Teaching series from Psalms

The Self-Revelation of God

Psalms 19

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Introduction

C. S. Lewis called this psalm "the greatest poem in the (Psalms) and one of the greatest lyrics in the world."[1] It was written by King David around 1000 BC, and its theme is the self-revelation of God. It consists of three distinct parts.

Through nature (19:1-6).

David begins by reflecting on God's self-revelation through nature (part of what theologians call "general revelation"). Read 19:1-6.

In 19:1-2, he claims that nature (especially the sky and the heavenly bodies) abundantly reveals the glory of God. He personifies the heavens as an eloquent instructor who "tells," "declares," "pours forth," and "reveals" the greatness and majesty of their Maker. It's not that nature tells us all about God, but that what it does tell us about God, it tells us abundantly.

He cites an example in 19:4b-6. The sun is awesome in its vitality (rising or coming out from a cloud like a bridegroom emerging from his tent in the morning), strength (traversing the whole sky every day like a marathon runner), and penetrating presence (its heat penetrating into every nook and cranny). He correctly infers that the One who made the sun must be greater in all of these ways.

David assumes that his audience will personally resonate with what he is describing. Like you, I know first-hand what David is trying to describe. I could multiply personal examples all day (WEATHER). Some of us are particularly struck by the immensity and order of the universe; others by the incredible order and complexity on the molecular, atomic, and sub-atomic level.

All of these things teach the observer that there must be a Creator who is incredibly powerful, amazingly intelligent, eternal—and personal at least in that he has a mind and will. This is precisely what Paul says in Rom. 1:18-20 (read), and why he states that polytheism/animism is a immoral because it is a willful rejection of what all people know about God.

Have you ever tried to swim a volleyball to the bottom of a diving pool? If so, you know how difficult this is—it requires a very deliberate action to keep the volleyball from rushing to the surface. So Paul says we must deliberately and actively suppress this revelation of God because it is so clear and strong.

This same judgment also applies to atheism and pantheism, because they both deny such a Creator. This is why Kepler said "The undevout astronomer is a madman!"

Paul may be echoing what David said in 19:3-4a. He claims that this information about God is available to all humanity, all over the world. It is not a message given through human language (19:3), but nevertheless its "utterances" have been "sounded" all over the world. This is why theologians call it "general"—it is generally available rather than accessible to just a special group. This is probably why David refers to God in 19:1 as "El," or "the mighty One"—this is what he is for throughout the world.

But as awesome as this knowledge is, it is not enough to satisfy the human heart. It awes me with God's greatness, but it does not enable me to know God personally and intimately, or to understand his purpose for the world and how I fit into it. It is like studying the works of a great artist (VAN GOGH MUSEUM). By studying them, you can learn some things about the artist—his great skill, his aesthetic appreciation, even a glimpse of his interests—but you cannot have a relationship with him. For this, we need his presence and especially his words. And this is what makes his other means of self-revelation so precious . . . 

Through his Word (19:7-11).

Read 19:7-11. If the wonders of nature move David to exult in the majesty of God, this means of God's self-revelation calls forth from him much greater exultation. This is the self-revelation of God through his Word.

Before we take a closer look at this section, we need to understand just what David is referring to.

He is not referring generally to any "scripture"— but specifically to that portion of the message God had revealed through his prophets up to that time (at least the Pentateuch, Joshua, Judges, Job, and some Psalms). In other words, he is referring to the Bible.

Some people think David is referring only to the Law (e.g., the Ten Commandments and their exposition). But the terms "law," "testimony," "precepts," and "commandment" refer collectively to all of what God had revealed in his Word—not only his moral law, but also (and especially) his great promises of love and mercy and faithfulness.

This is probably why in 19:7 David refers to God as YHWH, the name by which he identified himself to Moses at the burning bush. YHWH is the covenant-keeping God, who reveals his purpose to his people and makes himself known to them personally.

David says God's Word is his most precious ("fine gold") and pleasurable ("honey") possession, because he has personally experienced its life-changing benefits. The secret to whatever greatness and fulfillment his life possessed was not due to his own cleverness or intelligence or charisma; it was all a gift from the true God who disclosed himself personally through his written Word. Notice the two great blessings he highlights from God's Word:

God's Word teaches us how to live because it is true (repeat 19:7b,8b,9b). The Hebrew concept of truth is deeper than (though including) the notion of propositional accuracy. Emeth connotes something that is stable, well-grounded, intrinsically valid, rock-bottom reality—because it is rooted in and comes from the Ground of all Reality.

David says that learning God's Word is like your feet finding solid ground after slipping in mud or drowning in quicksand. It is like your eyes seeing the beam from a lighthouse when you've been lost at sea. It is like awakening from a nightmare to sanity.

This is the way we should think about the ethical content of scripture (EXAMPLES: human sexuality; view of money; etc.). It is not a list of arbitrary, culturally-bound opinions that will restrict us because they don't "fit." It is "the way"—God's disclosure of the very nature of reality to his beloved creatures who desperately need it because we are both finite and fallen. Through it, God will warn you from running your life up on the rocks, and he will lead you into the way of life you were designed to live (19:11).

God's Word is personally and profoundly refreshing because it mediates the very life of God (repeat 19:7a,8a,9a). Through it, we can meet God personally and experience first-hand his love and life which comfort, energize, cleanse, motivates, inspire, etc.

This is the way we should think about the promises and prayers and record of God's gracious activity in scripture. It is not a dry and boring history book or a collection of impersonal, formalistic rituals. It is like breathing fresh air after being in a dungeon. It is like coming home after spending all day in on the freeway and among crowds of strangers. It is like taking a hot shower after being in the same clothes for several days.

If David profited this much from a portion of the Old Testament, how much more can/should we profit from the complete Bible? How can we experience the same kind of benefits that David got?

The key to benefiting from God's Word (19:12-14)

Of course, David spent time reading and learning God's Word (see Ps. 1:2). But there is something else even more important—something that motivates us to spend time in his Word and enables us to profit from it as David did. It is an open secret that David lets us in on in the closing section of his psalm (read 19:12-14).

In 19:12-13, he is saying "God, I am morally weak, prone to error, easily self-deceived. I need your direction to protect me from myself."

In 19:14, he is saying "God, I want to live a life that pleases and glorifies you. Enable me to have a thought-life and speech that does this."

What is this attitude? It is humility—and this is what opens the door to the riches of God's Word (read Jas. 1:21; Isa. 66:2; Ps. 131).

NON-CHRISTIANS: Are you ready to admit that you are unable to make your own life go and that nothing in this world can do this for you? Are you ready to accept God's purpose and plan for your life? Your answer to this question, more than any other factor, determines whether you find his Word arresting and refreshing—or threatening and outrageous.

"Speak about beauty, truth and goodness, or about a God who is simply the indwelling principle of these three, speak about a great spiritual force pervading all things, a common mind of which we are all parts, a pool of generalized spirituality to which we can all flow, and you will command friendly interest. But the temperature drops as soon as you mention a God who has purposes and performs particular actions, who does one thing and not another, a concrete, choosing, commanding, prohibiting God with a determinate character. (Then) people become embarrassed or angry."[2]

This is certainly what I experienced in my own life. As long as I insisted on running my own life, I was attracted to spiritualities that encouraged me to define my own purpose. But I remained indifferent or hostile to the message of the Bible. But the moment I admitted to myself that I was unable to run my own life and became seriously open to submitting myself to his purpose, his Word became alive and solemnly arresting (Rev. 3:20). God will do the same thing for you—if you humble yourself to him.

CHRISTIANS: When God's Word becomes dry and boring, it is usually because I have taken back the controls in some area of my life. Tell him this, ask him to show you his will (agreeing in advance to obey it), and his Word will come back to life to you in a wonderful way.

Footnotes

[1] C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1958), p. 63.

[2] C. S. Lewis, "Christian Apologetics," cited in The Inspirational Writings of C. S. Lewis (New York: Inspirational Press, 1994), p. 306.