Rhythmically, the divisions correspond to the changes in the thought. There is first a stately movement, continued for six versos, devoted to the glories of the universe; then a livelier strain in longer (mostly double ) lines, praising the Law of the Lord, and extending to five verses only; finally, a conclusion in short, broken lines, limited to three verses.
The psalm is generally allowed to be David's, and is declared to be his by the title. There are no internal indications by which to assign it a date.
The transition from the glories of the material universe to the "law of the Lord" is abrupt and startling. Some go so far as to say that there is no connection at all between the first and second parts of the psalm. But it is the law and order that pervades the material universe which constitutes its main glory; and the analogy between God's physical laws and his moral laws is evident, and generally admitted (see the great work of Bishop Butler, part 1.).
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever . Hengstenberg explains "the fear of the Lord" in this place as "the instruction afforded by God for fearing him." And certainly, unless we adopt some such explanation, we shall find it difficult to account for the intrusion of the clause into its present position. The Law, the testimony, the statutes (or precepts), the commandment ( Psalms 19:7 , Psalms 19:8 ), and the judgments ( Psalms 19:9 ), are external to man, objective; the fear of the Lord. as commonly understood, is internal, subjective, a "settled habit of his soul." It is not a thing of the same kind with the other five nominatives, and appears out of place among them. Hence it seems best, with Professor Alexander, to adopt Hengstenberg's explanation. The Law, viewed as teaching the fear of God, is undoubtedly "clean "— i.e. pure, perfect—and "endures for ever," or is of perpetual obligation. The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether . In "judgments" we have another of the recognized synonyms for the entire Law ( Psalms 119:7 , Psalms 119:13 , Psalms 119:43 , Psalms 119:52 , Psalms 119:62 ), which is from first to last "exceeding righteous and true" ( Psalms 119:138 , Prayer-book Version).
The voice of Jehovah in his Word.
The Prophet Isaiah, in his forty-fifth chapter, and in the eighth and ninth verses, refers both to the work of God's hands in the world which he has created, and to the words of his lips in the promises he has made; and in both cases it is said, "not in vain" "Not in vain" is the earth formed; "not in vain" is the promise uttered. In both there is a Divine aim and purpose. That antithesis between the works and the Word of God is more ancient than Isaiah's day. It goes back to the time of Moses, who in the ninetieth psalm speaks to God as the Ever-living One, the Framer of the earth, and yet the Refuge of his people. And between Moses and Isaiah, in this nineteenth psalm we have the like distinction drawn. Its first six verses refer to God's works in the world, the rest, to his words in the Word. £ Seven lines of exposition are required for their unfolding.
I. THE HEAVENS SPEAK OF GOD ; THE WORD DECLARES JEHOVAH . It is too commonly supposed that the use of the several words "Elohim" and "Jehovah" indicates a difference either of date, of document, or of authorship. There does not seem to us to be any adequate ground for such distinctions. As we in one and the same sermon or tract may use a dozen different names for God, why may it not have been so of old? £ The word "Elohim" indicates God as the God of nature. The word "Jehovah" points to him as the revealed God of our fathers. And it is from our own revealed God that the Word proceeds, from the depths of his heart; it is far more than any works of his hands. Hence the change of the word "God" to the word "Jehovah."
II. JEHOVAH , THE REVEALED GOD , HAS PUT BEFORE US PRICELESS MATERIAL FOR OUR USE . There are six various terms to indicate this. Law ; or the great body of truth in which God would have his people instructed. Testimony ; or the Divine declaration as to what he is, has done, is doing, and will do. Statutes ; or precepts, which indicate specific duty. Commandments ; or rules for the regulation of the entire life. Fear ; i.e. that fear of him, so repeatedly enjoined, and which in an infantine age was the predominant view of duty towards God. Judgments ; the right-settings, in the Divine declarations pronounced against sin and in favour of righteousness. Let us put all these together, and lo! how rich are we in having all these voices from the eternal throne! But how much richer still are we in having the words of the New Testament economy superadded to those of the old!
III. THE WORDS OF JEHOVAH ARE AS REMARKABLE FOR QUALITY AS FOR VARIETY . The very names given to them are inspiring: "perfect," "sure," "right," "pure," "true," "righteous," "standing fast." These several terms may be gathered up into three—true in statement, right in direction, everlasting in their duration. Even so. In the words of God we have absolute truth. In the precepts of God we have perfect directories for life and duty. And we know that, change what may, time is on our side, for "the Word of the Lord endureth for ever" Note: The words of God in the Bible are the only ones to which these epithets apply. Then it will be a very serious mistake if in school education or family training we ever allow the Bible to be crowded out or set on one side. For we must note—
IV. THAT THE WORDS OF GOD ARE ADDRESSED TO THE INNERMOST PART OF OUR NATURE . (Verse 7, "the soul.") Although this word, in Hebrew, is very frequently used in as free and popular a sense as it is with us, yet, on the other hand, it often denotes the highest part of our nature—even that which pertains to spirit, conscience, and to the regulation of the moral life of man. Such is the case here; as, indeed, the marvellous effects of the Divine Word (as pointed out under the next heading) plainly indicate. So much is this the case, that the Word is regarded even here as "dividing asunder of the soul and spirit, of the joints and marrow," and as a "discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." The Old Testament conceptions of man and of sin are very deep and very solemn. £ As the late Dr. Duncan, Professor of Hebrew, rightly remarked, £ "The Hebrew language is peculiarly rich in religious and moral terms, though scanty enough in others. The reason is evident—it chronicled a revelation."
V. THE EFFECT OF GOD 'S WORDS ARE AS MARVELLOUS AS THEIR CONTENTS AND AIM . Some six of these are specified in the psalm. And one other is illustrated by its writer. The six effects referred to are:
1 . Converting the soul. Restoring it, calling it back from its wanderings, and causing it to return to God and home.
2 . Making arise the simple. Where the words of God arc read, studied, appropriated, by an honest and upright heart, they will lead in the way of understanding, and make wise unto salvation.
3 . Rejoicing the heart , by their disclosures of God's glory, grace, wealth, and love. To those who drink in the Word, God is their "exceeding Joy."
4 . Enlightening the eyes. This may mean either illumination or refreshment, £ restoring life and fainting energies (cf. 1 Samuel 14:24 , 1 Samuel 14:29 ). The former meaning, "illumination," is triply true; tot God's commandments enlighten a man concerning God, duty, and himself. There is nothing like the searching Word to reveal to us what we are.
5 . Warning is another effect. The exhortations to good and the dissuasion from evil are standing menaces of the peril of refusing the one and choosing the other.
6 . Reward. No one can follow the commandments of God without ensuring a rich, ample, constant recompense.
Another effect of the Word of God is illustrated by the writer of this very psalm, who shows us the influence it had upon him. It awoke from him an earnest, prayerful response, awakened by the sight of himself which the commandment gave. The prayer is threefold—against involuntary, secret, and presumptuous sins. It is:
1 . Cleanse me , which has a double meaning of" Pronounce me clean, and keep me so."
2 . Keep me back. It is a prayer that the restraining grace of God may keep in subjection a wayward and impulsive nature.
3 . Accept me. (Verse 14.) It is an earnest prayer that at the moment the Word reveals his guilt, the grace of God may cover it with the mantle of forgiving love, and receive him in spite of all his guilt. And to this prayer there is appended an earnest plea. The praying one invokes two of the names of God in which the Old Testament saints were wont most to delight, "My Rock" and "my Redeemer." The word translated "Redeemer" is specially noticeable. It is Goel. £ (For illustrations of the use of the former word, see Deuteronomy 32:4 , Deuteronomy 32:31 ; 2 Samuel 22:32 ; Psalms 62:2 , Psalms 62:6 , Psalms 62:7 ; Psalms 73:26 ; Isaiah 26:4 . Of the latter, see (in Hebrew) Numbers 35:12 , Numbers 35:19 , Numbers 35:21 , Numbers 35:24 , Numbers 35:25 , Numbers 35:27 ; Job 19:25 ; Isaiah 41:14 ; Isaiah 43:14 ; Isaiah 60:16 ; Isaiah 63:16 .) Note:
Nature as a preacher.
I. THE GRAND SUBJECT . "The glory of God."
II. THE SPLENDID AUDIENCE . "All the earth."
III. THE FAITHFUL DELIVERY . Marked by truth, freshness, constancy, impartiality (verses 1-4). Other preachers cannot continue by reason of death. Hence there is change. One succeeds another. But this preacher goes on without break or weariness from day to day and age to age, bearing witness for God ( Romans 1:20 ; Acts 14:17 ).
IV. THE DIVERSE RESULTS . Minds vary. Where there is freedom of thought, there will be difference of opinion. When Paul preached at Athens, "some mocked, and others said, We will hear thee again on this matter. Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed" ( Acts 17:32-34 ). And so it is here. Some hear, and others hear not. Some recognize God's presence and working, and give him praise, and others deny that in all they see there is anything more than the evolution of matter, and the play of cause and effect.
V. THE NECESSITY OF THE WORD . Nature can teach, but only such as are susceptible. It can proclaim the glory of God, but only to such as have already been brought to the knowledge of God. Our minds have been darkened and deadened by sin. Nature cannot tell us how sin is to be taken away. It is dumb as to a Saviour. it cannot inspire hope. It cannot convert the soul. Hence the necessity of the Word—of the Law by which is the knowledge of sin, and the gospel which reveals to us a Saviour. It is those who have been brought to the knowledge and love of God through Jesus Christ who are best able to appreciate the service of nature.—W.F.
The Word of God.
This passage may be regarded as teaching three things concerning the Word of God, or the Bible.
I. WHAT IT IS . Six names are used, and six different statements are made with regard to the Bible.
1 . It is "the Law of the Lord," and, as such, it is "perfect."
2 . It is "the testimony of the Lord," and, as such, it is "sure." In it God speaks with solemn earnestness and insistance, and what he says may be trusted.
3 . It is "the statutes of the Lord;" and the statutes of the Lord are "right." The way of duty is clearly and unmistakably marked out.
4 . It is the "commandment of the Lord." It is not mere counsel or instruction, but has all the authority and awfulness of "commandment." And as such it is "pure," clear as crystal, illuminating as the light.
6 . Lastly, the Bible is spoken of as "the judgments of the Lord." This refers to the administration of the Law. God's "judgments," being the execution of his will, must be "true." Based upon the eternal principles of right, they must themselves be eternal.
II. WHAT THE BIBLE DOES .
III. WHAT THE BIBLE DESERVES . We have it in our hands. We have heard its character, and the claims made in its behalf, and what is our response? The language employed by the psalmist fitly expresses what our feelings and conduct should be, how we should treat God's most Holy Word.
1 . It deserves to be valued more than gold.
2 . It deserves to be loved and delighted in as "sweeter than honey and the honey-comb."
3 . It deserves to be studied and obeyed with increasing devotion; for thereby our minds are enlightened, and our lives illumined, and great is our reward in purity and peace and the love of God. And if we have learnt its preciousness ourselves, we shall surely labour to make it known to others, that they also may be enriched by its treasures and blessed with its joys.—W.F.
God's revelation of himself in nature and in his Word.
In nature it is continuous. Day utters speech unto day, night unto night. It is speechless ; it has a language, but it is not articulate. It is universal. Gone out through all the world, and through all time. In his Word it his a converting power—power to make wise, to rejoice the heart and enlighten the eyes. It endures for ever; unlike the firmament, and is entirely true and righteous.
I. A COMPARISON OF THESE TWO REVELATIONS .
1 . Both reveal God ' s glory. The heavens reveal his glory by day and by night. But our solar system is but the glory of a single point of light, when compared with the glory of all the systems that fill infinite space. But quality rather than quantity is the test of the glory of any work. To redeem and reclaim a world of souls from the ruin of sin transcends the work of creating and sustaining all the suns and the stars of the universe; and this is the glory of God's Word.
2 . Both contain important instruction. "Day unto day uttereth speech" ( Psalms 19:2 ). "The testimony of the Lord is sure [or, 'true'], making wise the simple.''' To the devout mind nature suggests more than it directly teaches—the Sun of Righteousness, the mighty Quickener and Joy of darkened souls. Christ the great Bridegroom of the Church. But the Word uttered by prophets, Christ, and inspired men, expels our ignorance upon the topics most necessary to our highest well-being. They make us truly wise.
3 . Both demand study and labour to enjoy their blessings. Great things can benefit us only by the exercise of earnest and inquisitive thought. La Place and Newton thus came to understand the science of the heavens; Milton and others, their poetry; and David and others, their religion. We benefit by the Word in a similar way. Study leading to practice and experience will open its stores of truth to us.
II. A CONTRAST OF THESE REVELATIONS .
1 . The one universal , the other partial. Every one not born blind has seen the heavens; there are millions who have never heard of Christ. God does some things by taking them entirely into his own hands; but he takes us as fellow-labourers in the work of making known his Word.
2 . The one is full of great spiritual energies ; the other is not. Material things can do only material work; nature cannot alter a depraved will or heal a wounded conscience. Spiritual forces must rouse spiritual natures like ours. Christ is the Word of God, and can give the highest deliverance and salvation which souls need. Makes us wise with the noblest wisdom, gives light to the mind. The one rejoices the senses, the other the heart. The mourner can be made to sing, the captive to leap for joy, the heartbroken to laugh with gladness, the penitent to receive peace. Nature can do nothing of this to any extent.—S.