The Law of the Lord is Perfect
We’ve been studying the Psalms for the past three weeks, and one of the important things we’ve seen is how the Psalms really map out the territory of God’s relationship with His people. And the Psalms give a voice, a language, to God’s people in that relationship. They show us, often by example, how to pray and talk to God in the midst of the full gamut of life experiences.
And so we spent the first couple of weeks exploring lament, a theme we’ll return to again. And then last week, Psalm 16 showed us how an Israelite should express their faith in God in regards to the promise of the land he had given them.
Today, Psalm 19 brings us to another important stop in terms of our relationship with God, as this Psalm deals with the way that God has revealed Himself to us and the way that God communicates with us.
See, we use this language of a relationship with God, and we all know that relationships require communication. And so we know that we communicate with God by prayer. That’s a big theme in the Psalms, as most of the Psalms themselves are prayers.
But what about God’s communication with us? What does it look like, what form does it take? How do we hear from Him? Why is it important for us to listen? What are the effects on our life when we listen to Him instead of ignoring Him?
Psalm 19, a Psalm of David, answers these questions and more as it celebrates God’s revelation of Himself to us.
The Heavens Declare
Now you probably noticed as we read through Psalm 19 that it’s divided into two fairly well-defined sections. There’s a first half, and then a pretty clean break leading into the second half. And what we should understand is that these two sections of this Psalm are speaking to the two primary ways that God communicates with His people.
And so this first section, verses 1-6, celebrates the way that God communicates to us through creation. The world that God has created. And especially the sky.
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).
The heavens—the sky—is declaring God’s glory and proclaiming his handiwork.
Now right away, maybe you’re thinking, “Hey, I thought you said this Psalm talked about the way God communicates with us. But this verse doesn’t say anything about God communicating with us. It’s talking about the heavens and the sky declaring and proclaiming things to us.
But in turn, I would ask, who made the heavens to declare God’s glory? Who designed the sky so that it would proclaim God’s handiwork?
God did. God made them for this job. God is communicating to us about Himself through this world that He has made.
Now there are all kinds of implications of this truth, but just personally, I find this so helpful. I don’t know about you, but I am not always aware of the the glory of God. It’s so sad to actually say it, but I often forget how big and how wonderful God is. My heart gets easily crowded out with smaller and lesser things and I find I need to be reminded, over and over, about how great and glorious God is.
And sometimes I’ve thought, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I had someone to just follow me around constantly telling me, ‘God is great. God is big and glorious. Don’t forget how powerful and capable and faithful your God is.’”
Psalm 19 tells us that we do have such a thing and it’s called the sky. Just look up. Take in the billowing clouds, the blazing colours of sunrise and sunset, and then at night, the billion galaxies speaking to us about a God so great and so powerful and so glorious as to make all of this.
Now verses 2-4 tell us that the sky never stops talking, 24/7, and that there is nobody on earth who doesn’t have access to this communication.
But I think that you and I, living here in the land of living skies, might have a slight advantage when it comes to hearing what the skies are telling us. When my family moved out here from Ottawa we were stunned with the sky—sunsets that wrap 360° around you, or being able to stand in one spot on a summer day and see three or four or five weather systems in different parts of the sky moving all around you.
And then moving up to Nipawin away from the city lights, I’ve been amazed again at the night sky and how many stars we can see, and then you throw northern lights in the mix, and it’s safe to say that you and I, living in this town, have front-row seats to the glory of God on display in the skies. And day after day, night after night, in a language that all people in all parts of the world can understand, we are being preached to, shouted at even, by the sky. It’s reminding us over and over about how great and glorious our God is.
Like a Bridgegroom
It’s interesting to note the end of verse 4 and see how David zeroes in on one aspect of the heavens, which is the sun.
You and I can perhaps take the sun for granted. It’s just there. We have electric lights which means that we’re not as dependant upon the sun as people in the ancient world were. We’re less likely to feel thankful for its brightness after a long, dark night the way that they would have.
But to them, the sun was everything. Just think about that opening scene on the Lion King, when the sun rises and the whole world wakes up to a song. The sun was so important that it was often worshipped as a god by the nations surrounding Israel.
And so this section just masterfully celebrates the sun and its wonderful brightness while pointing us back to the God who made it. God has made a place for the sun in the sky. He put it there. It’s His handiwork. And so, having established that, verse 5 can go on to celebrate its light and the way that it brings joy and life to this world. The rising of the sun is compared to a “bridegroom leaving his chamber” (v. 5) Like a newlywed man leaving his honeymoon suite. Literally beaming. (Notice how God is not as embarrassed about that kind of language as we sometimes are.)
These words celebrate the glory of the sun, but they also tell us that this glory is just a witness to the greater glory that made it. God is revealing Himself to us through this world that He has made.
Theologians have often referred to this as “general revelation.” It’s the revelation about God that we can see just by looking around us. Romans 1:20 puts it this way: “… his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made…”
That’s what the heavens are telling us, and we should listen up.
The Law of the Lord
But we should also pause and think about how much this world, for all of its non-stop communication, doesn’t tell us. It does tell us about a creator who is glorious and has eternal power and who deserves our honour and thanks.
But it doesn’t tell us what His name is. It doesn’t don’t tell us he difference between right and wrong. It doesn’t tell us what to do with our guilty conscience. It doesn’t tell us how to get to know this Creator any better or how to seek forgiveness and redemption from our sin.
For all of that, we need more than just general revelation. We need special revelation. We need God Himself to communicate to us with language, with words, in a direct and propositional and personal way.
And the wonder is that God has communicated this way with us. And it’s this direct, special revelation that David celebrates in the second half of the Psalm.
After celebrating the heavens and the sun, David goes on to say, in verse 7, “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving 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 rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether” (Psalm 19:7–9).
In these three verses, David uses six different phrases to describe God’s special revelation to His people. Law, testimony, precepts, commandment, fear, and rules.
And it might seem like these six words are talking about six different things, but in reality these are all synonyms—six different words all describing the same thing. And what they are describing is God’s revelation to Israel through Moses. The Mosaic covenant. It’s what we have preserved today in the first five books of the Bible, what we might call the Torah or the Pentateuch. We know this because five out of six of these words are used in the Pentateuch to refer to itself. These were familiar words describing God’s revelation to Israel through Moses.
And David’s point in Psalm 19 is that for as wonderful as the general revelation in nature is, God’s special revelation through Moses was so much better. Just look at what David says about God’s word in verses 7-9. He says that it is perfect, it is sure, it is right, it is pure, it is clean, is endures forever, it is true, and it is righteous altogether.
Do you get the picture here? Do you think David has any problems with God’s word? Does he see any imperfections? Anything he thinks God could have improved on? Of course not.
David could not have said anything more to communicate the absolute perfection of God’s revelation.
Let’s ask another question. What else in the universe fits this description that David gives? What else can we think of that is perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, everlasting, true, and altogether righteous?
God. God is like that.
And so when God—the perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, eternal, true, and altogether righteous one—when He speaks, when He reveals Himself with words, His word is like Him. And that’s what David celebrates in these verses.
Finally, David tells us what this special revelation from God does for His people. We know that the sun brings heat and light and makes things grow. But what does the light of God’s word do as it shines on us?
“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul” (Psalm 19:7a). When the souls of God’s people are tired and sluggish, His word revives them.
“The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7b). God’s word is the source of wisdom, teaching God’s people the truth and making the simple wise.
“The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart” (Psalm 19:8a). God’s revelation brings joy and delight to the hearts of God’s people.
“The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Psalm 19:8b). Having our eyes being enlightened or bright means that we’re active and alert. Just think of that phrase, “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.” Forget about the tail thing, but the idea is that God’s word gives us vitality and energy.
What the sun does to this physical world, God’s word does to our souls. It is the source of life and joy and growth. And therefore, it is supremely valuable.
Like verse 10 says, “More to be desired are they then gold, even much fine gold” (Psalm 19:10a). These are amazing words, spoken in a covenant when God’s word promised wealth to those who would obey. And David recognizes this, as he says in verse 11: “Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward” (Psalm 19:11).
But first David establishes that God’s word isn’t just a means to an end. It’s not just a ticket for getting what you want. God’s word is far more valuable than the gold which you might get when you obey it. It is the real treasure.
And this sense of personal delight in God’s word comes through in the rest of verse 10: “…sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10b).
God’s people don’t just understand the value of His word with their minds. They feel it in their hearts. They have tasted the goodness of His word and it is sweet to their souls.
Living and Active
Now where David goes next, in verses 12 and following, is really important, and to understand what he’s saying we’ll need to remember the first half of the Psalm and how it wrapped up.
Verse 6 spoke about the sun, and said that “Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat” (Psalm 19:6). The sun’s heat penetrates to every nook and cranny of the surface of the earth. It’s virtually impossible to hide from it. Think especially of what these words would have meant to people living in the Middle East, where the pounding heat of the sun is felt a lot stronger and far more often than it is for us here in Saskatchewan.
And David uses this same word, “hidden,” in verse 12 to describe the effect that God’s instruction has on his heart. After surveying the goodness of God’s word to Israel, he writes, “Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression” (Psalm 19:12–13).
This is the language of a man who has felt himself standing exposed before the penetrating light of God’s word. Just like the sun to the earth, God’s word has shown him that there are nooks and crannies to his soul that he himself isn’t even fully aware of. David knows himself to be exposed before the penetrating view of God through His word.
And so David’s only response is to beg for mercy and ask for help. “Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins” (Psalm 19:12b-13a).
This is how God’s people were to respond to His instruction. Not like the Pharisees, using the law as a weapon to beat down other people and puff themselves up. No, a proper understanding of God’s law led to humility and a deep awareness of their need for God’s mercy.
And God’s word, shining like the sun, has done its work in David’s heart. He knows he needs a redeemer. He knows he can’t please God on his own. He knows he is in deep need of God’s gracious help in his heart. And so he concludes by praying, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
So there is Psalm 19: God’s general revelation to us in nature and His special revelation to us in His word.
And the application for us this morning is really quite simple: Psalm 19 calls us to listen to God’s revelation and respond to it the way that David did.
1) It starts with creation, even specifically with the heavens above. What does it look like for us to really listen to what creation is saying about God?
For starters, just like in David’s say, we need to reject much of the messaging coming to us from the rest of the world.
In David’s day, they were told by those around them that the sun was not made by their God. The sun had its own origin story. The heavens were declaring their own glory, not the glory of God.
Today, it’s not that different, is it? We’re also told that the sun and moon and stars were not created by our God. Nature has its own origin story and it’s not what we read in Scripture. And the heavens are not declaring the glory of anything, because science has explained that all away.
Psalm 19 calls us to remember the true story. To remember that the heavens were created by God for the purpose of declaring His glory. To understand that science—real science—doesn’t explain God away but rather explains how God chose to set things up. And Psalm 19 calls us to cultivate a deep appreciation and sense of wonder in this creation that God has made us apart of.
Parents, teach your kids to look up at the big, colourful sky and say “wow!” Don’t let them go through life distracted by the lesser glory of device screens. Turn off the DVD player in the minivan and tell your kids to look out the window and be stunned at what their God has made. As you slather sunscreen on them this summer talk to them about how awesome the sun is and how much it tells us about our Creator. Let them stay up during the meteor shower this summer and teach them to hear what the heavens are declaring.
There’s so much more about this that we could say, but hopefully that’s a start to point us in the right direction. Let’s, all of us, really listen to what the heavens are declaring.
But we need to remember, at that point, that this was all that they had. David doesn’t have all 66 books of the Bible before him, and so he’s not singling out one part of God’s word as being more special than the rest. He’s just talking about the one part of God’s word that they actually had at that point.
And we should understand that we can apply these same words to the rest of God’s word. We can look at all 66 books and say “this came from God, and it is perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, everlasting, true, and altogether righteous. More valuable than gold, sweeter than honey.”
Hebrews 1:1 points us in this direction when it says “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets” (Hebrews 1:1). All of the Bible is God’s word, and so Psalm 19’s words applies to it all.
So so we should hear what Psalm 19 is saying about Scripture, and ask ourselves: do we love God’s word this way? Do we treasure it like David did? Is God’s word more valuable to you than wealth? Sweeter to you than honey?
Here at EBC we are Evangelical Christians, and more specifically than that, we are Baptists—a “people of the book”—who have insisted, throughout history, that God’s word is more important than human tradition.
But even as Baptists, we’re never immune to the temptation of establishing our own traditions which we hold to without ever examining them in the light of Scripture. We’re never immune to the danger of getting so comfortable with the Bible that we take it for granted, and start to confuse our own opinions and preferences with God’s Holy word.
It can happen so quick. I just came away from an intensive one-week class on church history, and I’m reminded again and again of how easily churches slip, and how vigilant we must be to let God’s word, and nothing else, define us.
So Psalm 19 calls us to step away from the little lightbulbs that we so often satisfy ourselves with and to step outside into the blazing sun of God’s word, letting it examine and search us out.
Hebrews 4:12-13 tells us that “…the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
So these words, together with Psalm 19, call us to humble, open-hearted allegiance to God’s word. They call us to study the Bible so that it can study us. They call us to search the Scriptures so that they can search us and shape us and cause us to walk in faithfulness.
b) Now having said that, Psalm 19 also does tell us about the importance of the first five books of the Bible. Just look what God’s law did to David’s heart. And yes, the whole Bible does this for us. But we can’t forget that the law of Moses continues to play an important role in showing us the righteousness of God and revealing our sin and reminding us how much we need God’s grace.
The next time you’re feeling pretty good about yourself, just read Deuteronomy 6:5: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” And very quickly you’ll be brought face-to-face with how sinful and weak you actually are, and how much you need a saviour to rescue you and forgive you.
And yet we know, better than David, who that Saviour is. Hebrews 1, which starts by saying, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,” goes on to say, “but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1–2).
When we call God “our rock and our redeemer,” we know, even better than David, what that means. We know about Jesus who took on flesh and fulfilled the law perfectly and died in our place to satisfy God’s justice and pay for every single one of our sins. We know about His resurrection and His Holy Spirit who has come to live inside of us and help us fulfill the righteous requirement of the law as He causes us to walk in love for God and each other.
So let Psalm 19 lead you to an open Bible and a bloody cross and an empty grave and to the wonderfully, supernaturally normal Spirit-empowered life that is ours to live at our place in the story.
And so we’re going to end this morning the way that Psalm 19 ends: by humbling ourselves before the blazing light of God’s truth and asking Him to have His way in our heart. David said, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). And we’re going to say, “Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee.” May we be yours, O Lord, and nothing else.