The title tells us both the author and the audience of the Psalm: To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David. Some believe that the Chief Musician is the Lord God Himself, and others suppose him to be a leader of choirs or musicians in David’s time, such as Heman the Singer or Asaph (1 Chronicles 6:33, 16:17, and 25:6).
“This Psalm reflects, more than any other, the beauty and splendor of the Hebrew poetry found in the Psalter. C.S. Lewis wrote, ‘I take this to be the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.’” (VanGemeren)
A. The message from the heavens.
1. (1-4a) The message from the heavens is broad.
The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world.
a. The heavens declare the glory of God: David looked to the heavens – not the spiritual heaven where God is enthroned, but the heavens of the blue sky and the night sky – and he clearly saw the glory of God declared.
i. He could see it in the blue sky, with the glory of the sun and clouds and the beauty of sunrises and sunsets.
ii. He could see it in the night sky, with the brightness of the moon, the awe of the starry sky and the cloudy spread of the distant galaxies.
iii. These together – with their size, their awe, their grandeur – shouted to David and all who would see, “The God who created all this is glorious, and this is evidence of His glory.”
Š He is glorious in His size, having created something so big.
Š He is glorious in His engineering, having created something that works together so well.
Š He is glorious in His artistry, having created something so beautiful.
Š He is glorious in His goodness and kindness, having created something for all humanity to see.
b. And the firmament shows His handiwork: David repeats the idea in the previous line. “Firmament” is a poetic way of referring to the heavens or the sky, and they show the handiwork of God.
c. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge: The day sky and the night sky speak to us, and reveal knowledge about the glory, wisdom, and creative greatness of God.
i. Utters speech: “This is stronger in the Hebrew text than it appears to be in English, for the image is literally of a gushing spring that copiously pours forth sweet, refreshing waters of revelation.” (Boice)
ii. Reveals knowledge: “Knowledge is well matched with night, since without the night skies man would have known, until recently, nothing but an empty universe.” (Kidner) If God had not placed the stars in the night sky, the blackness of night would have communicated powerfully to all humanity, ancient and modern, “There is nothing and no-one out there.”
iii. “Though all preachers on earth should grow silent, and every human mouth cease from publishing the glory of God, the heavens above will never cease to declare and proclaim his majesty and glory. They are for ever preaching; for, like an unbroken chain, their message is delivered from day to day and from night to night.” (Tholuck, cited in Spurgeon)
iv. “Day bids us labour, night reminds us to prepare for our last home; day bids us work for God, and night invites us to rest in him; day bids us look for endless day, and night warns us to escape from everlasting night.” (Spurgeon)
d. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard: The glory of God in the visible heavens is for all to see; it is communicated to all mankind, no matter what their language. It is a message that has gone out through all the earth.
i. The Apostle Paul expanded on this idea in Romans 1. He explained that God’s invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse (Romans 1:20). Paul told us that because this testimony had gone out through all creation, all men are without excuse for rejecting the God who gave us such clear (and beautiful) evidence of His power and wisdom.
ii. “Should a man live underground, and there converse with the works of art and mechanism, and should afterwards be brought up into the open day, and see the several glories of the heaven and earth, he would immediately pronounce them the works of such a Being as we define God to be.” (Aristotle, cited in Spurgeon)
iii. “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” (Robert Jastrow, cited in Boice)
2. (4b-6) The message from the heavens is strong and glorious.
In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun,
Which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
And rejoices like a strong man to run its race.
Its rising is from one end of heaven,
And its circuit to the other end;
And there is nothing hidden from its heat.
a. In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun: David poetically described the nighttime sky as a dwelling place – a tent, a tabernacle – for the sun. The sun comes out of his “tent” every day to cross the heavens, and returns to his tabernacle at night.
i. “God has assigned it its place to occupy and its course to run; the whole sky its mere tent and track.” (Kidner)
b. Like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoices like a strong man to run its race: The sun makes its course through the sky with strength and joy; like a man in his prime or an athlete running a race.
i. “All would agree that the psalm, if it glances at mythology, repudiates it. The sun may be ‘like’ a bridegroom or a runner; it is in fact no more than a glorious part of God’s ‘handiwork.’” (Kidner)
c. Its rising is from one end of heaven . . . there is nothing hidden from its heat: The sun covers the whole sky, and its strength extends everywhere. It is a wonderful example of the glory of God declared in the heavens.
B. The message from the Word of God.
1. (7-9) The glorious character of God’s word, described seven ways.
The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes 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 and righteous altogether.
a. The law of the Lord: Here David abruptly shifted from praising the God who reveals Himself in creation to praising the same God for revealing Himself in His word. It is as if David said, “Creation tells us much about God, but His word tells us much more.”
i. “ ‘Two things’, according to Kant, ‘fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe . . . the starry heavens above and the moral law within.’ The psalm transcends the second of these themes by looking to the divine law revealed.” (Kidner)
ii. One reason the word is a greater revelation than creation is that it tells us much more about God. It reveals Him as the covenant God of love, as reflected in the structure of this psalm. In Psalm 19:1-6, God is referred to as El – the most generic word for God in the Hebrew language (even more generic than the commonly used Elohim). Yet here at Psalm 119:7-9, God is referred to as Yahweh (the Lord), the God of covenant love and faithfulness to His people.
iii. “He is wisest who reads both the world-book and the Word-book as two volumes of the same work, and feels concerning them, ‘My Father wrote them both.’” (Spurgeon)
iv. David then explains seven glorious statements about the word of God; how wonderful and effective it is. As is common in other places – especially the great Psalm 119 – David uses a variety of expressions to refer to the word of God (law, testimony, statutes, commandment, fear, judgments). It is best to see these as poetic terms describing God’s written revelation in general, rather than one specific type of revelation (such as only the laws given in the Mosaic law).
b. The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: The word of God is perfect. It gives us all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). While it does not give us all knowledge, all the knowledge it gives is true and perfect. Understood in its literary context, God’s word is never wrong in science or history or the understanding of either divine or human nature.
i. Part of the perfection of God’s word is that it is effective; it does the work of converting the soul. There is power in the reading and hearing and studying of the word of God that goes beyond intellectual benefit; it actually changes for the better – converts – the soul.
ii. The Hebrew word translated here as converting is perhaps better understood as reviving; that is, bringing new life to the soul. “First, God’s word ‘revives.’ Its restorative quality gives healing to the whole person by assuring forgiveness and cleansing and by giving life to the godly.” (VanGemeren)
c. The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple: The word of God is sure, being reliable and certain. As the Psalmist would write at Psalm 119:89, Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven.
i. “Sure, by its passive form, can mean not only what is firm but what is confirmed: cf. ‘verified’ in Genesis 42:20.” (Kidner)
ii. Because it is so sure and certain, it does the work of making wise the simple. Many people of simple education or upbringing have tremendous wisdom unto life and godliness because they study and trust the sure word of the Lord.
d. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: God’s word and the commands contained within are right. They are morally right, they are practically right, and they are universally right. They are right because it is the revelation of a God who is holy, true, and always right.
i. Are right: “To make straight, smooth, right, upright, opposed to crookedness in mind or conduct; showing what the man should be, both within and without.” (Clarke)
ii. The one who knows the word of God and the God of the word rejoices in this. They find joy; actual pleasure in the truth of God and relationship with God revealed in His word.
e. The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes: Because God’s word comes from a God who is Himself pure and holy, it itself is pure. A pure God can communicate no other way. We never have to worry about the word of God leading people into sin or impurity; if it seems to have happened, it is evidence that the scriptures have been twisted (2 Peter 3:16).
i. This pure word will enlighten the eyes. It will bring the cheer and comfort and knowledge and confidence that a light in the midst of darkness brings.
f. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever: The word of God is clean, and therefore is enduring forever. It will never fade or corrode, diminishing because of impurity. It is clean and it makes clean.
i. Here David called the word of God the “fear of the Lord.” It is deeply connected to the awe and majesty of God Himself. One who reads and hears and studies the word of God, meeting Him in His word, will have an appropriate appreciation of God’s awe and majesty – the fear of the Lord.
g. The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether: David summarized this beautiful chain of seven pearls, each describing some aspect of the word of God. Here he declared that the words of God are true and righteous altogether; there is nothing false or unrighteous in His word.
i. There is no applied aspect to this statement as in the previous six. For David, it was enough to simply say it: “true and righteous altogether.” Perhaps David assumed we would be wise and logical enough to apply it ourselves: “Therefore read it, study it, meditate on it, love it, live it.”
ii. Remember that King David wrote this with only a fraction of what we have today as the word of God; and by most accounts his portion was not as glorious as the complete revelation of God. David would have the first five books of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy); Joshua, Judges, a few Psalms, and perhaps Job and Ruth. We can only imagine what King David would write about Isaiah or Hosea or the entire Psalter; much less any of the books of the New Testament. We can say with confidence that God’s word is far more glorious than King David knew!
2. (10-11) The great value of God’s word.
More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward.
a. More to be desired are they than gold: King David insisted that the value of God’s word – His written revelation to man – was more valuable and desirable than gold itself. David wanted no amount of money or wealth to command his attention and affection more than the word of God.
i. King David was a massively wealthy man, yet he is rarely known for his riches. He is much more known for his great heart towards God. His son Solomon was even more wealthy than David, and was known for his riches – yet not nearly as much for his heart towards God and his love of God’s word.
ii. If it wasn’t enough to say that God’s word should be more desirable than gold, King David amplified the point by saying, “Yea, than much fine gold.”
iii. “This is strictly true; but who believes it? By most men gold is preferred both to God and his judgments; and they will barter every heavenly portion for gold and silver!” (Clarke)
b. Sweeter also than the honey and the honeycomb: For King David, God’s word was not only to be held in greater esteem than material wealth, but also greater than sensual experiences. Honey is sweet and pleasant to eat, but God’s word is sweeter still.
c. Moreover by them Your servant is warned, and in keeping them there is great reward: David here gave two reasons why the word of God was greater than material wealth or sensual pleasures.
i. God’s word gives instruction – warning – that wealth or pleasures do not give (is warned).
Š Warning is needed for sins we are susceptible to.
Š Warning is needed for dangers we cannot see.
Š Warning is needed for dangers we cannot appreciate.
Š Warning is needed for dangers far off in the future.
Š Warnings are often rejected.
ii. God’s word gives benefit – reward – greater than wealth or pleasures (great reward).
d. In keeping them there is great reward: It is also true that there is great reward for keeping the Word of God; but that is not what the Psalmist said here. Here David noted the reward in keeping them. There is a sense in which obedience becomes its own reward, because we live the way God wants us to and designed us to live.
i. One of the great rewards of keeping the word of God is peace of mind. “A quiet conscience is a little heaven. A martyr was fastened to the stake, and the sheriff who was to execute him expressed his sorrow that he should persevere in his opinions, and compel him to set fire to the pile. The martyr answered, ‘Do not trouble yourself, for I am not troubling myself. Come and lay your hand upon my heart, and see if it does not beat quietly.’ His request was complied with, and he was found to be quite: calm. ‘Now,’ said he, ‘lay your hand on your own heart, and see if you are not more troubled than I am; and then go your way, and, instead of pitying me, pity yourself.’” (Spurgeon)
3. (12-13) The desire for inward cleansing.
Who can understand his errors?
Cleanse me from secret faults.
Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins;
Let them not have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
And I shall be innocent of great transgression.
a. Who can understand his errors? In the previous verse David reflected on the warnings found in the word of God, and in the great reward found in obeying God’s word. This made him reflect on the times and ways he had ignored the warnings and not kept the word.
i. In asking, “Who can understand his errors?” David understood that he had ignored and disobeyed God’s word even more than he was aware of. What he knew was enough to make him concerned; his actual errors before God were still worse.
ii. Notably, the fact that we cannot understand our errors does not excuse us from them. We are still accountable for such errors and faults before God, and must trust in His atonement to cleanse us from these errors and secret faults.
b. Cleanse me from secret faults: Knowing that he could not know just how many his errors were before God, King David wisely prayed this prayer. He needed cleansing even from the sins and faults that were secret to him.
i. “We desire the inner purity of heart. But this is peculiarly God’s prerogative. It is his work to cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of his Holy Spirit. ‘Cleanse thou me.’” (Meyer)
ii. Secret faults: “From those which I have committed, and have forgotten; from those for which I have not repented; from those which have been committed in my heart, but have not been brought to act in my life; from those which I have committed without knowing that they were sins, sins of ignorance; and from those which I have committed in private, for which I should blush and be confounded were they to be made public.” (Clarke)
c. Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins: David added this because he knew that his problem was greater than secret faults and unknown errors. Without God’s help (which he here prayed for) he was also perfectly capable of committing presumptuous sins; sins done in a proud and knowing way.
i. Things that make sin presumptuous.
Š When we know better.
Š When friends have warned us.
Š When God Himself has warned us.
Š When we have warned others against the same sins.
Š When we plan and relish our sin.
ii. “The Rabbins here observe how the prophet riseth in his request, first for pardon of lesser sins, and then for power against greater; like a beggar, say they, first craves a little water, and then a morsel of bread. We should do so.” (Trapp)
iii. The description of errors and secret faults and presumptuous sins reminds us that sin has a progression.
Š It goes from passing temptation to chosen thought (errors).
Š It goes from chosen thought to object of meditation.
Š It goes from object of meditation to wished-for fulfillment.
Š It goes from wished-for fulfillment to planned action (secret faults).
Š It goes from planned action to opportunity sought.
Š It goes from opportunity sought to performed act.
Š It goes from action to repeated action.
Š It goes from repeated action to delight (presumptuous sins).
Š It goes from delight to new and various ways.
Š It goes from new and various ways to habit.
Š It goes from habit to idolatry, demanding to be served.
Š It goes from idolatry to sacrifice.
Š It goes from sacrifice to slavery.
iv. We can say that all along this continuum the Holy Spirit – and hopefully our conscience – say, “No – stop!” All along this continuum we are given the way of escape by God (1 Corinthians 10:13), if we will only take it. Yet if we do not, and end up in slavery to sin, it legitimately questions the state of our soul (1 John 3:6-9).
v. Because of this great danger, David prayed “Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins.” “Will you just note, that this prayer was the prayer of a saint, the prayer of a holy man of God? Did David need to pray thus? Did the ‘man after God’s own heart’ need to cry, ‘Keep back thy servant?’ Yes, he did.” (Spurgeon)
d. Let them not have dominion over me: Indeed, King David not only knew that he was capable of such sins, but that they could potentially have dominion over him. His prayer was rightly placed; his love of God’s word and his dependence upon God in prayer would help him stay free from the dominion of enslaving sin.
i. This prayer is even more fitting for one who relates to God on the basis of the New Covenant. As Paul wrote, For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law, but under grace (Romans 6:14).
e. Then I shall be blameless: David knew that if sin was addressed in his life – dealing both with inward, secret sin and outward, presumptuous, enslaving sin – then he could be blameless and innocent of great transgression.
i. This was not a claim of sinless perfection, either achieved or to attain to before resurrection. David knew well that he needed to be cleansed, and trusted in God’s perfect sacrifice – prefigured by the animal sacrifices he practiced in the Mosaic system. David understood blamelessness and innocence on a human, relative level and not in an absolute sense according to the Divine measure.
4. (14) A prayer of surrender and purity.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.
a. Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight: David closed this glorious Psalm with a humble surrender of his mouth and heart to God. He knew that real godliness was not only a matter of what a man did, but also of what he said and thought in his heart.
i. This was not a proud proclamation that knew he was innocent and blameless; it was a plea to be made so by the transforming power of God.
ii. Acceptable in Your sight: “The psalm ends, not on the note of avoiding sin, but on that of offering back to God the mind’s fitting response to His own words, as a pure sacrifice (cf. Hosea 14:2). This is the probable implication of acceptable, a term often found in sacrificial contexts.” (Kidner)
b. O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer: King David looked to the Lord God to be his strength and redemption. He knew that he needed a Redeemer, and that the faithful God would rescue him.
i. Strength can also be translated as Rock. God’s strength is like a mighty rock that rescues us and gives us a firm standing place.
ii. Redeemer is that great Hebrew word goel, the kinsman-redeemer. It was the goel who bought his relative out of slavery; who rescued him in bankruptcy and total loss. King David looked to God Himself as his kinsman-redeemer.
iii. “If our Rock were not our Redeemer, we should be without hope. If our Redeemer were not our Rock, still might we be afraid. It is good that we never forget the mutual interpretation of these two revelations of God.” (Morgan)
iv. This Psalm has run a glorious course. It begins with recognizing the glory of God in creation, then the glory of His written revelation. Next to this great God and His great works, David knew himself to be small and sinful. Yet this great God would also be David’s strength and Redeemer as David put his trust in Him.
v. The glorious God of creation and revelation was also the glorious God of personal relationship and redemption for His people. King David knew this; so should we.
© 2010 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission