Psalm 19 Heavenly Body of Law

Questions: What do the heavens tell us about God? About ourselves? Is God true? Is reality true? Is reality one? Is there an overarching Law? Does it satisfy? Can anything? “Read More” to pursue answers in the Psalms.

Lord, speak to me through your Spirit and your Word, your Body and your Blood;
that I might know you as you are, and manifest the image of Christ in this world,
and the world to come. Amen.

Psalms 19:1-14

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. [There is] no speech nor language, [where] their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

I love this Psalm. It is nice — every once in a while — to just forget about enemies, confession, and all the difficult aspects of life and exult in the raw, unadulterated glory of God.

It is also a timely topic, given my discussions with Alan about universes. Even as modernists deny the existence of a personal God, they acquire ever more evidence that the universe we inhabit is a) beyond our imagining and b) relatively friendly to life. While some consider science hostile to theism (I don’t — even if may scientists are hostile to theists!), it is really only hostile to polytheism. Polytheism asserts that the idea that the the ultimate principle behind reality (i.e. “divinity“) is divided, with conflicting priorities.

David is asserting that God — our God — is one, and ruler over all the universe. And that all the lesser things with mortals might be tempted to worship are merely his creation. Like the Sun:

In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, Which [is] as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, [and] rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. His going forth [is] from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.

I know some skeptics — and fundamentalists — get really worked up about the scientific implications of this language; but geez, its a poem for crying out loud. Don’t analyze it too much, or you’ll miss the emotional content, and lose the whole context.

What’s far more interesting is how smoothly David shifts gears from the transcendence of God to His immanence:

The law of the LORD [is] perfect, converting the soul:

This is the first of a series of propositions describing the impact of God’s instruction on us. While I realize it is risky to read too much into Hebrew parallelism — they’re mostly different ways of saying the same thing — I do think there are some interesting emphases worth noting. Let me summarize them as:

f. true judgement -> altogether righteous

What I find most intriguing is how the adjective on the left relates to the noun on the right. This can perhaps best be seen by inversion. When it comes to the law:

a. imperfection depresses the soul
b. unreliability makes fools of the simple
c. inappropriateness grieves the heart
d. insincerity confuses the eyes
e. unholy fear is unsustainable
f. false judgments discourage righteousness

Perhaps the most important phrase is the one I omitted because it is repeated: “

of the LORD

.” The hard truth is that all human law falls short of the glory of God, and thus can only succeed in part. In other words, every earthly system is either incomplete or inconsistent, and thus not useful as an all-encompassing frame of reference. There has to be something more in order to truly satisfy our hearts, souls, and minds — and David claims to have found it in the Law of the Lord:

More to be desired [are they] than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: [and] in keeping of them [there is] great reward.

This transcendence is essential, since otherwise we would have no choice but to rely on our own — or other’s — reason, and we all now how easy it is to lie to ourselves:

Who can understand [his] errors?

Thankfully (even if we sometimes resent it :-), we serve a God who will show us that path:

cleanse thou me from secret [faults]. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous [sins]; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.

In essence, because the Law is truly good, I want to live it:

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.



God, I love your law. Well, most of the time — sometimes I fight it, fearing that it is antithetical to my happiness. Or, more often, knowing that it is antithetical to my comfort and my pride — which I am even willing to sacrifice my own happiness for! Father, teach me the wonder of your law, and the glory of your creation. Help me to remember that I am but dust, and that my reason is not the center of the universe. Instead, let me dwell on the beauty and worthiness of your law, as my only sure hope. O Lord, my strength and my redeemer, make me acceptable in your sight, through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.

About the Title:

Today’s title is a portmanteaux phrase contracting “Heavenly Body” and “Body of Law.”