them; And there is nothing hidden from its heat (v.6). God’s Word will never pass away—you cannot hide from the truth of the Word:  

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.  If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me. Psalm 139: 7-10 NASB

Suddenly, David shifts in his poetry from the celestial to the Torah. The shift seems so impulsive; almost like a misplaced metaphor. Further reflection reveals that David’s poetry is in sync; comparing the light and warmth of the sun to the Torah.

“The Torah plays the role of the sun itself within the present creation.”[3]

The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.  The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Your servant is warned; In keeping them there is great reward. (vv. 7-11).
  The law of the Lord is perfect, and by living according to God’s law, the soul is restored. His precepts are perfect. I love David’s heart concerning God’s law. David prayed this before the New Testament; for the most part, the Law was the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, which most people find arduous—David deemed life-giving. David considered the law to be food for the soul, worth more than gold, and like honey dripping from the mouth. He loved the law, and by living according to its precepts, understood its rewards. It is truth and it renders justice. The law makes the heart rejoice, and enlightens the eyes to God’s Wisdom. God longs to dwell in His people—we are the Mishkan Elohim—the Tabernacle of God. We are the temple the Holy Spirit.

“The notion of YHWH dwelling in the Temple has not been abandoned, but it is translated into the notion of his dwelling with his people—within his people, wherever they are—through their study and heartfelt practice of the Torah. Through that same Torah, his people discover not only that he can be their ‘refuge,’ the ‘place’ where they are at home, but that he will make his home with them, within them.”[4]
Now, David makes another shift into personal prayer. He prays for God to help him against the temptation of sin.

Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults. Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; Let them not rule over me; Then I will be blameless, And I shall be acquitted of great transgression. (vv. 12-13).

No matter how hard we try to live right, we all commit sins of ignorance. But if we confess our sins He is faithful to forgive us of our sins.
“One hardly needs to add that this poet is wholly free from self-righteousness and the last section is concerned with his ‘secret faults.’ As he felt the sun, perhaps in the desert, searching him out in every nook of shade where he attempted to hide from it, so he feels the Law searching out all the hiding-places of his soul.”[5]

Our best efforts to live perfectly prove grueling. Though we try to live according to God’s Word, who can be so careful that he never sins unintentionally? No matter how hard we try to live right, we all commit sins of ignorance.

David desires to live as close to God as he can. His heart longs to be righteous in His sight. He asks God to also keep him from presumptuous sins. We must never believe the lie that we do not sin, or become lax with “smaller” sins. The beloved disciple admonishes us, that if we say we don’t sin, we are liars and Gods truth is not in us.  We must remain humble before God knowing that we are all sinners in desperate need of a Savior.  

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer (v. 14).

God can read my thoughts and He knows my heart. He longs to fill our hearts, minds, and imaginations of His people with His glory. That is why it is vital to allow the Torah—God’s Word (Old and New Testaments) to wash us clean. The Lord implores us to meditate on the Word day and night. Not as a liturgical duty, but so that we may know Him deeper, and live a life that reflects Him, and live a life worthy of the calling of Christ.









[1] “Psalm 19,” In Tehillim: The Book of Psalms, edited by Nosson Scherman and Meir Zlotowitz, 239, Vol.1 (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1995), 239.
[2] Ibid., 240.
[3] N.T. Wright, The Case For The Psalms: Why They Are Essential (New York: HarperOne, 2013), 105.
[4] Ibid., 107.
[5] C.S. Lewis, Reflections On The Psalms (New York: HBJ Publishers, 1958), 64.

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