Notes on Psalm 19
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 23 February 2015; Revised 11 December 2015
Scripture: The text of Psalm 19 is taken from the Messianic Jewish Family Bible: Tree of Life Version, © 2014 by Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society. Other versions may be quoted. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Quotations marked with the initials "BR" indicate the translation of the commentary author.
Sources: Bibliographic data for sources cited may be found at the end of the psalm. References to the Mishnah and Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. Click here for Talmud Abbreviations. Quotations from the Targums are taken from Edward M. Cook, The Psalms Targum: An English Translation (2001).
Syntax: Unless otherwise indicated the meaning of Hebrew words is taken from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981). Parsing information for Hebrew words is taken from John Joseph Owens, Analytical Key to the Old Testament (1991). Unless otherwise indicated the meaning of Greek words used in the Septuagint (LXX) is from Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (1957).
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Hebrew and Jewish nature of Scripture I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament) and Besekh (New Testament), as well as the terms Yeshua (Jesus) and Messiah (Christ). This commentary contains the Name of God. If you print it out, please treat it with appropriate respect.
Chapter: 19 in the Masoretic Text (MT) and 18 in the LXX. See the Hebrew text and English interlinear at InterlinearBible.org.
Usage in the Besekh: Romans 10:18.
Some scholars as Anderson, Broyles and Kidner, consider Psalm 19 to be a combination of two or three poems, due to differences in vocabulary and grammatical construction within each section. The first part is even considered of non-Israelite origin. Such reasoning of scholars is purely subjective and the idea that David would rely on pagan mythology as source material is offensive.
The psalm has 15 verses in the Hebrew text (as numbered in the CJB, OJB, and TLV) and LXX, although the ABP version does not number the superscription. The psalm has three sections as listed below using the verse division found in the HNV and Christian versions. Jewish verse numbering is given in parentheses.
● Personal Superscription - 0 (1).
● Proclamation in the Sky - 1-6 (2-7)
● Proclamation in Scripture - 7-11 (8-12)
● Petition of a Supplicant - 12-14 (13-15)
The psalm is written as a hymn of praise and adoration. Figures of speech include "bridegroom" and "strong man" (v. 5), "honey" and "honeycomb" (v. 10). The names of God progress from the general Hebrew name of God "El" (verse 1) to the covenantal name of God "YHVH" (given as "ADONAI," seven times, 7-11, 14), to the personal names of God "Rock" and "Redeemer" (verse 14).
Historical Setting: Unknown, but during the reign of King David. The psalm was probably written for use in public services as indicated by the superscription (Gill).
0 (1)― For the music director, a psalm of David.
For the music director: Hebrew is lamnatsêah, Piel ptc. of natsach, preeminent, enduring, overseer, superintendent, director. The Targum has "For praise" (Cook). The Greek of the LXX reads: "eis to télos," which the ABP translates as "For the director." Since telos in Koine Greek means "end, goal, or outcome," NETS translates the opening phrase as "Regarding completion," and the Elpenor LXX has "For the end." It should be noted that in Classical Greek telos also meant "performance, power of deciding, supreme office, magistracy, and office" (LSJ), which no doubt influenced the Jewish Sages in their translation.
a psalm: Heb. mizmor, a melody. of David: Heb. l'David. The Targum has "a psalm of David" (Cook). The Greek of the LXX reads: "psalmos tō David," which the ABP translates as "a psalm to David." NETS translates the phrase as "Pertaining to David. A Psalm," and the Elpenor LXX has "a Psalm of David." The Grk. David is in the dative case, but owing to the lack of a preposition between "psalm" and "David" the dative case should be treated as a instrumental dative of agency; therefore "by David" is more appropriate. Certainly this was the intention of Jewish translators of the LXX.
Nevertheless, there is scholarly debate over whether the Hebrew superscription l'David, which heads almost half the psalms, intends authorship by King David for the psalms identified with his name. For liberal scholars the superscription has no relevance since they give a post-exilic date for the whole book. However, Broyles explains that the Hebrew preposition l' (לְ) can have a variety of meanings.
(1) "of" or "(belonging) to" David in the sense of possession, because he authored the psalm;
(2) "(belonging) to" the Davidic collection of psalms (similar phrases are so used in other ancient Near Eastern poetry) - in other words, a royal collection of psalms (as distinct from Levitical collections, such as those of Asaph and Korah), reflecting the royal patronage of the temple;
(3) "(dedicated) to" David or to the Davidic king (like a book dedication);
(4) "for (the use of)" David or the Davidic king, that is, for the king to use either personally or as the leading liturgist in public worship;
(5)"concerning/about" David (27-28).
For Broyles the potential meanings of l'David leaves Davidic authorship uncertain. Yet, the use of l'David as a heading in so many psalms confirmed for the Jewish Sages that l'David indicated Davidic authorship. That is the straightforward meaning. The opinion of the Sages, who lived so much closer to the event than modern scholars, should carry greater weight.
David is one of the most important figures in Israelite history. His name first appears in 1 Samuel 16:13 when God sent Samuel to the house of Jesse in Bethlehem to anoint one of his sons as the next king. At that time David was only a shepherd. Yet, from that humble beginning he would eventually (after many difficulties) become the King of Israel at the age of 30 and reign 40 years (2Sam 5:4; 1Chr 3:4). David made a tremendous impact on the nation of Israel. In the military sphere he broke the power of all the pagan peoples in the land of Canaan and in the civil sphere he made Jerusalem his capital and solidified central authority.
Perhaps most important is his accomplishments in the religious sphere. He erected the Tabernacle on Mt. Zion, centralized religion in Jerusalem and established Levitical choirs. He wrote many psalms and 73 psalms are specifically ascribed to him. He was known as the "sweet psalmist of Israel" (2Sam 23:1). Especially important is that he compiled and organized psalms into what we now know as the Book of Psalms (2Chr 29:30). David was a true worshipper, a man imbued with the Holy Spirit (1Sam 13:14; 16:13; 2Sam 23:2). God chose David to be king because He "sought out for Himself a man after His own heart" (1Sam 13:14). Then, God made a personal and everlasting covenant with him by which God promised that He would establish the throne of David forever, build a house for Himself and send forth a king from the loins of David to rule over his people Israel (2Sam 7:12-14; 23:5; 2Chr 7:18; 13:5; Ps 89:3; Isa 55:3; Jer 33:21).
David's family life is the subject of much analysis and not a little criticism among commentators. He was a polygamist with 8 wives and 10 concubines (2Sam 3:3-5, 13-14; 5:13; 12:7-8, 24; 15:16). The concubines may have been the servants of his wives (2Sam 6:20-22). He had 19 named sons of his wives, besides the sons of his concubines, and one named daughter, although many other daughters were born to him (1Chr 3:1-9; 14:3-7). Thus, his adultery with Bathsheba and conspiracy to kill her husband Uriah was especially egregious (2Sam 12:7-8).
Yet, in spite of his moral failure the Scripture record is highly complimentary of David. During the time of the divided kingdoms there is an oft repeated phrase to describe the good kings of Judah, "He walked before me as David his father walked" (1Kgs 3:3, 14; 11:4, 6, 33, 38; 14:8; 15:3, 5, 11; 2Kgs 14:3; 16:2; 18:3; 22:2). Jeremiah left a simple eulogy of David's life: "David did what was right in the sight of the LORD, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life, except in the case of Uriah the Hittite" (1Kgs 15:5). The last comment on David's life in the Tanakh is from Ezra who twice refers to David as a "man of God" (2Chr 8:14; Neh 12:24).
David also has a highly favorable standing in the Besekh. The apostles tell the story of Yeshua as the story of the Son of David from his birth (Matt 1:1; Rom 1:3; 2Tim 2:8; Rev 22:16). At least twelve times the apostolic narratives refer to him as "Son of David.” David is cited as a model of behavior (Matt 12:3), identified as a servant of God (Luke 1:69) and regarded as a Spirit-inspired prophet (Mark 12:36; Acts 1:16; 2:34; 4:25; Rom 11:9; Heb 4:7). David thus took his place in the roll call of faithful heroes (Heb 11:32). This was "David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfill all my will" (Acts 13:22).
Proclamation of the Heavens
1 (2)― The heavens declare the glory of God; and the sky shows His handiwork.
The heavens: Heb. hashamayim (“the heavens”), which is only translated into the plural 51 out of the 667 times it occurs in the LXX. The Hebrew and Greek words for "heaven" are used in Scripture to refer to at least three different places (Ps 148:1-4). In terms of direction from the ground level of the earth the first heaven is the atmosphere surrounding the Earth (Gen 1:20; Rev 19:17). The second heaven is interstellar space (Gen 1:1, 8; Matt 24:29), populated with the sun, moon and stars on the fourth day of creation. Finally, the third heaven is the location of the throne of God and the home of angels (1Kgs 8:30; Matt 6:9; 2Cor 12:2). David refers here to the second heaven.
declare: Heb. saphar, Piel part., count, recount, relate, declare, tell. the glory: Heb. kabod (pronounced "kah-vohd"), which refers to the luminous manifestation of God’s person, his glorious revelation of Himself. Characteristically, kabod is linked with verbs of seeing and appearing and stresses the impact that the manifestation of a person or God makes on others. In the LXX kabod is translated with Grk. doxa, which has four categories of meaning: (1) splendor or radiance in the sense of brightness, (2) magnificence in the sense of what catches the eye, (3) fame, renown, honor or approval, and (4) glorious as in the angelic beings and majesties (DNTT 2:45).
of God: Heb. El, a proper name of God in the Tanakh, though not God's personal name. El is a very ancient term, widely known throughout the ancient Semitic world (TWOT 1:42), but in Scripture He is the God of Israel, the only true God. David does not use El to say "we Israelites worship the same God as the nations," but rather to say "El, the root of Elohim, the Creator of the universe, is only the God of Israel." God’s glory refers here to His royal majesty and power in creating the universe. The universe declares the existence of God.
David's point is based on the assumption that the universe has a First Cause. As Henry Morris details, The First Cause of limitless space must be infinite. The First Cause of endless time must be eternal. The First Cause of boundless energy must be omnipotent. The First Cause of unbounded variety must be omnipresent. The First Cause of infinite complexity must be omniscient. The First Cause of love must be loving. The First Cause of life must be living. Thus, the First Cause of the universe must be an infinite, eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, personal, volitional, holy, loving, living Being (37).
the sky: Heb. raqiya, extended surface, (solid) expanse (as if beaten out, Job 37:18). The raqiya is the edge of hashamayim (Gen 1:20) or the first heaven. The word first occurs in Genesis 1 (verses 6-8, 14-15, 20). The scientific name for raqiya is the atmosphere, a layer of gases that surround the Earth and are retained by Earth's gravity. The atmosphere protects life on Earth by absorbing ultraviolet solar radiation, warming the surface through heat retention, and reducing temperature extremes between day and night. The atmosphere becomes thinner and thinner with increasing altitude. The height of 100 km (62 mi) is generally considered the boundary between the atmosphere and outer space. Several layers can be distinguished within the atmosphere, based on characteristics such as temperature and composition. The atmosphere contains a variety of gases, the most important of which is the breathable air in the lowest layer, which extends from the surface of the earth to a height of 17 km (56,000 ft) at the Equator.
shows: Heb. nagad, Hiphil part., to be conspicuous; declare, tell. The participles emphasize the ongoing testimony of the heavens. His handiwork: Heb. uma'aseh yadav, lit. "the work of his hands." This anthropomorphic expression does not contradict the fact that God originally spoke the universe into existence (Gen 1:3; Ps 33:9). David asserts that just as interstellar space reveals the Creator and His nature, so also the atmosphere declares the work of the Creator. The raqiya or atmosphere is man's window into outer space (Gen 1:15). The number of visible stars that may be seen without the aid of a telescope are about four thousand (BBMS 156), and in ancient times only five planets could be seen – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn (BBMS 162). Nevertheless what could be seen in the night sky was more than enough for David to recognize their divine origin.
The atmosphere is also where birds of incredible variety defy gravity and fly up to altitudes of 25,000 feet (Humphreys 61). How can the existence of such animals be explained except that Elohim, the God of Israel, created them on the fifth day as Moses reports in Genesis 1:20 (cf. Job 12:7-9). The atmosphere supports the hydrological cycle, so vital to life on Earth. Water evaporates from the sea, rises into the atmosphere where it condenses, then is released by the atmosphere as precipitation on the land, and finally runs back to the sea to start the cycle again (Gen 8:2; Deut 11:11; 33:13; Job 38:29; 1Sam 2:10). How can anyone say that such an intricate and efficient system not be the work of God.
2 (3)― Day to day they speak, night to night they reveal knowledge.
Day to day…night to night: The idioms denote the unending repetition of the days of the calendar, as God promised to Noah, "While all the days of the land remain, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will not cease" (Gen 9:22 TLV). The alternating of day and night might also allude to the splendor and movements of heavenly bodies (NETN). they speak: Hiphal impf. The TLV translates two words yabbia omer, lit. "bubbles up a word. NETN states the Hebrew as "it gushes forth a word.” The verb is actually third person singular and describes the action of "day to day." The revelation from the heavens continues without pause, just like a fountain or spring (Anderson 168).
they reveal: Heb. chavah, Piel impf., declare, tell, show. This verb is also third person singular. knowledge: Heb. da'ath, knowledge; wisdom, understanding, wisdom. In the highest sense da'ath is knowledge of God (BDB 395). The imperfect verbal forms in this verse, like the participles in the preceding verse, combine with the temporal phrases (“day after day" and "night after night”) to emphasize the ongoing testimony of the heavens of not only the origin of the universe but also the nature of the Creator.
This verse and the previous depict what Henry Morris calls the space-mass-time universe (32f). Verse 2 (1) speaks of the "heavens" and the "expanse" or "sky" which correspond to what we mean by the modern scientific term, Space. Everywhere in the universe occur phenomena or His handiwork that encompasses the term, Mass. Verse 3 (2) speaks of Time in its reference to day and night. Modern science recognizes that these three elements exist in a continuum and as such involves power doing work and communication transmitting knowledge.
3 (4)― There is no speech, no words, where their voice goes unheard.
There is no: Heb. ayin, nothing, nought. speech: Heb. omer, promise, speech, thing, word. no words: pl. of Heb. dabar, speech, word. where their voice: Heb. qol, sound, voice. goes unheard: The translation "unheard" renders two words, Heb. beli, a wearing out, not, and shama, to hear. Alter points out a seeming contradiction between the previous verse and this verse, but underlines a moving paradox (60). The heavens speak in a wordless language. The message contained in the stars should be obvious but mankind since the time of Nimrod has missed the point and attributed the origin of the cosmos to a mythological source or in modern times pure chance acting on an explosive gas. The truth is that mankind does not want to hear the message.
"For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse." (Rom 1:20 NASB)
Their voice: Heb. qav, a line, which refers to a surveyor's measuring line. Some Hebrew MSS have the reading qolam, "their voice,” which is supported by the LXX. The LXX translates qav with Grk. phthoggos, which means an expression constituting sound. In the Besekh phthoggos is used of the sound of a human voice (Rom 10:18) and a note of a musical instrument (1Cor 14:7). gone out: Heb yatsa, goes out, or proceeds forth. to all the earth: Heb. erets, earth, land. The "voice" of the heavens is accessible everywhere on earth. Henry Morris likens the physical creation of a measuring line as a standard against which all men are measured. The heavens declare the glory of God, but all men fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23).
their words: pl. of Heb. millah, word, speech, utterance. The LXX renders millah with Grk. phonē, which may mean sound, noise or voice. the end: Heb. qatseh, after, end, extremity. The term alludes to the horizon as viewed by an observer on the ground. of the world: Heb. tebel, world, and in this verse parallel to erets. The LXX translates with Grk. oikoumenē, the inhabited world.
David was not saying that he heard voices coming from outer space. However, all created things produce sound as designed by the Creator who by the sound of his voice spoke all things into existence (Gen 1:3; Ps 33:9; 148:5). Modern technology has recorded a cacophony of sounds coming from interstellar space. (See ESA Space Science for audio clips of sound waves from Saturn and the Sun.) All the "inarticulate" sounds in interstellar space as well as the sounds on earth shout the glory of God. As John the apostle recorded his experience in heaven:
"And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, "To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever."" (Rev 5:13 NASB)
Paul's use of this part of the verse in Romans 10:18 in reference to "the word of Messiah" hints at another application. David could be alluding to a belief that the planets and constellations portended the coming of a Jewish king. In order to understand the import of the quote from Psalm 19 we must consider the first usage of "stars" in Scripture:
"Then God said, 'Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth;’ and it was so." (Gen 1:14-18 NASB)
The heavenly lights were created to function as "signs," and not just as aids to navigation, but portents with religious significance. The sun and moon determined the climatic "seasons," but this term Heb. mo'adim, is used in the Torah to refer to sacred seasons or festivals, especially in Leviticus 23 (BDB 417). The belief in the twelve constellations, or groupings of stars having special religious significance, is very old as alluded to in Job 9:9, "Who makes the Bear, Orion and the Pleiades, and the chambers of the south?” (Cf. Job 38:32; 2Kgs 23:5; Isa 13:10.)
According to the Talmud the twelve constellations were created for the benefit of Zion (Berakoth 32b). The standards of the tribes identified in Numbers 2 corresponded to the Hebrew (zodiacal) symbols of the constellations, so that in the east was the standards of Judah, Issachar and Zebulun corresponding to Aries, Taurus, and Gemini; in the south the standards of Reuben, Simeon and Gad corresponding to Cancer, Leo, and Virgo; in the west the standards of Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin corresponding to Libra, Scorpio, and Sagittarius; and in the north the standards of Dan, Asher and Naphtali corresponding to Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces (Jacobs).
If the stars were meant as signs and a benefit to Zion, i.e., Israel, what was that benefit? Paul with David's help gives the answer. The "signs" established in the stars by God (Gen 1:14) when He arranged the constellations (Job 38:31-33) originally set forth pictorially the divine plan of redemption through the coming "seed of the woman" (Gen 3:15; cf. Rev 12:1-2), and specifically the advent of the Messiah (cf. Matt 2:2; 24:29; Luke 21:25f; 2Pet 1:19). When the Magi came to Jerusalem seeking the King, they said, "we saw his star in the east" (Matt 2:2). Herod and his Jewish advisors were not shocked by this report, which points to its validity. They surely knew the prophecy of Balaam: "There shall come a star out of Jacob" (Num 24:17), and probably also that of Isaiah, "Nations shall come to Your light, and kings to the brightness of Your rising" (Isa 60:3 NASB).
Scientist Dr. Ross Olson demonstrates that the planets and constellations associated with Israel had been portending the coming of the Messiah as early as 7 BC. The conjunctions of the heavenly bodies in 3 BC to 2 BC make these years much closer to the nativity than the generally assumed date of 4 BC. (Dates of Significant Astronomical Events, Twin Cities Creation Science Association) In modern times Evangelical Christians have theorized what the details of this Gospel might be. God’s story of the Virgin, the promised Seed, the substitutionary sacrifice, and the destruction of the Serpent are all displayed in the stars. Dr. Henry Morris has summarized the message of each constellation:
● Virgo, the Virgin: promised Seed of the woman
● Libra, the Balance: scales of divine justice
● Scorpio, the Scorpion: sting to be inflicted on the divine seed
● Sagittarius, the Archer: corruption of the human race
● Capricorn, the Goat-Fish: utter wickedness of mankind
● Aquarius, the Water Pourer: destruction of the primeval world by water
● Pisces, the Fishes: emergence Israel, the chosen people of God
● Aires, the Ram: sacrifice of an innocent substitute for sins
● Taurus, the Bull: resurrection of the slain Ram as the mighty Bull
● Gemini, the Twins: the dual nature of the reigning king
● Cancer, the Crab: ingathering of the redeemed from all ages
● Leo, the Lion: destruction of the serpent by the great King of the tribe of Judah.
Henry Morris, Biblical Basis for Modern Science, (Baker Book House, 1984), 182. Morris provides a more complete explanation of the Gospel in the Stars in his book Many Infallible Proofs (1974), Appendix B.
In them: i.e., the heavens. He pitched: Heb. sum, Qal perf., to put, place or set. a tent: Heb. ochel, tent, dwelling, habitation. The word picture means that God created a specific locality in interstellar space. for the sun: Heb. shemesh, the sun, the star that is the central body of the solar system, created on the fourth day to "govern the day" (Gen 1:16-19). Its mean distance from the earth is about 93 million miles. In Mesopotamia the sun-god, Shamash, was considered to be the upholder of justice and righteousness (Anderson 1:69). Broyles considers the sun a personification of God (108). However, David does not mention the sun to give a nod to pagan mythology or to compare the sun to God. Rather, the sun is the work of God, created to serve mankind (Gen 1:14-18). The sun reflects the majesty of God, so all worship must be given to the Creator alone.
5 (6)― It is like a bridegroom coming out of his bridal chamber. It is like a strong man rejoicing to run his course.
It is like a bridegroom: Heb. chathan, bridegroom, daughter's husband, son-in-law. The term alludes to the betrothal stage of Jewish marriage that culminates with nisuin or taking his bride. See my web article Marriage in Ancient Israel. In the LXX chathan is rendered with Grk. numphios 9 times (Judg 19:5; Ps 19:5; Isa 61:10; 62:5; Jer 7:34; 16:9; 25:10; 33:11; Joel 2:16). The bridegroom is the one who goes into the nuptial chamber for consummation with his bride (cf. Ps 19:5; Joel 2:16). coming out: Heb. yatsa, Qal act. ptc., to go, come out or leave. The participle expresses the repeated or regular nature of the action.
of his bridal chamber: Heb. chuppah, canopy, chamber. The noun occurs elsewhere only in Isaiah 4:5 (as a protective canopy over Zion) and Joel 2:16 (where it refers to the nuptial chamber of a bride and groom). David likens the sunrise to a bridegroom coming out of his nuptial chamber after consummating with his bride. Considering that Yeshua is the Light of the world (Matt 4:16; John 1:4-5; 8:12; 9:5; cf. Mal 4:2) and the Bridegroom (Matt 9:15; 25:1; John 3:29), David's words contain a hint of Messianic prophecy. Metaphorically speaking the chamber must refer to the place where the sun goes to rest during the night as considered from the point of view of an observer on the ground.
It is like a strong man: Heb. gibbor, strong, mighty, probably an allusion to David's mighty men (2Sam 10:7; 1Kgs 1:8). Anderson suggests "hero." The metaphorical language reflects the brilliance of the sunrise, which attests to the sun’s vigor. In John's vision of the Son of Man his face shone like the strength of the sun (Rev 1:16). The sun has the greatest physical power in the universe. rejoicing: Heb. sus, Qal impf., exult, rejoice. The imperfect verbal form draws attention to the regularity of the action.
to run: Heb. ruts, Qal inf., to run as a physical action in contrast with walking. his course: Heb. orach, path, way. David, who himself was a mighty man (1Sam 16:18), may be recalling when he "ran" to join in battle with the Philistine Goliath (1Sam 17:48). His victory caused all Israel to rejoice at the deliverance of God. The concept here is that the sun follows a consistent path without variance and without slowing down and without loss of strength. Cf. Ecclesiastes 1:5, "Also, the sun rises and the sun sets; and hastening to its place it rises there again."
6 (7)― It rises at one end of the heavens, and makes its circuit to the other end. Nothing is hidden from its heat.
Its rises: Heb. motsa, a place or act of going forth, issue, export, source, spring. The translation of "rising" is no doubt influenced by viewing this description from an observer on the earth. The sun does not pass through the sky as some versions imply, although from an observers point of view it appears to pass by overhead. The circuit of the sun from one end of heaven to the other. It's point of origin is the place where God first positioned it upon creation.
at one end: Heb. qatseh, after, end; lit. "from the end." of the heavens: See the note on verse 1 above. The term here refers to interstellar space, more precisely the Milky Way. and makes its circuit: Heb. tequphah, a coming round, circuit. Modern scientists have theorized that the sun moves in a gigantic orbit around the center of the Milky Way galaxy, an orbit that would take 230 million years to complete, with a tangential speed of 600,000 miles per hour (BBMS 165). The truth is that only God knows its circuit.
Nothing: Heb. ayin, nothing, nought. is hidden: Heb. sathar, Niphil ptc., to hide or conceal. from its heat: Heb. chammah, heat. Alter comments that the Hebrew conceals a neat pun, since the word chammah is also another name for the sun (see Job 30:28; Isa 24:23; 30:26; SS 6:10). The surface temperature of the sun is in excess of 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit and the 93,000,000-mile distance from the earth assures the right balance of heat, light and photosynthesis. The radiant heat energy from the sun provides the physical power to sustain all of earth's physical and biological processes.
Rashi, the Medieval Jewish commentator, provides an interesting perspective by noting that one Jewish Sage, Resh Lakish, posited that there are seven skies: Vilon ("curtain"), Rakia ("expanse, firmament"), Shehakim ("clouds"), Zevul ("elevation, height, lofty abode, temple"), Machon ("dwelling, habitation"), Ma’on ("fixed or established place, foundation, residence"), Aravoth ((thick darkness, heavy cloud, in which God dwells) (recorded in Hagigah 12b). The lowest sky Vilon does not serve for anything; in Rakia are the sun, the moon, the stars, and the planets, etc. So according to Midrash Psalms 18:13 had the sun been placed in the lowest sky, no man would be able to hide from its heat.
Moreover, Rashi notes that the heat of the sun is associated with the Day of Judgment, as is stated in Malachi 4:1 (3:19 MT): "And the sun that comes shall burn them up.” But the law of the Lord is perfect; it restores the soul to ways of life and it protects those who study it from that burning, as is stated, "And the sun of mercy shall rise with healing… for you who fear My Name.” (Mal 4:2; 3:20 MT).
Praise of Scripture
David now turns his attention to the power of Scripture and employs six synonyms to make his case of the supremacy and value of God's Word.
7 (8)― The Torah of ADONAI is perfect, restoring the soul. The testimony of ADONAI is trustworthy, making the simple wise.
The Torah: Heb. torah, direction, instruction or law. Torah is the feminine noun from the root yarah, which means to throw, to shoot (as in arrows), or to cast (as in lots). It also means to point out, to show, to direct, to teach or to instruct. A moreh, also from the same root, means a teacher, one who throws out, or points out, directs, or instructs (TWOT 1:403). Thus, Torah is instruction in the way man is meant to live in an ethical and moral way in order to enjoy life to the full and to please God (Deut 30:15-16, 20). The priests were to teach the Torah (Lev 10:11; Deut 33:10) and prepare a copy of the Torah for the king (Deut 17:18-20).
The mention of the Torah likely refers to the books of Moses. However, David is not talking so much about completed books of a canonical status as the divine instruction contained in those books. The English word "law,” which translates Torah in Christian versions, has a much more limited meaning, usually negative. In Western culture law exists to regulate behavior and authorize punishment for violations. An important point is that covenant establishes God's instruction as the basis for the relationship. Covenant and Torah are interconnected and to break one is to break the other. The Torah and the covenant contain blessings and curses. Obedience brings blessings and rebellion brings curses.
of ADONAI: Heb. YHVH (Yod-Hey-Vav-Hey), the tetragrammaton of the God of Israel, referred to in Judaism as either Adonai (Lord) or Hashem (the Name). YHVH dominates in the Tanakh, first occurring in Genesis 2:4. While not reflected in Bible translations YHVH is not a title or a word for a deity, but the personal name of the God of Israel (Ex 3:15; 2Chr 14:11; Isa 42:8). The usage of "the LORD" in Christian versions does not actually translate YHVH. See my web article The Blessed Name for more discussion on this subject. David emphasizes the fact that the Torah was given by ADONAI, the God of Israel, not invented by Moses. Paul declared that all the Scripture of his knowledge, the entire Tanakh, was produced by divine inspiration (2Tim 3:16). Any person who dismisses the Torah as irrelevant or obsolete has insulted God and does so at his own peril.
is perfect: Heb. tamim, complete, sound, perfect. The apostle Paul concurs saying that the Torah is holy, righteous and good (Rom 7:2). The term is used frequently in reference to sacrificial animals, as being without blemish. The same adjective can also describe the work of God (Deut 32:4), His way (Ps 18:30) and the perfection of His knowledge (Job 37:16). The term is also used of men to suggest uprightness or blamelessness (Gen 6:9; 17:1; 25:27; Job 1:1, 8; Prov 11:5) (Anderson).
restoring: Heb. shub, Hiphil ptc., to turn back or return. Owens has "reviving." Scripture has power for spiritual reformation. The verb perhaps alludes to returning a person to God who has gone astray. the soul: Heb. nephesh has a variety of meanings: a soul, living being, life, self, person, desire, passion, appetite, emotion. Elsewhere the Hiphil of shub, when used with nephesh as the object, means to "rescue or preserve one’s life" (Job 33:30; Ps 35:17), to "revive one’s strength" (emotionally or physically; cf. Ruth 4:15; Lam 1:11, 16, 19), or to revive from death (1Kgs 17:22). Here the point seems to be that the Torah preserves the life of the one who studies it by making known God’s will. Those who know God’s will know how to please him and can avoid offending him.
The testimony: Heb. eduth, testimony, ordnance, laws as divine testimonies or solemn charges (Deut 4:45; 6:20). Edut is used sometimes in reference to the testimony of God, such as the Ten Commandments as a testimony of His standards (Ex 31:18), the tabernacle as a testimony of his presence (Ex 38:21; 26:33), and the ark containing the tablet of ten words, jar of manna and Aaron's rod, as a testimony of God's election, covenant and provision (Ex 16:34; 27:21). Indeed the Torah, Genesis through Deuteronomy, as a record of the past is a testimony of God's faithfulness to His people.
of ADONAI: Heb. YHVH, the second mention of the sacred name revealed to Moses. David asserts again the divine inspiration. is trustworthy: Heb. aman, Niphil ptc., to confirm, support, faithful, sure, lasting. Anderson has "reliable." making the simple: Heb. pthiy, simple or possibly even open-minded, one open to instruction of wisdom. The "simple" might also be the one who is young and still in the process of learning right from wrong and distinguishing wisdom from folly. In the Book of Provers "the simple" are usually the gullible, simpletons, and even the wayward (Prov 1:32) (Anderson). wise: Heb. chakam, Hiphil ptc., to be or make wise. Owens has "enlightening." Scripture accomplishes this goal by imparting understanding, as David says in Psalm 119:130, "The unfolding of Your words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple." God's Word is powerful to correct faulty thinking and transform lives.
8 (9)― The precepts of ADONAI are right, giving joy to the heart. The mitzvot of ADONAI is pure, giving light to the eyes.
The precepts: pl. of Heb. piqqud, precept, of something appointed or charged. The third synonym of Scripture occurs 24 times in the Tanakh, all in the Psalms and all but three in Psalm 119. These are responsibilities God places on His people. of ADONAI: Heb. YHVH, the third mention of the sacred name revealed to Moses. are right: Heb. yashar, upright, just, straight, level; the opposite of crooked. Perhaps the idea is that they impart a knowledge of what is just and right. giving joy: Heb. samach, Piel ptc., to rejoice, be glad. to the heart: Heb. leb, inner man, mind, will, heart. Perhaps the point is that precepts bring a sense of joyful satisfaction to the one who knows and keeps them, for those who obey God’s instruction are richly rewarded.
The mitzvot: Heb. mitzvah, commandment. The noun is actually singular. The term may refer to a code of law or a code of wisdom. Among Jews mitzvot is instruction intended for obedience, often associated with a good deed or charitable works. Blessing accompanies obedience, but violation produces guilt and need for atonement. To do commandments requires remembering them, so a few devices were enjoined to aid remembrance, e.g., tzitzit on the corners of garments (Num 15:38-39), and excerpts written on doorposts (Heb. mezuzah; Deut 6:9).
of ADONAI: Heb. YHVH, the fourth mention of the sacred name revealed to Moses. David emphasizes yet again that the commandments received by Israel came from the God of Israel. is pure: Heb. bar, pure, clean. Solomon uses the word of a virgin bride, "As pure as the sun" (SS 6:10). Because Scripture reflects God’s character, His commands provide a code of moral and ethical purity. giving light: Heb. or, to be or become light, here lighten. to the eyes: pl. of Heb. ayin, the physical organ of sight, but used here of mental and spiritual faculties. As David says in Psalm 119:105, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path."
9 (10)― The fear of ADONAI is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of ADONAI are true and altogether righteous.
The fear: Heb. yirah, fear, reverance. of ADONAI: Heb. YHVH, the fifth mention of the sacred name revealed to Moses. The "fear of ADONAI" seems an unlikely synonym for Scripture, but from David's experience Torah teaches one how to demonstrate proper reverence for God. Solomon declares that the "fear of ADONAI" is to hate evil (Prov 8:13), and the Torah defines what is evil. Without the Torah there is no standard to define sin. Looking into Scripture is like viewing oneself in a mirror. Considering God's perfect will and one's shortcomings should motivate an appropriate awe of the holy God.
is clean: Heb. tahor, clean, pure. The term pertains to the idea of that which is washed. God's mandate at Sinai was that the Israelites, especially the priests, would be able to distinguish between the holy and the common and between the unclean and the clean in order to become a holy people (Lev 10:10; 11:44-45; Ezek 22:26; 44:23). Becoming clean removes uncleanness and the Word of God serves that purpose (cf. John 15:3; Eph 5:26). enduring: Heb. amad, Qal act. ptc., to take one's stand, to stand, endure, to be steadfast. forever: Heb. ad, forever, continually, of continued existence. The Torah is the everlasting Word of God, which contradicts the Christian myth of it being nullified or replaced.
The judgments: pl. of Heb. mishpat, judgment, justice. of ADONAI: Heb. YHVH, the sixth mention of the sacred name revealed to Moses. The judgment of God is rightly related to the fear of God. A holy fear is a reality check against the assumption that God will tolerate any behavior, because we will all stand before the holy God to give an account (Rom 14:12; Heb 9:27; 1Pet 4:5). are true: Heb. emet, firmness, steadfastness, faithfulness, truth. As Jeremiah said, "Your word is truth" (Jer 17:17). and altogether: Heb. yachad, unitedness, unity, together. righteous: Heb. tzadeq, Qal perf., to be righteous or just. God's judgments are based on the standards of the Torah, which accurately reflect God’s moral will for his people and are an expression of His just character.
10 (11)― They are more desirable than gold, yes, more than much pure gold! They are sweeter than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
They: The Torah, testimony, precepts, commandments, fear, and judgments. David then employs two word pictures to describe just how precious is God's Word. are more desirable: Heb. chamad, Niphal ptc., to desire, take pleasure in. than gold: Heb. zahab, the precious metal known as gold, whether in the form of ore or refined. yes, more than much pure gold: Heb. paz, refined gold of high quality.
They are sweeter: Heb. mathoq, used as an adj., sweet, sweetness. than honey: Heb. debash, honey of the bee. and drippings: Heb. nopheth, flowing honey, honey from the comb. of the honeycomb: Heb. tsuph, honeycomb prepared by bees. Alter translates "drippings of the honeycomb" as "quintessence of bees" and suggests that the combination of the two synonyms in a construct form has the semantic effect of creating a hyper-intensification - the sweetest of imaginable honeys. NETN suggests that God’s law is "sweet’ in the sense that, when obeyed, it brings a great reward.
Barclay relates that David’s words reflected a Jewish educational practice that served as a reward for learning (116). A child would be given a slate with the alphabet written on it in a mixture of flour and honey. After the original instruction, the teacher would point at a letter and ask, "What is that and how does it sound?” If the boy could answer correctly, he was allowed to lick the letter off the slate as a reward.
11 (12)― Moreover, by them Your servant is warned. In keeping them there is great reward.
Moreover, by them Your servant: Heb. ebed, slave, servant. Such servitude might be voluntary, someone hired as a household servant, but more often involuntary as someone enslaved after being captured in war or in order to pay a debt (cf. Ex 21:7; Lev 25:39, 44, 47). In addition, ebed identified those that served God, especially service in the temple (DNTT 3:593ff). The first usage of ebed for "slave" in Scripture is of the household servants Abimelech gave Abraham as restitution for taking Sarah (Gen 20:14). Joseph is the first Hebrew slave mentioned in Scripture (Gen 39:17). Later Egypt would be labeled a "house of slavery" for their mistreatment of the descendants of Jacob (Ex 13:3). Slaves could be owned as a possession for various lengths of times, Hebrew slaves no more than seven years (Ex 21:2), and Gentile slaves without time limit.
David personalizes the term (cf. 2Sam 3:18) making himself a servant of God and in company with many other notable people in the Bible. The great Hebrew and Jewish heroes of the faith were distinguished with the honorific, including Abraham (Gen 18:3; 26:24), Isaac (Gen 24:14), Jacob (Deut 9:27), Job (Job 1:8), Moses (Ex 4:10), Caleb (Num 14:24), Joshua (Josh 24:29), Samson (Judg 15:18), Samuel (1Sam 3:10), Elijah (2Kgs 9:36), Jonah (2Kgs 14:25), Hezekiah (2Chr 32:16), Nehemiah (Neh 1:11), Isaiah (Isa 20:3), Zerubbabel (Hag 2:23), Daniel (Dan 6:20) and all the Hebrew prophets (Jer 25:4).
is warned: Heb. zahar, Niphal ptc., be instructed, admonished, warned. In keeping: Heb. shamar, Qal inf. construct, to keep, watch, preserve. them there is great: Heb. rab, much, many, great. reward: Heb. eqeb, consequence, as a consequence of, reward, end. Yeshua affirmed also that God rewards righteousness (Matt 6:2-6). However, the expectation of reward can not be the purpose of keeping God's commandments. Doing the right thing for the wrong reason will nullify God's reward, as Yeshua explained in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6:1-6).
Petition of a Supplicant
12 (13)― Who can discern his errors? Cleanse me of hidden faults.
Who: Heb. mi, interrogative pronoun, who. can discern: Heb. bin, Qal impf., understand, discern, know, perceive. his errors: pl. of Heb. shegiah, error, derived from shagan, a moral mistake. Alter translates as "unwitting sins." This term occurs only in this verse in the Tanakh. The rhetorical question makes the point that perfect moral discernment is impossible to achieve. Consequently it is inevitable that even those with good intentions will commit an unintentional transgression of Torah instructions. After all, who can say they love God and their neighbor perfectly?
Cleanse: Heb. naqah, Piel imp., to be clean, be free from guilt, be innocent. The imperative form functions as a heart-felt entreaty. me of hidden faults: Heb. sathar, Niphal ptc., to hide, conceal. The Hebrew text does not contain a word that means "sins" or "faults" as given in most Bible versions. The OJB has "nistarot (secret ones), and the YLT has "hidden ones," both treating "errors" as the antecedent. David is not talking about capital crimes, such as adultery, but all of those acts or omissions that cause us to "fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23). They are hidden, not because they are committed in a purposely clandestine manner, but because he does not recognize them as mistakes at the time of commission.
Paul makes an excellent point in saying, "For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord" (1Cor 4:4) and Jacob says, "For we all stumble in many ways" (Jas 3:2). Alter comments that David, "having affirmed the supreme value of God's commandments, is impelled to confess that, even with the best of intentions, an imperfect human being can scarcely be sure of never having violated any of them. So he requests God's indulgence for an unwitting transgressions of the laws he holds dear."
13 (14)― Also keep Your servant from willful sins. May they not have dominion over me. Then I will be blameless, free from great transgression.
Also keep: Heb. chasak, Qal imp., to withhold, refrain. Your servant: See the note on verse 11 above. from willful sins: Heb. zed, pl. adj., insolent, presumptuous. The word "sins" does not occur in the Hebrew text, but David obviously alludes to capital crimes. The Torah warns against willful sinning or sinning with a "high hand" (Num 15:30; Deut 17:12-13). May they not have dominion: Heb. mashal, to rule, have dominion or reign. over me: "Don't let my emotions rule me so that I do something really stupid, even wicked."
Then I will be blameless: Heb. tamam, Qal impf., be complete, finished. Jacob (Gen 25:27) and the patriarch Job (Job 1:1, 8; 2:3) are described with the noun tam, which means perfect or complete. An adjectival form of tam, tamiym was applied to Noah (Gen 6:9) and prescribed as God’s expectation of Abraham (Gen 17:1). free: Heb. naqah, Piel perf., to be empty or clean. from great: Heb. rab, adj., abundance, much, many, great. The adjective in this verse has the emphasis of exceeding all others. transgression: Heb. pesha, in contrast to unintentional transgressions. A similar expression occurs in Exodus 32 where the making and worshipping of the gold calf is described as a 'great sin' (Ex 32:21, 30, 31). Jeroboam, too, is said to have made the Israelites to commit a "great sin" (2Kgs 17:21) (Anderson).
A great transgression would likely be one for which there was no atonement. According to the Mishnah there are thirty-six transgressions for which the Torah specifies the punishment of karet (K'ritot 1:1; cf. Ex 30:33; 31:14; Lev 7:25-27). These transgressions included murder (Lev 17:4), the prohibited sexual unions of Leviticus 18, abusive dishonoring of parents (Deut 21:18-21), blasphemy (Num 15:30), idolatry, necromancy (Lev 20:6), refusing circumcision (Gen 17:14), profaning Shabbat (Ex 31:14), certain violations of ritual purity laws (Lev 7:20-21, 25; Num 19:13), eating chametz (leavened product) during Pesach (Ex 12:15), not "humbling" oneself on Yom Kippur (Lev 23:29), anointing a layman with priestly oil (Ex 30:30), duplicating priestly perfume (Ex 30:38), and eating blood (Lev 17:14) (Stern 270).
The Torah provided no means of atonement or restoring fellowship for deliberate offenses. Punishment as determined by a court varied between flagellation, not to exceed forty strokes (Deut 25:2-3), and the death sentence as specifically prescribed for some of the offenses. However, the transgression must be committed defiantly (Num 15:30) or presumptuously (Deut 17:12-13) to be subject to karet. If committed unintentionally (by mistake or in ignorance), a sin offering may be brought (Lev 4:2-35; 5:15-18; 22:14; Num 15:27-29; Isa 6:5-7).
14 (15)― May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable before You, ADONAI, my Rock and my Redeemer.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable before You, ADONAI, my Rock and my Redeemer
Let: Heb. hayah, Qal impf., to fall out, come to pass, become, be. the words: pl. of Heb. emer, speech, word. of my mouth: Heb. peh, the organ of the mouth. and the meditation: Heb. higgayon, resounding music, meditation, musing, murmuring. The root of the noun higgayon suggests murmuring (the same verb prominently used in Psalm 1). Higgayon is derived from the verb hagah, which means to make a low muttering sound, which is what one does with a text in a culture where there is no silent reading (cf. Ps 1:2). By extension it has the sense of "to meditate." of my heart: Heb. leb. See the note on verse 8 above. David knows that God listens in on his thoughts from afar (Ps 139:2) and that words proceed from the heart. Often times what the mind thinks the mouth says with disastrous results.
be acceptable: Heb. ratson, goodwill, favor, acceptance, will. David knew that mediating on Scripture would result in the favor of god. before You, ADONAI: Heb. YHVH. This is the seventh mention of the sacred name in the Psalm. David continues to personalize his relationship with God. my Rock: Heb. tsur, rock, cliff, fig. used of protection; thus a "sheltering rock.” There was a rock that Moses struck out of which came water (Ex 17:6; Num 20:8-11; Deut 8:15; 32:4) and Paul informs us that the Rock in the wilderness was Yeshua (1Cor 10:4). David uses the term figuratively for God, as a support and defense of His people.
my Redeemer: Heb go'el derived from ga'al, Qal act. ptc., the one who redeems.” This term was usually applied to the nearest kinsman, and it was his duty to look after the interests of his less fortunate relatives, which might involve redemption of the relative himself or his property. Sometimes the go'el would act as the avenger if the kinsman was killed. When the term is used of ADONAI, it may imply that He is a kinsman of His people, not by the Torah of blood, but by that of election" (Anderson). The metaphor casts the Lord in the role of a leader who protects members of his extended family in times of need and crisis. The concept of redemption may also harken back to the deliverance from Egypt.
The verse serves as an apt conclusion to the psalm, and its familiar words have been appropriately adopted for use in Jewish and Christian liturgy.
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